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Buhari's promise to defeat Boko Haram

Adrian Kriesch and Jan-Philipp Scholz / mc
April 6, 2015

Nigeria's president-elect Muhammadu Buhari has promised to defeat Boko Haram in six months. DW asked Nigerians forced out of their homes by the Islamist insurgency whether they believed in a swift victory.

Displaced persons sitting on mats in Kaduna
Image: DW/J.-P. Scholz/A. Kriesch

More than 20 men, women and children are sitting on mats in Ibrahim Abdullah's yard. Sitting and waiting is now a daily routine for most of them after they fled from the Boko Haram fighters who attacked their villages in northeastern Nigeria some months ago. They found sanctuary with Abdullah, a relative who works for a non-governmental organization in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna.

Authorities overwhelmed

These internally displaced people belong to the 1.5 million Nigerians who aid organizations say have been driven from their homes by the insurgency. Most of them have found accommodation with family members in other parts of Nigeria.

Nigeria's president-elect Mohammadu Buhari
President-elect Muhammadu Buhari has proimsed to defeat Boko Haram in six monthsImage: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images

But the problem doesn't end there and Nigerian authorities cannot cope with it. The meager resources that have been allocated to help the displaced are depleted by corruption. Camps are hopelessly overcrowded and there is a shortage of food and medical supplies. At Abdullah's, food has also run short and the mats are barely big enough to sleep on.

When he was on the campaign trail, Nigeria's president-elect Muhammadu Buhari, himself a Muslim from northern Nigeria, frequently took the government to task over the plight of the internally displaced. He has promised to restore security to the country and give the displaced the opportunity to return to their homes within six months.

'It should be a Muslim'

The internally displaced in Kaduna are divided over whether they should believe Buhari's election pledge. "I believe we will be able to go back soon," said Yagana Umar, a young woman from Maiduguri, capital of Borno State. Asabe Abubakar, who is sitting next to her holding her five-year-old son, is more skeptical. The internally displaced would all like to believe what they have been told, but "politicians have often promised a lot and then done nothing," she told DW.

Imam Lawal Maduru
Lawal Maduru said giving jobs to young people was part of the fight against terrorismImage: DW/J.-P. Scholz/A. Kriesch

Nigeria's outgoing president, Goodluck Jonathan, a politician from oil-rich, mainly Christian south, appeared to show little interest in the fate of the north of the country. When nearly 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped almost a year ago, he declined to visit their families in Chibok.

Yohanna Buru, a local Kaduna pastor, and his Muslim counterpart, Imam Lawal Maduru run a joint interfaith aid initiative for the internally displaced. Buru believes that Buhari will be more successful than Jonathan, his predecessor. "The people that can handle the insurgents? It should be a Muslim," he said. Buhari is more familiar with the needs and concerns of the Muslims in the north of the country and almost became a victim of terrorism himself when suspected Boko Haram militants attacked him while he was campaigning. "l am sure that Buhari will do all that is humanly possible to solve the terrorism problem in Nigeria," Buru said.

Pastor Yohanna Buru
Yohanna Buru says a Muslim president has a better chance of defeating Boko HaramImage: DW/J.-P. Scholz/A. Kriesch

Negotiate with Boko Haram?

Terrorism analyst Jibo Ibrahim said that the "humanly possible" is unlikely to suffice for the defeat of Boko Haram within six months. In six months "one could perhaps destroy most of their bases," he said. Ibrahim, a political scientist who works for the Center for Democracy and Development in Nigeria, said there are many young men who have been radicalized and are still willing to sacrifice their lives in suicide attacks. They cannot be defeated overnight. "Boko Haram need to be substantially weakened militarily and then asked if they wish to negotiate," Ibrahim said. There will only be peace in Nigeria once the leaders of the terrorist group believe that their only option is to abandon their struggle.

Maduru, who makes his rounds every week with Buru to visit the many displaced Christian and Muslim families in Kaduna, agrees with this assessment. But in addition to military gains over Boko Haram and an offer of negotiation, "the government must finally do something to tackle unemployment." Joblessness was always the best breeding ground for the next generation of terrorists. But if the young people in the north are offered jobs and hope for the future, it will become increasingly difficult for Boko Haram to find recruits for their ideology of hate. .

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