Boko Haram is back, with a vengeance. In the two weeks from June 27 to July 10, Boko Haram killed 434, according to the Nigeria Security Tracker, a project of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Africa program. Starting July 11, Boko Haram has already killed an additional thirty-five. On July 14, a report surfaced that on July 10 Boko Haram killed at least forty. Its operations appear to be expanding geographically. Not only have there been attacks in the Borno capital of Maiduguri, there has been violence in Kano, Kaduna, and Jos. It is a truism in military circles that with respect to asymmetric warfare, if a government is not winning, it is losing.
Boko Haram cannot be defeated through the use of military resources alone. The drivers of Boko Haram include pervasive underdevelopment in northern Nigeria, accelerating impoverishment, and a general sense of political marginalization. Beyond the economy, there are a host of related issues, including the failure of education and health systems and poor governance. Addressing these drivers will requires sustained attention, and money. Yet, progress in these “soft” areas necessitates some measure of security, which involves the military. That is the conundrum President Buhari faces.
President Buhari understands that the police and the security services badly need thoroughgoing reform. That requires money. But, as President Buhari has emphasized, the cupboard is bare. This is partially the result of looting, but more important is the fall in international petroleum prices. So, President Buhari has less revenue with which to work than his predecessor. Nevertheless, Buhari is taking it one step at a time. He has moved the center of military operations against Boko Haram from Abuja to Maiduguri. On July 13, he fired the discredited service chiefs and the national security advisor, all appointees of his predecessor. He is emphasizing professionalization. At the swearing-in of the new service chiefs, he was quoted in the Nigeria media as saying: “All of you, including the national security advisor, were chosen on merit. Your records give you the job. Save for the new chief of army staff whom I briefly met at his command at the Multinational Joint Task Force in Chad, I don’t know any of you. Your records recommend you.”