The militant Islamist group Boko Haram has taken control of another town in northern Nigeria and executed two people for smoking cigarettes, the International Business Times reports.
Apparently taking a page from ISIS’s tactical handbook, the group has moved from intermittent bombings and kidnappings to more coordinated seizures of territory throughout Nigeria.
The terrorist organization, whose name means “Western education is forbidden,” seized a policy academy nearby their stronghold in Gwoza this week as part of their ongoing campaign to set up an Islamic caliphate in Nigeria.
“The capture and holding of territory presents a significant evolution in Boko Haram’s modus operandi,” Africa analyst Ryan Cummings told AFP. He said that its latest gains are evidence that the group is “slowly but surely out achieving its primary goal — the creation of a caliphate in northern-eastern Nigeria governed under sharia law.”
According to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker, Boko Haram killed over 6,000 people between April 2011 and July 2014, with other estimates as high as 10,000. There is so little hope that earlier this month a group of military wives protested their husbands being sent to fight the insurgents: “We cannot continue to lose our husbands in the hands of these wicked people called Boko Haram. Many of our women here in the barrack are widows, whose husbands were killed by the terrorists, and that’s why we said no, we cannot continue to watch our husbands being killed just like that.”
“I left Buni Yadi yesterday [Wednesday] because it was no longer safe for me and my family,” said one trader from the region. “The gunmen shot dead two men for smoking and they also killed a known drug peddler.”
Smoking is considered by many Islamic scholars to be haram, or unlawful, because of prohibitions against harming oneself and wasting money. (RELATED: Jihadi Militants Ban Smoking And Guns In Conquered Territories)
Smoking is already banned in public places in many parts of Nigeria, while debate still rages about an unratified comprehensive tobacco bill from 2009, which would ban all tobacco advertising, smoking in public places, cigarette vending machines, sale of individual cigarettes and packs containing fewer than 20 cigarettes, and sale of tobacco products to minors, among other things. Some have raised concern about the increase of tobacco smuggling if the bill is ratified.
“Currently, the security situation in Nigeria is squalid and could get worse through an anti-tobacco law that is not a product of deep thinking,” wrote security consultant Ambrose Jemide. “Very importantly, our legislators need to pass a bill that is equitable and capable of ensuring that criminal gangs and their franchises do not exploit it to their benefit or make the country a smuggling route. Failure to this will yield a law that was passed without taking into consideration the people it is designed to protect. When terrorists and other criminals have access to funds, as may be offered by proceeds of illegal tobacco, it is like trying to put outs fire with a bucket of petrol.”
A delegation from the British American Tobacco Company met with Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Tuesday, who agreed to work together to combat tobacco smuggling in the region. “Before we came into the market, over 80 percent of the market was dominated by illicit trade,” said one BATC representative. “But through our memorandum of understanding with the government, we have cut it down to 20 percent.”
“All the indices point to the fact that [raising tobacco taxes] would not work well for the country,” Dr Rasheed Adeniji, a director at the Center for Conflict Resolution, told Nigerian newspaper ThisDay. “Placing heavy taxes and high custom/excise duties on tobacco companies is definitely not the best option for a country like Nigeria which is currently in the grip of a terrorist group called Boko Haram. We should not go that way at all. Rather, we should look for ways to reduce the harmful effects of tobacco use,” he said.
BATC itself has urged tobacco control NGOs in the region to invest more funds in developing smoking alternatives, though many remain skeptical of the company’s motives. (RELATED: Experimental Ebola Treatment Developed By Big Tobacco)
According to a 2009 UN report, taxes are nearly 40 percent of the retail price of a pack of cigarettes in Nigeria, roughly comparable to the taxation rate in New York State. A 2009 Center for Public Integrity report explains that cigarette smuggling provided the bulk of revenue for al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, a terrorist group active in Algeria with known ties to Boko Haram. Hamas, al-Qaida, and Hezbollah are also known to generate millions in funding from tobacco smuggling operations.
“No one thinks cigarette smuggling is too serious,” said illicit trade specialist Louise Shelley. “So law enforcement doesn’t spend resources to go after it.” (RELATED: British Doctors Want To Permanently Ban All Cigarette Sales)