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A blast last month in Apapa, the port district of Nigeria’s financial capital Lagos, which the authorities said was a gas explosion, was a bomb attack, an Agency France-Presse investigation has revealed.
The perpetrators have not been identified but the June 25 bombing may have been the first attack in Lagos linked to Boko Haram, the Islamist rebels who have killed thousands across the north and centre of the country during a five-year uprising.
Lagos is the hub of Nigeria’s economy, which is Africa’s largest, and an insurgency in the city could cripple the nation.
Here are three key questions concerning the likelihood and potential consequences of further unrest in sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest city.
Will Lagos see a rising number of attacks?
The lack of violence in Lagos has been among the most hotly debated subjects throughout the Boko Haram conflict.
For some, it is consistent with Boko Haram’s stated goal of creating an Islamic state in the mainly Muslim north, with targets such as Lagos in the mostly Christian south outside the group’s purview.
Others have argued that it was only a matter of time before the city was hit and warned that, for the Islamists, the appeal of striking Lagos was increasing with divisive elections set for next year.
“The incentives for Boko Haram to stage a high-profile attack in Lagos will increase in the run-up to the February 2015 general elections,” the Control Risks political and security consultancy group, which has decades of experience in Nigeria, said in a note to clients following the Apapa blast.
Boko Haram’s desire to destabilise, undermine and embarrass President Goodluck Jonathan’s government during what is likely to be a tough re-election battle could lead to more violence in the economic capital, Control Risks said.
– Would an insurgency in Lagos devastate Nigeria’s economy?
“There is real investment enthusiasm in Nigeria and rightly so” but sustained violence in Lagos “would pose a significant challenge for the Nigerian government,” said Elizabeth Donnelly of the Africa Programme at the London-based think-tank Chatham House.
With 20 million people, including a class of mega-rich, Lagos has drawn significant global attention as a consumer market from a wide range of companies, including South African grocery chain ShopRite and luxury Italian fashion house Ermenegildo Zegna.
The oil-producing Niger Delta in the south, home to Africa’s largest oil industry, remains the most crucial economic region, but Lagos — with a huge consumer base and immeasurable symbolic importance — is nearly as vital.
Oil majors like ExxonMobil and Shell have offices in the city, which is also home to a sizeable expatriate community.
“Many investors have assumed that Lagos is largely immune to the Islamist campaign in the north,” said Control Risks, so sustained violence would “damage perceptions quickly”.
Nigeria has been roundly criticised for its handling of the Islamist uprising, and attacks in Lagos would focus further attention on the competency of the security services, while “raising questions about (political) leadership” among potential investors.
– Would groups other than Boko Haram target Lagos?
Some analysts argue that Boko Haram has become an umbrella term grouping Islamist radicals, bandits and thugs-for-hire.
“It is a ragtag group of criminals in many ways,” said Donnelly, warning that the blast in Apapa may have been perpetrated by people with loose or no ties to Boko Haram’s core leadership in the northeast.
Control Risks has said a local militant network was probably behind the attack and that further violence in the city would likely be carried out by freelance cells nominally sympathetic to Boko Haram’s anti-government agenda.
The unrest may escalate but the attackers would not necessarily be under the orders of Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s leader, who has been sanctioned by the UN Security Council.
“With an estimated 4,000 economic migrants arriving in the city every day, disaffected northern migrants” acting largely on their own “could yet turn to militancy”, the group said, describing this as the “principal threat in Lagos.”
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