An A-Z of Boko Haram

2015-01-18 15:00

People Committed to the Prophet’s Teachings for Propagation and Jihad is an Islamist extremist group operating across large parts of Nigeria.

The group is more commonly known by the name Boko Haram, which roughly translates to “Western education is forbidden” in the local Hausa dialect. According to the Boko Haram syllogism, Western education, and by extension Western society, is evil because it underpins the secular Nigerian government, which the sect alleges to be morally corrupt.

How did Boko Haram come about?

Founded by Islamic scholar Mohammed Yusuf in the city of Maiduguri in 2002, Boko Haram initially functioned as a social movement that provided basic services to the poor. The group also lobbied for the full implementation of the Islamic system of governance, commonly known as sharia law, across Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim north.

Initially peaceful, Boko Haram turned to more violent means following a spate of government crackdowns targeting Yusuf and his burgeoning support base.

In 2009, the sect would transform into a militant movement after a government crackdown that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of its members, including Yusuf.

Who is its leader?

Following Yusuf’s death, Boko Haram fell under the control of Abubakar Shekau. Little is known about Shekau, other than that he is a ruthless demagogue who allegedly always favoured Boko Haram’s adoption of an armed campaign against the Nigerian government.

Shekau is believed to preside over a central decision-making body (known as a Shura Council), which is comprised of several senior Boko Haram commanders. Each member of the Shura Council is believed to be responsible for coordinating Boko Haram activities in the area in which they are based.

How does Boko Haram finance itself?

Very little is known about where Boko Haram gets its money. There are strong indications that the extremist sect is funding itself via bank robberies, looting, and through kidnapping for ransom and extortion. Much of Boko Haram’s weapons are believed to have been taken during the many raids it has conducted on Nigerian military and security installations.

The French government has claimed that Boko Haram might receive both financing and supplies from al-Qaeda’s north African branch.

How does it recruit?

Estimates regarding Boko Haram’s fighting force range from as low as 6?000 to as high as 50?000. Apart from using ideology to recruit combatants, Boko Haram also allegedly recruits people by offering financial incentives in poor communities both within and outside Nigeria.

Mass kidnapping of young girls and boys, as noted by the April 2014 abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok, also indicates that Boko Haram is increasingly resorting to forced recruitment.

What does Boko Haram want?

Boko Haram is intent on creating an Islamist caliphate in northeastern Nigeria that will be governed in totality under sharia law.

The caliphate is thought to be a modern representation of a powerful 19th-century Islamic kingdom, known as the Bornu-Kanem Empire, which incorporated parts of Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon.

Is Boko Haram achieving its goals?

In the past 12 months, Boko Haram has shifted its focus from an urban terror campaign to a more coordinated and conventional armed insurgency.

In Nigeria’s northeast, it is believed as much as 30?000km2 of territory, comparable to the size of Belgium, may have fallen under Boko Haram’s control. Coinciding with its territorial expansion, it has also increased its use of violence. Between 2003 and 2014, Boko Haram attacks killed at least 11?000 people across Nigeria, according to data collated by the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Most worryingly, however, is that 5?000 of these fatalities were recorded in 2014 alone. In addition to the growing death toll, the insurgency is believed to have displaced as many as 1.6?million people.

A recent attack on the fishing village of Baga, in which hundreds, if not thousands, of people were reportedly killed, suggests that a further uptick in violence should be expected this year.

Why is Boko Haram not being stopped?

Efforts by the Nigerian government to combat Boko Haram continue to be hampered by various factors.

For one, entrenched corruption has led to the misuse of resources allocated to combat the insurgency. On numerous occasions, Nigerian troops claimed to have inadequate supplies of weapons, food and ammunition when sent into battle.

Alleged abuses committed by the Nigerian military have not helped the situation either. Nigerian troops have been accused of assaulting, abducting and even killing civilians in Boko Haram-affected areas. This has stymied local support of counter-insurgency operations.

Finally, a lack of regional coordination between Nigeria and its neighbours is also hampering progress.

A failure by regional governments to formulate a joint plan of action to address the Boko Haram contagion is allowing it to carry out its activities with impunity.

Cummings is chief security analyst for sub-Saharan Africa at crisis management firm red24

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