Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bloody Unrest In Nigeria

A new group has flexed its muscles in northern Nigeria. "Boko Haram", which translates into English as "Western education is sinful", has been compared to the Taliban in its violent methods and its reflexive rejection of anything Western, from clothing to entertainment and education. Members have quit jobs as university instructors and quit college to join Mohammed Yusuf , its well to do leader who commands a multitude of followers to do his bidding.

The sect has been involved in recent violence in which over a hundred and fifty people have been killed. The BBC reports as follows.

Dozens of people have been killed after Islamist militants staged three attacks in northern Nigeria, taking the total killed in two days of violence to 150.

A BBC reporter has counted 100 bodies, mostly of militants, near the police headquarters in Maiduguri, Borno State, where hundreds are fleeing their homes.

Witnesses told the BBC a gun battle raged for hours in Potiskum, Yobe State and a police station was set on fire.

Some of the militants follow a preacher who campaigns against Western schools.

Nigeria is split roughly equally between Christians and Muslims. The Muslims are centered in the north of the country, where Shaaria law has been implemented. The country is divided into different regions in which different tribes and languages are dominant. From 1967 to 1970, over a million people died, mostly from blockade induced starvation.

Current tensions between Muslims and Christians should be seen in the context of the tribal tensions that have beset Nigeria since its independence in 1960.

Nigeria is a major oil producing country. Its oil producing region has suffered unrest from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, a group that has resorted to terrorist attacks on oil producing facilities to achieve its ends. As can be noted from one of its press releases, the group has high hopes for the presidency of Barack Obama. One of their press releases reads as follows.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) salutes our brother, Barack Obama for choosing Ghana over failed states such as Nigeria, Angola or Equatorial Guinea for his maiden official visit to sub-Saharan Africa. This is a cheering message for ordinary Africans who will no longer have to tolerate watching the painful images on television of their corrupt leaders being warmly embraced by US Presidents. If it were possible to delete images from our memory, many people will not hesitate to do away with the mismatched images of Reagan/Mobutu or Clinton/Obasanjo. President Obama’s candor has energized our movement and renewed our conviction in the ultimate triumph of justice. Because our fight for justice is happening in the type of country with a fraudulent electoral process, corrupt leadership and brutal military he described to parliament in Accra, we feel vindicated. The problems facing our dear country Nigeria has nothing to do with militant freedom fighters but with the corrupt political leadership and certain arrogant tribes still living on past glory.

There are many fault lines in the Nigerian political landscape. Tribal and linguistic divisions as well as economic disparities make the maintenance of peace in Nigeria a daunting proposition. There is a real danger of Islamic militants from outside Nigeria subsidising and fomenting unrest in Nigeria. Although the US can not and should not assume a police role in that country, it would do well to cultivate good will among the Nigerian people trough development aid and subsidising health and education projects. Maintaining intelligence on flash spots in Nigeria is also useful. It would be very surprising if militants in Nigeria were not getting help from abroad.

Many countries in Africa must deal with tribal divisions. Nigeria, with its 148 million people is the most populous country in Africa and the most populous "Black" country in the world. Under proper circumstances, Nigeria can be a regional superpower and a cornerstone of stability. It is in America's interest that it be peaceful and prosperous.

The eyes of America are on far less weighty matters such as a constitutional crisis in Honduras and the arrest of Henry Louis Gates. Those in the mainstream media should rethink their decision to relegate Nigeria to the back pages of our daily papers. Nigeria is of great economic and strategic importance. We ignore it at our peril. Sphere: Related Content

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