Richard Joseph, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Global Economy and Development
The Brookings Institution
January 03, 2012

On the first day of 2012, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan imposed a state of emergency in four of his country’s 36 states and closed parts of its borders with Cameroon, Chad and Niger. He also pledged to crush Boko Haram, the self-declared al-Qaida affiliate.

The emergence of northern Nigeria as a theatre in global jihadism has been one of the grim developments of the past two years. On December 25, 2009, the failure of explosive materials to detonate in the underwear of 23-year old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab prevented a horrific airplane calamity. It was soon learned that Abdulmutallab had been prepared for this assignment by Anwar al-Awlaki, the terrorist mastermind subsequently killed on September 30, 2011 by American drone aircraft in Yemen.

Several bombing incidents in Nigeria on Christmas Day 2011 showed the potent and merciless character of the insurgency. In one of these incidents, 37 parishioners were killed in a Catholic church on the outskirts of the capital, Abuja. Boko Haram militants, who have also engaged in several armed confrontations with Nigerian security forces, claimed responsibility. Similarly, 25 people died when the same militants bombed U.N. headquarters in Abuja on August 26, 2011.

While Nigeria confronts these dire threats, the world community cannot overlook the need for comprehensive global engagement to advance governance, security and development in Nigeria. Although the challenges are great, so also are the resources available to meet them.
At least half of Nigeria’s estimated 160million citizens are Muslim, and the greater majority resides in the northern states of the federation. Extremist groups have periodically emerged among them, but usually dissolve after brutal confrontations with security forces. This is no longer the case.

Boko Haram, which in Hausa, the lingua franca, means “western education is sacrilege,” is unyielding. It rejects what the northern region most urgently needs: rapidly improved education to narrow the widening gap with the southern states. It also leverages resentment many northerners hold for the relative success, once economic and now also political, of the more-Christianized south. Boko Haram’s recent attacks and announcements are heightening regional, ethnic and religious tensions. A recent declaration called on southerners to leave the north, a chilling reminder of the pogroms and mass migrations that preceded the Nigerian civil war of 1967-70.

Reversing the terrorist tide in Nigeria will require expert counter-insurgency assistance along with efforts to accelerate political and economic progress.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a visit to Abuja in August 2009, spoke forcefully of the need to reduce political corruption. Much remains to be done to improve transparency and accountability in the use of public funds. This struggle can draw on many resources including myriad civil society organizations, diverse and vigorous independent media, the wide availability of cell-phones, and a judiciary that intermittently demonstrates the capacity to curb the abuse of power. The appointment of a new head of the federal anti-corruption agency in November 2011, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), together with the recruitment of capable individuals to lead the economic and finance ministries and the Central Bank, could accelerate the pursuit of honest and effective government.

Goodluck Jonathan presides over a highly presidential system. In May 2010, he succeeded Umaru Yar’Adua who died after a prolonged illness. Jonathan, who had formerly served as governor of Bayelsa, an oil-rich state in the Delta region, was elected to a four-year term in April 2011. After more than a decade of military operations, and the lavish distribution of funds by government agencies and petroleum companies, armed insurgencies in the delta region have abated. The opposite is true in the north which, together with the rise in terrorism, has experienced economic contraction and the loss of the patronage-commanding presidency.

The Jonathan presidency is caught in a perfect storm. His legitimacy is challenged by some northern political barons who believe that presidential power should have been retained by their region in keeping with an extra-constitutional power rotation principle. This dissension was echoed in the fierce riots throughout the north after Jonathan’s electoral victory in April 2011. Jonathan has promised to serve only one elected term (although he is eligible for two), which holds the threat of condemnation by opponents if he reneges and profound dismay among supporters if he does not.

Moreover, major infrastructural reforms must be rapidly executed in virtually every sector despite systemic inefficiencies. Jonathan is currently pushing through an unpopular reform long attempted by his predecessors, the removal of subsidies on petroleum, ­much of which is imported because of Nigeria’s dilapidated refineries. While vowing to reduce corruption, Jonathan must keep federal largesse flowing to party bosses to whom he owes his ascendancy and political survival.

What can the United States and other major countries do to help Nigeria address the immediate security crisis as well as safely navigate the remaining 40 months of Jonathan’spresidency? In the terminology of Joseph Nye, a smart power strategy is required to skillfully combine hard and soft power.

The first priority should be to neutralize Boko Haram without a massive display of American counter-terrorism prowess, which could provoke the public backlash seen elsewhere, notably in Pakistan. The required actions include a rapid upgrade in the professional and technical capacity of Nigeria’s security forces. They must begin intercepting Boko Haram militants before they strike, but also avoid the general brutalities that have fomented deeper anger. Nigerian forces have been accused of previous abuses including extra-judicial killings, making the removal of legal constraints under the state of emergency acause for extreme vigilance.

Second is the need to engage Nigeria’s vast diaspora, perhaps a million-strong in the United States. With their education, training and material resources, and their commitment to improved governance in their native country, they have much to contribute to capacity building, accelerated development and the rule of law.

Third, a determined effort must be made to promote high quality and job-producing growth through trade and investment in a country that has the potential to match the rising nations of Brazil and Indonesia.

While pleading guilty in the Detroit federal court on October 12, 2011, Abdulmutallab warned: “You laugh at us now, we will laugh at you later.”

As Nigerian security and social forces mobilize to meet a challenge that is implacable and remorseless, this pivotal nation must be helped intelligently, assiduously, and comprehensively to succeed.


About beegeagle

BEEG EAGLE -perspectives of an opinionated Nigerian male with a keen interest in Geopolitics, Defence and Strategic Studies


  1. beegeagle says:

    Dispassionate and insightful.

    Dr Pham and now, Richard Joseph have much clearer ideas of what the way forward should be than do the trio of Prof Jean Herskovits, Vanda Felbab-Brown, also a fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC and James J.F. Forest who is an Associate Professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, ALL of whom got it so WRONG.

    For some, the magic wand lies in and all causes and solutions stem from the core Nigerian theme that can only ever be CORRUPTION and NOTHING ELSE. It smacks of intellectual laziness when people simply go regurgitating cliches and/or key into popular opinions which suffice among narrow segments of society, such as holds true for their “go-to” man in Nigeria, the closet ethnoregional hegemon and BH apologist, Mallam the “respected activist” (who has not quite recovered from the defeat of his hero at the April 2011 presidential polls), the likes of whom are hell-bent on undermining the current order for the advancement of their narrow objectives. Not in this crazily multi-layered Nigeria.

    Was the same Mallam not heard on the BBC’s Network Africa this morning as he sought to justify his declared intention of bringing about the downfall of the FG while hiding behind false-hearted populist rhetoric?

    Thankfully, Nigerians (northerners at that) saw through his sinister motives and called him out via listener text messages over his micronationalist agenda which was conveniently ensconced in populist rhetoric.

    Back to the foreign battalion of self-styled Nigeria watchers and specialists, no serious commentator can afford to approach the subject-matter with preconceived notions which are carried about like a mental tumour. Such notions are guaranteed to impede the clear appreciation of issues and to rub off negatively on their prescriptions to those for whom they are experts and who trust and believe in the value of their recommendations.

  2. doziex says:

    VERY WELL PUT mr. Richard Joseph. A well thought out,accurate analysis of the issue at hand.
    Only the best from the Brooking institute.
    In addition to nigeria’s NSA, Owoye Azazi, Dr. Pham and now mr. Joseph, the correct argument may now be winning out in the American media.

  3. This is a well respected think tank what is more striking and very precise is the author calls on we Nigerians in the diaspora. I sincerely hope that those in the US INTELLIGENCE community will pay attention to this piece written and for GOD’S sake stop taking as gospel those people who keep predicting the date of Nigeria’s breakup (2015) it shifts every couple of years. AND also those alarmists who somehow fantasize that America after spending $1 trillion dollarson IRAQ is going to invade Nigeria. I have to believe that better leadership will follow and with that common sense.
    With AZAZI writing in one of America’s influential NEWSPAPERS I am hoping that America will literally wake up we are politely thankful for the 4* general visit but Nigeria @ this stage needs more than photo ops
    This is a very different time for Nigeria she really needs satellite communications ( telephones/ beacons, logistics) training long term for their COIN operations,and less pontificating from their counterparts in the U.S.
    America as well as Nigeria has to look at this relationship as what STRATEGIC LONG TERM goals are neccesary /beneficial for both.This relationship has to succeed for both parties to trust and continue to improve on it.
    There are three cases and how both countries handle/ have handled it will illustrate the direction of this relationship:
    CASE 1. The Iranians who were caught smuggling massive arnaments into NIGERIA. WHAT IS IN IT FOR NIGERIA ? WHAT IS IN IT FOR AMERICA?
    CASE 2. The evil minded ABDULMUTALLAB. Does the head of Nigeria’s secret service have a direct line from ABUJA to his counterpart in VIRGINIA? We now know despite at least two warnings (recorded) this fool got on the plane.
    CASE3. There is speculation no hard evidence that just as we have seen brainwashed American SOMALIANS travelling back to somalia could it be true of some NIGERIANS? travelling not only to somalia but to the heartbed of A.Q. YEMEN

  4. beegeagle says:

    You have spoken well, Jimmy.

  5. beegeagle says:


    18 January, 2012

    Violence has flared again in northern Nigeria, where attacks attributed to the group known as Boko Haram have several areas in a state of emergency. More than 80 people have been killed by extremist and criminal groups in recent weeks, adding to the more than 500 violently killed in the region in the past year.

    As a long-time friend of the people of Nigeria, the United States condemns the ongoing acts of violence and offers our sincere condolences to the families of the victims. We urge the Nigerian government to hold accountable those responsible for the attacks, while also protecting innocent civilians as they enforce the law.

    Groups that use violence against innocents can never be considered legitimate spokesmen of people seeking justice or those trying to build a better future for their children. Instead, we applaud those civil society groups who take tangible steps to deliver government accountability and inclusive, lasting economic growth to the region.

    The most populous nation in Africa, Nigeria derives enormous strength from its religious and ethnic diversity. We call on Christians and Muslims all over the country to defend the nation’s unity by protecting vulnerable minorities within their own communities.

  6. beegeagle says:

    Raffaello Pantucci for CNN
    Thu Jan 19 2012

    After an explosive festive season that spilled into the New Year and growing stories of increased connections to other regional networks, Nigerian group Boko Haram is likely to be one of the main focuses of attention for counterterrorists in this coming year.

    While definitively predicting whether it is going to metastasize into a global threat, or remain a regional one, is something dependent on many variable factors, some lessons from other regional violent Islamist networks can be drawn to understand better the general direction Boko Haram is going in.

    Three groups are particularly useful to look at: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen,al Shabaab in Somalia and al Qaeda in the IslamicMaghreb (AQIM). All three are groups that have a clear globalist violent Islamist rhetoric and varying degrees of connectivity with al Qaeda core in Pakistan.

    While Boko Haram seems to increasingly sound like a global jihadist group, it has thus far only established connections with regional al Qaedaist networks — specifically, members have admitted to training in Somalia and American military officials have pointed to links with AQIM.

    Of these three groups, the one that has repeatedly posed a direct threat to American homeland security is AQAP, the Yemeni based al Qaeda affiliate that hosted Anwar al-Awlaki, the infamous Yemeni-American preacher.

    Establishedby individuals who had served directly with Osama bin Laden and had been involved with al Qaeda since its early days (and some who have been in Guantanamo) it has been an important part of al Qaeda’s global strategy.
    Documents found in bin Laden’s layer point to the organization asking him directly about management issues and there is evidence of direct communication between the groups about operational planning. The group has inherited al Qaeda core’s obsession with the United States, something demonstrated in intercepted emails between Awlaki and a contact in the UK that show Awlaki telling him to prioritize the United States, rather than the United Kingdom, as a target.

    And this obsession has been given operational support by a steady flow of young Western recruits, drawn in part by the groups English-language media campaign. These recruits both provide the network with operational assets theycan use to strike the West, but also help feed its anti-Western rhetoric, spurred on as they are by a deep rejection of the society that they came from.All of which helps explain why the group is seen as a major threat to the United States and why the group continues to try to launch attacks, all the while also trying to consolidate its position in Yemen.

    The group has also been shown to have strong links with al Shabaab in Somalia, another regional network with links to al Qaeda core, but that has so far not demonstrated the same eagerness to launch attacks directly against the American homeland or in Europe. Similar to AQAP,al Shabaab has some leaders who have been quite close to al Qaeda core and it has hosted a number of senior al Qaeda members.

    But the majority of its leadership has emerged from the long-standing inter-tribal conflicts that have dominated Somalia’s recent history. It has also been something of a draw for young Westerners seeking the thrill of fighting on a jihadist battlefield, and some of these young people have tried to launch attacks back home — though not at the direction of Shabaab.

    But while it may have launched attacks in Somalia against Western targets, and seemed to be involved in plots to attack Western targets regionally (including recent stories of using western recruits for plotting in neighboring Kenya), there is currently little evidence that the group has directed attacks targeting North America or Europe.

    Instead, it seems as though the group has chosen to avoid such direct provocations, most likely to not distract from their regional interests and bring too much attention to them from the American security machine. The focus is on consolidating power in Somalia, in many ways something that is merely an extension of the civil war that has been raging in the nation for decades. It clearly has the potential to launch direct attacks in the form of support networks sending money and fighters in Europe and North America, but has chosen not to deploy them.

    And finally, there is al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), another group with direct historical ties to al Qaeda core as an evolution of a group that was born from the community of Algerians who had served in Afghanistan against the Soviets. Individuals linked to previous iterations of the group have been involved in attacks in France and individuals linked to the group continue to be found in Europe.

    But it has been a long time since it launched an attack, or was linked to an attack, in Europe. Instead, there has been a steady patter of attacksagainst north African security forces and repeated kidnappings for ransom of Westerners traveling around the region — making the group seem more of a regional criminal-terrorist network that international terrorist organization.
    The group may receive some sort of a boost in thewake of the Arab Spring in terms of equipment and there are stories that al Qaeda core is focusing on the region as a new field of operations as pressure in Pakistan continues, but none of this has yet translated into much evidence of a large out-of-area terror campaign.

    So where would Boko Haram fit into this spectrum? It lacks much evidence of direct contacts with al Qaeda core, meaning that it is unlikely to have directly inherited al Qaeda’s obsession with attacking America. Instead, it seems to have developed out of the long-standing tribal and north-south tensions in Nigeria. It has been cloaking itself in an anti-western rhetoric — its name translates as “western education is forbidden” — and made contact with other regional Islamist groups that shout loudly about global jihad, but its focus remains the sharia-ization of Nigeria.

    Of course, all of these factors can change, and the attack last August on the U.N. office in Abuja showed a level of technical capacity and an interest in targeting foreigners. But this does not necessarily mean the internationalization of the group’s fight. The attack could be interpreted as away of drawing attention to the group and its struggle — something key for an organization using violence to advance a political cause. The world press has become sadly used to massacres in Africa, so in order to draw attention, groups have to choose westernized targets.

    In this light, it therefore seems that Boko Haram is most like al Shabaab, though at a much earlier stage. Like Shabaab, it grew out of local tribal conflicts and tensions adopting Islamist garb, andit has so far avoided direct confrontations with the west. Unlike the Somali group, it lacks direct connections to al Qaeda core.

    While it is clearly angry at the west, it does not yet seem to have made the specific strategic decision to expend its efforts in launching attacksin Europe or North America. It is possible that like Shabaab, in time Boko Haram might expand its operations regionally and again against foreign targets — but this should be seen within a regional context rather than a globalist jihadist framework.

    Finally, unlike all of the other groups,it also lacks a notable international support network sending money and fighters, but as security agencies have already worried, the large Nigerian diaspora internationally might change this.

    For Western security planners it is a hard game to judge. While it would be surprising for the group to launch attacks against the west, if it continues to grow and is able to tap into the globalist jihadist narrative it will draw more attention to itself and its international networks will develop.

    This will expand the pool of people being radicalized and will provide al Qaeda or affiliate networks with new potential networks they can capitalize upon to advance their globalist cause.
    And if the group is able to establish a safe territory where it can impose its will and shariah, it is possible that it could turn into a haven for jihadists being hounded by drone strikes and western intelligence elsewhere.

    This all poses a threat, but too much direct foreign attention to the group will both increase the groups credibilityand also bring them into direct confrontation with western forces — something that might in itself accelerate a shift towards globalist violence.

    So far, however, the only Nigerian to be prominently involved in terrorist plotting against the west was Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the British educated Nigerian student who was dispatched by AQAP with a bomb sewn into his underwear. And there has been no evidence that he was connected with Boko Haram.

    Instead, the group has focused on causing chaos and massacring people in Nigeria, something that is terrible but must clearly be focused on in a regional way rather than as part of a global anti-terrorist struggle..

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