Among the emerging threats to contemporary international security is the onslaught of militant Islam. This threat has manifested in varying dimensions, depending on the strategy of its initiators. In certain cases, the threat has taken advantage of state fragility. In other instances, the threat has arisen as a deliberate challenge to perceived western cultural imperialism. Perhaps, to counter this perceived encroachment, the Al Qaeda and currently ISIS have plunged the Middle East region into turmoil, with occasional forays into Europe and America. In West Africa, the Nigerian Government has been engaged in an intractable battle to defeat Boko Haram terrorism since 2010. Scores of high profile targets in the Federal Capital Territory Abuja, Adamawa, Borno, Yobe and Kaduna States, have been attacked. Presidency sources estimate that the seven-year Boko Haram insurgency has claimed about 20,000 lives, displaced about 2.4 million persons and destroyed property worth billions of Naira.
The inability of the Nigerian government to quickly resolve this problem initially may in part be connected to the dominance of two schools of thought in the effort to diagnose the problem in its early stages. The first school comprising Northeast political establishment, intelligentsia and some analysts believed that Boko Haram was a reaction to political and socio-economic distortions in Nigeria. This group held that there was widespread poverty, corruption and inequality in the polity; therefore Boko Haram is a natural outcome of these conditions. This opinion was not peculiar to the mentioned groups alone. In a 2011 article titled ‘To Battle Nigeria’s Boko Haram, Put Down Your Guns: How To Undermine the Growing Islamist Threat’, John Campbell; US former Ambassador to Nigeria, also argued that Boko Haram is simply a Nigerian problem. The second school comprising a few commentators, the intelligence community and security agencies, posited that Boko Haram terrorism could be part of a wider plot of global Salafist Jihad waged by transnational Islamic – terror networks. Later developments like the pledge of allegiance (bayat) first to Al Qaeda in the Maghreb and later to ISIS, change of name to ISIS West Africa Province and arrest of several foreign fighters on Nigerian soil, among other indicators, showed that though Boko Haram terrorism and insurgency benefitted maximally from governance and institutional failures of several years prior, a foreign sponsored radical Islamic Ideology was its raison d’etre.
Boko Haram Campaign Of Terror
Apart from being religious fundamentalists, Boko Haram is also a terrorist social movement. Like all social movements, it represents groups that are on the margins of society and state. Outside the boundaries of institutional power, Boko Haram seeks to change the system in fundamental ways, through a mix of unbridled criminality and terror. Analysts believe that the initial stalemate in diagnosing the problem emboldened the terrorist group, resulting in its quickly moving to implement its agenda through dissemination of its poisoned ideology and denunciation of traditional institutions and rulers. Other steps were elimination of dissenting Islamic scholars and massive use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), light infantry weapons, machine and anti-aircraft guns to promote violence and spread fear. It would be recalled that as at 2011/12, Boko Haram operated freely in the North East, North Central geopolitical zones and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. To bring clearly into focus the operational latitude that Boko Haram enjoyed, it is relevant to recall a few of the atrocities caused by the terrorist group.
The United Nations office in Abuja came under Boko Haram attack on 27 August 2011. This attack was significant for Boko Haram in two ways; firstly, it raised its profile as an international terrorists group. Secondly, it marked the beginning of its movement on the trajectory to acquiring a major terror franchise in West Africa.
Two months earlier, Nigeria Police Headquarters suffered a similar fate. These were closely followed by repeated attacks in Nyanya and Suleja. In Kaduna, two strategic military institutions; The Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji and Headquarters 1 Division, Kawo were also attacked. Boko Haram also sort to provoke sectarian violence and inter – religious conflict by killing dissenting imams, attacking several mosques, as well as churches during Jumat prayers and church services. To demonstrate its elaborate design and resolve to completely destroy the nation, the terror group turned its attention on Nigeria’s future. It attacked scores of schools across the North East, killing both teachers and students. The mass abduction of female students in a school in Chibok in 2014 attracts media headlines across the world till date.
The import of Boko Haram focus on security agencies should not be lost. The objective of attacking military and paramilitary installations at that point in the terror campaign was to send a clear message and warning to the civil populace who expected that the military would defend them. By 2014, Boko Haram was in control of sizeable portions of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States. It launched a media wing, which constantly assaulted public psyche with images of executions and other exploits. At the sub – regional level, Boko Haram also controlled large portions of territory in the Republics of Cameroon, Chad and Niger, prompting a flurry of diplomatic activities across Africa and Europe.