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Poverty, corruption fuel Boko Haram in Nigeria

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And I am joined by Nick Schifrin in the studio.

    In this specific piece, what is the government response to this?

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    The government is taking this very seriously. The new government is taking this very seriously.

    And a senior adviser on corruption issues puts it this way: "Either we kill corruption, or corruption kills the country."

    The new president, Muhammadu Buhari, has committees looking, especially at high-level corruption. And the focus is on $20 billion — that's the accusation — that has been stolen by oil officials because most of Nigeria's money comes from that oil, but also money stolen from the military. Money that was supposed to go to fight Boko Haram instead got diverted.

    So, that is the focus of this new government. And they hope that, if they can get some high-level prosecutions, some high-profile prosecutions, that will send a message that the days of impunity are — are over. And then you will see a difference, or at least a little less low-level corruption, because those police officers you saw, they will feel like, well, if the big people can't get away with it, then neither could we.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Right.

    You also have another story about the economy. What did you find?

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    Yes. As you mentioned at the top of this segment, Hari, it is a nation of superlatives, richest country in Africa, the biggest oil producer, fastest growing economy.

    By 2050, there will be more Nigerians than there will be Americans. The middle class will grow by eight. There are more ultra-rich growing in Nigeria than there are in the U.S. The list goes on and on.

    The other side is this, 100 million people in poverty. Very difficult to get those people out, so long as you have a lack of infrastructure, a lack of electricity, and a lack of investment in agriculture. So, those are the three areas that the new government is trying to focus on.

    But, again, after decades of neglect and some of that corruption, it's very difficult to lift so many people out of poverty.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Most of the headlines from Nigeria right now are coming from Boko Haram. And you have another piece on that.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    Sixty-six hundred people killed by Boko Haram last year, that is more than the Islamic State.

    So, that will give you a sense of how deadly that group has been. There have been some gains, in the last nine months especially, against Boko Haram. The Nigerian military has made some gains. Earlier this year, they brought in some mercenaries from South Africa.

    But also the neighboring countries, the militaries from Chad, Niger, and Cameroon, have come into Nigeria, and been doing some of that fighting earlier this year.

    But now what we are seeing is a lot of suicide attacks. Boko Haram can't seize and hold land like it used to, but girls, mostly, are going into markets, going into mosques and blowing themselves up. And that is why we see so many headlines from out of there.

    So, what the country is doing is now not only trying to go in with the military, but also create a multinational coalition with those neighbors to go in. But it's extremely difficult. You know, a lot of these fighters blend back into the population. And that is why we are seeing these bombs.

    Initially, the country set a December deadline to defeat Boko Haram. The military now admits it won't be able to match that. Eventually, most people think that the battle against Boko Haram will be won. But the war against all of these other things, the poverty, corruption, that is what is most important. That is going to be the most difficult for Nigeria to win.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    You also found a population within Nigeria that, besides Boko Haram, besides everything else, they are worried for their lives just because they are gay.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    Yes, absolutely.

    The Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act was passed last January. This is an act that not only goes after same-sex marriage. It criminalizes homosexuality and can send someone to jail for up to 14 years.

    If you advocate for gay rights, you could get 10 years. If you are a parent and don't turn in your knowingly gay son or daughter, you get 10 years as well. Nobody has been prosecuted under the law.

    But this is what gay men and women told us. And what we see in video evidence is that people are using the law in order to increase extortion and violence. And this is mobs on the street. These are state-sponsored vigilantes. And these are police officers who know that they can threaten someone who is gay with jail, and so they can actually get money out of them.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Nick Schifrin, we're looking forward to the series on the "NewsHour" this week.

    Thanks so much.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    Thanks.

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