Yet another presumed Boko Haram terror attack took place on Tuesday, May 20, killing at least 188 people in Jos. The attack took the form of a double car bomb attack at Terminus Market in the central business district of Jos, which is the capital of Plateau State. The first bomb went off at around 15:00, and the second 20 minutes later to target the crowd that had gathered to help the victims of the first blast. The explosions were powerful enough to raze several buildings to the ground and start a major fire, and emergency services staff told reporters that they expected to find more bodies while clearing the rubble. Boko Haram has not claimed responsibility for the attack, but it seems certain that its men perpetrated it.
Jos, in the north of Plateau State, does not lie in the north-eastern states, especially Borno, where Boko Haram has its main power base and where it has historically been most active. Jos is in the part of Nigeria known as the Middle Belt, the broad lateral zone where the Muslim north meets the Christian south, and where clashes between Muslim and Christian communities over grazing, cattle and other issues are frequent. These tensions came to the surface in Jos only hours after the bomb attack, when a mob of Christians armed with clubs formed and started to march towards a Muslim neighbourhood of the city. Police managed to stop their advance. While the Boko Haram problem receives more media coverage than the unending sectarian clashes in the Middle Belt, the security problem is a serious one: according to a security tracker maintained by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a United States (US) think tank, such sectarian violence caused 397 deaths in April and 485 deaths in March.
WHY DO WE CARE? It seems clear that the bomb attack, like the bombing in Kano on May 18 which targeted Christian Igbo merchants, was intended to stoke sectarian divisions and destabilise the country, and in Nigeria’s current feverish environment it may well succeed. On May 12 we wrote about the “important risk that the Boko Haram insurgency will begin to overlap with sectarian conflicts in the ‘Middle Belt’”; it seems that Boko Haram has now elected to exploit that fault line to sow further chaos in Nigeria. It remains to be seen to what extent these recent attacks, and possibly others in the coming days, will spark sectarian violence, but the danger of that is serious. We consider that the point has been reached where Boko Haram’s insurgency has affected overall stability in Nigeria. If the government cannot show some success against the terror group, and soon, the negative trend will persist.
Analyst: François Conradie