Armed conflict prior to the cold war era was seen as war between sovereign states, but since the cold war’s end, non-state actors have changed the nature of armed conflict. Insurgency, which has been seen as the most common type of armed conflict, has posed the greatest threat to global peace and security in the Twenty First Century. Previously, insurgency was limited to a few isolated places, such as Northern Ireland, the Basque country in Northern Spain and some areas in the Middle East, but in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, as well as the rise of the Arab Spring, insurgency has turned into a global menace.
The prevalence of extreme ideologies buoyed by readily available arms has emboldened criminal and terrorist networks in their violent activities. The activities of violent extremist groups operating with support from global terrorist groups, such as Islamic State and al-Qaeda, have had ripple effects across the Sahel region, bringing about threat to Africa’s peace and stability. The most devastating effects of these insurgencies have been the proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW), the humanitarian crisis in the form of the astronomical rise in internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugee influx, food insecurity, and the spread of diseases as well as gender and sexual based violence.
The phenomenon of insurgency in Nigeria has been evident since independence in 1960, ranging from the 12-day revolution by Adaka Boro in 1964 to the Nigeria Civil War (1967 – 1970), and violent activities of the various ethnic militias such as the O’odua People’s Congress (OPC), the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) and the most recent the “Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad”, popularly known as Boko Haram which has been operating in Northern Nigeria since 2002.
Boko Haram’s activities have brought wide spread socio-economic and religious insecurity, and unleashed terrible humanitarian crises in parts of North East Nigeria1. The increasing influx of refugees and the spillover of Boko Haram violence to neighbouring countries over the years has resulted in serious regional security implications, giving it international prominence2.
The Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) has instituted civil and military measures to ameliorate the consequences of Boko Haram. Some of the civil measures are; the Victims Support Fund, Adhoc Committee for Dialogue and Reconciliation in Northern Nigeria, and the Committee for the Rehabilitation of Liberated Communities in the North East, to mention but few. In the same vein, military measures are being enacted to restore peace and security and ensure maintenance of law and order in the region. At the moment, a three-Division joint task force; Operation LAFIYA DOLE is operating in the North East, which has greatly reduced Boko Haram’s capability to launch a sustained battle and degraded the ability of the insurgents to launch coordinated attacks. This paper is an appraisal of Boko Haram as a terrorist group in Nigeria. It covers recent activities of Boko Haram, manifestation, effects and challenges to security agencies and government efforts at combating the menace.
Boko Haram is an Islamic Sect formed in 2002 in Maiduguri under the leadership of Mohammed Yusuf as a local radical Salafist group and later transformed into a Salafist-Jihadist terrorist organization in 2009. The phrase ‘Boko Haram’ is derived from a combination of Hausa word Boko (book) and Arabic word, Haram (forbidden) meaning “Western education is forbidden”. Boko Haram is also called Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad meaning “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”. The ideology of the Sect under Mohammed Yusuf was basically the opposition of western education, political philosophy which sought to overthrow the government and implement Sharia. The perception of Boko Haram is that the system of government based on western values is responsible for corruption, poverty, unemployment and suppression of Islam.
Boko Haram, like other Salafi-jihadi sects, has demonstrated the ability to master a wide range of tactics. The Sect has 2 primary tactical methods; individuals or small groups with focus on individualized terror (assassinations, drive-by shootings and local terror), and massive concerted attacks, usually highly mobile, utilizing motorcycles and mounted trucks to attack smaller or less-defended targets, and then massacring the target population. In addition to these 2 tactical methods, Boko Haram uses Improvised Explosive Devices (person and vehicle borne) including the use of young male and female suicide bombers. The Sect abducts young men to swell its ranks and young women and girls who are used as sex slaves.
The targets of Boko Haram attacks are schools, worship centres, recreational centres, markets, motor parks, military and security installations, troops’ positions, government institutions and public buildings to mention but few. Funding for Boko Haram comes from discrete external funding, bank robberies, kidnapping for ransom, cattle rustling, sale of fish and smuggling. Initially, the Sect captured some of its weapons from the military and security forces, there is a likelihood that most of its arms and ammunition come in from Libya, Mali and South Sudan.
Boko Haram also has a splinter group referred to as Ansaru meaning “Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims”. The splinter group broke out of Boko Haram because of the latter’s frequent killing of Muslims. Ansaru avoids Muslim casualties; instead it actively attacks Christian worship places and government officials. Further factionalisation within the Boko Haram sect also led to the recognition of another leader, Abu Mus’ab Habeeb Bin Muhammad Bin Yusuf Al-Barnawi, in place of Abubakar Shekau, especially by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Al-Barnawi is the son of the original founder of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf and he is more active in the Lake Chad Basin and parts of Yobe State.
Manifestation of Boko Haram Insurgency in Nigeria
Terrorism and insurgency are not new phenomena in Nigeria. These phenomena predate independence, but they have attained a new dimension based on the linkages between other terrorist groups in the West African sub-region and other parts of Africa. The contemporary Boko Haram insurgency Nigeria is grappling with emerged in 2002 amidst the introduction of Sharia Law in some northern states. The sect got started in Borno State by a group of educated and uneducated Islamist pupils referred to as the Muhajirun (migrants) Movement or the Nigerian Taliban. The sect’s objective was to create an Islamic state first in areas around Kanama and Toshiya and then all over Nigeria. However, in 2004, Boko Haram became militant in its approach by attacking police stations to seize weapons. Consequently, limited military operations were conducted against the sect, in which around 20 members were killed while 50 others were arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned.
As a result of the emergence of militancy in the Niger Delta about the same time, the intensity of the operation against Boko Haram was reduced to enable a considerable force to be applied in the region. Between 2003 and 2009 when the fight against militancy in Niger Delta was at its peak, Boko Haram was waxing stronger and its activities were prominent in Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano and Yobe states with presence in Kogi, Plateau and Sokoto states. Boko Haram was also observed in South Western Nigeria especially Lagos and Ogun states where insurgents who escaped from the heat in the North East took refuge. Additionally, the Sect extended its operations to border communities between Nigeria’s neighbouring countries; Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
After the death of Mohammed Yusuf in 2009, Mallam Abubakar Shekau emerged as the leader of the sect and its activities became more violent. Between 2009 and 2014, the sect attacked army barracks in Abuja and Bauchi and Headquarters 1 Div in Kaduna as well as the Police Force Headquarters, United Nations Building and This Day Newspaper office in Abuja. The sect also attacked several churches, mosques, markets, schools and recreational centres, as well as political and religious processions across the North. Boko Haram is responsible for the deaths of over 20,000 people and destruction of several communities.
Boko Haram has abducted several young girls and women including the 279 school girls kidnapped in Chibok, Borno State on 14 April 2014. The sect has also kidnapped a number of foreign nationals including German and French expatriates as well as the wife of Cameroon’s Vice Prime Minister. Boko Haram continues to abduct and coerce young boys to swell its ranks. Since 2014, Boko Haram has increased its use of suicide bombers including young girls which investigations have revealed are mostly drugged and forced to go on suicide missions. No fewer than 80 cases of suicide bombing by young women have been recorded between January and December 2017.
In April 2014, ISIS accepted Boko Haram’s allegiance and named the sect Islamic State in West African Province (ISWAP). Three months after, in July 2014, Boko Haram declared the 27 LGAs comprising 6 in Adamawa, 14 in Borno and 7 in Yobe states under its control a caliphate. In a swift military operation, the Sect was decimated, incapacitated and dislodged from the LGAs leaving remnants lurking around in Sambisa Forest and isolated communities mainly in Borno State. The Sect is currently engaged in laying of IEDs on supply routes to inflict casualties on troops and slow down military operations. As a means of countering the defeat it is suffering and in order to present a virile posture, contrary to government and military claims, ISWAP again stormed Government Girls Science and Technical College (GGSTC), Dapchi, Yobe State on 19 February and abducted 110 girls. There are ongoing concerted search and rescue operations by security forces to free the girls.
Response to Boko Haram Insurgency in Nigeria
There have been international and local responses to the Boko Haram insurgency. Internationally, the UN, AU, ECOWAS and Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) and some friendly nations have taken steps to support the fight against the insurgency. Locally, the FGN and the governments of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states have also instituted actions aimed at addressing Boko Haram.
United Nations Response: In 2017, United Nations Security Council Committee (UNSCC) passed its first resolution on Boko Haram. In UNSCR 2349 (2017), the Council strongly condemned all terrorist attacks, violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses by Boko Haram and ISIS in the region, including killings, abductions, early and forced marriage, rape, sexual slavery and the increasing use of girls as suicide bombers. Those responsible must be held to account and brought to justice.
Responses by Friendly Nations: The governments of France, UK and US have shown commitments to assist Nigeria against Boko Haram. Former President Francois Hollande of France pledged greater support, including military and intelligence against the Boko Haram. The US Government also designated Boko Haram commanders; Shekau, Khalid Al-Barnawi, and Abubakar Adam Kambar as Specially Designated Global Terrorists under section 1(b) of Executive Order 13224 on 21 Jun 12 and placed a reward offer of up to US$7m for information leading to the location of Abubakar Shekau. Similarly, the US Government designated Boko Haram as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist Organization under Executive Order 13224 in November 2013. The US has also continued to assist the Nigerian military, security and law enforcement agencies to build capacity to combat Boko Haram. The UK Government is providing £32m over the next 3 years to help deliver basic life-saving necessities including nutrition, water and sanitation, and protection of civilians affected by the conflict. The UK Government is also providing technical expertise to the Nigerian Government to support humanitarian responses. France, UK and US are supporting the military operation in the North East with intelligence derived from their Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) platforms deployed in the region. The products are shared during meetings held with personnel of the Nigerian military, security and law enforcement agencies. The German government through its German Technical Advisory Group (GTAG) has also provided much needed support in the fight. This support is in the area of combat medics, mobile intensive care units, training of combat live savers, provision of RADAR equipment and counter IED equipment to mention but few.
The FGN and the affected state governments have instituted actions aimed at combating Boko Haram and ameliorating the suffering of the victims. These actions are kinetic and non-kinetic in nature.
Non-Kinetic Responses: Some of the non-kinetic responses of the Government are the diplomatic shuttles by President Muhammadu Buhari to contiguous countries to garner regional support for the fight against Boko Haram. This diplomatic shuttle saw to the immediate deployment MNJTF which has been foot dragging since its establishment in January 2015. The President was also in Britain, France, Germany and the US as well as attended the G7 Summit to solicit for global support for the fight against insurgency. Also, the FGN set up adhoc committee to assess the requirements for rehabilitating liberated communities, to encourage Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and refugees to return to their communities. Additionally, the FGN established the Victim Support Funds under the Chairmanship of General TY Danjuma to solicit funds for the rehabilitation of the victims of insurgency in the North East. So far, these steps are yielding positive steps; infrastructure is being constructed, repaired and replaced to encourage the return of civil authorities into liberated Local Government Areas.
Kinetic Response: Military response to the Boko Haram insurgency started as Internal Security (IS) Operation, Op RESTORE ORDER I in Maiduguri, Borno State and Op RESTORE ORDER III in Damaturu, Yobe state, both independent of each other. However, as the intensity of Boko Haram activities increased; the scope of the Operations were expanded. Op RESTORE ORDER I was expanded to a task force with an enlarged area of operations to cover the entire Borno State. Similarly, Op RESTORE ORDER III was expanded to a brigade status to cover the entire Yobe State. In May 2012, Op RESTORE ORDER I was renamed Op BOYONA and given a new mandate to find, fix and destroy Boko Haram within Nigeria’s territory. Operation RESTORE ORDER III was still active in Yobe State and independent of Op BOYONA. In 2015, the entire military operation in the North East was reorganized. The entire region was designated Theatre of Operation under a unified command and the operation was renamed Op LAFIYA DOLE. In February 2016, a new division, 8 TF Div was created and inserted into Northern Borno to deny the insurgents freedom of action. Op LAFIYA DOLE has liberated the entire Adamawa and Yobe States as well as major strongholds of the Sect in Borno State.
Terrorist networks today are more dispersed and less centralized. They are more reliant on smaller cells inspired by a common ideology and less directed by a central command structure. The resolution of the BH crisis remains an enormous challenge similar to any other counter-insurgency efforts in any part of the world. The government’s attempts at solving the problem through intervention activities thus far have been effective. Despite government’s efforts, the sect continues to conduct operations even though they have been localized to the states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. While the military lines of operationare achieving some results, activities for the other lines of operations towards defeating the insurgency would effectively complement the military efforts.
One of the challenges of countering Boko Haram insurgency is not unconnected to its ideology and violent extremism. The ideology of most terrorist groups is extreme and similar. Most groups have borrowed ideology from al-Qaeda and ISIS of which Boko Haram also did. The BHT was ranked as the world’s deadliest militant group in 2010 by the US and has expanded its operations in to neighbouring countries, like Cameroon, Chad, Niger with prospects of moving further into Central African Republic through Cameroon, if left unchecked. The group was able to expand beyond the shores of Nigeria because of ideology and the presence of other terrorist groups in the West Africa. The countries affected are where poverty is prevalent, thus the ideology is well assimilated by the citizens of such countries.
Nigeria’s borders in the North East include 1,490 kilometers with Niger Republic, 75 kilometers with Chad and 1,680 kilometers with Cameroun. A large part of these borders are unmanned and are easily crossed by insurgents. These porous borders facilitate insurgency and are a source of security concern to the contiguous countries. The porous nature of Nigeria’s borders thus presented opportunities for Boko Haram. The establishment of Multi-National Joint Task Force was an attempt to promote synergy between the security forces of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroun to combat cross border crimes.
Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons
Closely related to the challenges of unmanned borders is the extensive proliferation of arms in the Northeast. The situation has worsened the security challenges as it emboldened BH to launch coordinated offensives against military deployments. The inability of the countries en-route to Nigeria to stop the movement of these weapons has allowed BH access to the weapons black market in Niger and Chad for procurement of arms and ammunitions for use in Nigeria. Since the 1990s, Nigeria has been plagued by a massive proliferation of SALW. Thus, porous borders could be largely responsible for the proliferation of arms and ammunition which are being used by the Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria.
Way ForwardBetter Intelligence Sharing
Better intelligence sharing is needed to prevent foreign terrorist groups and Boko Haram activities across the borders. Additionally, there should be improvement in multilateral collaboration with other members of the international community thereby achieving synergy of effort against global terrorism.
Improvement in Border Patrol and Policing
Nigeria’s border with Cameroon, Chad and Niger are weak and porous. Boko Haram takes advantage of this to plan attacks and conduct other criminal activities. Though there is ongoing collaborative efforts and synergy between the military and other security agencies of neighbouring countries to secure the borders, challenges of inadequate equipment and other platforms persist.
Control of Proliferation, Sale and Movement of Arms
The civil war in Libya has a notable impact on the insurgency in the Sahel Region and Nigeria. Weapons such as Rocket Propellant Grenades and SALW have swelled up the insurgent’s lethal capacity. Therefore, synergy and cooperation is needed to control the proliferation, sale and movement of these weapons.
Tracking Terrorist Financing and Sponsors
Sponsorship and financing of insurgency are two important areas, which could prolong terrorism and insurgency. It is obvious that Boko Haram is enjoying sponsorship from local and international sources considering their level of sophistication in weaponry and tactics. Tracing their sources of funding and sponsorship will require high technology, which may not be easy without collaboration with external sources. There is the need, therefore, to strengthen diplomatic collaboration to effectively track the sources of this financing and sponsorship.
Counter Ideology and De-Radicalisation
Arguably, ideology continues to be the driving force for recruitment and radicalization for terrorist groups. Islamic State West Africa and Boko Haram wage Jihad to shape the environment, making use of terrorism to achieve their goal. There is the need to greater synergy and cooperation in the areas of counter ideology and de-radicalization in the aspects Boko Haram uses to propagate their ideology.
The multidimensional nature and dynamism of the security environment in Nigeria as manifested by terrorism and religious fundamentalism have continued to generate national and international concerns. The insurgency of Boko Haram; particularly, the adopted mode of prosecuting their objective has posed danger not only to the nation but to the international community. I have been able to appraise Boko Haram Terrorism threat in Nigeria and the Government of Nigeria’s response to the insurgency which includes both international and local responses to the threat. Some of the significant actions include employment of the Armed Forces, enactment of appropriate legislation and concerted responsive efforts of friendly nations and the international community.
The extremist groups operating in Nigeria and their links with foreign terrorist groups and porous borders were identified as the major challenges in the fight against terrorism. Therefore, to ensure that terrorist forces and insurgent groups are on the path towards defeat, we must improve intelligence sharing, border policing, denial of terrorist safe havens and sanctuary, control of arms proliferation, tracking terrorist financing and sponsors and counter ideology and de-radicalization.
1. Imasuen Emmanuelar, Insurgency and Humanitarian Crises in Northern Nigeria: The case of Boko Haram, Department of Politics and Governance, Kwara State University, Nigeria. Received 1 April, 2015.
2. Sheriff F. Folarin and Faith O. Oviasogie, Insurgency and National Security Challenges in Nigeria: Looking Back, Looking Ahead, Department of Political Science and International Relations, Covenant University, Ota, Nigeria.
4. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
1 Imasuen Emmanuelar, Insurgency and Humanitarian Crises in Northern Nigeria: The case of Boko Haram, Department of Politics and Governance, Kwara State University, Nigeria. Received 1 April, 2015.
(This article is a summary of the remarks made by Major General Ahmed Mohammed,
Chief of Training and Operations, Nigerian Army at the Counter Terrorism Conference 2018
on 15th March, 2018 at Gurugram, Haryana.)
(This article is carried in the print edition of May-June 2018 issue of India Foundation Journal.)