1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

What strategy can stop Boko Haram?

Katrin Gänsler / cm
May 8, 2014

Nigeria’s Islamist terror group Boko Haram seems to be getting stronger by the day. Just this week, 300 people were killed in attacks along the Cameroonian border. More than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls remain missing.

Image: Quentin Leboucher/AFP/Getty Images

There is growing anger and fear in Nigeria. Attacks by Boko Haram insurgents have increased steadily, they no longer target only northern Nigerian towns, as was the case before. Lately Nigerians have had to cope with several attacks within a week.

Two car bomb blasts in Nyanya, a neighborhood on the outskirts of the capital Abuja, was a clear signal of the militants' ability to instill fear and terror.

A local resident at the market in Nyanya told DW people were feeling helpless. "Your people have to come and help us, the situation is not good," he said. "We are suffering. We don't have security in this country, the president is trying but he alone can't solve the whole situation."

Lethal and brutal group

Boko Haram has existed for almost 12 years now. But it has radicalized and its attacks became more brutal after the death of its founder Mohammed Yusuf in 2009. An estimated 300 people were killed on Monday ( 05.05.2014) in Gamboru Ngala , a town near the Cameroonian border.

Emmanuel Nnadozie Onwubiko, chairman of a Nigerian organization of writers concerned with human rights (HURIWA) told DW he was concerned by what's happening. "These people sneak in the dead of the night. They strike and immediately disappear," he said. "They are formidably armed and are said to be well trained. This is the reason why our own soldiers need extensive training."

Calls for Nigeria's military to get better training and equipment is nothing new. Critics of the army have long argued that the soldiers are trained only in traditional warfare. For instance, it was relatively easy for them to deploy in neighboring Cameroon or Chad, but they have little or no expertise at all in dealing with highly mobile terrorists.

Nigeria police officers search for evidence on bus wreckage destroyed by a bomb in Abuja.
Nyanya's initial blast targeted commuters who travel to and from AbujaImage: Reuters

Dilemma of rescuing missing girls

What is more pressing for most people is the fate of the more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls from Chibok. They have spent more than three weeks in the hands of Boko Haram. The group's leader Abubakar Shekau has threatened to sell the girls as slaves.

There is an urgent need to act, but with utmost caution because of the risks involved. It is quite plausible that the Islamists might want to use the students as human shields, says Hildegard Brehrendt-Kigozi, director of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Abuja.

Nigerian protestors waving placards calling for the freeing of the abducted girls
Protests to pressure government to free the girls are increasingImage: DW/K. Gänsler

Behrendt-Kigozi believes a response that relies more on dialogue than on weapons could still have a chance. "One could think, okay, you should maybe wait a bit and hope that some of the girls may escape on their own, like a number of them have already done,” she said "Or perhaps there could be a deal that some of the captured Boko Haram fighters are released in exchange for the girls."

Failed state of emergency

Since May 14, 2013, three northern states - Borno, Yobe and Adamawa - have been under a state of emergency rule. The move was meant to enable large-scale military operations to be carried out against the terrorists. But so far, success has been moderate. On the other hand, the Islamist fighters appear to be getting stronger than ever.

Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung's director Hildegard Behrendt-Kigozi seated in her office
Hildegard Behrendt-Kigozi says there may still be a chance for dialogue with Boko HaramImage: DW/K. Gänsler

President Goodluck Jonathan has on several occasions rejected the idea of talking to Boko Haram. Only last Sunday (04.05.2014), during a panel discussion with the media, he reiterated once again that dialogue was out of the question, repeating his usual line that he cannot talk with a group that "has no face and no contact person."

Many people, such as Suran Darba who hails from northern Nigeria, feel the president is using that statement as an excuse. "That is not true. I do not believe that they have no face because it started from somewhere," Darba said, adding that the government had not done anything to stop those behind the sect. "We have to stop playing these kind of gimmicks and arrest the sponsors of Boko Haram.”

Skip next section Explore more
Skip next section DW's Top Story

DW's Top Story

Indian train crash in Balasore, Odisha
Skip next section More stories from DW
Go to homepage