Nigeria, with Africa’s largest economy and a population of 160 million, is facing a severe test of national security. The rebel movement Boko Haram carried out a daring kidnapping of schoolgirls and a fatal bombing this month as the date for the country to host the World Economic Forum for Africa draws nearer.
Boko Haram, a shadowy Islamist, anti-government organization, has continued to attack schools and government offices in northeast Nigeria, mostly centered on the city of Maiduguri. One of the most lethal attacks came from a bomb that was set off April 14 in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, killing 75. Another attack on a girls’ school, in Chibok, resulted in the abduction of 234 girls, only 44 of whom have been retrieved.
After such violence and terror, concern is growing as the date of the World Economic Forum for Africa, to be held in Abuja May 7-9, approaches. An estimated 1,000 African leaders from all over the continent are expected to participate, including some heads of state. Nigerian President Goodluck E. Jonathan will preside. It has yet to be announced who will lead the American delegation.
Nigeria’s 130,000 troops, who have modern arms, should be able to deal with Boko Haram. There are, however, reports of divisions within the military between Muslims from the north of the country and Christians from the south.
The willingness of northern Muslim soldiers to participate wholeheartedly in hunting down Boko Haram rebels is in question, as is the attitude of neighboring majority-Muslim states Chad and Niger to cooperate with Nigerian forces in curtailing Boko Haram activities based on their territory.
Nigeria is risking a catastrophe if it doesn’t act quickly and forcefully to contain Boko Haram, or it may be obliged to cancel the high-profile economic forum in the name of security.