Nigerian intelligence services fail to halt Boko Haram bombers | Africa | DW | 25.01.2012
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Africa

Nigerian intelligence services fail to halt Boko Haram bombers

According to Human Rights Watch, Nigerian Islamist sect Boko Haram has killed more than 900 people since it launched an uprising in 2009, including more than 250 in the first weeks of this year.

A rescue worker inspects the burnt-out wreckage of cars in Kano

Almost 200 people were killed in the attack in Kano

Heinrich Bergstresser is a former head of Deutsche Welle's Hausa Service and author of the book "Nigeria: power and powerlessness on the Gulf of Guinea." Deutsche Welle asked him for his assessment of the current spate of bombings in northern Nigeria, most recently in the second-largest city Kano, for which the radical Islamist movement Boko Haram has claimed responsibility.

Deutsche Welle: Is the government of President Goodluck Jonathan reacting to the crisis in an appropriate manner?

Heinrich Bergstresser: In my opinion the leadership in Nigeria is not capable of handling this crisis. Look at how the president behaves, especially on his visit to Kano after the bombings there, and you see a person who is hesitant and fearful, a person without spirit. This to me proves that Jonathan and his advisors are not aware of what is really going on up north.

Presiddent Jonathan with the Emir of Kano whom he visited after the attacks

President Jonathan visited the Emir of Kano after the attacks

Boko Haram's attacks appear to be becoming deadlier and more sophisticated. What could be the reason behind this?

The region in the far north is a place where grinding poverty has a huge impact on the people, especially on the youth, and so it is easy for some influential political players to use them to attack the state on a local as well as on a national level.

So would you say that tackling poverty is the solution to this problem?

There will be no escape for the government or for the Nigerian state if they don't address the issue of poverty, particularly in the north but also in the country as a whole. On the question of how to tackle Boko Haram, to address poverty is one thing, but secondly, internal security in general is so poor you have to use intelligence. It's absurd for the president to say, "we will use military means." There are intelligence services; the military has its own service, so does the police, and there's also the state security service. But when you take a close look, you see there is deep mistrust between the intelligence services and this cannot contribute to any solution for the time being.

Some people have linked Boko Haram to the Taliban in Afghanistan, is this a valid comparison?

To a certain extent, yes. Despite the terrible poverty in the north, people are connected to the world through the Internet. This was not the case several years ago. Now young people who have the feeling they don't have a perspective, see on the Internet that it's a beautiful thing if you commit suicide for the benefit of your community and for the benefit of religion, and that your family will even be paid for this act while you go to heaven immediately. This kind of new phenomenon in Nigeria does have some similarities with the Taliban and the suicide bombings in Afghanistan.

Do you see Boko Haram becoming a regional or even Africa-wide security problem?

I doubt that very much. Such an argument is a typical political way of diverting interest away from the real issue. For me, it's a local issue, a Nigerian issue. The intelligence services know what is happening on the ground but they don't exchange information. If you recall the 9/11 attacks in the US, even the American intelligence services didn't trust each other and so they didn't exchange information although the FBI and CIA both knew a lot about Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.

In Nigeria it's a similar situation. They know what is going on. They know there is no real connection to the al-Qaeda network. But in order to find a scapegoat and to avoid doing anything that is necessary on the ground, they point to the alleged internationalization of the problem.

Interview: Chrispin Mwakideu
Editor: Mark Caldwell / rm

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