Boko Haram not Nigeria's only intractable problem

Nigeria's electoral commission has decided to hold elections as scheduled on February 14 despite a raging insurgency in the country's northeast and a plea by an aide of President Goodluck Jonathan to postpone the polls.

The decision is the correct one - even though Boko Haram jihadists, who have killed more than 13 000 people and displaced a million since 2009, are running rings around the Nigerian military in their bloody campaign to establish an Islamic caliphate.

It is imperative that Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, holds elections at this critical juncture in its history.

Military force alone - even if unleashed under the auspices of the UN and the African Union - will not be enough to defeat the extremists, who enjoy some support among Islamic fundamentalists in the northeast.

It is critical that next month's elections are seen to be free, fair and credible. Military force needs to be underpinned by the voice of the people - and by all accounts most Nigerians are sickened by the wanton violence.

The immediate priority for Jonathan's overstretched security forces will be to safeguard the polls: in 2011, election-related violence claimed the lives of about 1000 people.

Another major headache is to ensure that the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency get a chance to cast their vote.

After the elections the new government in Lagos must devise ways to heal the long-standing divisions between the mainly Christian south of the country and the predominantly Muslim north.

It must also redouble its efforts to fight corruption and improve governance and services to the people.

Last year, lack of clean running water killed more people than Boko Haram.

This is a shameful indictment on a country with Nigeria's oil wealth.



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