The growing Boko Haram strategy in Nigeria

Throughout history, Nigeria has been exposed to ethno religious violence and political discontent and has recently seen an escalation in associated violence threatening its sovereignty, territorial integrity, peace and stability.

Nigeria’s militant Islamist group Boko Haram-which has caused havoc in Africa’s most populous country through a wave of bombings, assassinations and now abductions-is fighting to overthrow the government and create an Islamic state.

The Boko Haram could grow upto this level because initially the Nigerian government were in denial of existence of such a group.

But now over the last two years northern Nigeria has been coping with a violent underground group, Boko Haram, that has been able to carry out attacks not only in Nigeria’s northern states, but also in the capital, Abuja, with the bombing of the United Nations (UN) headquarters there in August 2011. Although attacks have mainly targeted state institutions such as prisons, barracks, security officers and politicians, the civilian population feels increasingly unsafe as violence has become unpredictable. Moreover, the state security apparatus is so visibly challenged that it has tended to overreact when attempting to deal with the problem and has killed even more civilians than the Boko Haram attacks.

As the insurgency spreads across northern Nigeria and into its “Middle Belt” in the centre, its guns and bombs are targeting Nigeria’s most vulnerable groups: rural villagers, migrants, street vendors, small market traders, the unemployed-and, most notoriously, the schoolgirls of Chibok, more than 200 of whom were kidnapped by Boko Haram in April.

Nigeria’s rich and powerful, its politicians and military leaders from Lagos to Abuja, have been comfortably immune to the brutal northern insurgency-which may help to explain why it continues to escalate. The rebellion has exposed the extreme gulf between rich and poor in one of Africa’s most unequal countries. And this widening gap has fuelled the anger and alienation that makes it easy for Boko Haram to find recruits for its murderous militia.

Boko Haram is both a serious challenge and manifestation of more profound threats to Nigeria’s security. Unless the federal and state governments, and the region, develop and implement comprehensive plans to tackle not only insecurity but also the injustices that drive much of the troubles, Boko Haram, or groups like it, will continue to destabilize large parts of the country. Yet, the government’s response is largely military, and the political will to do more than that appears entirely lacking.


Boko Haram’s principal goal is to create a strict Islamic state in the north that it believes would address the ills of society, including corruption and bad governance. The sect’s core beliefs are strict adherence to the Quran and the Hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammed), and their interpretation as sanctioned by Ibn Taymiyyah (the preferred scholar of Mohammed Yusuf, the sect’s leader)

Boko Haram promotes a version of Islam which makes it “haram”, or forbidden, for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society.This includes voting in elections, wearing shirts and trousers or receiving a secular education. Boko Haram regards the Nigerian state as being run by non-believers, even when the country had a Muslim president.

The group’s official name is Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, which in Arabic means “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”. But residents in the north-eastern city of Maiduguri, where the group had its headquarters, dubbed it Boko Haram.

Boko Haram’s trademark was originally the use of gunmen on motorbikes, killing police, politicians and anyone who criticizes it, including clerics from other Muslim traditions and Christian preachers.

After the 2009 crackdown, Boko Haram went underground for a year before surfacing with attacks on police, their stations and military barracks to avenge the killings of Mohammed Yusuf and other comrades. The group also carried out jailbreaks to free members and demanded prosecution of Yusuf’s killers, release of detained colleagues, restoration of its destroyed mosque and compensation for members killed by troops. Originally directed mainly at security forces and government officials, the campaign has expanded to include attacks on Christians, critical Muslim clerics, traditional leaders, suspected collaborators, UN agencies, bars and schools.It has evolved into terrorism, including against students at state (secular) schools and health workers involved in polio vaccination campaigns.

It is highly probable that Boko Haram will continue to commit acts of terrorism and sectarian violence due to their ideological belief, current ability to gain funding, organizational structure, government deficits, and ineffective counter-measures by the Nigerian government, economic marginality and ability to recruit

Boko Haram can be best defined as a terrorist group, as opposed to religious fanatics or freedom fighters. Although seeming religiously motivated this group is also powerfully politically motivated. Boko Haram has risen from political discontent and a change in the political landscape of Nigeria. This group has committed acts of terrorism and several members are proscribed as terrorists, however the group is not as yet officially labeled as a terrorist organization.

The real issue

The lack of economic progress in the country is one of the main reason that the Boko Haram is able to operate and recruit young people at such a big level.

According to experts Nigeria is considered as a fractured state. It is rich but Nigerians are poor, many extremely so. Since returning to civilian rule in 1999, the state has suffered growing security, capacity and legitimacy gaps, demonstrated in the declining capacity of its institutions to deliver public goods, including security, transportation, water, medical care, power and education.

Most Nigerians are poorer today than they were at independence in 1960, victims of the resource curse and rampant, entrenched corruption. Agriculture, once the economy’s mainstay is struggling. In many parts of the country, the government is unable to provide security, good roads, water, health, reliable power and education. The situation is particularly dire in the far north. Frustration and alienation drive many to join “self-help” ethnic, religious, community or civic groups, some of which are hostile to the state.

A prominent section of the elite thrives on crony capitalism and patron-client deals in violation of the rule of law.

There is an intricate link in Nigeria between politics, governance, corruption, poverty and violence. Politics is largely driven by money. Elected officials are hardly accountable to citizens.

The rapidly escalating Boko Haram rebellion is exposing the deep dysfunction in Nigeria, putting Nigeria on the path to potential “failed state” status, and contributing to the spread of Islamist extremism across West Africa.

The economic inequality in Nigeria is among the most extreme in the world- and growing worse. Despite its rising oil wealth, the percentage of Nigerians living in absolute poverty (earning less than a dollar a day) has increased to 61 per cent over the past decade, compared with 55 per cent in 2004. Yet at the same time, Nigeria has nearly 16,000 millionaires, and that number has jumped by 44 per cent over the past six years.

Poverty is a product of bad governance, including a bloated administration. A bulging percentage of federal and state budgets is allocated to salaries, allowances, pocket money, foreign trips and temporary duty tours constraining capital and development projects. The federal government has been borrowing for recurrent consumption, not to invest in development. For many the name of the game has been spending, importing and looting.

Prices but not salaries have risen. Decaying infrastructure, chronic electricity shortages and an influx of cheaper imported products have led to massive factory closures and worsening unemployment. Educated young people, including a growing number of university and polytechnic graduates, seek ever more elusive jobs. Many youths in the north lack education, have few or no skills and are hardly employable.  Idle, they are easily recruited by anti-state and militia groups.

Much of the wealth is concentrated in Nigeria’s biggest city, Lagos. Lagos is a microcosm of the social dysfunction that plagues Nigeria and feeds the insurgency. It is one of Africa’s biggest and most overcrowded cities, with vast slums, bad traffic jams, daily electricity shortages and eroding infrastructure. To escape those pressures, the richest residents are moving into their own privatized suburbs.

Nigeria has the resources to beat Boko Haram if it was determined to do so. But most of its staggering oil wealth-up to $70-billion annually-is held by small politically connected elite, who remain insulated from Boko Haram’s terror tactics and seem almost indifferent to the war.

Nigeria’s futile search for the kidnapped schoolgirls is now entering its third month, despite military support from the United States, Britain, Canada and others, while the expanding Boko Haram insurgency is killing hundreds of people in cities and villages across the north and centre of the country. An estimated 12,000 people have died in the five-year insurgency so far.


Despite a national security budget of about $6.5-billion annually, the insurgency has actually increased in its scope and deadliness in recent months. Boko Haram has continued to kidnap and kill villagers within a few kilometres of the Chibok site, while the army does little to protect them.

Nigeria’s attempts to tackle the Boko Haram crisis has been hampered by its corrupt military, weakened by internal feuding, mutinies, defections and a lack of basic weaponry. Nigeria spent millions of dollars to buy Israeli surveillance drones for its army in 2006, but it didn’t bother to maintain them, so they could not be used to search for the kidnapped schoolgirls. Even the money for basic military salaries is often stolen by commanders and politicians.

The insurgency cannot be solved as long as the corruption and inequality continue. Boko Haram is essentially the fallout of frustration with corruption and the attendant social malaise of poverty and unemployment. The young generation can see that how the nation’s resources are squandered by a small bunch of self-serving elite which breeds animosity and frustration, and such anger is ultimately translated into violent outbursts.

There is an urgent need to counter the growing level of violence committed by Boko Haram in Nigeria sooner rather than later.

Boko Haram is one of several profound threats to Nigeria’s stability. It has grown quickly to be a major security challenge because it taps into wide discontent with bad governance, corruption and official impunity. To address this challenge, the federal and state governments, as well as the region, must develop and implement comprehensive plans to tackle not only physical security but also the grievances that fuel the insurgency. Ultimately radical reform of governance and the country’s political culture is required.

Even the Nigeria’s elite needs to demonstrate the will and needs to assure the citizens of the country that they are ready to battle this menace and will not utilize such group for their political gains.

Drastic improvement of the security sector in Nigeria, strong negotiations and economic progress for the most neglected sections of the northern Nigeria’s population can be key contributor in handling the threats from the Boko Haram.

No foreign assistance or aid can help to sort out this increasing insurgency problem until the political section of the Nigeria will show willingness to fight this war.