With a population of over 180 million people, Nigeria stands as the largest African country in terms of both population and economy. Nevertheless, the country has become a victim of internal or domestic terrorism facilitated by several factor that shall be discussed later in this paper. This research paper aims to examine Boko Haram, its policies, activities, etc. Additionally, I intend to study the factors that facilitate the growth of this organization and why there is so much difficulty on the side of the Nigerian government in dealing with this issue. In understanding the emergence of Boko Haram and its success, it is imperative that one gets an insight of the historical, political, sociologic and economic structure of Nigeria as whole. In this paper, I shall look at the dynamics involved in the Boko Haram issue with a focus on the factors that facilitated its development. Lastly, I analyze Turkish-Nigerian relations in dealing with terrorism.
Nigerian Structure: History, politics, sociology and economy.
Present day Nigeria has served as an abode for several indigenous civilizations and empires (e.g. the Borno Empire, Sokoto Empire, Nok Empire, Ife Empire, etc.) even before the arrival of the external powers the country (Momah, 2013, p. 4). Till today, there exist small groups of indigenous ethnic groups albeit little in number so make much significant difference or get much attention. At the moment, the country is predominated by 3 major tribal groups each dominating a particular region of the country. The Hausa-Fulani group making up a total of 29% populate Northern part of the country, the Yoruba ethnic group with a population of 21% of the country dominate the southwestern part of the country, while the Igbo people accounting for 18% of Nigeria predominate South Eastern part of the country. To get a better picture of how big these tribal groups are, it should be mentioned that Nigeria currently harbors an estimation of about 250 ethnic groups (CIA, 2018).
A historical occurrence that can help better understand the current sociologic demography is its exposure to foreign civilizations. The earliest known foreign interaction occurred between the Hausa-Fulani people and North African people. Their interaction which occurred in the form of trade eventually led to the islamization of the North. Contact with the western world commenced in the 15th century similarly in the form of trade—predominantly slave trade. By the 19th century, Christianity had gained popularity among many Nigerians. This dynamic is useful in understanding why Nigeria as it is today is comprised 50% Muslims and 40% Christians, thereby suppressing traditional religions to a mere 10%.
It comes as no surprise that these historical happenings continue to influence the current political structure of the country. In fact, some literature on Boko Haram partly attribute its birth and development to some of these historical happenings. Due to the existence of huge diverse groups and religions in the country, there exist a consequential federal system of government, essentially dividing power among each major group within the country. The constitution stipulates Nigeria as a republic and democratic country headed by an elected president (head of state and the head of government) who shall only be in power for a maximum of two terms, and each term comprising of two terms. Divided into 36 states, the country regulated by 3 kinds of legal regulations namely, the common law, the Sharia law (among the northern states) and the traditional law. The existence of sharia law in the North empowered radical Islamist groups among which Boko Haram eventually developed.
As a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the Nigerian economy benefits largely from the income of oil exportation. Additionally, natural gas, iron, coal, tin as well as agricultural products account for significant amount of income to the country. Despite being Africa’s largest economy, poverty rate and inequality is very evidential within the country. In 2017, the United Nations Economics Commission for Africa (UNECA) released a country profile report in which Northern Nigeria, the birthplace of Boko Haram, was said to be “the poorest and less developed part of the country” (UNECA, 2017, p. 20). This has been a reason that facilitates Boko Haram’s easy recruital of the youth into its organization.
History and Development of Boko Haram
Internal instability is not a new phenomenon in the domestic and political affairs of Nigeria. As a matter of fact, since attaining independence, Nigeria has faced several instabilities than many African countries. The difference between those ones of the past and the current situation of Boko Haram is that those ones were orchestrated by the military. In fact, the current President Muhammadu Buhari was once a military leader who seized power in 1985 through a military coup. The earliest military coup which occurred in 1966—six years after independence—led to Nigeria being a victim of a severe and grave civil war which lasted for a period of 3 years, from 1967 to 1970. This had come about as a result of a tensions and suspicion arising between the big ethnic groups on how power should be shared equally within the country. Since then, military coup and juntas almost became the norm thereby ridding the country of a stable government. Several republics were created but failed. It was until 1999 after the last military junta did Nigeria obtain a relatively free and fair elections.
This purpose this historical background is not to put Boko Haram on par with previous military coups and civil wars in the country. On the contrary, they are quite the opposite of each other. While these historical juntas seek to take control of the whole government and rule the country, Boko Haram seeks to terrorize people who are of different opinions. It is a terrorist group focused on forcing its ideological beliefs onto people of diverse background.What can be understood, nevertheless, from this historical perspective is that Boko Haram, as a terrorist group, is not the first, nor among the first to create chaos and exercise violence in the country. However, it surely passes as one of the most violence if not the most violent of them all.
The term Boko Haram is from the Hausa dialect which translates separately as Western Education for Boko and Forbidden (islamically) for Haram. Put together, Boko Haram translates as Western Education is forbidden. Understanding the term gives a superficial sense of one of the main ideologies behind the formation of the group. The name Boko Haram may be what everyone calls the group, but the group refers to itself by a different name. In 2011, the group made released a video in Borno state where it officially called itself Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad. This is from Arabic language meaning “people of the tradition of the Prophet [SAW] for preaching and striving” (Onapajo & Uzodike, 2012, p. 26). In the same release, the group went further to mention their dissatisfaction with the name Boko Haram as they believed this nomenclature is used “to discredit the group and its ideas” (Onapajo & Uzodike, 2012).
Accounts of when and how the group came into being are quite debated in the literature. Several researchers refer to 2002 as the group’s initial emergence while many others also refer back to the late 20th century as the birth time of the group. This debate does not come as a surprise knowing that Boko Haram does not embody the first radical islamist group in Nigeria. Hence, for many scholars, the historical radical islamist groups paved way for the emergence of Boko Haram and can therefore be referred to as the origin of the current group. Despite these debates, the most popular notion is that 2002 marks its birth year with Mohammed Yusuf of Yobo State (a northern state) as its founder and leader. Towards achieving his goals, he recruited students from University of Maiduguri in Borno state. These were mostly students who had discontent towards the western education system which facilitated the recruital process for Mohammed Yusuf. He subsequently built a Madrasa (school) for teaching Islamic studies in the same state. On few occasions, the group has referred to itself as “Yusufiya”— a word derived from the founder’s name which roughly translates as followers of Yusuf.
From the name of the group, one may easily guess some of the main ideas of the group. Despite this, there are other ideologies and mindsets carried by its members apart from western education being sinful. On many occasions, leaders of the group have announced that their ideologies and principles go beyond a hate for western education. To begin, it deems western culture and civilization as unIslamic because it does not abide by the teachings of their religion. Mohammed Yusuf claimed science and technology is Haram (sin) as it is not knowledge gained from Allah, and also negatively affects the religiosity of an individual. Boko Haram was therefore a group aimed at defending the Islamic religion according to the founder. (Onapajo & Uzodike, p. 27). He cites the last Caliphate system in Nigeria originally created by Dan Fodio early 20th century with the colonial rule advanced as evidence that indeed western civilization brings forth ruin to Islam (Badejogbin, 2013, p. 237). Some researchers raise the question of whether the group’s motive is solely religious. Despite starting with radical religious ideologies, it would seem that it has evolved into a more individualistically motivated group. New recruits join the group with motives ranging from political to economic.
Boko Haram Activities
As a matter of fact, for many people Boko Haram only became a phenomenon in 2009. Until then, activities of the group had not been big enough to catch the attention of the international arena. Another explanation could be that activities that went on in the Middle East in the aftermath of 9/11 shifted the attention of the world towards that region thereby overshadowing Boko group (Purcek, 2014, p. 6) One thing that can be said for sure is that the group was still in its infancy and therefore had relatively little access to arms and resources to carry large and extensive attacks.
The year 2009 marks the first time the group opened arms directly against the Nigerian police and security body. This violent attack reportedly led to the death of over a 1000 while leaving several many others injured. Until that time, Boko Haram had coordinated five main terrorist attacks. In his early stages, the group made its first attack during the Christmas of 2003 in the state of Yobe. The attack involved 200 armed members of the group directly attacking two police station in Geidam and Kanamma. The group successfully escaped with police weapons and vehicles by the end of the attack. Not long after this occurrence—January 2004, it attempted another attack on a police station in Borno state. Unfortunately for the group, a local vigilante group stood against Boko Haram leading to the death of seven members and the capturing of three others by the police. The police were able to also retrieve some of its stolen weapons. Later in the same year, series of attacks were staged by the group in which civilians, police officers and even some Boko Haram members lost their lives. (Ehwarieme & Umukoro, 2015, p. 40)
The 2009 uprising and subsequent attacks
The first big turning point of the group occurred in the 2009 uprising which led to the capture of the founder and many other important members of the group. In this uprising, members of the group refused to acknowledge new traffic regulations regarding motorcyclists set by the federal government. Boko Haram claiming it did not recognize the authority of the Nigerian government refused to obey the law. The security branch in charge of enforcing this law resorted to harsh methods leading to an armed conflict between the police and the group. In the aftermath of this event, Mohammed Yusuf and two other important members of the group died while in police custody. Consequently, the group had to go in hibernation to reorganize itself. Abubakar Shekau took over the leadership with the aim of administering a revenge that shall effectively make the country ungovernable (Onapajo & Uzodike, p. 30).
Under the new leadership of Abubakar Shekau, the group came out of hibernation in 2010 and orchestrated a prison break that saw the freeing of many of its imprisoned members as well as other criminals. This attack at Bauchi prison saw the escape 150 Boko Haram members who were waiting trial and the death of a police officer as well as a civilian. This attack showed that the group was evolving into something bigger since the attack involved machine guns and rifles (Smith, 2010).
Boko Haram developments: Factors that facilitated its advancements
The growth and strengthening of Boko Haram is one that did not happen overnight. Leaders of the group exploit advantages from both the domestic and the international environment. Even though on some occasions the Nigerian government as well as the State Security Service (SSS) have been blamed for not being able to curb the activities of the group, it can not be denied that the factors and context in which the group emerged and developed were ones that gave significant advantage to it. The group emerged at a time in which the economy and socio-political structure of Nigeria was still a work in progress. President Olusegun Obasanjo’s had taken over from a military rule which lasted from 1993 until the 1999 elections. Suffice to mention that Nigeria’s economic, political and social structure at this time was weak which made it appealing for the youth to join the terrorist group (Badejogbin, 2013, p. 228). For instance, the group successfully infiltrated the government which granted it access to classified information and plans made by the government in combatting them. Economically, Northern Nigeria records the highest percentage for poverty rate ranging from 70% to 95%. Having a such a high level of poverty served as a strong enough reason for youngsters to join the crusade.
A second factor that aided the group to develop and become stronger is its relations and ties with the global radical terrorist group. During its hibernation in the aftermath of the 2009 uprisings, the group established ties with the North African branch of the global terrorist group, Al Qaeda in the Magreb (AQIM). This group offered support to members of Boko Haram in the form of training and weapons. When it became apparent that the group had joined ties with Al Qaeda, there was an attempt by the US government to list it under the list of International Terrorist Organization (ITO) but the Nigerian government pleaded it not to do so as it feared it would have negative consequences on foreign investment within the country (Purcek, 2014, pp. 9-10).
Corruption within the Nigerian government has also served as a reason why Boko Haram has continued to thrive and elude the government’s security forces. Having been able infiltrate the government, the group has always had advanced knowledge whenever the government was planning a raid to capture its members. Additionally, some politicians from the Northern regions saw the existence of Shari’a law anf Boko Haram as an opportunity to advance their selfish interests and political standings (Badejogbin, 2013, p. 244).
How to tackle the Boko Haram Issue
Various administrations have tried using their own methods in trying to curb the Boko Haram issue with some of them being effective and others less so. President Jonathan’s administration resolved to political strategies by arguing that the group was supported by ethno-regional politicians who served as a backbone for the group. His administration allegedly had a list of all these corrupt politicians, but for some reason the list was never released. In 2015, Nigeria finally accepting that the Boko Haram problem was now beyond a domestic issue created a military unit with other West African states such as Benin, Cameroon etc. This Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) to some extent was effective in reducing Boko Haram activities around the borders as well as preventing members of the group from escaping to neighboring countries.
Successfully capturing the leading members of Boko Haram does not necessarily guarantee the eradication of the problem. Boko Haram is as much violent as it is ideological. Hence, threat of it or a similar problem coming up in the future is what needs to addressed. Firstly, most of the youth who join the organization do so because they are desperate and see no other means of survival. Poverty rate in the northern states continues to increase with passing years which creates a sense of alienation. Policies towards de-alienation are necessary in making sure the youth do not find joining the group appealing.
A frustrated youth can easily be manipulated into joining a sect as a means of getting back at corrupt leaders who exploited their votes and rights in advancing their political careers. Many politicians in the North used Shari’a law as a strong campaign strategy in winning votes and then ignored the concerns of the people after gaining what they wanted. Diversity and differences are strong divisive tools in the socio-culture and ethno-politic of Nigeria. Colonial legacies left by the British through their divisive policies created a huge alienation between the north and the south. With time, these political identities merged with both religious and ethnic identities thereby making these differences stronger and dangerous. The Nigerian government needs to address the issue as a sensitive one that does not always require violence. Research has shown that when harsh methods are used in countering security issues, there is the likelihood of violence being the end results.
Nigeria-Turkey Relations and Boko Haram
In October 2017, President Buhari of Nigeria and President Erdogan of Turkey held a joint press conference where President Erdogan expressed his view that
“Boko Haram terror has claimed thousands of innocent lives. In our view, there is no difference between Boko Haram, DAESH and FETO…We stand with our Nigerian brothers in their fight against terror and are ready to share our experience and knowledge.” (Turkey, 2017).
Turkey assured Nigeria that it was not alone in the fight against Terrorism and that with its much-acquired experience in this field, Turkey was ready to support Nigeria’s defense and security body. The question that arises is what inspired such a partnership to evolve and what do Turkey and Nigeria stand to gain in this partnership. This could be explained using several perspectives;
For one, Boko Haram has been known to establish alliance with the global terrorist units which in fact accounts for some of its development and success. An alliance between Boko Haram and DAESH makes the prospect of winning the fight against these groups tougher for both Turkey and Nigeria. Turkey has been a victim of several terrorist attacks in the past couple of years in its two biggest cities, Istanbul and Ankara. Hence, an alliance between the two countries seems like the most reasonable thing to do in order to counter terrorism. Currently, Turkey is also fighting another terrorist group known as FETO which tried to overthrow the current president in the summer of 2016. Turkey is not giving up its endeavors to capture all members involved in the attempted coup and its hoping to get as much international support as it can. However, FETO has several branches across the world through educational institutions and language centers. Therefore, the partnership with Nigeria was also a way of getting the Nigeria government to deal with the local branch of FETO schools in the Nigeria. Other than the support in the area of defense and security, the partnership aimed at increasing the bilateral trade between the countries. It could therefore be concluded as a win-win relation for both countries.
Boko Haram may not be the first time Nigeria has encountered an act of violence and terrorism from a radical group, but it without doubt has been the most atrocious of them all being responsible for the murder of about 17000 people. From many perspectives, Boko Haram is not very different from several of its counterparts today or even historical ones. Underlined by a religious fanaticism as the founding ideology, the group has proven to be more than it is seen on the surface. Empirical research has shown that just like terrorist groups elsewhere, Boko Haram encompasses not only religious but also political and economic motivations. Bad economic conditions such as unemployment and poverty has pushed several young men towards the group. Worse still, instead of finding practical means of resolving this instability, some politicians only use this as opportunity to advance their career. Historical legacy from the colonial era has left Nigeria a country divided by ethnic and religious identity thereby weakening the sense of nationhood or belongingness to a one country. Although their actions have been significantly controlled by the President Buhari’s administration, there is the need to deal with these root causes.
Ademokhai Gabriel OMODIBO – SASAM Intern
Yıldırım Beyazıt University – International Relations Department
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