Nigeria: Boko Haram bombs the media


ABUJA, Nigeria — The Islamist extremist sect known as Boko Haram posted a YouTube video yesterday celebrating its attacks on Nigerian newspapers, and threatening several other media houses and the government. 

At least nine people died in the bombings of two offices of ThisDay newspaper last week, in Abjua and Kaduna and many others were injured.  The video showed a clip of the ThisDay office blowing up, suggesting someone had been waiting for the explosion with a camera, and close-up shots of the rubble after the explosion. 

In the video, the group vowed to attack seven Nigerian newspapers and Voice of America's Hausa language service. It also warned that four other news sources, including Radio France International in Hausa were "on the verge" of becoming targets, according to a translation posted on Sahara Reporters, a foriegn-based web site that was also threatened in the video. 

"These media houses have committed a lot of offences that [are] detrimental to Islam, and we don’t have the power to forgive them," reads the Sahara Reporters translation. "We will take revenge on them by God’s grace."

The new wave of deadly extremist bombings is ramping up pressure on President Goodluck Jonathan to roll out a strategy to control the violence.

“With every bombing incident naturally the government will come under serious pressure from the citizens to do something about the problem,” said Abubakar Umar Kari, a University of Abuja lecturer. “The average Nigerian is so pissed off now — sorry to use the word — is so helpless that he or she has literally given up.”

The growing anger at the violence is easy to see.

Hundreds of Nigerians flocked to the site of the explosion in Abuja of ThisDay, a prominent Nigerian newspaper, on Thursday. Many shouted at security forces and police, demanding the government stop the violence.

“Are you a journalist?” one man barked, as another passed him with a notebook. “Tell them there is no security in Nigeria,” the man said, pointing his finger to the ground. “There is no security in Nigeria.”

ThisDay and other newspaper offices were also bombed in the northern city of Kaduna.

The Boko Haram sect is blamed for the deaths of 450 people so far this year, according to Human Rights Watch. 

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President Goodluck Jonathan is making an effort to show leadership in the crisis.

On Saturday Jonathan visited the site of the newspaper bombing in Abuja, telling journalists the bombings of the newspapers ThisDay, the Moment and The Sun were attacks on all of Nigeria, and the entire world. When asked if he would consider renewing the negotiations that broke off in March, the president equivocated.

“They are correct to say we should dialogue,” he said. “Those who are saying we should not dialogue are also correct. When you have a terrorist situation, you also look at the global best practice.”

Many Nigerians want a stronger response than that. They say the government has failed to stop the relentless assaults from Boko Haram. If security forces cannot stop them with guns, they say, it is time for the government to find out what the group wants and negotiate.

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In a plaza near the Abuja bomb, the windows of every surrounding building were shattered. Abdulmalik Jega, the building manager, argued that the government needs to change its approach to fighting the militant sect. He said fighting the group has been an obvious failure and it is time to find out what Boko Haram really wants in exchange for peace.

“They should sit down with those people [and ask], what is your problem,” said Jega. “What do you need? What are your problems? What is the problem between you and the Nigerian people and then you and the government?”

Boko Haram says it wants to establish Shariah law in Nigeria and demands release of its jailed members, but most observers say the underground group's true intentions are not clear.

The sect has been blamed for more than 1,000 deaths since it began violent operations in 2009. In January, coordinated attacks in Kano killed nearly 200 people and crippled the economy of Nigeria’s second-largest city.

The Boko Haram violence should not be confused with Nigeria's problem of sectarian clashes in northern Nigeria. At least 1,000 people were killed in ethnic or sectarian violence in Jos in 2010 alone, according to Human Rights Watch. These clashes are also continuing, with six people killed on Tuesday.

On Friday, National Security Advisor General Andrew Owoye Azazi said the policies of the country’s ruling party, led by President Jonathan, have fueled the growth of Boko Haram. He said the party created, “a climate of what is happening and manifesting in the country today,” according to Nigeria's Vanguard news.

Jonathan refuted the accusation, saying Azazi’s comments may have been misinterpreted.

“I don’t believe that the National Security Adviser meant that the practices of the PDP [Peoples Democratic Party] are anti-democratic,” he said. “I don’t believe that it is the undemocratic practices in the PDP that could give rise to Boko Haram or any other groups.”

Boko Haram told Nigeria’s Premium Times that the newspaper attacks were a response to what it says is biased, false reporting. A Boko Haram spokesperson, who identified himself as Abul Qaqa, said the media has been blaming the group for attacks which they claimed no responsibility for, and has widely mistranslated a YouTube video posted by the group last month.

Qaqa also complained of reports that he had been captured, when, he said, a different man had been taken prisoner.

“We have repeatedly cautioned reporters and media houses to be professional and objective in their reports,” he told Premium Times. “This is a war between us and the government of Nigeria. Unfortunately, the media have not been objective and fair in their report of the ongoing war, they chose to take sides.”

Kari, the university lecturer and political analyst, said the attacks on the media will have a chilling effect on reporters in Nigeria, making writers afraid to criticize or comment on Boko Haram. But, he said, Boko Haram’s next target could be anywhere, at any time.

“There are no organizations or groups that can say they are immune from the group [Boko Haram],” he said. “It is the most frightening thing about them, they are capable of doing anything.”

Bombers also targeted Christian churches over the weekend. In the northern city of Kano, at least 16 people were killed Sunday after bombs went off at a Christian service on a university campus. Gunmen fired on those who tried to flee and escaped on motorcycles, reported police.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, or for an attack later that day on a police commissioner, but it appears to be part of an established Boko Haram trend. Last Christmas, dozens were killed in church bombings near the capital, and the year before, the group claimed responsibility for church bombings in Jos that left more than 86 people dead.

The problem of the violence may be spill over Nigeria's borders. Chadian President Idriss Deby, according to the BBC, said Boko Haram's activities threaten to destabilize the West African region, and called for the "creation of a joint deterrence force" to "eradicate" the group. 

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