TIME Nigeria

Satellite Images Show Nigerian Town ‘Almost Wiped Off the Map’ After Boko Haram Attack

A new report says 3,700 structures destroyed in early January

A new set of before and after satellite images released by Amnesty International shows two towns in Nigeria’s restive northeast were hit hard by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram in a days-long attack earlier this month.

Images provided by DigitalGlobe from Jan. 2 show Baga and Doron Baga before the assault. Ones from Jan. 7 then show, according to the international watchdog, that more than 3,700 buildings in both towns had been damaged or destroyed by fire since the pictures five days before. (Healthy vegetation is shown in red; and destroyed buildings are in yellow.)

MORE 5 Facts That Explain the Threat From Nigeria’s Boko Haram

“These detailed images show devastation of catastrophic proportions in two towns, one of which was almost wiped off the map in the space of four days,” said Daniel Eyre, an Amnesty researcher on Nigeria. “Of all Boko Haram assaults analyzed by Amnesty International, this is the largest and most destructive yet.”

The death toll remains unclear, hovering between 150 and up to 2,000. An uptick in attacks by Boko Haram has cast a shadow over the country’s elections planned for next month.

Read next: Back and Forth in Central African Republic’s Unholy War

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Terrorism

5 Facts That Explain the Threat From Nigeria’s Boko Haram

A member of Boko Haram seen in a suburb of Kano, Nigeria, in 2012.
Samuel James—The New York Times/Redux A member of Boko Haram seen in a suburb of Kano, Nigeria, in 2012

How an election, an energy crisis and Boko Haram’s willingness to kill more people than Ebola puts Nigeria's challenges in context

As the world responded to the Charlie Hebdo attack with a 3.7 million person march and the most tweeted hashtag in history, a surge in insurgent savagery in northeast Nigeria drew much less international attention — but was far bloodier. “Je Suis Charlie” has been the theme of the week, but we could just as easily say “Je Suis Nigeria.”

Boko Haram, an Islamist terrorist group, wants to establish a caliphate of its own, and a weak Nigerian government is struggling to respond. Here are five facts that put the group’s atrocities in context — and show why we’re likely to see more violence ahead of Nigeria’s Feb. 14 elections.

1. Shocking numbers in the news
On Jan. 3, Boko Haram began an assault on the town of Baga in Nigeria’s restive northeast. While the Nigerian government said 150 died in the attack, other estimates of the death toll ranged from hundreds to some 2,000 people. By some reports, 30,000 people have been displaced. On Saturday, a suicide bomb attached to a 10-year-old girl killed at least 16 people. Boko Haram also attacked a military base in neighboring Cameroon.

(The Atlantic, CNN, al-Jazeera, Foreign Policy)

2. Approval and elections
On the back of his successful handling of the Ebola crisis, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s approval ratings vaulted to an all-time high 74% in September. By December, this number had fallen to 55%, and in the northeast, Boko Haram’s stronghold, his approval fell 23 points that month.

Can the February presidential election even be held in Nigeria’s three northeastern states? Boko Haram wants to force the country’s electoral commission to cancel or indefinitely postpone the vote there. We’ll likely see at least some voting there, though only under heavy security, making it easier for losers to challenge the integrity of the results. In 2011, post-election violence in Nigeria killed 800 people.

(Premium Times, Human Rights Watch)

3. Boko Haram vs. Ebola
The West African Ebola outbreak has killed roughly 8,400 people so far. That’s by far the biggest Ebola outbreak ever, yet the Council on Foreign Relations has compiled data that links 10,340 violent deaths between November 2013 and November 2014 to Boko Haram–related violence. The conflict has displaced more than 1.5 million people, and with more than 20,000 square miles under its control, Boko Haram–held territory is larger than Switzerland.

(Council on Foreign Relations via NBC News, Ebola death-toll estimates via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, BBC, Washington Post, Telegraph, the New Yorker)

4. The government’s energy headache
The major problems in Nigeria’s energy sector makes a robust and costly response to Boko Haram that much more difficult. A steep fall in oil prices — down more than 50% since June — is bad news for a country that relies on crude for 95% of export revenue and 75% of government revenue. Nigeria has also severe electricity generation concerns. Though Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer, as of 2012, the country’s per capita electricity consumption was just 7% of Brazil’s and 3% of South Africa’s. Half of Nigeria’s 170 million people have no access to electricity whatsoever.

(The Economist, the Guardian, the U.N. Africa Renewal, Energy Information Administration)

5. A blind eye
President Jonathan has an election to win, and his government has been accused of underestimating deaths attributable to Boko Haram to deflect political criticism. Less than 24 hours after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, President Jonathan publicly declared it a “dastardly terrorist attack.” Yet nine days after the violence in Baga began, Jonathan has not publicly acknowledged that the attacks had even happened, though a spokesman for Nigeria’s Defense Ministry issued a statement questioning the “exaggerated” death-toll estimates, dismissing them as “speculation and conjecture.”

(BBC, the Atlantic, transcript of Jan. 8 campaign rally via Sahara Reporters, CNN, Foreign Policy)

Read next: Detained Washington Post Journalist Indicted in Iran

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 14

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

1. Boko Haram’s lethality is surging. The global public must take note and demand action from world leaders.

By Sophie Kleeman in Mic

2. Simple stop-and-go labels could train people to eat healthier.

By Tove Danovich in Civil Eats

3. Massive indoor farms use vastly less power and water than outdoor fields and could help address global food insecurity.

By Gloria Dickie in National Geographic

4. Military exoskeletons are becoming a reality, just not necessarily for combat.

By Patrick Tucker in Defense One

5. As U.S. retail transforms, urgent-care clinics are taking over mall real estate to meet growing demand.

By Doni Bloomfield in Bloomberg Businessweek

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 Photojournalism Links

Photojournalism Daily: Jan. 14, 2015

A compilation of the most interesting photojournalism found on the web, curated by Mikko Takkunen

Today’s daily Photojournalism Links collection highlights Robin Hammond‘s work on sandmining in Lagos, Nigeria, an urban hub that is Africa’s most populous metropolitan area. Most of the sand for the concrete used in construction comes from the bottom of the Lagos Lagoon. The photographs follow a group of sand diggers, who work like miners, except underwater. They navigate the lagoon on small boats, their sails constructed of rice sacks, and dig by hand before bringing their haul back ashore. Hammond’s striking pictures offer us a glimpse into the lives of those who play a crucial role in Lagos’ booming growth.

Robin Hammond: Life in Lagos: Building the City, One Bucket at a Time (National Geographic PROOF)

Andrew Testa: An Ancient Pastime With a Modern Twist (The New York Times) Fascinating series on camel racing with robots on their humps.

Amos Chapple: The Coldest Towns on Earth (The Wired Raw File) Shivering pictures from Russia’s Oymyakon and Yakutsk.

Matt Black: Almonds Suck California Dry (Mother Jones) These photographs capture California’s nut boom—in the midst of an epic drought.

Rian Dundon: A Homecoming in Oakland (TIME LightBox) The photographer documents his native California after having spent years away.

TIME Cameroon

Cameroon Says It Has Killed 143 Boko Haram Militants

Screengrab taken on Oct. 2, 2014 from a video released by the Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, shows group's leader Abubakar Shekau.
AFP/Getty Images Screengrab taken on Oct. 2, 2014 from a video released by the Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, shows group's leader Abubakar Shekau.

Islamist extremists currently on the rampage in northeast Nigeria

The government of Cameroon says its military killed 143 Boko Haram extremists in a standoff near the country’s border with Nigeria. The Islamic extremist group has been terrorizing Nigeria for the past five years and has gained new momentum leading up to the country’s scheduled presidential election.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the Cameroonian government said military engaged in a five-hour fight with extremists that left at least one corporal dead and four soldiers wounded, along with the dozens of Boko Haram militants who were killed, according to the Associated Press.

Boko Haram, the group responsible for kidnapping hundreds of school girls last year, has carried out a slew of violent attacks in recent weeks. Last week, the group massacred the town of Baga in Nigeria—officials estimate the death toll is 150, but it has been reported to be as high as 2,000.

Read next: Boko Haram Militants Are Back on the Attack in Nigeria as a Presidential Election Looms

[AP]

TIME Nigeria

Nigerian Government Puts Death Toll in Boko Haram Massacre at 150

According to local reports, however, the death toll is more than 10 times that number

The Nigerian government on Monday put the death toll from last week’s massacre at Baga by Boko Haram at 150, less than 10% of the number of deaths originally reported in the horrific attack.

The West African country’s defense ministry said this figure included “many of the terrorists” from the militant group, the BBC says.

However, the Nigerian authorities have regularly been accused in the past of lessening the threat of Boko Haram by giving out low estimates of casualties.

The government figure greatly conflicts with initial reports of Friday’s attack on the town of Baga near the Nigeria-Chad border, with Amnesty International, and several news outlets, reporting that around 2,000 people were slaughtered by the militant group.

“The human carnage perpetrated by Boko Haram terrorists in Baga was enormous,” Muhammad Abu Gava, a spokesman for a civilian anti-terror defense group, told the Associated Press, adding that his fighters gave up trying to count the bodies.

AFP meanwhile reported that Boko Haram insurgents attacked a military base in neighboring Cameroon on Monday.

TIME Boko Haram

Boko Haram Militants Are Back on the Attack in Nigeria as a Presidential Election Looms

A second bloody attack in the northeastern town of Baga coincides with the launch of Goodluck Jonathan’s Presidential campaign. What that means for the election season.

As thousands of supporters clad in the red, white and green of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party thronged the formal launch rally of his reelection campaign in Lagos on Thursday, thousands more were fleeing for their lives in the country’s northeast, where an ongoing militant offensive, launched on Jan. 3, has killed scores. Such twinned scenes of jubilation and carnage are likely to be a regular feature in Nigeria over the coming weeks, as the country gears up for Presidential and general elections on Feb. 14,—even as the Boko Haram militant group gains ground in a campaign that took more than 10,000 lives last year, and has driven more than 1.5 million people from their homes.

Residents of Baga, a small town on the shores of Lake Chad, and some sixteen surrounding villages fled on foot or by boat as members of Boko Haram razed buildings and stalked the streets in search of government supporters, according to local officials. “These towns are just gone, burned down,” Borno State Senator Ahmed Zanna told NBC News via telephone. “The whole area is covered in bodies.”

The offensive started on Jan. 3 with a daring raid on a multinational military base near Baga that had been established to combat crime in the lawless border region where Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon meet. It has since been repurposed to address the growing regional threat of Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group that got its start in northeastern Nigeria in 2002 and has used kidnapping—most notably of more than 200 schoolgirls last year—as an effective tactic. The base fell to the militants early Sunday morning, Jan 4, after several hours of intense fighting.

The second assault, which started in Baga itself on Jan. 6, appears to be an attempt by the rebels to assert their authority in an area of divided loyalties, according to Roddy Barclay, senior Africa analyst at Control Risks, a political risk consultancy based in London. “Boko Haram has frequently attacked communities perceived to support the government,” he says. “The use of violence is designed to drive community fear and compliance in order to further Boko Haram’s agenda.”

While that agenda has little to do with the elections on the surface—as staunch Islamist militants, Boko Haram, like other radical Salafist groups, does not believe in elections or democratic rule—attacks like this one will contribute to a general climate of fear that could result in a low turnout in the election, or a closing of the polls in the northeast all together. Despite the increasing violence, Nigeria’s national election commission has said it will not postpone the elections. This could lead to post-campaign turmoil, if the opposition All Progressives Congress party, which has stronger support among the Muslim-dominated north, feels that the outcome has been skewed against them. Violence could erupt, as it did in the wake of the contested 2011 elections that brought Jonathan to power.

The Baga attacks aren’t necessarily tied to the elections, says Barclay, but they will play into the general conditions that could make the election season more volatile. More attacks should be expected, he adds. “Boko Haram will be a key player in the 2015 elections. It will seek to disrupt the elections by staging targeted attacks and by seeking to incite broader religious violence.” The group played a similar role during the 2011 elections, but “in 2015 Boko Haram has far greater military capability than it did back then,” he says. “It will use those capabilities to stage attacks which impact both on local-level politics, but also potentially on the national scene.”

One of the principal reasons that Boko Haram has managed to grow in strength and reach over the past few years is because political disputes have sapped the will of the Nigerian government to fight back, according to Jacob Zenn, an analyst of African and Eurasian Affairs for The Jamestown Foundation, a DC- based research and analysis institute with a focus on terrorism. “There is a real lack of unified political will, making it difficult to develop a comprehensive and coordinated strategy to combat Boko Haram,” he says by telephone from Abuja, the Nigerian capital. “Until taking care of Boko Haram becomes a priority over concerns about the elections, there will be no way to contain the threat.”

Of course, many people in Nigeria’s government, military and civil society believe that if the elections go smoothly, “the new government will be able to prioritize the fight,” says Zenn. “However, if there is a period of post-election tension and infighting, it could make countering Boko Haram even more difficult.” That may be just what Boko Haram has in mind as it makes every effort to undermine security in the northeast, ensuring that elections don’t happen at all.

TIME poverty

The World’s Poorest Regions Are not Always Where You’d Expect

Salamat, Chad is the poorest region in the world, according to a new study.

Most people living in the world’s poorest regions don’t actually live in the poorest countries, according to a new study released Tuesday, which sheds new light on how country-wide poverty statistics can tell an incomplete story.

Researchers with the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative at the University of Oxford parsed through regional data for 71 developing countries to determine more specifically where the poorest people live. They found that roughly 60 percent of people in the poorest regions are in countries that are not among the UN-determined Least Developed Countries, including in India, Pakistan and Nigeria.

Instead of looking at income levels, the study uses a relatively new measure of poverty known as the Multi-dimensional Poverty Index (MPI). The MPI, developed by OPHD and the United Nations, tracks basic needs across different areas of life, such as education, health and access to safe water; people who are deprived of at least one-third of the ten indicators are considered multi-dimensionally poor.

“Unlike poverty measures that are reported only at a national level, the headline MPI is just the first layer,” says the study’s briefing note, released Tuesday in conjunction with an updated global MPI. “Looking closer, we can zoom in and see exactly how and where people are poor – which pockets of the world they live in and which deprivations they experience together. It gives a clearer view.”

While Niger, the landlocked West African country, is the poorest country overall, the world’s five poorest regions are in fact in Chad or Burkina Faso. In the poorest among them, Chad’s southern Salamat region, 98 percent of the inhabitants, or 354,000 people, are considered multi-dimensionally poor.

By delving into regional data, the study also identified major differences within countries. In Nigeria, for example, 8.5 percent of people in the port city of Lagos are multi-dimensionally poor, while 91.9% of people the Zamfara, in the country’s north, are poor. In Cameroon, 6.7 percent of people in the largest city, Doula, are poor, while 87 percent of people in the Far North region are poor.

“The MPI enables us to examine poverty within regions of a country as well as nationally, and compare the interlocking deprivations people experience,” Dr. Sabina Alkire, director of the OPHI, said in a statement. “Our findings highlight the value of having good quality, up-to-date and detailed survey data to reveal what life is really like for the poorest section of populations.”

TIME Nigeria

Everything to Know About Boko Haram’s Advance in Nigeria

Image taken from a video by Nigeria's Boko Haram terrorist network, Oct. 31, 2014.
AP Image taken from a video by Nigeria's Boko Haram terrorist network, Oct. 31, 2014.

The fall of the Baga military base in north eastern Nigeria caps a slew of successes for the Islamist group

The Nigerian militant group Boko Haram has roared back into the headlines in recent days, with a series of bold attacks on remote villages in the country’s northeast, culminating with an assault on a multinational military base near a town called Baga on the shores of Lake Chad over the weekend.

Refugees fled on boats, while the last bastion of government control in the northern part of Borno State erupted into flames. As the uptick in attacks seems poised to disrupt the upcoming Presidential elections slated for Feb. 14, here’s everything you need to know about Boko Haram’s advance, and why its ambitions extend way beyond kidnapping schoolgirls:

Why are we seeing so many attacks in Nigeria’s northeast?

Borno State has long been a hotbed for Boko Haram supporters. Since the Islamist group started gaining strength in 2011, the militants and the military have traded control of many of the area’s small towns and military bases in a chess-like series of feints and retreats that have left the region perpetually on edge. “The militants build their capabilities by raiding police bases and armories for vehicles and weapons, then the military beats them back,” says Roddy Barclay, senior Africa analyst at Control Risks, a political risk consultancy.

But the military’s heavy-handed tactics, from arbitrary arrests and detention to extrajudicial executions, have alienated the local population. When a military operation is over, the militants move back in to remind local communities that they are the real source of authority. Even though Boko Haram also traffics in fear and intimidation, says Barclay, they have the local advantage. “[The most recent attack in] Baga is part of the cycle of violence that draws on local grievances to accelerate recruitment to the militant cause,” he says. The more the military responds, the more fresh recruits flock to Boko Haram.

Where will Boko Haram go next?

Boko Haram’s leaders have set their sites on the state capital Maiduguri, which they lost to government forces in 2011. Such a defeat would be a devastating blow for the Nigerian government, which suffered a major setback last year when militants launched a daring raid on the main military barracks. It is not clear that Boko Haram has the capacity, manpower and weapons to retake the town – at least for now. But they do have the capability to launch devastating suicide attacks, a method that they have used to great effect several times over the past 6 months.

Could the threat spread beyond Nigeria’s borders?

Boko Haram shares many characteristics of transnational terror groups; it adheres to the strict Salafist ideology of governance by Islamic law, and controls an estimated 30-35,000 square kilometers, roughly the same amount of terrain as Syria and Iraq’s Islamic State. It has also launched small scale operations in Cameroon and Chad in what some analysts have described as an attempt to establish Islamic rule across a region once contained within the borders of the historic Kanem-Borno Empire.

For the moment, though, it seems largely focused on its immediate region, in the country’s impoverished north-east. But even if the group’s activities have minimal impact outside that region, the symbolic weight is immense, says Peter Pham, Africa Director for the Washington D.C.-based Atlantic Center policy institute. “Nigeria is the regional power, and if its government is proven impotent in the face of the insurgency, that could have a spillover effect on other countries in the region,” which are equally threatened by Islamist uprisings.

And its domestic threat shouldn’t be understated, says Pham. “You have Africa’s most populous nation and its largest economy. And now it’s coping with a hollowing out of the state – the government can’t control its territory, resources are being diverted to combat the insurgency, and there is the reputational harm as well. Lagos may be a world away, but if terror attacks are the main news item coming out of the country, it won’t help the investment climate. “

What role will Boko Haram play in the upcoming Presidential elections?

Boko Haram has already denounced the elections as “un-Islamic.” Barclay, of Control Risks, predicts a surge in violent attacks in the weeks leading up to February’s vote. The result will be two-fold: along with the spread of terror, elections will not be be held in some areas due to the security risks, undermining the legitimacy of the candidate that secures the presidency — likely to be the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan. “Even if the election meets the legal requirements, it would still be a hollow victory,” says Pham. Jonathan’s campaign doesn’t need the three northern states most impacted by the insurgency to win, but if residents don’t turn out to vote for fears of an attack, it would shrink his mandate, says Pham. “That would not only weaken his hand in terms of dealing with the Boko Haram crisis, but also with the looming threat of declining oil prices” — Nigeria’s largest export.

And what happened to the kidnapped girls of Chibok?

Despite an ongoing government search, with U.S. assistance, none of the girls kidnapped last spring have been recovered. Most likely they have been forcibly married off to militants, or used as camp hands. Some local media outlets speculate that they could be part of a recent surge in female suicide bombers. But Boko Haram didn’t stop with the girls; for a militant group plagued by military losses, kidnapping is part of the growth strategy. Hundreds of men, women and boys have been kidnapped over the past year; the Baga offense started with the forced conscription of some 40 young men after a sermon at the local mosque, according to CNN. Hundreds more are likely to be abducted before the Chibok girls are ever found.

TIME HIV/AIDS

African Countries Should Spend More in AIDS Response, Study Says

A mother holds the hand of her Aids stricken son in Rakai, Ugand
Getty Images

To meet AIDS eradication goals, study says funding should be re-allocated

Twelve African countries with the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS are currently the largest recipients of international AIDS funding. But it’s now possible for many of them to make domestic spending on the disease a priority, a new study says.

As countries in sub-Saharan Africa gain better financial footing, funds from donor countries are tightening. Researchers from Harvard School of Public Health and the Results for Development Institute decided to test a couple of scenarios to see whether funding for the AIDS response could be re-allocated so African countries would finance a greater share.

Their results, published in the journal The Lancet Global Health, show that overall, the 12 countries—Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia—could provide a greater share of the costs of AIDS programs in their countries over the next five years. However, several countries will still need support from donors, even if they were to provide their maximum funds.

MORE: The End of AIDS

By looking at factors like expected growth and total government spending, and then comparing them to the countries’ AIDS needs, the researchers found that in most scenarios, AIDS expenditures for three of the upper-middle-income countries (Botswana, Namibia and South Africa) exceed their needs. In many cases, they found, these three countries could actually fund their needs solely from domestic resources. Other low-income countries like Mozambique and Ethiopia would still need to largely rely on donors.

Currently, the dozen countries are home to more than 50% of AIDS cases worldwide, as well as 56% of financial aid for the disease. They also account for 83% of funding from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which makes up one of the largest shares of international donations. In 2014, the United Nations program UNAIDS estimated that a “fast-tracked” response to ending the AIDS epidemic would mean we’d need $35 billion each year by 202o, but in 2012, only $19 billion was available and almost half came from international sources. To meet such goals, the researchers suggest their new funding strategy.

Almost none of the 12 countries meet possible financing benchmarks that the study authors believe to be reasonable. If the countries spent more domestically, researchers say that self-funding could increase 2.5 times and could cover 64% of future needs. That would still leave a gap of about $7.9 billion.

“Coupled with improved resource tracking, such metrics could enhance transparency and accountability for efficient use of money and maximize the effect of available funding to prevent HIV infections and save lives,” the study authors conclude. Sharing the financial burden of AIDS more equitably may be one strategy for eradicating the disease faster.

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