21 of the Chibok schoolgirls that were abducted by Boko Haram in April 2014 have been reunited with their families. That’s the good news, and there’s not much of it for Nigeria these days. Even the reunions are tempered by stigma and ostracism as some girls have returned with their captors’ children.
Boko Haram has surpassed Islamic State as the deadliest terror organization, killing over 11,000 people in 2015. Even beyond the death toll and kidnapping is the famine that has already killed thousands more people, which also has its roots Boko Haram. The terrorist group destroyed important agricultural output and the land they occupy is not accessible to aid groups. Even in relatively safe areas controlled by the Nigerian government, aid has been slow and insufficient, partially due to the government’s delayed request for international aid, poor infrastructure, and the fact that “relatively safe” remains dangerous.
I’ve heard comments about how this kind of devastation is only to be expected in Africa or “over there” to “those people.” While one could disagree purely on the merits of decency, that doesn’t address the significance of Nigeria on the world stage. Nigeria has one of the largest economies in Africa, and has the 7th largest population in the world with a median age of 18. They’re an oil rich country with other important natural resources. They have a depth of cultural richness and diversity (and an awesome soccer team.) Nigeria overcame British colonialism, various coups, and violence to become a functioning secular democracy. Yes, there are still problems with corruption, non-Boko Haram violence between competing ideologies, and severe income inequality. That said, if Boko Haram were not a factor, the potential in Nigeria could be nearly limitless
But Boko Haram and their growth cannot be ignored, even if they never target the U.S. and American citizens. If the U.S. wishes to stop terror, we must pay attention to what works and fails in Nigeria. Military might has been ineffective; the military uses valuable resources and terrorist fighters changing their tactics to inflict the most fear, especially through the use of suicide bombers. Religious divides have compounded the problem of who to trust and how to work together. While the majority of Boko Haram’s targets have been “bad” Muslims, they have also targeted Christians. The government mismanagement that spurred mistrust and the growth of Boko Haram still continues today. Perhaps most importantly, the terrorists in Nigeria are Nigerians, a group that developed from issues within the country and unmet needs of the impoverished northern populace. (They have obviously gone well beyond that now.) Understanding their motivations and recruiting practices will be crucial to stemming their tide of destruction.
To pretend that Nigerian troubles have no bearing on the U.S. is ignorant. Where will we be if Boko Haram dominates a country so rich in resources, so populated by youth, and so integral to its region? What will the world lose if what should be the giant of Africa falls?