Voice of America (Washington, DC)

23 May 2014

Nigeria: Boko Haram - Small in Numbers, Big in Impact Across Nigeria

Photo: Steven Depolo/Flckr.com
Champions League fans targeted in Nigeria (file photo).

The Nigerian state governor whose region is considered the base for Boko Haram said the militants are small in numbers -- but are having a huge and destructive impact.

Borno state governor Kashim Shettima said the militants comprise a "miniscule" proportion of the state's 6 million people. In an interview with VOA's Hausa Service, he said the group's relatively small size, however, has not prevented it from wreaking havoc across Nigeria.

"Just a band of terrorists, 50, 100, can really hold a whole community to ransom because -- one, they are indigenous to that land. Secondly, they are the ones setting the pace of the war," he said.

Nigerian officials believe Boko Haram is responsible for a string of atrocities across the country. The group claimed responsibility for last month's kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls and is believed to be behind twin bombings that killed at least 130 people in Jos this week.

The group, which says it wants to establish a strict Islamist state in the country's north, has terrorized Nigeria for the past five years, killing thousands of people.

Shettima said Boko Haram's actions have put Borno state in the news for all the wrong reasons.

"It is an insult to the integrity, to the history of people of Borno for a group within our communities that is opposed to everything modern," he said.

Shettima said the kidnappings also have taken an economic toll on Borno state and its capital, Maiduguri.

"Borno is the gateway to the Central African sub region. Products from Nigeria reach as far as Libya, Sudan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Maiduguri has always been the gateway, so the security problems we are facing have impacted negatively, adversely affected the economic fortunes of the state. Such that, even in the best of times, we are a poor state, now we have become poorer. Boko Haram has pulverized our people," he said.

Shettima had this description for Boko Haram's self-proclaimed leader Abubaker Shekau, who was seen in a recent video of the kidnapped girls.

"I see him as the chief priest of raving lunatics of the Boko Haram. I see him as a madman. I don't take him as somebody with any mental sanity," he said.

Shettima said in this age and time, no reasonable person would abduct innocent school girls and threaten to sell them into slavery.

In recent weeks, Boko Haram has stepped up the frequency and intensity of its attacks. Earlier this week, Nigerian lawmakers extended a year-old state of emergency in the northeast, where the group has been most active.

The Nigerian government has deployed thousands of troops to the area to combat the group, so far with little success.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan was heading to South Africa, where he and other African leaders are to discuss ways to combat terrorism and militancy across the continent.

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