The frenzied, hashtag-driven interest surrounding the kidnapping of young Nigerian women by the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram has abated in the West, but the group is far from inactive.
Despite the fact that Boko Haram had engaged in a campaign of killing young boys prior to its high-profile abduction of young women, many of whom remain missing, the fleeting spate of press attention the group received was welcome. But as interest in the Nigerian Islamists waned, the group’s terroristic activities appear to have accelerated.
In late August, Boko Haram declared the territory in their control in eastern Nigeria an Islamic state similar to that established by ISIS in the areas they occupy in Syria and Iraq. In a graphically brilliant profile of “the other Islamic State” in The New York Times, the scope of the group’s pan-Nigerian campaign of violence is fully revealed.
Recently, the group has adopted a troubling shift in tactics. Boko Haram has pivoted from primarily terrorizing the local population to executing coordinated, military-style raids on Nigerian outposts and using civilian suicide bombers to target populated areas.
This campaign is making headway. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, the Islamic insurgency has overrun a series of towns in northern Nigeria and captured a military outpost along with all the weaponry and intelligence it contained.
The capture of one of the last standing military outposts in Nigeria’s northeast underscores how effective the insurgency has been at carving out territory in Africa’s largest economy and oil producer. Just years ago, the group was an obscure fringe sect whose members were either languishing in jail or pursued by police into the forests of northern Nigeria.
Now, Boko Haram threatens the credibility of Africa’s largest democracy. Nigeria is set to hold a presidential election in just six weeks, but insurgents’ control of territory the size of Belgium raises the question of how a genuine nationwide vote might be held. About 1.5 million people have fled the Northeast region that is now under siege, according to the United Nations.
Falling oil prices have constrained the government’s response to this growing security threat. On Jan. 1, President Goodluck Jonathan, who is seeking re-election, said in a speech that he would re-equip the army. But his government is already spending a fifth of its budget on the armed forces and the plunge in the oil price means the government will be hard put to spend more. Oil sales account for 80% of Nigeria’s state revenue.
The consequences of falling oil prices are only starting to materialize. While the drop in crude prices has been a welcome development for most American commuters, its destabilizing effects on the international security environment are unpredictable. Many fear that export-driven economies of nations like Iran, Venezuela, Russia, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and others could collapse and precipitate political crises that will facilitate the rise of proto-state insurgencies like that with which Lagos is contending.
But falling oil prices coupled with sharply accelerated domestic energy production in the United States has led to another dangerous condition: American indifference. A political or military crisis near the oil-producing Niger Delta region might have elicited a stronger response from American policy makers in the last decade. Today, it barely merits a mention. If it were not for their crimes against human decency and the targeting of civilians, ISIS may not have provoked the West to respond militarily to their expansionism in the Middle East.
If Western apathy continues apace, the Islamic State in the Middle East may not be the only Islamic State in which the United States is forced to contemplate intervention.