Nigeria’s Ongoing Struggle With Boko Haram
Sometimes referred to as “Nigeria’s Taliban,” Boko Haram is a militant Islamist group that has formally existed since 2002 when it organized under the Muslim cleric Mohammed Yusuf. The group is headquartered in the city of Maiduguri and its militants primarily live in the northern states of Nigeria, including Yobe, Kano, Bauchi, Borno, and Kaduna.
Since its inception, Boko Haram has been responsible for devastating attacks on a number of military, government, and civilian targets in Nigeria. In August of 2011, Boko Haram militants attacked the United Nations compound in Abuja, killing 23 and injuring 75 with a car bomb. In January of 2012, more than 200 were killed when Boko Haram launched attacks against police, military, and a prison in Kano State. In April of 2014, the group attracted international attention when militants kidnapped approximately 276 teenage girls and threatened to “sell them in the market.”
Earlier this year, UNICEF reported findings that Boko Haram has kidnapped more than 1,000 children in northeastern Nigeria since 2013. And recent events suggest the group shows no signs of stopping.
In September and October of this year, Boko Haram carried out a series of attacks on Nigerian villagers and farmers, killing eight in the villages of Amarwa and Wanori, five in the villages of Dala Malari, Fuguri, and Femari. Militants also razed the village of Shuwari Balle. On November 18, 2018, Boko Haram attacked an army base in Metele, Borno State, killing an estimated 118 Nigerian soldiers and carting away arms, ammunition, and military equipment.
Despite these attacks, the Nigerian government insists that Boko Haram is nearly defeated. The fight against the militant group has been ongoing for a number of years with varied levels of success.
In 2013, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states and launched a major offensive against Boko Haram. Although national forces claimed some success from these actions, especially in the cities, Boko Haram attacks continued with regularity in rural areas. In 2014 and 2015, Boko Haram stepped up its attacks, evoking harsh criticism of the tactics used by the Jonathan administration against the militant group.
In 2015, the new president, Muhammadu Buhari, made a number of modest reforms to improve the military’s effectiveness against Boko Haram. But he has also been criticized for his perceived slow response to demands from the military for more weapons and reinforcements.
On Nigeria’s National Army Day in late September of this year, the Chief of Army Staff claimed that “the ground war against Boko Haram has been won.” Buhari thanked Nigerian troops for their “defeat” of the militant Islamist group.
Even with the recent escalation of attacks, the government is continuing with its narrative that it is winning the war against Boko Haram. Following the November 18 attack, the president’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity reported that the militant group “had been technically defeated…[The attack] was maybe a breach in security but it does not mean that Boko Haram is having the upper hand. And like the president said in the statement we issued yesterday, we will still get to the end of this Boko Haram insurgency.”
Last week, 155 former members of Boko Haram swore allegiance to the Nigerian government after undergoing an 11-month Deradicalization, Rehabilitation and Reintegration program, coded Operation Safe Corridor. This was the second batch of former militants to take part in the program, the first of which was a group of 95 clients who were discharged last February.
Oby Ezekwesili, the presidential candidate of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, laid out specific plans in place to to confront Boko Haram should she win the 2019 general election.
“A research we had at the World Bank showed that those communities where this menace thrive need to be engaged. We will provide jobs so that people will be busy and get paid. Second, my government will completely overhaul the security system. We need fresh hands and people who will end this problem. Third, we must also improve our intelligence gathering with cutting edge technology in order to be preemptive and proactive.”
Nigeria has recently increased efforts to enlist the help of other countries in its fight against Boko Haram. More than 20 countries including Cameroon, France, Jordan, Kenya, Niger, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the UK, and the US participated in a seminar that encouraged collaboration against terrorism. Nigeria’s Chief of Air Staff, Sadique Abubakar, believes Boko Haram is not a Nigerian problem alone; as such, more cooperation and information sharing will benefit all countries in the fight against terrorism.