Buhari Signals Change In Strategy To Combat Boko Haram And Gang Violence

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is overhauling his country’s top military positions amid stalled efforts to suppress Boko Haram and internal gang insurgencies. Boko Haram has been wreaking havoc on the northeastern regions of Nigeria for over a decade, and the Nigerian police and military’s failed responses have seemingly led Buhari to change strategy.

According to Africanews, violence from Boko Haram and its affiliate, the Islamic State in West Africa, has killed some 36,000 people and displaced millions since it began waging its war for a caliphate in the northeast in 2009. Efforts from within and outside the Nigerian government to address the mismanagement of these crises have been protracted. Nonetheless, Buhari’s military changes signal a strong dissatisfaction with the terror mitigation efforts and also the emergence of what many believe will prove a turning point in the fight against extremist and criminal activity. Buhari’s announcements also represent his government’s reply to a frustrated and disheartened Nigerian citizenry, that has called repeatedly for the complete elimination of these organizations.

Ummate Abubakar, an internally displaced person (IDP) from the village of Monguno in Borno State, expressed these exact sentiments, saying “What we want is not to repel the Boko Haram but to kill them, not to repel them but to kill them, to finish them at once, not to repel them again.” Sunday Ishaya, another IDP from the same northeastern village, remarked “We are repeating what all the time we do, that is the reason why we are not after them. We want somebody that will just degrade them, complete them, wipe them away.”

Another threat to the stability of Nigeria are the criminal gangs in the northwest, who were charged by authorities for the kidnapping of 300 schoolboys in December. The activities from both extremists and criminal networks directly cause insecurity in the Nation’s economic and cultural environments, and reveal the shortcomings of the existing Nigerian security infrastructure. To address the ineffectiveness of Nigerian police, the Nation’s military has been deployed. While this has been shown to reduce violence in some instances, the “involvement of the military in internal security has worsened the problem of insecurity due to the military’s unprofessional approach and, at times, deliberate targeting the civilian populace which it is supposed to protect” (Segun, et al. 2020).

The motivations of Islamism and criminal networks are mostly apparent and defined; however, each threat is distinct and requires unique solutions. It is vital to assuage the ongoing fears of the Nigerian people, who have experienced years of societal disruption and tumult. There is some optimism, however, that the recent decisions of President Buhari are steps in the right direction.