The insurgency cannot be solved as long as the corruption and inequality continue, Mr. Nwankwo said. “I don’t think we should be called a failed state, but we’re in danger of it. Unless the government puts a halt to its levels of corruption and incompetence, my sense is that we’re on that path.”
The Pentagon has a similar assessment of Nigeria’s military weaknesses. In testimony to a U.S. Senate committee last month, the Defence Department’s African Affairs director Alice Friend said the Pentagon “has been deeply concerned for some time by how much the government of Nigeria has struggled to keep pace with Boko Haram’s growing capabilities.”
Widespread corruption in Nigeria is creating a “more permissive operating environment” for Boko Haram, she testified.
“The long-term solution … requires Nigeria’s national political leaders to give serious and sustained attention to the systemic problems of corruption, the lack of effective and equitable governance and the country’s uneven social and economic development.”
Outgunned and losing the war, Nigeria’s military has responded to Boko Haram with horrific abuses, including thousands of arbitrary arrests and massacres of hundreds of unarmed civilians, according to well-documented reports by human-rights groups. This, too, has played into Boko Haram’s hands by fomenting anger and bringing revenge-seeking recruits into its armed gangs.
Living in fear
At the heart of Nigerian political power, Abuja’s verdant and carefully groomed city centre is an oasis of affluence where government ministries have their towering headquarters. But on the city’s impoverished outskirts, in a slum called Nyanya, the insurgents have twice exploded bombs at the same spot, audaciously exposing the powerlessness of the authorities.
Nyanya is a haphazard warren of alleys and small houses, with fires burning in the courtyards and chickens running through the dusty streets. People cook and wash outside, while hawkers sell fruit and other small goods.
“People are still fearing the bombs,” says Rose Ayoka, 52, who runs a small micro-savings business in the slum. “Many people have run away. My customers are escaping. People aren’t coming here to buy or sell. Because of Boko Haram, the people in Nyanya are suffering.”
On a recent afternoon, units of police and soldiers were patrolling the slum and guarding the bombing site. But their roadblocks tend to harass the poor rather than the rich. “When you reach the checkpoint, they look at you, and if you look very well-dressed, they tell you to go ahead,” said Mr. Nwankwo, the political analyst. “If you’re scruffy, they pull you aside and open your boot.”
The debris from the bombings is a poignant reminder of who pays the price for Boko Haram’s attacks. The small pushcarts and wheelbarrows of the street hawkers and labourers are still visible near the scene of the explosions, their tin cans and plastic bottles and rice bags melted or burned.
Titus Emeka Okwor, 50, has been selling cheap engine oil in soft-drink bottles to passing motorists on Nyanya’s main road for the past 10 years. When the first bomb hit, the explosion was so loud it damaged his hearing, and he abandoned the site for weeks. On his first day back, he pulls out a small crumpled bill from his pocket – worth about 60 cents. It’s his only revenue from the entire day and not enough to support his wife and five children.
“I was afraid to come back here,” he says. “Mostly I’m just sitting here alone and nobody is coming here. No cars are stopping any more because of the situation.”
Hundreds of kilometres to the south, in an affluent suburb of Lagos, the reports about the bombings and kidnappings are largely ignored. In an upscale restaurant, a group of Nigerian corporate executives casually watch the latest Boko Haram news on television.
“It’s crazy,” they say, shaking their heads idly. “It’s insane.”
Then they go back to their chatter about business and food and their complaints about the slow service. The brutal rebellion has been forgotten again.
Nigeria by the numbers
61: Percentage of Nigerians who earn less than one dollar a day in 2014
55: Percentage of Nigerians who earn less than one dollar a day in 2004
16,000: Number of millionaires in Nigeria
44: Percentage increase in the number of millionaires in the past six years
12,000: Estimated number of people killed in five years of the Boko Haram insurgency
173.6 million: Estimated population of Nigeria in 2014