Nigeria Has Capacity But Lacks Will to Tackle Boko Haram, Says US Official

Chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Robert P. George, has said that the Nigerian government has the capacity to wage a successful war against Boko Haram, but the government does not have the political will to wage the battle.
George, whose organisation published a report last year on the activities of the Islamic insurgent sect, reiterated some of the recommendations in the report. He said Boko Haram insurgency was a real and growing threat to the future of Nigeria, which the country must confront head-on.
Boko Haram seeks to introduce “pure” Shariah law in northern Nigeria. The group is responsible for many deaths and destructions in religious and educational institutions and other public places in the country since the last two years. In an attempt to tackle the threat posed by Boko Haram, the federal government has imposed emergency rule in three North-east states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa, which are the hotbeds of the group’s rebellion.
The emergency measures have recorded some successes, even though the killings by Boko Haram have largely continued.
But George stated, “In our view, Nigeria’s government has the capacity to address the violence successfully.  The problem appears to be one of will, not ability. Clearly, Nigeria’s establishment, including President Jonathan and other leaders, needs to muster the political courage to protect the innocent and prosecute those who are guilty of unleashing violence against their fellow Nigerians.
“Simply stated, Nigeria’s failure since at least the turn of the century to protect Nigerians from religious-related assaults – or prevent or punish such violence – must be addressed.  Every effort must be made to bring perpetrators of this violence, regardless of their faith or position in society, to justice.  It is the only way the country will have any chance of a stable future.”
George, however, said military force alone would not overcome the insurgency, stressing that an effective law enforcement system and adherence to the rule of law are crucial in the attempt to beat the menace of the Islamic sect.
“But overcoming the Boko Haram challenge will take more than a military response – it also requires an approach that addresses Nigeria’s tolerance of long-running sectarian violence, protects religious freedom and enforces rule of law,” George stated.
Highlighting the human cost of Boko Haram violence since January last year, the USCIRF chairman said the sect “launched religiously-motivated attacks on 50 churches, killing at least 366 people; 31 separate attacks on Christians or southerners perceived to be Christian, killing at least 166 people; 23 targeted attacks on clerics or senior Islamic figures critical of Boko Haram, killing at least 60 persons; and 21 attacks on “un-Islamic” institutions or persons engaged in “un-Islamic” behavior, killing at least 74.”
USCIRF Annual Report 2013 recommended that the American government should “establish a U.S. consulate in Kano and call on the Nigerian government to create a Ministry of Northern Affairs to address the economic and political marginalisation of the north.” It said it was part of measures to prioritise religious freedom in U.S.-Nigeria bilateral relations.
Besides Boko Haram, George said Nigeria’s long-term stability was also threatened by sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians, which he said had killed about 14, 000 people since 1999.
“Worse, since that time, USCIRF has confirmed that only 200 people have been found guilty of perpetrating these attacks.  This failure to bring the guilty to justice has created a climate of impunity emboldening the violent to commit further attacks, and indeed has helped trigger the rise of Boko Haram itself.  Boko Haram uses this history as a recruiting tool and the group frequently attacks predominantly Christian areas in Bauchi, Jos, Kaduna, and Kano to further exacerbate existing Muslim-Christian tensions and fuel more violence,” George said.
He said the Nigerian government’s counterterrorism tactics in response to the religiously-motivated violence were necessary but insufficient. According to him, “Nigeria must also enforce the rule of law and make perpetrators of both sectarian and Boko Haram violence accountable through the judicial system.
“Indeed, President Obama was correct in making the case to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan during their September 23 meeting in New York that the Nigerian government must embrace a comprehensive approach that includes the protection of human rights and the promotion of rule of law.”
He reiterated USCIRF’s call on the U.S. government to designate Nigeria as a “country of particular concern,” for condoning “systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations.”
George also restated his group’s suggestion that the U.S. government should enter into a binding agreement with the Nigerian government to help it in the efforts to bring perpetrators of violence to justice, develop conflict prevention and early warning methods, and professionalise the Nigeria Police.