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  January 13, 2015

Making Sense of Boko Haram Attacks on Nigerian Civilians (1/2)

Nii Akuetteh, analyst of African and international affairs, says it is difficult to decipher what Boko Haram is expecting to achieve by mass killing of civilians
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Nii Akuetteh is an independent analyst of African & international affairs, seen regularly on Al Jazeera and many other global TV outlets and published frequently, especially by Pambazuka News. He is the former Executive Director of Africa Action, and he was a professor of African Studies at Georgetown University.


SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

Nigerians are mourning the death of 150 people who were killed in Baga in a Boko Haram suspected attack.

In another attack last week, in Maiduguri, hospital officials told The New York Times that the suicide bomber was perhaps a ten-year-old little girl. She was screened by a metal detector at the entrance of the market, but the bomb went off before she could be isolated, killing 20 people and wounding many more. Some people at the market speculated that she could have not even know what was strapped to her body.

This incident is a stark reminder of the 200 girls that went missing last April who are yet to be found.

Here to discuss the developments in Nigeria from Washington, D.C., is Nii Akuetteh. Nii is an independent analyst of African and international affairs. He's also the former executive director of Africa Action and a adjunct professor of African studies at Georgetown University.

Thank you so much for joining us, Nii.


PERIES: Nii, could you explain these most recent attacks on Nigerian civilians? Why is Boko Haram targeting civilians?

AKUETTEH: I think you said more recent, and that is true, but Boko Haram has been around for about five years, and their modus operandum has not actually changed. They kill a lot more civilians than soldiers, and basically, as far as I'm concerned, they are not giving irrational convincing reason for doing what they are doing, except that they want to make Nigeria ungovernable, because they don't like the current government and they are trying to wreck the government through violent means. Beyond that, it's hard to say what they are really going after.

PERIES: So this is not religious faction, this is the context, or some background to this attack would be really helpful for ordinary people, Nii.

AKUETTEH: Yes. You know, the question of religion is always--in these instances is a little complex and interesting. Even there's been other terrorist attacks elsewhere, and one of the things is that we think there should be a focus on Nigeria. So I don't want to turn the spotlight on the other incidents. But they have this in common. There is the debate as to whether these very violent extremists are really moved by religious beliefs, and whether those are mainstream religious beliefs or are they just violent thoughts that brought themselves up in a particular religion.

So, on the surface of it, of course Boko Haram says that they are Muslims and they are doing this and they want to set up a caliphate and rule it according to sharia, the holy law in the Quran. On the other hand, they killed so many innocent people that respect their--religious leaders say that these people, at best, they are just using words. They are paying lip service because their behavior is very far from people who are really living by the rules of Islam. So that always raises the question, are they religious or not?

PERIES: Now, you said they had been around for five years, so they must have been making some political demands of the current government, or at least trying to curry favor with the civilians. What is the real agenda here?

AKUETTEH: That is a wonderful question, because from my point of view they haven't paid attention to them for all this time. They are all over the map. They change their demands.

The one constant is that they come out and violently kill Nigerians, and, especially given we're talking about whether or not they are real Muslims, the majority of their victims have been Muslim-Nigerian. So, on the one hand, they can claim that they are agreed, because Muslim-Nigerians are not being treated well. But they themselves kill more Muslims. So that's number one. Number two, there are times when they say they want to bring sharia to Nigeria.

But if you want to change the government--and Nigeria has been a democracy for a while now. And for me one of the interesting things is that Boko Haram did not arise when--for the better part of Nigeria's independence since 1960 they have been ruled by military dictators, usually of northern Muslim origin, and Boko Haram did not arise. They arose when Nigeria turned to democracy.

Now, in a democracy, if you want to change the government, that's fine. Persuade the people. You don't kill them. So I'm saying their claim that they are [different in (?)] the interests of Muslims doesn't convince me; their claim that they want to change the country's system to sharia law doesn't convince me. The only constant is their violent attacks.

There was a point when the government even said, okay, we are willing to talk, because there was a lot of international pressure. And I hope that we will get to the point of the international community in general and the United States in particular. Their attitude and policy towards Nigeria vis-à-vis Boko Haram. I am quite unhappy with that.

But the point is: pressure was put on the Nigerian government to say you cannot solve this issue by military approach, so you need to talk to them. Well, the Nigerian government tried to talk to them. Boko Haram showed no interest in talking. So whether it is talking, whether it is using the political process to change it, whether it is [different in (?)] Muslims, for me, all those are false claims.

PERIES: Right. Nii, let's take up the question of the international community and U.S. foreign policy towards the region, and the Boko Haram in particular, in the next segment. And I hope you can join us.


PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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