Recently the Nigerian government has been claiming victory over the insurgent group Boko Haram, even as suicide bombings, kidnappings and killings are still taking place. On January 8, 20 loggers were killed near Maiduguri and on January 17 in an attack at the Muna garage area in Maiduguri, 12 people were killed and 48 injured.
The fact that the Nigerian government is still fighting Boko Haram is also shown by the withdrawal in December 2017 of $1 billion from its Excess Crude Account. Despite being in the midst of a budget crisis, the government says it needs the money to fight Boko Haram and tackle other security challenges like inter-ethnic violence.
It seems likely that much of that money will go to the United States as part of an arms deal. In February, the $593 million package will be finalized, with Nigeria paying for 12 A-29 Tucano war planes, military hardware, maintenance and trainings. The U.S. government does not seem concerned that the Nigerian government faces accusations of human rights abuses and war crimes, including the bombing of a camp of internally displaced persons in Rann, and the torture and imprisonment without trial of children, women, and young adults suspected of being affiliated with Boko Haram.
The end result of the violence carried out by Boko Haram and the Nigerian military’s response to it has been grief and trauma for countless civilians. People have seen their livelihoods destroyed, the dehumanization of entire communities, and a displacement crisis as people have been forced from their homes. The number of people in need of life-saving humanitarian assistance in Nigeria rose to 8.5 million at the end of 2017.
At the core of Nigeria’s many challenges is severed trust in relationships. Rather than prioritizing a military response, both the Nigerian and U.S. governments should focus their efforts on humanitarian assistance and support for local nonviolent alternatives that prevent violence and help to build bridges and trust. These nonmilitarized approaches would tackle root causes and lead to a more secure and healthy civil society.
As part of an effort to help communities find commonalities, Mennonite Central Committee supports the work of Emergency Preparedness and Response Teams (EPRT) in the northeastern state of Adamawa that has been ravished by the effects of Boko Haram. Proactively the teams, which are replicated in the 21 local government areas of the state, address security challenges and create opportunities for reconciliation through building trust, livelihood projects for youth, and early warning mechanisms.
Responding to opportunities for peace with weapons deters genuine peace and security. As EPRT strives to transform violent conflict through proactive peace education, warring agents let go of their weapons and “beat their swords into plowshares” (Micah 4:3). Governments and nations could learn much from this example.