[ABUJA] Violent attacks by the militant Islamist sect known as Boko Haram are undermining Nigeria's prospects for development, according to researchers and science journalists.
The sect has been blamed for a suicide bomb attack on the Abuja office of the This Day newspaper last month (26 April). The attack was carried out in the early hours of the morning by an as yet unidentified man who drove a car carrying an explosive device into the newspaper's premises. The blast killed the bomber, a security guard and a cleaner.
Last week, the sect issued a warning to other Nigerian media outlets to be mindful of how issues related to Boko Haram are reported.
The attack on This Day was followed on 29 April by the bombing of a church at Bayero University in northern Kano state. Fifteen people, including a chemistry professor, were killed and, as recently as this week, unexploded bombs from the incident were reportedly found on the university campus.
Boko Haram — whose name translates as "Western education is forbidden" — has its roots in north-east Nigeria. Formally known as Jamatul Ahlis Sunnah Lid Daawa Wal Jihad, the group was established in 2002. It has carried out a growing number of deadly attacks since its founder, Mohammed Yusuf, died in police custody in 2009.
In July last year, a spate of deadly attacks in the north-eastern city of Maiduguri prompted the closure of the University of Maiduguri, amid fears the campus would be targeted. The sect has also fire-bombed dozens of schools in the north-east, many of which remain closed.
The school bombings have led to the withdrawal of services by the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). The NYSC is a compulsory one-year internship undertaken by university graduates in Nigeria. NYSC members are frequently deployed to schools to teach, because of a shortage of qualified science and mathematics teachers. Recent General Certificate of Education results suggest that the withdrawal of NYSC members from states where Boko Haram attacks are being carried out has affected student performances.
Daniel Gwary, professor at the department of crop protection at the University of Maiduguri, told SciDev.Net that the activities of Boko Haram and other militant groups are retarding Nigeria's development.
"Peace is needed for people to settle down and work but the situation currently in northern Nigeria is that of instability and this is forcing the government to deploy funds [that would have been] allocated to developmental projects to enhance security for [people] and properties," he said.
Onche Odeh, president of the Nigerian Association of Science Journalists, told SciDev.Net that "security fears are a major deterrent to science journalists who need to go into the field [to cover their stories]. This has become even scarier now that they have taken their onslaught to the academic environment where most sources of science stories are resident."
He added that the 26 April blast took place during the opening ceremony of the Second Science Communication Conference of the NASJ, resulting in the withdrawal from the event of the media resource officer of the United States Embassy "for the entire period of the conference".
Ewache Ajefu, editor of the News Star, a national Nigerian daily newspaper, told SciDev.Net: "The targeting of the media should serve as a clarion call to our government to put in place necessary structures to protect journalists in the discharge of their duties".