Just as dawn was about to break, they came with weapons and canisters filled with gasoline. In the space of minutes they fanned out across the government-run secondary boarding school in Yobe State that was their target, sowing terror in their wake. As they left, a dormitory full of students – woken by the chaos outside – was set on fire. The death toll in this attack? Forty-two people, mostly children.
The incident was one in a string of attacks carried out by Boko Haram – a radical Islamist group terrorizing much of Northeast Nigeria whose name means “Western education is sinful.”
As religious conflict fuels north-south tension in Africa’s biggest state, the Nigerian economy has not gone undamaged. Economic conditions in the Muslim north, already bad, have deteriorated significantly. Commerce in the northern city of Kano, Nigeria’s second-largest city and the Northern Nigeria commercial hub, has dropped 50 percent since 2010. Cross-border trade with neighboring countries Chad, Niger and Cameroon has also been impacted as dusk-to-dawn curfews, forced relocation and a government-imposed ban on motorcycle taxis have crippled the city.
Another economic impact the Islamist insurgency had is increased migration from north to south by those seeking safety from the violence. Those fleeing the conflict run the gamut from laborers and farmers to educated professionals, tradesmen, and businessmen. This has not only heightened economic problems in the north, but depressed wages in the more prosperous south.
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Even as Southern Nigeria continues a decade-long boom fueled by high oil prices, the specter of more sectarian violence – spurred by a brutal Islamist insurgency – continues to dog the country’s long-term political stability and darken its economic prospects. Couple this with the widespread skimming of oil revenues by corrupt local, state, and federal officials and the continued violence in the oil-rich Niger Delta,and Africa’s most populous economic lion may yet turn into an elephant.
Since beginning its armed campaign in 2009 after the Nigerian government executed its leader, Boko Haram is held responsible for multiple bombings and armed attacks against civilians, government officials and Nigerian security officials that have claimed the lives of more than 3,000 people.
In response to these brazen attacks, which have continued for four years, Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in three Northeastern states – Borno, Adamwana, and Yobe – on May 14. Troops dispatched from the central government to pacify the insurgents flooded the region, though with little apparent effect as the attacks continue.
With the Nigerian government now struggling to keep its northeast from spinning out of control, many Western experts believe Nigeria may be in for a long spell of armed conflict in its restive, majority-Muslim north. Among the reasons for this are the poor quality of Nigerian security forces, the administrative fecklessness of the Goodluck government, endemic corruption, and the generalized poverty of Nigeria’s Muslim North.
The danger, these experts warn, is that a pressed government may increasingly rely on draconian tactics to control the situation, thereby increasing support for Boko Haram amongst the northern population. Already, media reports indicate that government troops routinely engage in large-scale human-rights abuses against the local population. Meanwhile, pitched fighting between Islamist fighters and government troops near Lake Chad in April lead to the destruction of 2,000 homes and more than 200 dead.
Another danger lies in the possibility that the growing Islamic insurgency may spill over into Nigeria’s so-called Middle Belt – a line of states stretching from east to west that separate the Muslim-majority north from the Christian-majority south. Sectarian violence across this volatile region has spiked recently, prompting Nigerian security forces to tighten their grip on these strategically vital states.