Recent attacks on health care workers in northern Nigeria have revived fears of a deadly campaign by militant extremists against international aid groups. The United States is actively engaged with the Nigerian government to identify ways to combat such terrorism and provide positive alternatives to communities most at risk of violent extremism and recruitment.
Gunmen on motorbikes in two separate attacks February 8 shot and killed nine health workers administering polio immunizations in Nigeria’s main northern city of Kano. On Feb. 10, armed men killed three North Korean doctors in the town of Potiskum in Yobe state, entering their apartment at night and slitting their throats. The doctors had lived there since 2005 as part of a medical aid program between Yobe and North Korea.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but similar incidents using similar tactics have been blamed on the militant group Boko Haram, which opposes efforts by global health organizations in Nigeria – particularly immunization programs – as a Western conspiracy.
The United States has aided Nigerian efforts to combat Boko Haram by designating and sanctioning three of its top commanders as international terrorists. We are working with authorities to identify areas of information sharing, enhancing security force professionalism and tactics to increase public confidence in Nigeria’s security response. We are also stressing the importance of respecting human rights and protecting civilians in all security actions.
Violent extremism requires more than just a security response, however. Boko Haram exploits legitimate grievances held by many residents in the region to attract public sympathy and recruits. To address the political and socio-economic challenges there, the Nigerian government must promote human rights practices among its security forces, whose tactics can further erode the trust between northern communities and their government.
The United States is committed to helping the Nigerian government develop a more balanced security strategy to counter Boko Haram, as well as a national action plan to address conditions such as youth unemployment that can fuel violent extremism.