ABUJA, Nigeria — Boko Haram, an extremist Muslim sect in Nigeria, claimed responsibility Thursday for a series of assassinations that have shaken the country's northern Borno state.
Gunmen on motorbikes have carrried out a series of hit-and-run murders that have killed scores in Borno, including the man favored to be the next state governor.
On Jan. 28, Fannami Modu Gubio, gubenatorial candidate for the All Nigerian People’s Party, was one of six people gunned down in the streets of Maiduguri, the state capital.
On Jan. 30, two motorbike-riding gunmen, suspected of being members of Boko Haram, were killed in a battle with police. A policeman was also killed.
On Feb. 3, Boko Haram announced it had carried out the killings "to propagate the name of Allah and to liberate ourselves and our religion from the hands of infidels and the Nigerian government," according to a local newspaper.
Boko Haram threatened "a Jihad" in the statement that was posted in prominent locations across Borno state.
Boko Haram, whose name means “western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language, has in the past voiced its hatred of state authority, especially those connected to the governor and the police. With the latest round of killings and the claim of responsibility, Boko Haram has launched a direct conflict with Nigerian government.
With this new round of killings the group has taken a new name, Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati Wal-Jihad, which in English means People Committed to the Prophet's Teachings for
Propagation and Jihad. However Boko Haram is how the group is widely known.
The five-month spate of shootings has exposed the lack of control by authorities as the country prepares for elections in April, charge opposition politicians.
The Friday killing of Gubio, the assassinated gubenatorial candidate who was a cousin of the current ANPP governor Ali Modu Sheriff, was particularly brazen. Gubio had just attended Friday prayers at a relative’s home and was standing in the street when men on motorcycles pulled up and fired into the crowd. Among those also slain was a 10-year-old child. The killers sped off firing their weapons in the air.
Police have arrested 19 people in connection with the murders.
The ANPP party holds the governorship of Borno but is in opposition in the national government.
Gubio’s candidacy had sparked controversy in Borno politics. He was unexpectedly anointed as the man most likely to replace the current governor when Sheriff steps down after his second term expires at this election.
Local media had reported that Gubio had not previously given any indication he had a desire to run.
The ANPP say they will announce his replacement by Feb. 11 deadline.
Gubio is the second ANPP politician to be assassinated in recent months. In November, gunmen killed the ANPP chairman for the north east, Awana Ali Ngala, in his Maiduguri home. The ANPP have also been reluctant to point the finger of blame at the militants for their candidate’s murder.
“Men on motorcycles appears to be the way it is done now in Maiduguri,” chairman of the ANPP’s board of trustees Gambo Magaji told Global Post.
The Boko Haram sect accuses the Nigerian state of moral and political corruption, and calls for strict observance of Islamic Shariah law. Boko Haram has been rebuilding after being brutally quashed by the army in July 2009. Over 700 Boko Haram supporters were killed after a week-long siege of the sect’s headquarters in Maiduguri. Sect leader Mohammed Yusuf was arrested by the army, but was later announced to have been killed by the police during an escape attempt.
It is widely believed that Yusuf was executed. Films showing the apparent extrajudicial execution of other sect leaders by the police were posted on the media file-sharing website YouTube.
A further 700 members of the sect, arrested after the July attack, were freed in a dramatic jailbreak from a prison in another northern state in September.
The situation in Borno is another security concern for President Goodluck Jonathan, who already faces violence between Christian and Muslim gangs in Nigeria's 'middle belt' state of Plateau and a
resurgent militancy in the oil producing Niger Delta.
In the Plateau state capital Jos last weekend, Christian youths dragged people from their cars and murdered them at roadblocks in the latest outburst of violence there.
Over 200 people have been killed in the last month, human rights groups say.
At the heart of the violence in Plateau is a battle between indigenous Christian ethnic groups and Muslim Hausa settlers over farmland and political patronage.