Men, women, and children slowly emerge from their homes to greet a world rocked by yet another explosion. As they approach the site of the blast, millions of thoughts race through their heads: “Why here?” What have we done to deserve this?”“What would anyone gain from this?”
Eventually, the bystanders begin to pick through the debris, looking for missing loved ones, any sign of life, and eventually whatever burnt flesh and charred bones of victims could be used to symbolize the dead at a funeral. However, as evening eventually comes, the people know it would be futile, perhaps even suicidal, to continue to search through the rubble any longer. They leave not in awe of a freak, random attack, but rather further convinced that each explosion is part of an endless recurrence of brutal, remorseless attacks that may one day claim them. Poor and scared, they return to their homes, unsure of where and when the next will come. Such is the life of those Nigerians who live in petrified horror of Boko Haram.
Boko Haram is a hardline Islamist group with multiple factions which all seek the complete and total rejection, from Darwinism to jeans, of Western science and culture. Founded by Mohammed Yusuf in 2002 in the north-eastern Nigerian state of Borno, the group began as a radical, but relatively non-violent anti-Western organization that advocated the further Islamization of Nigeria. However with increasing violence between Christians and Muslims, as well as harsh, and sometimes brutal government attacks against them, the group became committed to the overthrow of the Nigeria government and implementation of the shariah throughout the country even through violent means without regard to civilian casualties. Fractured into three splinters at least one of which has ties to Al-Qaida, Boko Haram is a serious challenge to Nigeria’s nascent national government.
Nigeria, as a state containing hundreds of different tribal ethnicities, has always been confronted with a “National Question,” specifically whether or not it is even possible for a coagulation of hundreds of different ethnic groups with religious and historical divisions to come together as one, democratic nation. With it’s weak central government, corruption issues, continuing problems with relations between its Muslim, and mostly rural north, and the Christian, urban (as well as oil-rich) south, and a whole host of other problems, the answer to that question has always been in doubt. However, Boko Haram poses a serious threat to even the theoretical plausibility of a positive answer to the “national question.”
The threat to Nigerian stability is two-fold. The obvious threat is that Boko Haram’s attacks will undermine what legitimacy Nigeria’s federal government has, and whatever sense of national unity exists. As these attacks hammer targets from police stations to the U.N. headquarters in Abuja, they are systematically destroying the ability of Goodluck Jonathan’s government to claim it is control of the nation. On top of the on-going crisis in the Niger Delta, these attacks act as one more drain Nigeria’s already weak unity. Just as a matter basic governance, every attack makes it that much harder to build up Nigeria’s infrastructure and perform any sort of nation-building. However, it’s the second threat that, though less immediate, should haunt one’s understanding of the situation: the military. Nigeria’s military has a history of usurping civilian governments during times of unrest. As foreign investment flees the country, and uncertainty reigns, the possibility that the military could lead a coup is not negligible.
The upshot of all of this is that the situation in Nigeria should be watched carefully. As the Arab Spring is celebrated and further democratization is being pushed around the world, Africa’s biggest democracy is teetering on the edge. While the world is following the Euro-zone crisis, a potentially greater crisis could happen without anyone noticing.