TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 11

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Syria’s own ‘Monuments Men’ are trying to stop antiquities from becoming looted to finance terrorism.

By Joe Parkinson, Ayla Albayrak and Duncan Mavin in the Wall Street Journal

2. Scientists have combined a bionic leaf with a bioengineered bacteria to convert solar energy into liquid fuel.

By Elizabeth Cooney at Harvard Medical School

3. A dozen states are using a smart data center to keep voter information up to date. Meet ERIC.

By the Pew Charitable Trusts on YouTube

4. Deciding to embrace big data is a lot easier than changing your culture to use it well.

By Matt Asay in ReadWrite

5. Fighting malaria is going to take more than just nets.

By Utibe Effiong and Lauretta Ovadje with Andrew Maynard in the Conversation

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Nigeria

Nigeria’s Military Quails When Faced With Boko Haram

Nigeria's once vaunted military has been hollowed out by corruption, bad leadership, and insufficient training, leaving it vulnerable to Boko Haram's advance

The claims, like the man who made them, were outsize: Nigeria’s military, says National Security Advisor Sambo Dasuki, would crush the Boko Haram insurgency that has bedeviled the country for the past six years, in six weeks. “All known Boko Haram camps would be taken out” by March 28, he told reporters in Abuja on Monday. Just in time for the country’s presidential election, which was rescheduled from its original Feb. 14 date on Saturday.

Given that the Boko Haram insurgency killed more than 10,000 last year, has sent an estimated 1.5 million fleeing for their lives, and now controls a swath of northeastern Nigeria the size of Costa Rica, Dasuki did allow himself a little wiggle room. Even if total annihilation was not, in fact, achieved, he conceded, “The situation would surely be conducive enough for elections.” He would do well to backtrack. Nigeria’s military has so far proved incapable of containing Boko Haram, and there is little to indicate that anything has changed. The African Union pledged 8,700 troops to the fight over the weekend, and on Monday the neighboring country of Niger voted to send in reinforcements as well. That Nigeria’s army needs help dealing with what even its own leaders call a rag-tag militia is a sobering indictment of an institution that was once considered the powerhouse of African peacekeeping. In 2003 the Nigerian army helped defeat the forces of Liberia’s bloodthirsty warlord Charles Taylor. Now it can’t even locate 219 schoolgirls from Chibok that were kidnapped by Boko Haram in April. What happened?

Nigeria’s military has been in decline for the past 16 years, says J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa Center at the Washington D.C.- based Atlantic Council, ever since the country moved from a military dictatorship to a democracy in 1999. The intervening years have seen the country’s armed forces hollowed out by a combination of poor leadership, graft, misdirected staff training and a succession of civilian governments so worried about another coup that they have starved the armed forces of key resources.

To a certain extent, part of the issue is size. The country may have a 90,000 strong standing army, says Pham, but not all of them are soldiers. Nurses, medics, administration personnel and military police don’t fight, “so the actual number of combat ready troops is much lower.” Add to the fact that some 3,000 troops are currently serving in United Nations peacekeeping missions around the world, and the number left is “inadequate for the task of defending a country the size of Nigeria,” with its population of 174 million and a history of local insurgencies.

A bigger issue is fraud, says former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell, who now runs the Nigeria Security Tracker for the Council on Foreign Relations. Ammunition and arms are budgeted and paid for, but they don’t always reach the front lines, either because they are diverted to the black market, or because the money actually went into a procurer’s pocket. Disgruntled soldiers recently spoke to CNN, describing how they are sent out to fight militants armed with RPGs while they only have dozens of bullets each. The soldiers complained that they had to cover medical expenses for wounds received in battle, and that the spouses of dead soldiers were only granted a minimal stipend. “Nigeria’s annual military budget is somewhere between five and six billion dollars,” says Campbell. “Yet we have credible reports of soldiers being sent into combat with no bullets. The army is plagued by corruption, incompetence and bad morale.”

Military spokesman Maj. Gen Chris Olukolade argues that accounts of insufficient arms and ammunition are an exaggeration. Concern for civilian casualties, he says, has limited the effectiveness of soldiers in an asymmetric battle where the militants routinely take human shields. Nigerians don’t appreciate the costs of war, he says, so it is easy to blame the military’s failures on corruption when there are other factors at play. As is often the case, there is no firm evidence of graft, but Pham notes that there is enough anecdotal evidence to make a case. He cites Nigeria’s purchase of Israeli-made surveillance drones a few years ago. The drones were paid for and delivered, but despite budget allocations for their maintenance and upkeep, the drones were inoperable last spring, when they could have been used to locate the missing Chibok schoolgirls. Instead U.S. and British drones had to be flown in to do reconnaissance. It may not be a smoking gun, says Pham, but it’s enough to start asking hard questions.

As Olukolade inadvertently points out, Nigeria’s armed forces aren’t particularly well trained in counter-insurgency. They are a conventional army faced with an unconventional force that cares little for collateral damage. Nigeria’s army has a bad record of human rights abuses as well, according to Human Rights Watch. Unlike the militants they are fighting, they have to at least make an effort to do the right thing, says Olukolade in a wrong-footed attempt to explain the military’s limitations. “We are aware we are being watched, and are accountable, and that has affected the speed, the kind of swift actions we want to take against [Boko Haram]. We are constantly being put under check, and that has put a check on how far we can go in fighting back.”

Pham, who has worked in West Africa for over a decade, agrees that the Nigerian military’s training is not adequate for the job at hand. The resource-starved, post-dictatorship army often found that the best outlet for attention was U.N. peacekeeping deployments. As a result, he says, officers at Nigerian staff colleges focused more on courses that could get them the coveted U.N. Department of Peacekeeping certification, rather than on tactical and strategic decision-making. “They are trained to think like peace keeping bureaucrats,” says Pham. “So when you throw someone trained in peacekeeping into a war-fighting situation, they are way out of their depths.”

That has been made abundantly clear in the case of Boko Haram, which has continued to make advances in the region even as U.S. officials estimate that its total size is between 4,000 and 6,000 fighters. The group’s recent expansion into Niger and Cameroon has regional leaders up in arms, and ready to fight. Pham says that the extra 8,700 African Union troops will make a good hammer to the Nigerian military’s anvil, but whether or not they will prove successful by March 28, is unclear.

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, no stranger to outsize pronouncements himself, scoffs at the new military alliance. “Amass all your weapons and face us,” he taunted in a 28-minute speech in Arabic broadcast on YouTube. “You send 7000 troops? Why don’t you send seven million? By Allah, it is small. We can seize them one by one.”

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 9

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. A humanitarian intervention for Aleppo could provide a glimmer of hope in Syria.

By Ana Palacio in Project Syndicate

2. The U.S. needs a new Church Committee to strengthen oversight of our intelligence services.

By Michael German at the Brennan Center for Justice

3. A regional force is the wrong approach to fight Boko Haram — and might make things worse.

By Hilary Matfess in Al Jazeera America

4. The mystery of autism might be unlocked by studying the microorganisms in children’s stomachs.

By Ruth Ann Luna at the Baylor College of Medicine

5. Test for HIV and syphilis with an iPhone.

By Tasbeeh Herwees in Good

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Nigeria

Nigeria’s Delayed Election Gives President a Convenient Time-Out

Nigeria cited security concerns in postponed ballot — but incumbent Goodluck Jonathan stands to benefit most from it

When Nigeria’s government first floated the idea of postponing upcoming presidential elections last month due to concerns about the country’s readiness, the proposal was widely derided as a cynical political ploy. Incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, once considered a shoo-in, was facing an unexpectedly strong campaign from former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari. An Afrobarometer poll released on Jan. 27 indicated that the two were neck-and-neck. Delaying the election, pro-Jonathan pundits suggested, would give the president more time to make his case for why he should remain at the wheel. Opponents said it would enable his People’s Democratic Party, facing its first defeat after 15 years in power, to dig deeper into a sizable war chest—and state coffers—to outspend Jonathan’s rival.

Those calculations will now be put to the test. Late Saturday evening, Nigeria’s independent election commission bowed to pressure and announced that presidential elections, originally scheduled for Feb. 14, would be postponed until March 28. Nigeria’s widely-respected election commission head Attahiru Jega cited security concerns as the reason for the delay, saying that he had been informed that the country’s overstretched military forces would not be able guarantee voters’ safety. “The commission cannot lightly wave off the advice of the nation’s security chiefs,” Jega said at the press conference. “Calling people to exercise their democratic rights in a situation where their security cannot be guaranteed is a most onerous responsibility.”

To be sure, Nigeria’s military is facing a serious threat in the advance of Boko Haram, a 6000-strong Islamist insurgency that has taken control of a wide swath of northeastern Nigeria. In recent weeks the militants have driven entire units from strategic posts, laid waste to multiple villages, launched suicide bomb attacks, and advanced into neighboring Chad and Cameroon.

But in January, Nigerian military spokesman Major General Chris Olukolade assured TIME that the country’s army would be well up to the task of defending its citizens come election time. So what changed? According to Jega’s official statement, the combined heads of Nigeria’s security services indicated that the army was about to launch a major military operation against Boko Haram, and would not be available to provide backing to the police and other agencies during the next six weeks.

Still, some in Nigeria balked at the idea that the country’s entire military force, which had until recently deployed only one brigade during the whole course of the six-year insurgency, would be otherwise engaged on the day of elections. “The government knew of the security situation all along, so to postpone the polls under the pretext of suddenly now concentrating military and other security resources against the insurgency is absolutely untenable,” says Nnamdi Obasi, Nigeria Analyst for the International Crisis Group.

The United States, too, made it clear that it wasn’t buying it. Secretary of State John Kerry said that he was “disappointed” by the postponement, suggesting that the commission was forced to make the decision. “Political interference with the Independent National Electoral Commission is unacceptable,” he said in a statement. “It is critical that the government not use security concerns as a pretext for impeding the democratic process.”

It also raises the question of what happens if the operation fails. The government is “asking for six weeks to deal with an insurgency it had failed to deal with in almost six years,” says Obasi. “What will happen to the national elections if the security situation in the northeast does not improve significantly in those six weeks?”

Obasi says the postponement is pure politics. “Jonathan and his ruling PDP were clearly in deep waters, so desperately needed to buy time and try to regain steam. The timing of the postponement, the untenable reasons advanced for it and particularly the underhand methods by which it was executed, all leave no doubt that it was driven by narrow political interests rather than national security considerations.”

While Buhari made it clear that he believed the postponement to be an underhanded attempt to bolster Jonathan’s chances at the polls, he also called for calm. “Any act of violence can only complicate the security challenges in the country and provide further justification to those who would want to exploit every situation to frustrate the democratic process,” he told supporters at a rally Sunday.

Delaying the vote, he implied with a good dose of bravado, would only make his candidacy more appealing to an electorate tired of Jonathan’s mismanagement and political shenanigans. “If anything, this postponement should strengthen our resolve and commitment to rescue our country from the current economic and social collapse from this desperate band.”

If the security situation does improve over the next six weeks, it is likely to have little to do with the efforts of the Nigerian military. Niger’s parliament is set to vote Feb. 9 on sending troops to aid Nigeria in its fight against Boko Haram, and the African Union has pledged an additional 7,500. That influx of troops could help Jonathan’s chances at the polls. The incumbent’s campaign has been dogged by his poor record on security, something that Buhari, a former military dictator with a strong-arm reputation, has used to his advantage. Military successes would reverse Jonathan’s bad record.

But the delay could also backfire spectacularly, allowing Boko Haram more time to launch attacks. The militia has no horse in this race, and has threatened both Jonathan and Buhari. Boko Haram is just betting that as long as the country can’t agree on a leader, it won’t be able to agree on a counter-insurgency policy either.

TIME Nigeria

Malala Urges the World to Remember Nigerian Schoolgirls

It's been 300 days since they were abducted

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai called on the world Sunday to remember the Nigerian schoolgirls who were abducted by the militant group Boko Haram last year and remain missing 300 days later.

“Nigerian leaders and the international community can and must do much more to resolve this crisis and change their weak response to date,” Malala said in a statement marking 300 days since the Chibok schoolgirls were captured. “If these girls were the children of politically or financially powerful parents, much more would be done to free them. But they come from an impoverished area of northeast Nigeria and sadly little has changed since they were kidnapped.”

“These young women risked everything to get an education that most of us take for granted,” she continued. “I will not forget my sisters.”

Islamist extremist group Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from a school in northeast Nigeria last April, triggering global outrage expressed through the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Although a few girls managed to escape during the kidnapping, the vast majority of the schoolgirls remain missing. Women who have escaped Boko Haram tell of the brutalities they experienced at the hands of the militants, including forced marriage and being sold into sex slavery.

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a video last May taking responsibility for the abduction and saying that he would “sell them on the market.”

The 300-day anniversary coincides with the upcoming Nigerian presidential elections, which are increasingly threatened by the Boko Haram insurgency. This week, the government announced they would delay the elections because of instability in the northeast part of the country, largely controlled by Boko Haram.

“Politicians now running for office for next week’s elections should not only demonstrate their empathy but finally take some responsibility for this tragedy,” Malala said. “The leaders of Nigeria should commit to work together and make the case of the Chibok girls a priority in their first 100 days in office, as well as the education of every Nigerian child.”

TIME

Nigerian Elections Threaten Campaign to Make Africa Polio-Free

NIGERIA-HEALTH-POLIO
Aminu Abubakar—AFP/Getty Images A polio vaccinator administers oral drops to a child in the Dawanau district of Kano, northern Nigeria in 2013.

Nigeria is is the last country in Africa which is still polio-endemic but it hasn't had a case in six months

For all that ails Nigeria —Boko Haram jihadists rampaging across the country’s northeast, record unemployment and the plummeting price of crude for an oil-dependent government — one thing has been going very right. Nigeria has not seen a case of polio since July 24, 2014. If it can stay that way another six months it will be removed from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) polio-endemic list, leaving just Pakistan and Afghanistan behind. But the general election, on February 14, has global public health officials worried that Nigeria might yet backslide: every election since 2003 has been followed by a surge in polio cases.

A quarter of a century after it was eradicated in the United States, polio is poised to become the second disease since smallpox to be wiped out in the wild. That progress has been achieved through a concerted effort by UNICEF, WHO and Rotary International to establish strict vaccination protocols for governments in affected countries. All it takes is two drops of the vaccine, administered three different times, to render a child immune. In order to achieve that, governments usually hold vaccination drives in affected areas every six weeks. In 1988 there were 350,000 cases of polio in 125 countries; in 2014 that number went down to 339 cases. Which is why this year is such a nail biter for Africa. When Nigeria is declared polio-free, after three years without a case, the rest of the continent can start to breathe a little easier.

Up until now, the greatest concern for public health officials has been Nigeria’s insurgency, which has prevented vaccinators from reaching children in violence prone areas. The upcoming poll has added another layer of worry, says Carol Pandak, Rotary International’s PolioPlus program director. “Elections always pose a threat of hindering polio eradication efforts,” she says via email. “Not only in that government officials are distracted leading up the elections, but possible violence and instability following the elections can have a significantly negative impact on polio eradication efforts.” The post-election surge in cases was most apparent following Nigeria’s 2011 Presidential elections, says Dr. Tunji Funsho, head of Rotary International’s Nigeria program. Election results were met with three days of rioting that killed 800 in the worst outbreak of violence since the 1967-70 civil war. The protests “compromised the security situation and prevented vaccinators from reaching a large cohort of children.”

Elections in India, which was declared polio-free last year, were largely spared the post-polling polio surge because of the country’s relative stability, notes Pandak. Recent Pakistani and Afghan elections saw similar case surges, and Nigeria is not likely to be any different this time around, especially since the two contenders, incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, and former general Muhammadu Buhari, are neck and neck according to a recent poll. These elections “have the potential to be much more disruptive given the political divisions in the country,” says Pandak.

There is also the uncertainty of how the newly elected government will or will not prioritize polio eradication. Funsho notes that in the past, Nigeria’s newly elected officials at the state and government levels were reluctant to fund immunization. As a result, coverage and quality of vaccination services declined. “It takes a strong effort to educate the new political leaders on the value of supporting polio eradication and making it a national priority,” says Pandak.

A surge of cases now would be a serious setback. Nigeria had only six cases last year, down from 53 in 2013. The rapid decline is a serious achievement, considering that in 2003 vaccinations all but stopped in the north of the country when religious leaders declared that the vaccines were part of a plot to sterilize Muslim girls. By the end of the year, 447 children in Africa had been paralyzed by the Nigerian strain of the virus. Within two years it had spread to across 16 countries, reaching as far away as Indonesia.

This year, Funsho is determined to keep Nigeria’s number at zero this year, setting up what he calls a “war room” for polio eradication. He knows that all it takes for those efforts to be undone is an interruption of regular vaccinations and a decline in vigilance. If he succeeds, the world will be one country closer to totally eradicating the disease.

TIME Islamist Extremism

Inside ISIS and al-Qaeda’s Battle for Brand Supremacy

They may share similar goals but the two groups are bitter rivals

Four days after the terrorist attacks in Paris, which killed 17 people, a video surfaced online showing one of the gunmen, Amedy Coulibaly, pledging allegiance in broken Arabic to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Earlier that week, another assailant, Chérif Kouachi, in a telephone interview to French television claimed allegiance to a different jihadist group: al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. “We acted a bit together and a bit separately,” he said. Kouachi was later killed by police.

With an investigation of the attacks still ongoing, it remains unclear how closely the gunmen actually coordinated with the two terrorist organizations or between themselves. But the episode offers a glimpse of new undercurrents fueling Islamic terrorism: al-Qaeda is no longer the key player when it comes to Islamist terrorism against the West. Instead, multiple jihadi groups cooperate, and at times compete with one another.

That transformation is in full display with the recent successes of ISIS, which have re-invigorated jihadist movements worldwide, explained Katherine Zimmerman, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. “ISIS is only spurring the race toward violent jihad,” she said.

One of the key forces fueling this revival is ISIS’s head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a native Iraqi with a PhD in Islamic Studies and the track record of an ambitious leader.

Unlike heads of other al-Qaeda’s main affiliates who climbed the ladders of the group’s central leadership, al-Baghdadi rose in the ranks of one of its offshoots, al-Qaeda in Iraq, and doesn’t have a direct, personal relationship with the rest of the network.

In April 2013, al-Baghdadi announced that he was extending his group’s activities from Iraq into Syria. To reflect the change, he renamed al-Qaeda in Iraq to the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria, or ISIS.

The move reportedly took al-Qaeda’s head by surprise. In 2014, the group formally dissociated itself from its affiliate in Iraq and Syria, culminating years of feuding between the two organizations. ISIS “is not a branch of the al-Qaeda group … does not have an organizational relationship with it and [al-Qaeda] is not the group responsible for their actions,” al-Qaeda’s general command said in a statement.

The extent of the break’s shockwave is yet to be fully measured. But from the sidelines, observers have taken note of the new balance of power.

Recent signs of the tug-of-war include reports of ISIS militants trying to recruit in Afghanistan and Pakistan and of the arrest of three of its agents in late January — effectively tip-toeing on al-Qaeda’s home turf.

“The Islamic State is a competitor in leading the global jihad and it is currently winning the race,” said William McCants, a fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Some groups, from Northern Africa to South-east Asia, have since rallied behind the winning horse.

For instance, in September, an armed group calling itself the Caliphate Soldiers in Algeria, previously affiliated with al-Qaeda’s North African branch, split from al-Qaeda’s core command and swore loyalty to ISIS, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, an organization that monitors terrorist activity online.

In October, senior members of the Pakistani Taliban vowed allegiance to the Islamic State. While the six men didn’t speak for the Pakistani Taliban, the announcement further underscores divisions among militant Islamist groups as ISIS rises.

In all, 18 organizations expressed support and/or allegiance to ISIS, according to an analysis provided by al-Qaeda expert Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, deputy director of the Geneva Center for Security Policy and adjunct professor at the Graduate Institute in Geneva.

Beyond the Arab world, another organization has had a complicated relationship with al-Qaeda and ISIS: Jama’atu Ahlus-Sunnah Lidda’Awati Wal Jihad, better known as Boko Haram. The group is behind a deadly suicide attack on a United Nations building in Abuja in 2011, the killing of thousands of people, including hundreds of students, and the kidnapping of at least 800 women and children in the past year alone.

While there is evidence that Boko Haram received training and support from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Nigerian group is increasingly aligning itself with ISIS. Drawn by its numerous successes, Boko Haram has adopted the ISIS flag in videos and started to mirror ISIS’ language in statements, said Amy Pate, the research director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland.

“Boko Haram is going after status,” Pate said. “As ISIS remains the hot brand within the Islamic jihadi movement, I wouldn’t be surprised if Boko Haram continued to use supportive rhetoric and align itself more and more with ISIS as opposed to al-Qaeda.”

A month after ISIS declared its caliphate, Boko Haram also appeared to mirror the group’s land-grabbing tactics in Northern Nigeria, said Jacob Zenn, an African affairs analyst for the D.C.-based Jamestown Foundation.

Now, Boko Haram controls an area just over 30,000 square kilometers of territory, about the size of West Virginia.

But it’s premature to speak of a formal link between ISIS and Boko Haram.

“We see a clear copying,” said Zenn. “The big question remains as whether this is messaging or signaling or whether there are intermediaries between the two groups.”

Yet, despite ISIS’ growing appeal, the major branches of al-Qaeda in Yemen, Somalia and North Africa have remained in the ranks.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, is considered the most dangerous affiliate and has the closest relationship with the original al-Qaeda.

The two have overlapping hierarchies: AQAP’s leader, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, was recently appointed to serve as al-Qaeda’s general manager, an important position that effectively makes him No.2 of the organization.

Al-Wuhayshi and al-Qaeda’s current head Ayman al-Zawahiri go way back. Al-Wuhayshi was Osama bin Laden’s personal aide in Afghanistan from the late 1990s until after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, at a time al-Zawahiri was also part of bin Laden’s inner circle.

In the rift between ISIS and al-Qaeda, AQAP has sided with the latter, arguing in online videos that al-Baghdadi’s declaration of an Islamic caliphate was illegitimate.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, another of al-Qaeda’s main affiliates, has for its part refrained from recognizing ISIS as legitimate. The group’s leadership, based in desert areas of Algeria, is also part of the network that trained in Afghanistan.

Blood kins
Despite clear antagonisms when it comes to strategy, al-Qaeda and ISIS can be thought of as ideological siblings.

“The disagreement between the two is over what the group should be doing to bring about the caliphate: the tactics and strategies,” the American Enterprise Institute’s Zimmerman said. “ISIS and al-Qaeda both want global jihad, but the way they go about it is very different.”

While al-Qaeda’s strategy under Osama bin Laden focused on preaching its form of Islam and toppling regimes aligned with the West before trying to establish a caliphate, ISIS believes in simultaneously establishing a state — a strategy first championed by al-Qaeda in Iraq’s deceased ideologue, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, said Zimmerman.

It is those competing visions that may separate the two in the long run.

What has been ISIS’ success — its ability to conquer and control territory — could be the source of its demise as the group will have to defend its territorial conquests, explained al-Qaeda expert Mohamedou.

“ISIS wants to be a global entity, but it’s very much locally grounded,” Mohamedou explained. “The territory they hold is their strength because they extract resources, but territory is where you can be found and where you can be targeted — that is strategically a more difficult position to hold.”

TIME Nigeria

Delaying Nigeria’s Elections May Benefit Boko Haram More Than Democracy

A shoe-mender works near a poster campaigning for Jimi Agbaje, along a road in the Ikeja district in Lagos
Akintunde Akinleye—Reuters A shoe-mender works near a poster campaigning for frontline contender and Lagos governorship candidate for the People's Democratic Party (PDP) Jimi Agbaje, along a road in the Ikeja district in Lagos, Nigeria on Feb. 3, 2015.

Nigeria's election body raised concerns that the country may not be ready for elections planned for Feb. 14

Over the past five years, an insurgency led by the Islamist Boko Haram group has driven 1.6 million Nigerians from their homes in the country’s northeast. So it comes as a bit of a surprise that Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is only now starting to voice concern about how those citizens will vote in upcoming presidential elections, slated for Feb. 14. Incumbent Goodluck Jonathan is facing a strong challenge from former general Muhammadu Buhari.

On Feb. 4, just 10 days before the start of polling, INEC commissioner Amina Zachary told Reuters that the elections may have to be delayed over fears that not enough registered voters would actually be able to cast ballots. At issue is the requirement that citizens vote where they are registered — difficult enough when Boko Haram threatens to launch squads of suicide bombers across the region in the run-up to the election; impossible when your hometown is under militant occupation, as 20 out of 27 local governorships are in the three northeastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe.

The commission is also worried about the slow rollout of its anti-fraud system. Each voter must have a Permanent Voter Card (PVC) in order to cast a ballot. The cards are digitally embedded with the voter’s fingerprint and can be read by a small battery-powered scanner. If the voter’s fingerprint doesn’t match the information on the card, he or she won’t be issued a ballot. This is designed to prevent accusations of ballot-box stuffing that have marred past elections.

But the problem is that not all voters have their cards yet. Only 44 million out of 68.8 million registered voters have received their cards, according to INEC, many of them in areas plagued by insurgency. In theory, would-be voters can pick up their cards at government offices, but not if fighting shuts those offices down. INEC has extended the deadline for picking up voter cards to Feb. 8, but if the number of cards distributed by then is too low, the commission may decide to postpone the vote. “Let’s see how the PVC distribution goes,” Zachary told Reuters. “Then maybe.”

It’s not just INEC that is concerned. In January, President Jonathan’s national security adviser Sambo Dasuki also suggested that the vote be delayed, for the same reason. And on Feb. 3, about 100 protesters stormed INEC headquarters, brandishing placards demanding a delay. “INEC, do the right thing,” they chanted. “We demand for the extension of election to allow Nigerian exercise their franchise.”

Never one to pass up a good conspiracy story, Nigeria’s Premium Times newspaper posited that the protesters, and Dasuki, may have been put up by Jonathan supporters who feel that their candidate might benefit from a longer campaign season. An Afrobarometer opinion poll released on Jan. 27 indicates that the election is too close to call, a sharp change in fortunes for Jonathan, who was considered a clear front runner as recently as early January, when campaigning started in earnest.

But if Boko Haram continues with its campaign of deadly bombings — a female suicide blew herself up in the northeastern state of Gombe on Feb. 2 — a delay in elections might actually harm Jonathan’s chances. Jonathan’s record on fighting Boko Haram is weak, and Buhari has made security the cornerstone of his campaign. In the end, delaying the elections could end up benefitting Boko Haram the most. More debate on who should be the next President means less attention on what should be done about militancy.

— Additional reporting by Naina Bajekal

TIME Photojournalism Links

The 10 Best Photo Essays of the Month

A compilation of the 10 most interesting photo essays published online in January, as curated by Mikko Takkunen

This month’s Photojournalism Links collection highlights 10 excellent photo essays from across the world spanning five continents, including Pete Muller‘s powerful work shot in the Ebola-ridden Sierra Leone. His two sets of photographs, featured below, were made on assignment for National Geographic, and are the first two in a four-part series examining the epidemic in West Africa. Muller’s pictures document the battle fought by medical workers, body collectors, and burial teams to bring the crisis ravaging Freetown and the country, under control. The story and images from the city’s King Tom cemetery are particularly harrowing; in just a few months, it has been expanded to three times its former size and the large number of fresh burial mounds make it look more like a construction site than a typical graveyard.

Pete Muller: How Ebola Found Fertile Ground in Sierra Leone’s Chaotic Capital | How the Fight Against Ebola Tested a Culture’s Traditions (National Geographic News)

Uriel Sinai: In Africa, Mosquito Nets Are Putting Fish at Risk (The New York Times) These stunning photographs by Uriel Sinai from Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia, show how mosquito nets meant for Malaria protection have ended up being widely used in fishing, since they are cheaper than actual fishing nets and can be even more effective, especially in shallow waters.

Andy Spyra: The enemy within: Boko Haram’s reign of terror across Northern Nigeria | The enemy within: A closer look at survivors of Boko Haram attacks across Northern Nigeria (The Washington Post In Sight) The German photographer has spent more than three years documenting the northern Nigeria. His pictures provide a rare view into communities under Boko Haram’s terror.

Mosa’ab Elshamy: Exploring the Mawlids of Egypt (TIME LightBox) These excellent photographs capture spiritual celebrations within Egyptian Sufism.

Manu Brabo: In Ukraine, The Frozen Tears of Donetsk (Paris Match L’Instant) The Spanish photographer, known for his work in Syria, is now in Ukraine to document the upsurge in fighting. | See also Brabo’s work on the MSNBC and Al Jazeera America websites

Lynn Johnson: Healing Soldiers (The National Geographic) Compelling portraits of U.S. soldiers treating their war traumas by participating in art therapy, where they create painted masks to express how they feel. The images painted on them symbolize themes such as death, physical pain, and patriotism.

George Steinmetz: Treading Water (The National Geographic) These pictures from Florida’s southeastern coastline capture a region with a lot to lose as sea levels continue to rise.

Álvaro Laiz: Ninjas: Gold Rush In Mongolia (Wired Raw File) These photographs document the hard and dangerous work of amateur gold miners.

Mark Abramson: An Immigrant’s Dream for a Better Life (The New York Times Lens) Extraordinary, in-depth photo essay that follows the life of a young Mexican immigrant woman and her family in California.

Emanuele Satolli: In the Bag for North (TIME LightBox) Revealing still life images of Central American migrants’ sparse belonging on their journey toward the United States.

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