Northeast Nigeria is in a state of emergency after the country’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, announced Islamic extremists control some of the area’s villages and towns. Jonathan declared a state of emergency yesterday in the Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states and is sending more troops to fight what he calls an open rebellion.
The president warned on live state radio and television that any building suspected of housing Islamic extremists would be occupied in what he called the “war” in Nigeria. But emergency efforts to stop violence have failed in the past. In December 2011, Jonathan declared a state of emergency over parts of four of the 36 Nigerian states, including Borno and Yobe, but the extremist attacks continued.
Nigeria’s untrustworthy military and police have aggravated the situation. Human rights activists repeatedly accuse military, police, and other national forces of burning civilian homes and killing civilians police believe are starting militant attacks. Recently, allegations have been made against soldiers accused of killing at least 187 people in a fishing village in Borno. The military adamantly denies that its forces assaulted civilians, but history shows otherwise.
Government security forces and officials often downplay the violence in Nigeria, in sharp contrast to Jonathan’s speech. He described the attacks as a “rebellion” and openly said extremists destroyed government buildings and “had taken women and children as hostages.”
A primary Islamic extremist group called Boko Haram, which in a Nigerian language means, “Western education is sacrilege,” is demanding freedom for its imprisoned members and the imposition of Islamic law across Nigeria. But that would be difficult to do in Africa’s most populous nation, where so many sub-groups have emerged whose members have contact with two other al-Qaida-linked groups in Africa, analysts say.
The rise of Islam in Nigeria began in 2009 after a riot led by Boko Haram in Maiduguri ended after a police intervention that killed around 700 people. Boko Haram’s leader died in custody—supposedly killed by police.
Since then, Islamic extremists use hit-and-run shootings and suicide bombings to spread their reign of terror. But lately they are using military-grade weapons, which they may have seized from Nigerian military stockpiles.
Militia slaughtered dozens of Nigeria’s police and spy agents recently and violence between ethnic groups kills dozens at a time. Since 2010, Islamic extremists have killed more than 1,600 according to an Associated Press count. Nigeria’s military said Islamic fighters now use anti-aircraft guns on trucks—probably outgunning the country’s thin security forces.