Nigeria to be gentle with Boko Haram

2014-03-18 19:50
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau (Picture: AFP)

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau (Picture: AFP)

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Abuja - Nigeria's national security advisor on Tuesday said the authorities would begin using a "soft approach" to stem the Boko Haram Islamist violence raging across the northeast.

Sambo Dasuki said the military would continue to battle the insurgents, who are blamed for killing thousands of people since 2009, but the government was also set to use "a carrot and stick approach".

The new strategy was aimed at engaging communities in the struggle against extremism.

"We believe that we can win the war against terror by mobilising our family, cultural, religious and national values," Dasuki told a news conference.

Analysts and Western diplomats have consistently said that Nigeria cannot defeat Boko Haram with force alone and they have called for massive economic development programmes in the deeply poor north to curb the violence.

Nigeria is Africa's top oil producer but more than half of its 170 million people live on less than $2 per day.

Boko Haram, which has said it wants to create a strict Islamic state within Nigeria, has carried out attacks across the mainly Muslim north over the last four years.

But the recent violence has been concentrated in the northeast, the insurgents' historic stronghold.

The northeast, like Boko Haram itself, is dominated by people from the Kanuri ethnic group and analysts have argued that engaging Kanuri leaders should become a key plank of the counter-insurgency strategy.

The rest of northern Nigeria is dominated by ethnically Hausa Muslims.

Community outreach

More than 700 people have been killed in 40 separate attacks across the northeast in 2014 alone, according to Human Rights Watch.

The military, currently waging an offensive against Boko Haram in the region, began working closely with the Kanuri community last year by providing training and other support to vigilante groups which had formed to fight the Islamists.

The armed forces have praised the contributions of the vigilantes, especially in terms of intelligence, but the violence has persisted, including a number of attacks on defenceless civilians and at least two strikes on major military bases.

Dasuki said that further community outreach was needed aggressively to counter the extremist ideology which has spread across northeast Nigeria.

"Unfortunately," he said, "terrorist groups have over time been clearer in communicating what they stand for than government."

Without providing specifics, Dasuki told journalists that "strategic communications" would be stepped up.

Read more on:    boko haram  |  nigeria  |  west africa
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