Eliminating Nigeria's Islamist Poison; A History of African Troubles Dictates Limited U.S. 'Help'

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 22, 2014 | Go to article overview

Eliminating Nigeria's Islamist Poison; A History of African Troubles Dictates Limited U.S. 'Help'


Byline: Fred Gedrich

Once again the global spotlight shines on an al Qaeda-inspired attack in Africa. This time it involves the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from a Christian enclave in northern Nigeria by a band of Boko Haram jihadists who threaten to sell them as slaves or to use them for ransom. It evoked global outrage, but it is only one in a series of violent events in this tinderbox nation, where slavery and piracy still exist.

The kidnapping prompted the United States, Great Britain, France, Nigeria and others to meet recently in Paris for a "Security in Nigeria Summit," where participants agreed on measures intended to tame the terrorist group and bring about the safe return of the victims. If not properly managed, the situation could easily turn into another Libyan-type calamity.

Boko Haram (aka Nigerian Taliban) is a violent Sunni Muslim extremist group with ties to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. It mostly operates in the predominantly Muslim northern part of the country. The U.S. State Department estimates its numbers at a few thousand. Its prime goals include the establishment of an Islamic state and dispensing punishment to those who seek a non-Muslim education. The group uses violence to impose Shariah law on the population and is responsible for thousands of killings.

Nigeria's president, Goodluck Jonathan (a Christian who succeeded a Muslim as president), stated that Boko Haram members and sympathizers have infiltrated the government, military and Cabinet. He's likely right, since half of Nigeria's 177 million people (about 88.5 million, making it Africa's most Muslim-populated country) claim Islam as their faith.

The international focus on the recent schoolgirl kidnapping masks some of Nigeria's other enormous problems. The U.S. State Department's 2013 human-trafficking report reveals Nigeria is still a source, transit and destination country for modern-day slavery. Its genesis is traceable to more than 1,000 years ago, when Islam spread into the region and Muslim profiteers began shipping indigenous Africans to trans-Sahara slave markets.

In 2013, Nigeria surpassed Somalia as the most active place for pirates, with attacks on oil rigs, cargo ships and fishing boats for ransom soaring largely because the international community focused more on Somali pirates, and also because Nigeria's navy and its maritime police are too weak to protect offshore waters.

Despite its status as Africa's largest economy, the average annual income of Nigerians is only $2,800, with nearly 70 percent of the population subsisting on little more than $1 per day; only 61 percent of the population can read and write, with disproportionately far more illiterate women than men. …

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