On Wednesday, militants disguised as members of the Nigerian army believed to be members of the Boko Haram terrorist group attacked a church in the northeastern state of Borno, killing dozens. Witnesses report they also captured three villages near the border with Cameroon. This violent episode is part of an ongoing string of terrorist attacks throughout northern Nigeria that, despite receiving U.S. support, the Nigerian government is struggling to address.
After announcing a new strategy for facing the terrorist group last week, President Goodluck Jonathan’s government has experienced a string of setbacks. After banning protests against the government’s handling of counter-insurgency efforts on Monday, police in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, completely denied on Wednesday that the ban ever existed.
“The Police High Command wishes to inform the general public that the Force has not issued any order banning peaceful assemblies/protests anywhere in Nigeria,” Commissioner Joseph Mbu’s office said in a statement. “It notes however that against the backdrop of current security challenges in the country, coupled with a recent intelligence report of a likely infiltration and hijack of otherwise innocuous and peaceful protests by some criminal elements having links with insurgents, the Police only issued advisory notice, enjoining citizens to apply caution in the said rallies, particularly in the Federal Capital Territory and its environs,” the statement read.
The reversal can at least partially be attributed to men and women describing themselves as “Women for Peace and Justice #BringBackOur Girls” filed suit against Mbu, asking a judge to declare that he does not have the power to ban protest. Adding to the sense of frustration felt by many, the military currently claims it knows where the kidnapped girls are being held, “but as you will understand, you just cannot storm a place like that,” presidential adviser Doyin Okupe told CNN on Wednesday. Chief of Defense Staff Air Marshal Alex Badeh also has reported that the government knows the girls whereabouts.
To make matters worse, 15 generals and other high-ranking officials were found guilty of providing arms and information to Boko Haram fighters on Tuesday. Four more were convicted of “being disloyal and for working for the members of the sect.” On Wednesday, however, the army denounced the verdict and denied assisting the terrorist group. Last year, Jonathan stated that he believed military and government leaders, including some of his Cabinet Ministers, sympathized with Boko Haram or belonged to the group, according to the Associated Press.
Boko Haram — a radical Islamist group whose name roughly translates to “Western Education is Sinful” — gained international notoriety after kidnapping more than 200 girls from their boarding school in mid-April. Since then, they have escalated attacks on villages in the country’s northern provinces leading to 70 deaths last week alone, according to some estimates.
Shenu Sani, a Nigerian human rights activist who has previously attempted to mediate between the government and Boko Haram, attributes the current stalemate to a lack of consistency in tactics. In an interview with the Nigerian newspaper, Vanguard, Sani explains that the government “must either use force or negotiate,” but that switching back and forth between these approaches while making contradictory claims and promises will not secure the safety of the girls or the population in the north. That vacillation was on display last week when the government in the same day declared “total war” against Boko Haram and offered amnesty to fighters who lay down their arms.
Yobe and Borno states, which are the primary targets of Boko Haram activity, recently reported significant reductions in school attendance due to families’ fear of ongoing attacks. A youth leader of Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party accused regional leaders in the north of sabotaging counter-insurgency efforts on Wednesday, warning that if violence continues in the northern states, they may be excluded from participation in the 2015 presidential elections.
Will Freeman is an intern with Think Progress.