Boko Haram is a movement centered in
northeastern Nigeria that comes out of the Salafist tradition of Islam. Boko Haram seeks to create God’s kingdom on earth through justice for the poor by the strict implementation of Islamic law, or sharia. Boko Haram regards the secular Nigerian state as evil. Whenever it can, it kills government officials, police, military. Further, going back to the seventh century reading of sacred texts, Muslims who participate in the secular state are not Muslims. They are in fact
heretics or apostates and as such deserve to die. The long term causes of Boko Haram’s rise in Nigeria are progressive impoverishment, issues like climate change as the Sahara moves south, and political marginalization. Overlaying this is a
significant Islamic religious revival. There are three largely mutually hostile
strands of Islam. Salafist Islam and Shia Islam exist side by side with the traditional Islam of northern Nigeria. The stability and the success of Nigeria is in direct U.S. national interests. Because Boko Haram seeks to destroy the Nigerian secular state Boko Haram is contrary to U.S. interests. But Boko Haram is not a security threat to the United States. The Leahy Amendment is a U.S. law that suspends military assistance where there are credible accusations of human
rights abuses, unless or until the host country investigates those charges and
takes appropriate action. As far as we can tell, common people in northern Nigeria are as frightened of the security services as they are of Boko Haram. There have been numerous reports of security service abuses. Were Nigeria to request that the U.S. supply heavy weapons the issue would be balancing U.S. interests threatened by Boko Haram with U.S. concern about human rights abuses. The United States would have three options. One would be to decline the request, as
we have in the past, on human rights grounds. The second would be to determine that U.S. security and other interests required that we respond favorably, and the third option would provide assistance to the Nigerian government with the operation of its courts, conditions in its prisons, and providing training to government officials but also to the military. If the United States looks at Africa, Nigeria is the natural partner on issues of mutual concern that it cannot be now because it’s under assault from Boko Haram. But we would hope that it can be again in the future.