It appears that if Boko Haram insurgents are to be defeated by Nigeria it may only come as a result of assistance by animals in the northeast region. While news stories continue to surface decrying the Nigerian military’s ineffectiveness against the militia and the political turmoil that appears to be contributing to that ineffectiveness, Vice News has reported that bees and snakes in the forests of northeastern Nigeria have driven insurgents into the hands of the civilian Joint Task Force (JTF) army.
Since the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls by Boko Haram in April of this year, Nigeria has gained worldwide attention and a significant amount of criticism for both its political turmoil and its inability to address terrorism within its borders. The extremist religious group, whose name translates to “Western education is forbidden,” has continued to escalate its attacks on locations throughout Nigeria.
Originally, the bulk of Boko Haram’s campaign was restricted to blitz attacks in the northeastern part of Nigeria, where their presence is strongest. The campaign began to move further and further south, and recent reports have indicated attacks elsewhere as well. According to Al Jazeera, Boko Haram’s campaign has begun seizing control over significant portions of the north.
Recent bombings in Abuja and Lagos have shown that even with Nigeria’s increasing focus on security, the southern region where Boko Haram has little support has been vulnerable to attack. If they are actually attempting to assert a leadership role in the northern region, as opposed to simply mark their territory with recent activity, this may signal a significant change in both the methods and the goals of the Boko Haram movement. The insurgency has shown itself to be incredibly dynamic and fluid since its appearance roughly five years ago, and therefore a change to the campaign’s prime directive would not be out of the question.
Initially, the group was content to separate itself from the greater society in Nigeria, and preferred to condemn it from seclusion in hermetic camps. Gradually, Boko Haram became a different, more vocal, force that focused its energy on actively disrupting and defeating what it saw as a decadent and corrupt Westernized civilization. If the militia is now attempting to assert control over portions of northern Nigeria, this may be yet be reflective of another shift.
Political conflict and finger-pointing throughout Nigeria is not helping the cause against the insurgents. Boko Haram continues to take advantage of the deep split between political forces of the north and those of the south. Until recently, the southern region of Nigeria has felt relatively safe from the attacks of the militia that was based in the north. Many saw the turmoil there as an exaggeration that was emphasized in order to tarnish the image of southern supported President, Goodluck Jonathan.
Many Nigerians in the north see Jonathan as, at best, a poor leader that is incapable of protecting the citizens of his country, and at worst, a figure that is willfully sowing further unrest in the north to shame his political rivals there. While the opinions of pundits both within Nigeria and in the world beyond will fall somewhere in between the extremes, the Nigerian government continues to appear inept and incapable.
Some Boko Haram fighters, though, fear snakes and bees. Some even believe them to be the ghosts of those they have killed. If this fear is widespread enough in the insurgent community and the Nigerian government can find a way to take advantage of it, there may be hope for the rest of its citizens. Whether the government accepts assistance from other nations or gets help from the animals of the forest, it is increasingly apparent that without help or a significant change in tactics, Boko Haram may not be defeated.
By David Morris