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Failed State Watch
Nigeria Struggles to Keep It Together

After the supposed truce declared by President Goodluck Jonathan came to naught, Boko Haram gloated that it had married off the schoolgirls whose kidnapping (briefly) caught the world’s attention. Meanwhile, the group reportedly broke 144 prisoners out of a Nigerian jail and was behind yet another suicide bombing, which took 29 lives at a Shi’a religious ritual. It has conquered another city, Mubi, and shows no sign of slowing its advances.

As a sober BBC report asks, where can Nigeria’s government go from here? Its summary of the situation is nothing less than grim: “it appears the government is now fighting not just for the territorial integrity of the nation but also for the very existence of the Nigerian state.” As Boko Haram seizes territory it is also stocking itself with weapons and supplies, to add to what is reputed to be a fearsome arsenal. Meanwhile, Nigeria’s soldiers have been reported to flee towns under attack alongside the civilians. Add to that the rumors that Boko Haram has infiltrated the army and there is little encouragement to be had.

It may get worse once February’s Presidential elections roll around:

Nigeria’s general elections are expected to be held in February and there is every indication that the process will be bloody if it goes ahead in the north-eastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, where Boko Haram has its strongholds.

It is also unlikely that civilians there will be convinced to cast their votes in a democratic system that is antithetical to Boko Haram’s central objective – to instil its radical form of Islamic rule.

Nigerian journalist Ahmad Salkida – who has recently had rare access to the group – says that the sect believes its “brand of Sharia is superior to the [Nigerian] constitution”.

As Council on Foreign Relations fellow John Campbell notes, these elections could be a replay of the 2011 contest, with President Goodluck Jonathan likely contending yet again with former military chief Muhammad Buhari, who won the Muslim states while Jonathan took the rest. Those elections were accompanied by a surge in violence—and there is every chance that these will be, too. As Campbell puts it:

[…E]lections are an aspect of elite politics remote from the concerns and aspirations of the Nigerian people. For many Nigerians, they may not matter very much except as a spur to ethnic, religious, and regional identities. Hence, the question is whether the February 2015 elections will further exacerbate ethnic and religious tensions, and perhaps encourage increased support for Boko Haram and other radical movements.

Nigeria never had the sort of political stability that might see it through a threat of this magnitude. While it may be too early to declare the country a failed state, it is heading into the new year with significant damage and small hope of full repair.

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