The new alliance between Boko Haram, the Nigerian terror group thatâ€™s been responsible for perhaps 20,000 deaths, and the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, is not just bad news for West Africaâ€™s economic engine; it presents a headache for the rest of the world.
Until it pledged its alliance to ISIS earlier this month, Boko Haram was essentially a regional problem that mostly ate at Nigeria. The terror group is the central actor in the contentious elections scheduled for the end of March. Incumbent president Jonathan Goodluck has been roundly criticized for not doing enough to eliminate the group.
Indeed, Boko Haram has been both nimble and resilient. It began a little over a decade ago in the slums of some of the biggest and poorest cities in predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria. For years, the group attacked military and law enforcement installations, murdered civilians, bombed newspaper offices and abducted foreigners. Once they even bombed a United Nations office in the Nigerian capital Abuja, killing dozens.
Gradually, the group spread its reign of terror and it now largely controls three states in northeastern Nigeria. The response of Nigeriaâ€™s underfunded and poorly trained military has varied from gross incompetence to tepid to thuggish. On several occasions, Nigerian soldiers have brutalized or killed numerous presumably innocent civilians. In turn, many relatives of these civilians responded by signing up with Boko Haramâ€™s own band of thugs.
Meanwhile, Boko Haram has managed to draw in neighboring countries like Chad, Niger and Cameroon â€“ and it likely will pull in Benin, as well. Now it appears poised to draw in the rest of the world.
There are reports that Boko Haram has been getting some of its weapons from Libya, which are then smuggled through Chad and Niger. Libya has been both unstable and ungovernable ever since longtime strongman Muammar Qaddafi was captured and executed by his adversaries in 2011. The North African country is now a disconnected web of warring fiefdoms.
As Jon Anderson reported recently in the New Yorker magazine:
â€śThere is no overstating the chaos of post-Qaddafi Libya. Two competing governments claim legitimacy. Armed militias roam the streets. The electricity is frequently out of service and most business is at a standstillâ€¦.
â€śSome (3,000) people have been killed by fighting in the past year and nearly a third of the countryâ€™s population has fled across the border to Tunisia. What has followed the downfall of a tyrant â€“ a downfall encouraged by NATO air strikes â€“ is the tyranny of a dangerous and pervasive instability.â€ť
The chaos in Libya has proven very attractive to ISIS, which now has an affiliate there and is increasingly flexing. A few weeks ago, agents of ISISâ€™ affiliate in Libya beheaded more than a dozen Egyptian Copts who had migrated to Libya for work.
ISIS has spread through large parts of Iraq and Syria like a massive stain and controls an area larger than the United Kingdom. It has drawn a sizeable number of adherents to the Islamic faith from around the world, including the United States and many European countries.
The alliance is beneficial for both groups. Boko Haram gets access to immense financial and material resources, and possibly even manpower. ISIS gets a toehold in Nigeria, Africaâ€™s largest and wealthiest nation, and a key ally in the war against the United States and the west. By having a presence in Nigeria, ISIS is in a strong position to extend its sphere of influence and its reign of terror from North Africa all the way to the continentâ€™s west coast.
It has the makings of what could be the beginning of a global terror empire.
Wave columnist Lekan Oguntoyinbo is an independent journalist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @oguntoyinbo.