The forgotten fight: Britain has a strategic interest in defeating Boko Haram


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The Independent Online

While attention has been focused on the rise of Isis and the horrors of the war in Syria, we have half-forgotten another part of the world where Islamic extremism has been running amok.

It is six months to the day since 276 schoolgirls were kidnapped from a secondary school in northern Nigeria by a group whose name, Boko Haram, means “Western education is forbidden”.

Three weeks after they were kidnapped, Boko Haram’s leader released a chilling video boasting that they were going to be sold into slavery. Some of the girls have since escaped. Some are said to have been killed. The majority are still missing, held captive perhaps in the deep forests of northern Nigeria or across the border in Cameroon. On that same day six months ago, 88 people died when two bombs exploded in a crowded bus station in central Nigeria, an atrocity for which the same group claimed responsibility.

The fact that Boko Haram has almost dropped out of the news recently does not mean that the threat it poses had receded. On the contrary, Islamic extremism is on the increase in that part of Africa, a regional menace affecting Niger, Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon.

The state of Nigeria was a creation of British empire builders, for whom it was convenient to create a single colony out of a land divided between Christianity in the south and Islam in the north. It is a huge, diverse country with immense natural resources struggling to become a stable democracy.

Here in Britain, the rise of Ukip is challenging the view shared by the three main political parties that our foreign aid budget should not be protected from austerity cuts. There is a populist argument to say that we should tackle problems at home before we spend money abroad, but the collapse of good government and the rise of extremism, even in seemingly faraway places, threaten us all. Boko Haram is our enemy too.