July 2009 marked the beginning of a new wave of violence in Northern Nigeria between the Islamic sect Boko Haram (which means "Western Education is a sin") and Nigerian law enforcement. The ongoing conflict is a result of decades of religious tension and frustration with the government's socioeconomic policies. According to local officials and news reports, the Boko Haram attacked government-owned facilities in four Northern Nigerian states. These attacks have resulted in a massive crackdown of Boko Haram by the Nigerian Government and police. The violence over the past couple of weeks has resulted in the deaths of over 700 people, most of which are believed to be associated with the Boko Haram.
The images of dead bodies in the streets have proliferated the Nigerian media and have circulated throughout the world, raising the question of public desensitization to extrajudicial violence in Africa as well as impunity around the crackdown. There has been vibrant debate around the killing of Boko Haram's leader, Mohammed Yusuf, who entered into police custody alive but was soon found dead with bullet wounds all over his body. Here is a video from the earlier news coverage by Vox Africa,
As a Nigerian in the Diaspora I've been alarmed by the violence that has occurred in such a short amount of time and I’ve been grappling with the various narratives that are emerging in the media, ranging from the vilification of Boko Haram to the outcries against impunity.
In effort to better understand the situation, I decided to speak with Dr. Omotade Aina, a Nigerian sociologist and former professor at the University of Lagos, to see if he could provide some insight on the latest wave of violence. Dr. Aina is a renowned scholar whose research is often related to urban poverty, development and governance in Africa. He is currently the Program Director for Higher Education in Africa at the Carnegie Corporation and, in this short interview, he discusses the socioeconomic and historical background of the conflict in Northern Nigeria and the emergence of Boko Haram. He also reflects on way the media has covered the violence and on Nigerian geopolitics more broadly.
To learn more about the background of the violence in Northern Nigeria, read Arbitrary Killings by Security Forces, a recent report by Human Rights Watch. For a Nigerian perspective, see Boko Haram - Media Profiling And Extra-Judicial Killing, an editorial by the Daily Trust.