Is Boko Haram a pawn in the bigger political game?

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In politics, anything that happens in a year leading to a big election should be always treated as a build up to that election.

And in Nigeria, the next presidential election is going to take place in February 2015, with the opposition having a mountain to climb, considering that the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) got a substantial majority at the polls in 2011. The PDP politicians have been accusing the opposition, the All People’s Congress (APC) of having links with Boko Haram, but the opposition has been strenuously denying it.

Jonathan may be wary of being seen to play politics, but that boat has already sailed. Who knows, an investigation may reveal a far more complex web of deceit that involves the APC and some members of Jonathan’s government.

According to Russian experts, the recent upsurge in Boko Haram violence and the readiness to operate in broad daylight and take on the army and the police proves that the group has been getting some training and advice from outside. Some reports have linked the group with terrorist networks across Africa and the Middle East like al-Shabab, al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Sharia when it comes to combat training, funding and the exchange of military hardware and weaponry.

The one conclusion that the Russian experts have drawn is that the US and their western allies have missed the growth of extremist groups, which has already manifested itself in Iraq with large parts of it now controlled by the Islamic State group, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Disastrous oversight

How is it possible for US military and intelligence sources on the ground, both in Iraq and Syria, to have missed the Islamic State group amassing its forces and invading Iraq? It is anyone’s guess. But it’s a disastrous oversight by any standard. The same applies to Nigeria, with the US and other western nations having woken up to the reality of the Boko Haram threat only when the situation started to spin out of control. All things considered, Jonathan’s regime is still a better option than the coalition of the Muslim extremists that is shaping up now with an aim to win next year’s elections.

Russian military analysts predict a rise in violence in Nigeria leading up to the presidential election next year. Some even claim that increased international aid, perhaps even an intervention, may be on the cards as the lessons of Iraq are starting to sink in, both in western and African capitals. As one Russian official told me, “Losing Nigeria to Muslim fundamentalists is simply a no go, whichever way you look at it. What is happening now in Iraq has been a rude wake-up call for Washington.”

Some experts fear that Jonathan may have to widen the state of emergency in the north and even postpone the elections next year, if the situation does not improve. It is worth remembering that the leading APC candidate, Mahammadu Buhari, has been accused of inciting a violent uprising after losing the 2011 presidential election, resulting in nearly 1,000 deaths. Next year, some fear, this could be even worse.

Wake up call or not, if the West and African countries don’t take drastic steps to reign in Boko Haram and its backers, both in Nigeria and beyond, we might see the recently crowned “biggest economy in Africa” thrown into total disarray.

*Alexander Nekrassov is a former presidential and Kremlin adviser.[eap_ad_4]