This past Monday, Islamist militant group Boko Haram orchestrated an attach on college students in northeastern Nigeria. Sparing only the female students, Boko Haram burned down the college dormitories and shot those trying to escape. Part of this month’s seemingly random attacks, Boko Haram killed at least 29 (some estimates go as high as 40) people on Monday, increasing fatalities of this month alone to more than 200.
This is not the first of Boko Haram’s attacks on universities or colleges. Government attempts to prevent the violence have been largely unsuccessful. In fact, president Goodluck had sent top military personnel to the area just three days before the attack.
This act, along with other acts of terror carried out by Boko Haram, point toward the inability of President Goodluck to provide security to Nigeria’s citizens. This is one obvious facet that questions the legitimacy of the current administration. However, could this targeting have greater effects on civil society in Nigeria?
Civil society is a large part of any functioning democracy. Civil society can place checks on the government, expose corruption, help enact good governance/anti-corruption reforms, and promote political participation. Civil society also gives citizens a space to develop their opinions and express these views in a manner than is conducive to a stable democracy. Perhaps most important in a Nigerian context, civil society allows for cross-cutting between ethnic, linguistic, religious, or regional divides. In a country that is so deeply divided on many different levels, civil society could be one potential way to unify different sectors of the population.
This most recent targeting of a university is horrific in terms of its human expense, but it could have even more drastic consequences in terms of democracy in Africa’s most populous country.