Nigerian Boko Haram is a jihadi terrorist organisation that started in Maiduguri, a city in northeast Nigeria, in an effort to establish a sharia-based state there. It has set itself at war not only with the Nigerian government and security forces but also with the inhabitants, largely innocent bystanders though they are, leaving the poor people with the choice of being attacked by the terrorists, or considered an insurgent, or harbouring insurgents, if they look for protection from the authorities.
The proper name of this group is the Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad – so perhaps it’s not so surprising they prefer their local nickname ‘Boko Haram’ (thought to mean ‘western education is sinful’, apparently, although not all are agreed on that – even the locals who coined it are unsure of the exact meaning!).
Mohammed Yusuf, the founder of Nigerian Boko Haram, started it in 2001, with the stated aim of eliminating ‘Westernization’ and establishing a ‘pure’ Islamic state under sharia law. It set out to achieve this by violent means from the start, and has been the cause, direct or indirect, of an estimated 10,000 deaths and around 90,000 people displaced in the dozen years since. Some think that the senior radicals in the group found partial inspiration through a late Islamic preacher called Maitatsine, but others feel that ethnic disputes motivate it as much as religion does.
See Also: Nigeria Boko Haram – Timeline of terror
Its favoured guerilla tactics have been used to assassinate and kidnap individuals and carry out mass assaults, including bombings, on mosques, churches and other gatherings of people, uncaring of how many are killed in the process – and it has been getting worse over the years. It lacks a centralised organisation, having instead a ‘cell-like’ setup that encourages splits and factions, resulting in a current reported structure of three factions and a splinter group, all of which apparently do pretty much what they like, almost independently of the others.
In n January 2012, 185 people died across Kano under their attacks; and in May 2013, 55 people were killed and 105 prisoners released by a mini-army of a couple of hundred activists in armored vehicles using machine guns to storm military, government and police buildings in Bama.
The latter occasion caused President Goodluck Jonathan to declare a state of emergency in the affected states of Northern Nigeria – mostly Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Kaduna, Kano and Yobe – and to deploy armed troops to enforce it. Unfortunately, although no-one would argue with the facts of their enemy’s brutality, the military response was almost as indiscriminate, with some 2,000 homes burned out and 183 dead after one military raid on Baga, and has left the terrified civilians not knowing which is worse. Then in early 2013, the government was accused by Amnesty International of human rights abuses after nearly a thousand Boko Haram fighters were killed while in military detention facilities.
For the first dozen years Boko Haram managed to avoid having the West brought into the fight as international targets were left pretty much untouched, but increasing speculation of links with Al-Qaeda meant that the US declared Boko Haram a terrorist organisation in November 2013. Talk of recruitment drives via the internet and in other ways, targeting young adult Muslims and prisoners they’ve freed through prison breaks with the intention of increasing its influence to many other states, has also attracted attention from outside Africa.
Even in its own neck of the woods, Boko Haram has made itself highly unpopular with the authorities because of its continuous and indiscriminate use of violence. The Niger state governor, Dr Aliyu, has stated that Islam is a peaceful religion and that Boko Haram does not represent it; Sokoto sultan Sa’adu Abubakar has called them ‘anti-Islamic’ and even ‘an embarrrasment to Islam’; and the Coalition of Muslim Clerics in Nigeria has said they should disarm themselves and ’embrace peace’. Islamic and Muslim authorities in North America, Canada and Britain have all condemned the group, along with the Council on American Islamic Relation and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
As of now, 14 January 2014, Boko Haram’s latest atrocity is to set off a car bomb at a military post in their birthplace, Maiduguri, apparently using a suicide bomber to destroy one truck and set others alight in response to being driven out of the city and others in that part of the country. The resulting pandemonium saw many people injured and vehicles damaged as panicked people and drivers collided left right and centre in the rush to escape.
It’ll be interesting to see how much longer the people and governments are willing to put up with them and their unnecessarily violent behaviour before someone decides to put their collective feet down with commensurate firm hands.