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Published: Friday, 5/17/2013

Nigeria’s test

The state of emergency declared this week by President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria is a clear signal to that country’s armed forces that it is time for them to take decisive action.

The declaration covers three Nigerian states that have been the site of violent standoffs between the central government and militant Islamists in a movement called Boko Haram. It is anti-Western, anti-Christian, and anti-moderate, even though half of Nigeria’s population is Christian, and most of its Muslims are moderate. Boko Haram focuses its rebellion on the education system, which it says is opposed to its kind of Islam.

Hundreds of people have died in the fighting, and churches and mosques have been destroyed. Christian-Muslim competition for control of the oil-rich state dates from Nigeria’s independence in 1960.

Mobilizing Nigeria’s 100,000 troops against Boko Haram will not be easy. The states that are the site of the conflict border Cameroon, Chad, and Niger, which have loose control of their territories.

Nigeria’s military normally focuses on matters other than internal defense. There have been numerous military coups d’etat in Nigeria’s history. The military also pays close attention to collecting a big share of the country’s oil wealth.

It has participated credibly in global peacekeeping operations, for which it is paid well. If it is properly focused, it is probably capable of bringing Boko Haram into line and restoring peace.

There seems no role in these tasks for the U.S. Africa Command, which already has been involved in Libya, Mali, and Somalia, and is chasing the Lord’s Liberation Army in central Africa. Mr. Jonathan is right to give the mission to his military.

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