At around 19:30 local time on the evening of 1 May, reports began filtering in of another suspected terrorist attack in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. The incident occurred within the city’s Nyanya district; where, less than three weeks ago, a bombing targeting a crowded bus station killed in excess of 70 people and left scores others wounded.
As was the case with the 14 April attack, the latest incident is likely to have been perpetrated by the Boko Haram Islamist extremist sect. For over a decade, Boko Haram has waged an armed campaign in Nigeria, aimed at toppling the country’s secular government and transforming Africa’s most populous country into an Islamic state governed by Sharia Law. Although the sect predominantly operates in the country’s north east, it has exhibited both the intent and operational capacity to execute attacks across Nigeria, including within the capital.
Although Boko Haram traditionally favoured attacks against state-aligned institutions, such as police stations and detention centres, there has been a discernible shift in its modus operandi over the past 12 months. Incidents targeting civilian interests have increased markedly, specifically within Nigeria’s north east, where reports of civilian massacres have become a near-daily occurrence. This operational transcendence has also been witnessed in the sect’s recent operations in the capital. Previous attacks in Abuja targeted highly fortified facilities such as the police headquarters, the offices of the United Nations, as well as a Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) detention facility. However, the 14 April and 1 May attacks were aimed at civilian targets and were seemingly orchestrated with the intention of causing maximum casualties.
I had initially postured that Boko Haram’s operational shift was forced upon them. I claimed that the sect may have been weakened by counterinsurgency operations launched against its positions in Sambisa Forest, in addition to its logistical networks within the cities of Maiduguri, Kano, Yola and Damaturu. I suggested that the focus on ‘softer’ targets may delineate that the sect had undergone an operational decline and no longer had the capacity to execute attacks against hardened targets with the relative frequency which was previously witnessed.
Currently, I find myself questioning my initial assertions. Boko Haram’s targeting of civilians in acts of violence which have included mass shootings, bombings and perhaps most recently, the kidnapping of 234 female students, may well be deliberate. In adopting this strategy, the sect is undermining the authority and perhaps the very legitimacy of the Nigerian government. With each act of violence perpetrated, disenchantment with the government’s handling of the insurgency has increased. As the violence continues unabated, Nigerians are as angry at the government for its failure in protecting its citizens as they are at those harming them in the first place. It is fast becoming apparent that there are no heroes or heroines in this deadly war, there are just victims and villains.
With Boko Haram successfully undermining faith in President Goodluck Jonathan and his cabinet on the home front, could the sect now be trying to belittle the government in the eyes of the international community? In less than six days’ time, Abuja will host the World Economic Forum (WEF). Foreign dignitaries attending the event will already be questioning whether their hosts are able to guarantee their safety. Boko Haram will undoubtedly view the symposium as a high-value target, knowing very well that even the most minor of security breaches will likely draw global attention and pose further questions over the government’s aptitude for handling the insurgency. However, even an incident-free, successful hosting of the WEF summit may be an indictment against the Jonathan regime. With the proceedings likely to occur within a climate of tight security, many Nigerians may be left wondering why the government is not prioritising the safety of its own citizenry with the same vigour and robustness being afforded to its foreign visitors…