Nigeria needs fresh strategy on terror

Nigeria needs to focus on rural development in order to tackle militancy

The abduction of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls more than a month ago has led to the approval of a much-needed regional plan of action to combat Boko Haram militants. In a rare show of unity, the leaders of Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, Chad and Benin pledged cooperation, including joint border patrols and sharing intelligence, to find the girls.

This would certainly help clear the doubts of average Nigerians, who launched the #BringBackOurGirls campaign on Twitter in frustration over the apparent lack of concern of Goodluck Jonathan’s government. But the scale of terrorism is large.

That’s evident from Mr Jonathan’s admission last year that Boko Haram members and sympathisers had infiltrated every level of his government and military, including the cabinet. As The National reported yesterday, recently soldiers have said that some in the army fight alongside the militants, complicating the rescue operation. This explains why the larger aim of this campaign should be to alter Nigeria’s response to militancy. Even though Boko Haram is in the news at the moment, it is not the first militant group to have emerged in Nigeria, nor will it be the last. That’s because the environment in the country is congenial for militancy to thrive.

Despite being endowed with natural resources and being the continent’s biggest economy, life for most Nigerians lags behind many other African states in economic and social development. As a result, more than half of the population survive on less than a dollar per day. Social injustice, marginalisation and corruption lead to popular frustration, prompting many people to support or join militant organisations such as Boko Haram.

What fuels an insurgency is is economic deprivation and a lack of opportunity in society. These factors are more evident in rural areas, where development is minimal and poverty rampant. A good way for the government to dissuade villagers from supporting militants is to win their hearts and minds through social and infrastructure development in areas where Boko Haram has flourished.

A good starting point could be funding and protection for schools where girls can be educated. The crucial question is whether the country can sustain such a mode of operation.

Published: May 18, 2014 04:00 AM

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