The apparent strategy of a radical Muslim group in Nigeria is to create enough chaos and threaten enough violence to get its own way.
And it appears to be working.
A report by a military analysis group says that there is so much fear of Boko Haram’s actions, the government’s response sometimes kills more civilians than the terror group. A second report by a human rights group says Christians are beginning to see bombings as normal.
Schools, hospitals and other institutions also are ready to shutter their windows and cease operation in response to the street battles and attacks by suicide bombers and gunmen.
International Christian Concern’s Africa analyst William Stark said the jihadist group’s strategy is beyond the pale.
“Unfortunately, this is the strategy of all terrorist groups. Essentially Boko Haram is attempting to cause enough mayhem that the government will give in to its demands in order to stop the bloodshed,” Stark said.
Christian churches in the North have apparently adjusted to terrorism as a way of life. Stark said many congregations have come to terms with the need for security.
“Christians in the North and Middle Belt are taking action against the growing levels of violence. For example, many churches have gates that cars have to pass through to get on the church grounds,” Stark said.
“Also, some are installing metal detectors so weapons and bombs cannot be brought into the church. Other churches are having people leave church in phases, so if there is an attack the number of casualties can be limited,” Stark said.
A former CIA station chief who has asked not to be identified said Boko Haram’s strategy in Nigeria is identical to the other jihadist groups across North Africa and the Middle East.
“Muslims in Nigeria as Muslims all over the world support the Quran’s mandate and the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaida’s intention to push for Islamic domination of the world,” he said.
“Boko Haram is just the local al-Qaida affiliate doing what they all are doing – subverting non-Islamic societies and supporting the spread of Islam,” the former station chief said.
He said the seeds for Boko Haram were sown in Nigeria many years ago.
“Muslims make up the northern 50 percent of Nigeria, not in the oil-producing south. The Muslims were used by the British as the government bureaucrats and military leadership, while the southerners were the businessmen and traders,” he said.
If there is a bright side, Christians are still faithfully attending worship.
“The violence is not stopping Christians from going to church though. Many still attend services, even though many Christians have been killed while at church,” Stark said.
Stark said another positive element is how Christians have responded to the attacks.
“Interestingly enough, the Christians of Nigeria are displaying a uniquely Christian reaction to violence – with peace. Many Christian leaders have called upon the Christians of Nigeria not to engage in reprisals, but to pray for their persecutors and follow the teachings of Jesus Christ,” Stark said.
One of the major issues in Nigeria is the government’s response to the violence.
Stark said the government has made a small effort to protect the people against Boko Haram, adding that the effectiveness is an issue.
“The government is making efforts to stop Boko Haram, but they are clumsy at best and are probably causing more harm than good. A couple of weeks ago, Nigerian security forces entered a village in Northern Nigeria where Boko Haram is known to operate,” Stark said.
Drastic measures, including executions, followed.
“The security force gathered up all of the young men and forced them to leave the village. Once outside the village, the young men were shot and killed. Stories like this don’t win many friends, so Muslims in northern Nigeria who probably wouldn’t have supported Boko Haram before, might now,” Stark said.
Stark said many Christians are against the government giving in to Boko Haram.
“Many support the idea of peace talks, but many are also concerned that there will be no justice of the victims of Boko Haram,” he said.
The potential for the government to solve the Boko Haram issue is limited, according to the CIA station chief. The problem is in the structure of Nigeria itself.
“As for corruption, Nigeria is one of the most crime-ridden and corrupt societies in the world,” he said. “In the 10 years after independence Nigeria received $120 billion in oil revenue, of which only 10 percent could be found invested or spent in Nigeria. The rest went to European bank accounts.”
Stark said the recent reports regarding the casualties inflicted by Boko Haram’s campaign are also a major hindrance to any peace talks.
“To date, Boko Haram has murdered 3,000 people in its campaign to create a separate Islamic state in Nigeria. If the government of Nigeria is going to sit down with Boko Haram and discuss peace, justice for the families of these 3,000 must also be discussed,” Stark said.
“Without justice there will probably be no peace and the Muslim and Christian community will remain fractured,” Stark said.
Stark added that substantive peace talks are growing more unlikely.
“There are rumors that there will be peace talks between the government and Boko Haram. This is very unlikely. Boko Haram’s terms of releasing all Boko Haram prisoners and the establishment of an Islamic state are considered extreme,” Stark said.
“The government doesn’t look very interested in giving in to those terms,” Stark said.