n recent days, gunmen and suicide bombers associated with Boko Haram bombed the offices of several prominent Nigerian newspapers; killed fifteen worshippers at a church in just the latest of many attacks on Christian civilians; bombed the convoy of a prominent policeman (who survived, unlike eleven not-so-lucky guards and bystanders); launched an assault on a police station, were repulsed, only to attack another police station down the road, where they freed a number of prisoners and killed two guards. Gunmen in military uniforms kidnapped and executed five people in eastern Nigeria late last week. A day earlier, sixty people were killed at a cattle market after armed men tried to extort money from traders. The traders fought them off, only for the men to return later with bombs and guns. They set fire to buildings and attacked the crowd at random.
The line between criminal gangs and Islamist militants has blurred in Nigeria. Unemployment is high, especially among young people. Boko Haram is no centrally organized group. Some of its members are part of an anti-West, fundamentalist Islamist insurgency. Others are thugs. Most are northerners, disillusioned by what they consider to be the unfair power southern tribes and leaders hold in the central government. They attack symbols of what they see as oppression: police stations and officers, newspaper offices, politicians. But lawlessness in Nigeria is not all attributable to Boko Haram: There are conflicts over land and resources between communities that do not get along, often divided along religious as well as ethnic and linguistic lines in the middle of Nigeria, where the Muslim north meets the Christian south. Nigeria’s social fabric is stretched very, very thin.
The attack at the cattle market and its aftermath encapsulates some of Nigeria’s most pressing problems of violence and lawlessness. A day after the thugs (neither Boko Haram nor any other group has claimed responsibility for the attack yet) burned the market to the ground and murdered dozens of people in cold blood, more than a thousand protestors marched through town to express their frustration at the inability of authorities to stop violence. They demanded better protection from the government and harassed police and soldiers at checkpoints. “Miscreants” lit bonfires in the streets and burned down a church and classrooms.