from Africa in Transition

Nigeria: Growing Panic following Bayero University Attack

May 1, 2012

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Sub-Saharan Africa


Terrorism and Counterterrorism

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On Sunday, a group of terrorists attacked Christians at worship services held in a lecture room and a sports complex at Bayero University in Kano. There are varying reports about the number killed and wounded, but victims include some senior faculty and graduate and undergraduate students. Security personnel are estimating that Sunday’s attack involved up to twenty operatives. The press quotes the Nigerian military spokesman as saying that the terrorists used “sophisticated” tactics. Also on Sunday, “gunmen” killed at least five people attending a church service in Maiduguri, and then today a police convoy was bombed in Taraba state.

These follow attacks last Thursday on the Kaduna and Abuja premises of ThisDay, a major Nigerian newspaper.

Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the ThisDay attacks, but not yet Sunday’s in Kano and Maiduguri. However, the Bayero University attack recalls earlier Boko Haram attacks in Damaturu and Kano in January. Nigerian opinion, as reflected in the press, is that Boko Haram was responsible for Sunday’s mayhem. Organizations such as the Patriotic Alliance of Nigeria (an umbrella of opposition political parties) and the United Niger Delta Energy Development Security Strategy are taking the occasion of the Sunday attacks to urge the Jonathan government not to negotiate with Boko Haram.

Boko Haram is notoriously defuse. One hypothesis I find credible is that it consists of “nodes” in Maiduguri, Kano, and perhaps two or three other locations that operate largely independently of each other. Hence, the Kano and Maiduguri attacks on Sunday, if they were both by Boko Haram, may not have been coordinated. Thus far, there are no negotiations between the government and Boko Haram, and the latter shows no interest in talks. Nor, is it likely to do so in light of its escalating attacks.

In the aftermath of the Thursday attacks in Kaduna and Abuja, the attacks in Kano are likely to feed what appears to be a growing sense of panic among the political class in the North and Abuja. However, it remains to be seen whether attacks of increasing frequency will have an impact on Lagos and Ibadan, the heart of the modern Nigerian economy and thus far immune to the violence attributed to Boko Haram.