from Africa in Transition

Boko Haram Carnage in Rural Nigeria

February 06, 2014

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Premium Times, which is based in Abuja, is reporting that Boko Haram has killed at least 250 people in Borno state (northeast Nigeria) over the past two weeks. This figure is exceptionally high. But, the carnage is not over, nor is it limited to Borno. Leadership reported on February 5 that an additional seventy-one people had been killed in Plateau, Kaduna, Yobe, and Katsina states.

Of the 250 killed in Borno, forty-six were victims of a bomb blast in Maiduguri; the intended target may have been a bank. The rest were residents of villages outside of Maiduguri. Premium Times reports that “no fewer than thirty-one… towns, villages, and hamlets, mostly occupied by local farmers, have been deserted.”

Surviving witnesses report that Boko Haram units numbering between thirty-five and fifty arrive at a settlement in four-wheel drive vehicles and motorcycles, and that they were “armed with explosives and sophisticated guns.” In many places they appear to destroy houses systematically, as well as kill the residents.

The motivation in the choice of victim is obscure. Some are Boko Haram’s traditional targets: police, military, and other members of the security services. Some are members of the “Civilian JTF,” anti-Boko Haram vigilante groups supported by the state government. Others still are school teachers. But why the other victims – seemingly the majority – were targeted is not clear. While some may have been Christians, they are not numerous in villages outside Maiduguri.

I have seen fewer details in the media about the additional seventy-one casualties, except that the Plateau killings are portrayed in the media within the traditional framework of Muslim-Fulani-herdsmen versus Christian-Barome-farmers.

Nigeria’s national elections are scheduled for 14 February, 2015. Boko Haram will, presumably, do all that it can to disrupt them. A member of the House of Representatives from the recently targeted area commented that “it would be inhuman for anyone to even think of conducting the 2015 elections up here in the face of the present killings.” But, the elections are still more than a year off, and it is hard to see them playing a direct role in this escalating carnage.

In any event, Boko Haram attacks appear to involve larger groups of operatives than in the past – we are far beyond the lone assassin or suicide bomber. The attackers also appear to have increased access to sophisticated equipment. The puzzles include who is Boko Haram now targeting; and who else (or what else) is doing the killing? I am skeptical that killings outside of Borno are being done by the faction of “Boko Haram” led by Abubakar Shekau.