Nigeria Violence: Hundreds flee

Hundreds of Nigerian are reported to have fled the north of the country as the death toll rises from attacks attributed to Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group bent on establishing Sharia law in Nigeria. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (2ndR) near the capital Abuja on December 31, 2011 while visiting a church where a bomb blast killed dozens on Christmas day.

As the death toll continues to rise in the wake of what appears to be attacks on Christian communities in Nigeria’s mostly Muslim north, hundreds are reported to be fleeing the area, according to the BBC.

The agency reports that 29 people were killed Friday night into Saturday morning in attacks in Adamawa, a province not included in the state of emergency declared by President Goodluck Jonathan last week. Since then, Adamawa has been locked down on a 24-hour curfew, according to Deutsche Welle. It is not yet clear how long the curfew will last.

These attacks and others that have killed scores over the past few weeks are generally all attributed to Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group quickly gaining an international reputation for terror. Voice of America reports that the group has already claimed responsiblity for the Adamawa attacks.

Boko Haram began as a school in 2002, and like the Nigerian Taliban, has steadfastly called for Sharia law to be established in Nigeria. At first, Boko Haram focused on battles with Nigerian security forces, and were largely dismissed by the authorities as serious threat. But in 2009, the government arrested Boko Haram leader Mohammed Yusuf, setting off a wave of riots that killed 700 people, according to Foreign Policy Magazine.

FP author David Francis reports that after the riots, Boko Haram leaders retreated to neighboring countries, returning in 2010. Since then, the group is reputed to be tied to Al-Qaeda and Somalia’s radical Al-Shabbab militants, and no longer solely a Nigerian problem.  On Dec. 28 Francis writes:

"The United States has reportedly begun training Nigerian troops in counterterrorism techniques and providing Nigerian defense forces with weapons and other equipment. French Foreign Affairs Minister Alain Juppe has also offered military support and intelligence sharing in the fight against Boko Haram."

Nigerian authorities have downplayed the group, saying they are a Nigerian security threat that will not last the long haul. But as authorities face what are expected to be mass protests against soaring fuel prices due to the cancelation of a decades-old subsidy, some observers say the growing discontent in Nigeria is fanning the flames of discontent that allowed Boko Haram to gain strength in the first place.

Dr. Kabir Mato, a professor of political science at the University of Abuja told VOA in a broadcasted interview:

"Nigeria, he said, is a country bedeviled by tremendous economic hardships, illiteracy, backwardness, want and apathy, and a population growing at an alarming rate. All social infrastructure- such as schools, roads, electricity has been in decline for a very long time. So a lot of young people… have not really found their purpose in existence."