5 Facts About the Threat of Nigeria’s Boko Haram vs Ebola

The Boko Haram situation has received less attention from the media than the recent Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris due to Nigeria’s remote location and the inherent danger in working there, says Ricardo René Larémont, Binghamton University professor of political science and sociology.

“This is essentially a no-go zone. There are very few journalists who can go there. Consequently, it is not going to get the attention that Paris would get. But, nonetheless, given how we were not present at the moment of the Rwanda conflagration and we acted belatedly in other crises in Africa, I think it is imperative upon the American electorate and also the American media…to keep attention on this issue because hundreds, indeed thousands, of ordinary Nigerians are suffering,”

says Larémont.

According to Larémont, the situation is analogous to that of ISIS in Iraq, in the sense that, essentially, northern Nigeria is being sectioned off from Nigeria itself.

“Whereas now there isn’t an Iraq as we knew it or Syria as we knew it, we do not have a Nigeria as we knew it,” says Laremont.

“They’re essentially establishing their own sovereignty over the northeastern part of the country, and the government isn’t doing very much about it.”

Boko Haram, an Islamist terrorist group, wants to establish a caliphate of its own, and a weak Nigerian government is struggling to respond. Boko Haram roughly translates to “Western education is a sin.” Here are five facts that put the group’s atrocities in context — and show why we’re likely to see more violence ahead of Nigeria’s Feb. 14 elections. (Time)

1. Conflicting Numbers in the News and What’s Reported by the Nigerian Defense Ministry

With the world’s gaze focused on Paris last week, militants from Boko Haram destroyed the town of Baga and several neighboring villages in northern Nigeria, killing up to 2,000 people and displacing thousands more. On Saturday, at least another 16 people were killed when extremists strapped a bomb to a girl who may have been as young as 10 and then detonated it in a crowded marketplace.

But President Goodluck Jonathan didn’t bother to condemn the carnage, instead he downplayed the events and he still has not acknowledge that any of the Boko Haram attacks even took place. Then the Nigerian defense ministry reported that the amount of dead from the Baga massacare was “exaggerated” because according to the government’s count the tally was 150.

(Foreign Policy)

2. Approval and Elections

President Goodluck Jonathan’s highest approval rating in September 2014 soared at 74% after his successful handling of the Ebola epidemic, but by December his approval rating fell to 55%. The largest decline in the president’s approval rating dropped by 23 points in the Boko Haram controlled area of Northeast Nigeria.

The Baga attack came before presidential and parliamentary elections in Nigeria coming up on February 14th and an upsurge in violence apparently designed to undermine the vote. Nigeria’s electoral commission said voting was “unlikely” in rebel-controlled areas and arrangements were being made to allow hundreds of thousands of displaced people to cast their ballots. In April 2011 violence in northern Nigeria following the presidential voting left more than 800 people dead.  President Jonathan made a surprise visit to the Northeast to visit the areas ravaged by Boko Haram, but he met with little enthusiasm. Survivors of the terrorist attack claimed that President Jonathan was only there because he wanted to appease critics.

(Premium Times, Human Rights Watch)

3. Boko Haram vs. Ebola

According to the CDC the West African Ebola epidemic has killed approximately 8,468 people since the outbreak. This is largest Ebola epidemic ever recorded, yet the violence perpetrated by Islamist radicals, Boko Haram, and government troops in Nigeria has claimed more than 10,340 lives in just 12 months, according to new figures by the Council on Foreign Relations. In that period around the same number of civilians, 10,733, were violently killed in Iraq by ISIS, according to the United Nations. The conflict has displaced at least 1.5 million people, while more than 2,000 were killed last year and Boko Haram’s territory now nearly equals the Islamic State’s in Iraq and Syria.

(Council on Foreign Relations via NBC News, Ebola death-toll estimates via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, BBC,Washington Post, Telegraph, the New Yorker)

4. The Government’s Energy Headache

Africa’s biggest economy is Nigeria, but they rely heavily on crude oil so much that it accounts for 75% of government revenue and 95% of exports. Since June there’s been a steep fall in oil prices, down more than 50%, which makes a robust and costly response to Boko Haram that much more difficult. Another problem it that the Nigeria has severe electricity generation problems. Much of the generation, transmission and distribution capacity has become worn out or damaged. The average per capita power consumption is among the lowest in the world and this in the world’s 5th largest oil producer. Nigeria’s per capita electricity consumption is 7% of Brazil’s and 3% of South Africa’s. At the same time, at least 50% of Nigeria’s 170 million people have no connection whatsoever to the grid.

(The Economist, the Guardian, the U.N. Africa Renewal, Energy Information Administration)

5. A Blind Eye

President Jonathan wants to win the upcoming election next month and his government has often been accused of underestimating casualty figures to downplay the threat of Boko Haram to deflect political criticism. Jonathan’s failure to confront Boko Haram, of course, is nothing new. Nigeria has long been cursed with a corrupt, ineffective government, one perennially unable to translate the country’s vast oil wealth into broad-based prosperity.

Less than 24 hours after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, President Jonathan publicly declared it a “dastardly terrorist attack.” Yet, he still has not acknowledge that any of the Boko Haram attacks even took place. A spokesman for the Nigerian defense ministry said the death toll from the Baga massacre had been “exaggerated” and dismissed them as “speculation and conjecture.” Jonathan’s administration and his supporters have tried to blame the West for Boko Haram’s rise, rather than taking responsibility for the group’s growing threat. But that’s a harder argument to make now that even top United Nations officials are demanding action.

(BBC, the Atlantic, transcript of Jan. 8 campaign rally via Sahara Reporters, CNN, Foreign Policy)

Ricardo René Larémont
Professor of Political Science and Sociology at Binghamton University

Comparative politics, Islamic law, Islamic politics, conflict resolution

Department of Political Science
Binghamton University (SUNY)
Binghamton, NY 13902-6000

Ph.D., Yale University
J.D., New York University Law School

Baga, Baga massacre, Boko Haram, Ebola Crisis, Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria