from Africa in Transition

No Cease-Fire in Nigeria

July 16, 2013

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Abubakar Shekau, the shadowy leader of the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram, issued a video in which he flatly denies that there is a cease-fire agreement with President Goodluck Jonathan’s Nigerian government, or that there is any prospect of one. According to the Nigerian media, he said: “We will not enter into any truce with the Nigerian government.”

This video is presumably in response to the July 8 announcement by the Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Restoration of Peace in the North-East  that they had reached an “understanding for cease-fire” with Boko Haram leaders. They later clarified that they had been in discussion with “somebody who is second in command as far as Boko Haram is concerned, and he has informed the media that he has been discussing with us with full knowledge and authority of Imam Abubakar Shekau.”

Shekau also endorsed the bloody attack on a secondary school in Yobe where forty-two people--students and one teacher--were killed. He said, “teachers that teach western education, we are supposed to kill them in the presence of their students.”

There have been similar scenarios in the past: the government announces progress toward a cease-fire following conversations with ostensible leaders of Boko Haram. Shekau then utterly and completely denounces any cease-fire. This time, many Nigerians were highly skeptical about government claims that a cease-fire was at hand.

Government forces claimed that Boko Haram was responsible for the murderous school attack. That seems unlikely, given that Shekau endorsed the attack but did not claim responsibility for it. As is the case involving so many incidents in the North, the perpetrators of the school attack are unknown. One hypothesis, however, is that it might be Ansaru, a splinter of Boko Haram that may have ties with jihadist groups outside Nigeria that in turn are linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). There are whispers that Ansaru and Boko Haram are drawing closer together. Shekau’s praise for the school attack might be evidence of such closer connections.

Shekau’s video indicates that yet another occupational group has been added to Boko Haram’s potential victims: teachers. They join police, military, holders of office, and collaborators with the Abuja government. Schools were already a target for destruction, alongside police stations, armories, jails, government offices, churches, some mosques, bars, and brothels. Thus far, Western facilities, including diplomatic, have not been singled-out beyond the attack on the UN building in Abuja in 2011, about which, however, there remain many unanswered questions.