The Growing Threat of Boko Haram to the Legitimacy of Nigeria’s Government and Military

Yesterday, news broke of a horrific attack in Yobe state in northern Nigeria, where an estimated 29 boarding school students were killed during the night by the (recently-designated) terrorist organization Boko Haram. This new attack is one of many that have been carried out in Nigeria by the militant Islamic group since its creation in the early 2000s. However, what this most recent attack glaringly demonstrates is the lack of accountability and legitimacy of both the Nigerian government and military to effectively combat this violent group.

Since President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in three northern states – Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states – in May 2013 as a result of the activities of Boko Haram, more military support was granted to the states, and the Nigerian military set up various checkpoints throughout the states in order to provide more security for citizens. In this recent attack, though, it has been reported that the checkpoint near the boarding school had been abandoned prior to the attack. This abandonment and lack of accountability by the Nigerian military has caused outrage in the Yobe community. In addition to this particular incident of failure on the part of the security forces, many reports have come out from various organizations highlighting a number of abuses carried out on citizens in the north by the Nigerian military themselves, adding to the growing perception of the military’s illegitimacy. 

The inability of the Nigerian military to conduct themselves appropriately and to combat the growing threat of Boko Haram in the north also represents a number of inadequacies in the leadership of President Jonathan. Specifically, the failures of the President to tamper the violent acts of Boko Haram calls into question his government’s legitimacy, since it cannot provide basic security to its citizens. These feelings are echoed by many within Nigeria, including a group of over 43 Civil Society Organizations, who just declared the President “not competent enough to tackle the menace of Boko Haram.” Additionally, President Jonathan has received a number of criticisms from different political leaders within the country, including from the current Governor of Borno state, one of the most states most affected by Boko Haram’s violent attacks. 

If Boko Haram continues to gain strength and to remain unhindered in their violent attacks, it will not only be citizens under threat. The Nigerian state and military will continue to lose their legitimacy and thus ability to rule over one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s most powerful states, which would have immediate ramifications for not only President Jonathan’s administration and potential re-bid for election, but for regional stability as well. 

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3 Responses to The Growing Threat of Boko Haram to the Legitimacy of Nigeria’s Government and Military

  1. mlevens says:

    Considering the previous inability of the President and the military to credibly deal with the threat posed by Boko Haram, do you think the government requesting additional help from the international community would be a helpful strategy?

  2. mconley2014 says:

    I think the international community should definitely become more involved with the situation. As Carolyn said, if the conflict destroys political legitimacy in the country it will greatly diminish regional stability. Not only that, but it should be in the international community’s interest because there have been rumors of Boko Haram using child soldiers and having ties to Al-Qaeda. Both of these aspects make this an international issue, not simply a Nigerian problem. That said, I’m not sure asking for international involvement would help the legitimacy issue unless it was handled quickly and quietly (which doesn’t seem likely). Asking for help could cause the people to see the government as weak or incapable, and if the conflict isn’t stopped even after international assistance it could exacerbate the fear people have of the organization.

  3. kyleedigregorio says:

    As the international community observes the increasingly frequent attacks on Nigerian communities and deliberates on “next steps,” I think that such actors would do well to keep in mind that while the ostensibly unrestrained attacks perpetrated by Boko Haram are reflective of the Nigerian military’s weak capacity and illegitimacy, to say that the incompetency of state forces preceded the formation of this militant organization is a grave understatement. The widespread idleness and corruption that now characterizes the state’s military force has been known throughout northern Nigeria for more than a decade, as a policy of inaction seemed to have been informally adopted following the return to civilian rule in 1999, despite ethnic and sectarian tensions that often manifested into violence. Given the theories explaining terrorist group formation, one may argue that this coalescence of factors provided a fertile environment in which Boko Haram could form and thrive. Yet, we would do well to avoid considering the urgent issue of security in a vacuum. The military, as well as the Nigerian Police Force, have consistently undermined the criminal justice system, which, in turn, speaks volumes to the condition of state institutions. To finance the creation and maintenance of a coercive organization, such as a military, requires the extraction of resources from society. There is a necessity for states to appropriate economic capital that is, in theory, to be utilized to form and maintain apparatuses mandated to protect and uphold the security of the population. The extraction of domestic revenue in Nigeria has, however, been largely eclipsed by the influx of oil rents. If we follow the line of reasoning, we can hypothesize that the external sourcing of revenue weakens the incentive of state institutions to invest such revenue in a manner that realizes the welfare (and security) of the population.
    All of this is simply to convey that the immediate threats that communities across Nigeria have been, and continue to endure are entangled in multi-layer, multi-dimensional complexities that can no longer be pushed aside, minimized, or blatantly ignored by political elites. If the Nigerian Government is to adequately address the issue that is Boko Haram, it is obvious that President Jonathan’s Administration will need to pursue a wholesale restructuring of the Nigerian military. What may be less obvious, however, is the notion that this restructuring entails a comprehensive agenda that includes, but is not limited to: revisions within the oil sector and, relatedly, corruption; tax reform; the reorganization of political institutions; the dissolution of political-military influence; and a renewed commitment to principles of political accountability and reciprocity. Narrowing the scope of solutions to Boko Haram and reducing the focus solely upon the explicit subject of security dismisses the countless causes from which current insecurity stems. While calling upon international intervention appears at this point to, indeed, be necessary, it is by no means sufficient. If the Nigerian Government does not take serious steps to address glaring structural and institutional fissures, it is likely (even in the absence of Boko Haram) that a “new Boko Haram”—that is, a new security threat—will materialize, in one form or another, in the foreseeable future.

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