Newly elected Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari faces many challenges. He has the Herculean task of reversing fifty years of decay that exists at the heart of Nigeria’s current development and security architecture. Tackling Boko Haram, which is his most urgent task, is only the latest manifestation of growing ethnic and religious extremism that has seen successive waves of violence and even efforts of state dismemberment.
Writing for the Small Wars Journal, Matthew Blood recently wrote: ‘In the long term, reforming Nigeria and its institutions will require rooting out corruption, transforming the country’s mafia-like political culture, building government capacity, undertaking comprehensive security sector reform, institutionalizing the rule of law and respect for human rights, developing the non-oil economy, reducing poverty, and increasing educational enrolment.’ Democratic entitlement compounds the challenge in a country known for its robust and divisive politics, and grand theft from state coffers.
This is a long list of priorities, stretching far beyond the new government’s term. However, with strong leadership and vision the Buhari administration has the potential to set Nigeria on a different trajectory – one where the defeat of Boko Haram is only a first step.
The government’s recapture of Gwoza in Borno state is important, given that Boko Haram has now lost most of its controlled territory. But this success was significantly aided by foreign advice and support, as well as an international coalition that included soldiers from neighbouring states. Large numbers of militants were killed in the early stages of the campaign, and Boko Haram subsequently chose to retreat and disappear into the Sambisa Forest along the border with Cameroon, as well as the hundreds of islets separated by channels and hidden by tall grass in the Lake Chad region. For now, it is cowed but not eradicated.
Buhari’s strong leadership and vision has the potential to set Nigeria on a different trajectory
Stunting Boko Haram means breaking its self-sustaining cycle – including its ability to financially exploit Nigeria and its access to foreign support.
In the absence of government security, violence has been privatised in large parts of the country. The insurgency sustains itself by exploiting cash-based commodities and devouring the carcass of the state, assisted (to a limited extent) by developments and movements in Libya, the Middle East and elsewhere. Recently the group even grandiosely renamed themselves the Islam State in West Africa in an effort to benefit from a purported association with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.