Days later, the survivors’ faces tensed at the memory of the grim evening: soldiers dousing thatched-roof homes with gasoline, setting them on fire and shooting residents when they tried to flee. As the village went up in smoke, one said, a soldier threw a child back into the flames.
The Nigerian military denies anything happened. We don’t want to get out ahead of the facts here, but there is one thing worth pointing out: the countries where violent jihadis are at work today include some very poorly governed and badly run places. Nigeria’s soldiers may be poorly trained, poorly paid, poorly motivated and poorly led, but then so are most other government employees in this very large and deeply dysfunctional land.The failures of the Nigerian state (political and developmental) helped create an environment in which movements like Boko Haram flourish. Those failures will be cast into even starker relief as the conflict deepens.In one sense, this is the genius of Boko Haram’s strategy. It aims to make the Nigerian government even less effective as it highlights the ham-fistedness and poor discipline of its security forces. The weak police network makes Boko Haram members hard to capture or surveil; the poor organization of the military makes events like this one inevitable.The government can do nothing about Boko Haram but watch it spread—or it can fight and watch it spread anyway.It’s a decent strategy for Boko Haram, though it may not ever bring it to the point that it can take control of large chunks of Nigeria’s territory. The US counterterrorism effort in the near future will focus on many poorly-run places like Nigeria, and if there is a secret way to turn pig’s-ear governments into silk-purse states, we haven’t discovered it yet. Buckle up for a long and gruesome ride.