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Boko Haram Raises The Stakes

Coordinated bomb attacks on police stations across the important northern Nigerian city of Kano have killed up to 150 people, early reports say.  But horrifying as that is, the death toll is not the worst thing about these attacks.

These attacks tell us that Boko Haram is more effective and organized than previously believed, has more serious and ambitious political ambitions than was thought, and has identified the weaknesses of Nigeria’s largely corrupt and ineffective government in ways that suggest that worse is to come.

Boko Haram has been dismissed as a poorly organized and amateurishly led fringe group. It appears to be something more. Launching coordinated attacks on police stations suggests a sophisticated operational capability; if they can pull something like this off, they may be significantly more able than previously believed.

Kano is Nigeria’s second largest city (population of about 10,000,000) and the largest metropolis in the predominately Muslim north. These attacks will electrify and polarize opinion throughout the north; many will condemn the violence but some will be drawn to a group that takes on symbols of a government often scorned as corrupt, incompetent, unjust and increasingly under the thumb of the distrusted Christian south.

What Boko Haram has discovered is that the Nigerian government is not actually very good at what it does. It cannot even protect itself very well, much less police Nigeria’s cities, educate the young, promote economic development or administer the country’s oil wealth for the benefit of all. Boko Haram has struck across the north and center of the country; it is hard to see how the government can quickly acquire the capacity to act decisively against a group with this kind of reach. These attacks demonstrate the reach of Boko Haram and highlight the impotence of the government in ways that can be very damaging.

Nigeria has frequently demonstrated an ability to muddle through: the country with the largest population and largest oil reserves in sub-Saharan Africa has somehow managed to maintain a basic order and domestic peace despite tension and conflict that would have destroyed less flexible and optimistic countries. But Boko Haram is rapidly becoming a new kind of threat — to order in the north, and to the tense peace between the mostly Muslim north and mostly Christian South.

How Nigeria and how the northern political and security establishments respond to these attacks will be an important indicator of where this major and strategic country is headed.

We will be watching.

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  • Kris

    “We will be watching.”

    “In brightest day, in blackest night,
    No evil shall escape his sight.
    Let those who worship evil’s might,
    Beware his power… Via Meadia’s light!”

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