By Jack Ryan, Research Assistant at Talking About Terrorism.
Jama’atu Ahl as-Sunnah il-Da’awati wal-Jihad, commonly known as Boko Haram, which means “Western education is forbidden,” is a terrorist organization in Nigeria that seeks to overthrow the government and replace it with a regime based on Islamic law. In March 2015, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
Boko Haram is led by Abubakar Shekau. Previously the group’s second-in-command, Shekau took control of Boko Haram in 2010 and promptly grew Boko Haram’s operational capabilities. Scholars disagree over the organizational structure of Boko Haram. For most, Boko Haram is a “centralized and nominally unified organization” in which Shekau exercises a high degree of strategic and operational control.
Boko Haram has been most active around Lake Chad, a swampy region which has lost 90% of its surface water since 1960. Despite being pushed back to the Samisa forest in 2015, Boko Haram is reported to be active in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad.
Whilst Boko Haram is reported to be a nominally unified organization, after looking at the frequency of attacks, it is logical to assume Boko Haram is split into ‘cells’ that carry out attacks across the region. Boko Boko Haram’s attack capabilities span across violent shootings, the use of IEDs, suicide bombings and kidnapping.
Boko Haram gained the attention of the international community when, in 2014, the group abducted 276 girls from a government secondary boarding school. This attack is just one of the many that plague Nigeria each year. Since 2014, there has been at least one Boko Haram event in 75% of the days and 92% of any two consecutive days.
More recently, criticism has mounted over the Nigerian government’s counter-terrorism capabilities. A campaign by local authorities to move internally displaced Nigerians back to their home towns faced backlash after hundreds of Nigerians were taken hostage by Boko Haram only 16 days after a military escort returned them to their home town in the North East.
The Nigerian government’s draft Terrorism Prohibition and Prevention Bill of 2017 lapsed at the close of the 2018 National Assembly and is yet to be re-introduced. Reports within Nigeria allege significant human rights issues with the government’s counter-terrorism efforts. On top of this, Boko Haram continues to take advantage of the freedom of movement throughout northern Borno State.
Nigeria’s conflict with its neighbors provides a national security challenge in itself. Reports suggest that Nigeria’s attitude towards its neighbors has created a hostile environment which has led to decreased cooperation between the states bearing the brunt of Boko Haram’s attacks.
Whilst Nigeria lobbies for counter-terrorism and military support, beyond its neighbors, to the UK and the USA, critics note that Nigeria needs to look for help beyond simple military support and lobby for support concerning infrastructure and development, so-called ‘soft power’ counter-terrorism.
As Nigeria-Chinese relations worsen, Nigeria is in a position to garner increased support from the west, taking advantage of the ongoing western ‘war on terror,’ which would undoubtedly strengthen its soft power capabilities with regard to defense and counter-terrorism.