Conflict & Justice

An emboldened Boko Haram tells Nigerians — 'wherever you are, we can reach you'

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A student who escaped when Boko Haram rebels stormed a school identifies her friends from a video released by the Islamist militants.

Credit:

Reuters

The chaotic main market in the Nigerian city of Jos was teeming with shoppers when twin bombs detonated Tuesday. Most of the more than 120 people killed were the women and children who worked in the makeshift stalls, selling fruits, vegetables and other staples.

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No group has taken responsibility for the attack, but it bears the hallmarks of the extremist group Boko Haram, according to Peter Okwoche, one of the hosts of the BBC program Focus on Africa. Okwoche was born in Jos. He says the city is a true Nigerian melting pot, due in part to its temperate climate and fertile soil. 

"It's a blend of Nigerians, from the north, the east, the west and the south," Okwoche says. "It lies on the fault line of the Muslim north and the Christian south." 

Okwoche says religious and ethnic divisions frequently flare in Jos, but in the last few years tensions seemed to have cooled. That is until, he says, Jos came "within the crosshairs of Boko Haram." Now it's become increasingly difficult for the Nigerian government to argue its conflict with Boko Haram is confined to the country's northeast corner. In the last month, extremist bombings have struck twice in the capital, Abuja. 

"Boko Haram are getting bolder, they're trying to tell people that 'wherever you are, we can reach you,'" he says, noting that Boko Haram's leader has taunted Nigerian authorities, telling them, "We are right next to you, and you can't see us!" 

Okwoche says the Nigerian military was one of the strongest in Africa in recent decades, and is still well-financed. But it is deeply politicized and corrupt. 

"The military has had money in the past. Every single year the defense budget is the highest in the country, so nobody believes the military is effective," Okwoche says. 

The insecurity generated by Boko Haram is taking a toll on the quality of life in places like Jos. 

Okwoche laments the changes at the Jos elementary school he attended as a boy. 

"They've built massive walls around the school, with barbed wiring at the top of these fences," he says. "What used to be like an open playground is now a prison yard for kids."