On this date in 1960, Nigeria — Africa’s most populous nation — gained its independence 54 years after it had been colonized by the United Kingdom and became part of the then-sprawling British Empire.
But Nigerians must wonder if their prized independence has been as satisfying as they had thought it would be. This past weekend, an estimated 50 college students were shot to death as they slept because … well, simply because they were college students.
Terrorism abounds in the world today. Al-Qaida is the most famous terrorist organization, and recently we’ve learned more about the Somalia-based Al-Shabaab terrorist group that launched a brazen attack on a crowded shopping mall in Kenya, but the Nigerian extremist organization best known by its nickname, Boko Haram, has made fewer headlines.
But that Islamist extremist group is believed to have conducted this past weekend’s brutal assault on a college in rural northeastern Nigeria, killing as many as 50 students. Incidentally, most, if not all, of them were fellow Muslims who were shot as they slept in their dormitories. The victims were between age 18 and 22.
In English, Boko Haram’s official name means “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad.” In the local language, “Boko Haram” literally means “Western education is forbidden.” Simply stated, to Boko Haram schools are a symbol of the despised colonial culture.
In May, Nigeria’s unusually named president, Goodluck Jonathan, had ordered an operation against Boko Haram and declared a state of emergency for the northeastern section of the country, but that tactic has been woefully ineffective.
Boko Haram launched two attacks on schools in June, with at least nine children killed in one school and 13 students and teachers killed in the other. Then, in July, the Islamist militants attacked a school’s dormitories, killing at least 42, most of them students.
And besides ruthlessly killing ordinary young Nigerians seeking an education and setting fire to their college classrooms, Boko Haram is determined to overthrow Nigeria’s government and create an Islamic state in its place.
The weekend assault represents the huge security challenge faced by the government of Africa’s biggest oil producer. Of Nigeria’s 160 million people, approximately half are Muslims and half are Christians (who understandably are terrified at the prospect of an Islamist regime).
Since Boko Haram’s reign of terror began, more than 30,000 Nigerians have fled to neighboring Cameroon and Chad. Also, because of the uprising and the military emergency, farmers in the region have been forced from their fields and vendors from their markets.
The BBC reported Monday that Abdullahi Bego, a special adviser to the government in the region where the weekend attack occurred, acknowledged that no security forces had been operating in the area when the attack took place. But he said that schools in the area would not be closed because to do that would be handing Boko Haram a victory.
However, as outrageous as Boko Haram’s behavior has been, there is also widespread public distrust of Nigeria’s own military and police and multiple reports of atrocities attributed to them.
“After Boko Haram attacked a mobile military patrol, soldiers came to the place and started firing on people, innocent people,” a Nigerian who recently fled his hometown told the BBC. “When I went to the hospital the next morning I saw 30 bodies. I saw them with my naked eyes. I counted them.”
Unfortunately, even a cursory examination of their nation’s history shows that genuine peace and political stability have seldom, if ever, been enjoyed by Nigeria’s people.MORE IN Editorials
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