While running as a candidate for office of the All Progressives Congress Party (APC) in the 2015 elections, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari promised to end the war with Boko Haram and vowed to eradicate the group: "I assure you that Boko Haram will soon know the strength of our collective will and commitment to rid this nation of terror and bring back peace. We shall spare no effort until we defeat terrorism. In tackling the insurgency, we have a tough and urgent job to do." Immediately after being elected, he distributed monies to the army and allocated equipment suitable to the battlefield in order to enhance its efficiency and capabilities.
There are signs of progress being made in the battlefield. The country has retaken territories in the northeast, such as Chibok (in southern Borno State) and most of northern Adamawa State. On the eve of 2016, the Nigerian army successfully captured Boko Haram’s enclave in Sambisa Forest during Operation Lafiya Dole. Following the military success on the ground, thousands of civilians were freed from Boko Haram’s grip. Encouraged by this success, government and military representatives announced 'victory declarations on Boko Haram'. President Buhari announced that Boko Haram has been 'technically defeated'. The military milieu adopted the working assumption that Boko Haram is close to defeat, as disclosed by Nigeria’s army chief, Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai to BBC: "Terrorism is 'resilient' but the Islamist militant group Boko Haram has been defeated militarily." If these quotations reflect the reality, then for the first time in the history of war against radical Islamic terrorism, a state has achieved military victory and should serve as a model to others states in their fight against terrorism. Victory over Boko Haram would mean that the defeat of jihad is a winnable war, a precedent for the western world. At this stage, however, I still have doubts for three main reasons, each of which speaks to Nigeria’s general position of decline and incapacity, of corruption and squandering. President Buhari has made no real progress with society at large and scant progress with his military. Based on these facts, Boko Haram cannot be eradicated.
In addition, the above-mentioned proclamations were premature. In fact, large areas of northeast Nigeria remain inaccessible to aid groups (military or civilian) as long as Boko Haram, or what remains of the group, continues to carry out suicide bombings, IDE's, ambushes, kidnappings, etc., even in supposedly secure cities like Maiduguri. Furthermore, like a phoenix, Boko Haram has shown an incredible capacity for regrouping after suffering setbacks.
This article will focus on the reasons why the group is still alive and continues to be a dangerous threat to the entire region; reasons that led me to conclude that the war is not over. The battle is a deeply political, ideological and theological one in which too many actors are engaged, creating doubt as to whether radical Islamic ideology can indeed be defeated?
Boko Haram’s control and governance of territory permitted the group to act as a state within a state (Boko Haram insurgents could fly the flag of their 'state' in the territory of Nigeria), with all of the adequate institutions enabling them to rule, monitor and maintain well-equipped military forces that have defeated the Nigerian army’s contigent several times. The group posed a real threat to the unity of Nigeria.
Following the military offensive (January 2015) and Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) operations, the loss of territories as well as the loss of ammunition, equipment, logistic bases and manpower by the group were supposed to wipe out Boko Haram. Instead, the entire region of northeast Nigeria, Lac Chad Basin and Mandara mountains became Boko Haram’s new theater. The group is continuously perpetrating various terrorist attacks (especially by female suicide bombers) in these areas, which show how deeply rooted Boko Haram is among the local population, and how effective its radical ideology is in serving and inspiring people to join the group and to launch terrorist and guerrilla attacks. Boko Haram’s success, even as a weaker group, shows how fragile the grip of military forces is in the area, as well as that of the federal institutions that are supposed to reconstruct the region after many years of neglect and bring back security and peace to the region.
The situation on the ground should not confuse us. The group is suffering from an internal power and ideological struggle between leaders and has split into many factions: 1) Abubakar Shekau, the leader of the group, is on the run and was last seen around Kala Balge with some of his fighters.
2) Abou Moussab al-Barnawi, the son of the group’s spiritual leader and founder, Muhammed Yusuf, was appointed by the Islamic State as the new leader of their West African branch on August 3, 2016, as reported in the 41st issue of its newspaper, Al-Naba. He usually operates around Lac of Chad. 3) Bama Blachera, a new local leader who operates around the Lac. 4) Mamman Nur, who acted as Boko Haram’s third-in-command, became a key leader of Ansaru in 2012 but was captured in 2016 and is now in DSS (Department of State Services) custody.
These structural changes, coupled with the Nigerian military offensive backed by the MNJTF, forced the terrorist group to return to its initial decentralized organizational structure, which renders military operations more complicated, but the radical ideology is deeply embedded among the population. This situation is in full accordance with the jihadist narrative, which - in its current interpretation - refers to belonging to the Ummah, a global nation imagined as the basis for a new identity based on networks without borders instead of territories.
What, then, stands behind the declarations of Boko Haram’s defeat? Perhaps a desire by President Buhari to show the Nigerian people his commitment to the promises that he made during the 2015 election and determination by the military who were commanded to eradicate the group by the end of 2015. Both the Nigerian President and Nigerian military commanders are not only underestimating Boko Haram, they are focusing on the wrong metrics in analyzing its strength on the ground.
At its peak not long ago, Boko Haram controlled nearly 22,000 square miles in the region populated with more than 25 million people and constituted an important player in global jihad (the group had connections with AQIM, Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabab, terrorist groups in Mali, etc.).
It seems that for internal purposes (full territory control, unity, warnings to other separatist groups operating in southern Nigeria), the Nigerian government often marks progress in terms of territory reclaimed from the insurgents. However, modern wars (asymmetric against hybrid groups) show us that territory is not crucial to a terrorist group’s success. If leaders of Boko Haram can state: "We have lots of people in the bush, just waiting until it is their time," it means that they are still there and ready to continue the war that has become a war of attrition in which the state has a lot to lose. In my opinion, this is the message that needs to be addressed by the Nigerians.
No matter how successful and efficient the Nigerian army is in its war against Boko Haram, we cannot ignore one of the group’s tremendous successes in transforming local insurgency into a regional war in which many countries are deeply involved, a fact that prompted the creation of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF). As previously stated, the war today is mainly centered around Lake Chad Basin, the Mandara mountains in Cameroon and in Borno State (Maiduguri). Nigeria's neighbors joined the campaign in reaction to Boko Haram's increased cross-border attacks and the heightened threat to regional social, economic, and political stability. Unfortunately, northeast Nigeria is far from being purged of terrorist cells or radical Islamic ideology among the autochthones. All of these areas, specifically Lake Chad Basin, serve as a reserve of fighters and a source of support allowing Boko Haram to retrench and bide its time, then strike when an opportunity presents itself. Again, it is worth emphasizing that the group’s vision and end goal remains the same: "To burn everything down and build what we want [an Islamic state under Sharia laws] on the ashes."
In an effort to provide readers with an accurate picture of the situation, the following are several facts from the battle arena, facts that clearly demonstrate that the war is not over.
In light of the above-mentioned issues, the question must again be asked: Is the war over?
It is obvious that the war changed its characters. Alongside military pressure, there is a need for the Nigerian military to launch a comprehensive demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration (DDR) program, with an additional component of reconciliation (similar to the program, “Operation Safe Corridor” for insurgents who surrender, which is composed of a team of behavioral psychologists working to deradicalize and rehabilitate detained Boko Haram members). A well planned, designed and targeted campaign will have to convince fighters that it is in their best interest to lay down their arms and join a peace process. Such a campaign should seek to erode the support that commanders have from their fighters. In parallel, the government needs to reconstruct the northeast of the country and implement a large program of deradicalization within the populace, as that may be even more important than getting them to simply disengage from terrorist activities. All of these activities demand vast amounts of money that Nigeria does not have. The world community must share the expenses if they wish to stabilize the region.
Implementation of the above will not be simple as Nigeria is a complex country (in terms of ethnicity and ethnic conflict, religion, polarization, resource distribution, political tensions, etc.). Its failure to contain or eradicate Boko Haram may speed up its implosion as well as the regional one. The combination of military pressure followed by government measures (the outer circles) may not be sufficient and the inner circle – namely, the mainly Muslim local population in northeast Nigeria - is important and crucial in ending the insurgency. Despite being Boko Haram's victims since 2010, their failure to reject/oppose/object/resist the group, not caring about the heavy price they paid, is an interesting topic for another article.
A few months ago, on June 30, 2017, a book titled, Community Resilience to Boko Haram Insurgency, was presented to the public in Nigeria. The book, authored by Princess Hamman-Obels, was intended to at place insurgency-affected communities at the center of interest once Boko Haram is defeated. The book focuses on the factors that make some communities able to resist, repel and recover from penetration by insurgents and their actions, which include the destruction and decimation of those communities. Some insights from the book are very interesting and may be applicable elsewhere as well.
The researchers suggest key steps in tackling the insurgency in Nigeria:
1) There is a need to understand what has sustained the Boko Haram insurgency and how local communities can play a role in battling the insurgency.
2) The use of security agencies to quell the insurgency is a very important step but it is not sufficient to solve it because, at the end of the day, we know that this insurgency emanated from the community and it is the community that has both the responsibility and, above all, the capacity to end it.
3) Failing education system - The Borno State 2010 education census revealed that only 23% of children of primary school age went to primary school, the lowest percentage in the country. This means that over 70% of the children of primary school age were not going to school and fell into Boko Haram's hands like ripe fruit.
4) The narratives of the Boko Haram insurgency have really been about the insurgents creating havoc and the security forces trying to contain that mayhem and, in the process, creating some turmoil of their own. There has been very little discussion about the people themselves. What is their narrative, how do they understand what happened to them and most importantly what were they doing or not doing in terms of the crisis in which they found themselves?
5) Enhance the resilience of Nigerians as a community. Resilience can be dormant in communities that are weak and highly present in communities that are strong. Community resilience is the ability of communities to rebound, maintain and strengthen their functionality during and after a disturbance, or to cope successfully in the face of extreme adversity or shock.
The above insights reflect some of Nigerian society’s basic problems, which must be taken into account if Nigeria’s efforts to defeat Boko Haram are to succeed. At the same time, however, I caution against the conclusion that if there is no hunger and no unemployment, there will be no terrorism.
In summary, I would like to cite the Nigerian writer and Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, who said that both religious "brainwashing" (Boko Haram) and "social anomalies" (the Nigerian federal government’s ways of ruling) were responsible for the rise of the organization, but warned against a simplistic approach that overlooks the ideological aspect. "Provide social services, job opportunities, eliminate corruption, etc., etc., and Boko Haram will evaporate? Perhaps those who are sold on this reductionist line should be made to watch videos of interrogations of some captured Boko Haram members." His recommendations include the monitoring and regulation of religious schools, exposing youth and adults to secularism, fair governance, and economic justice.
Soyinka is not a single voice. General Martin Luther Agwai, the former Chief of Defense Staff (2006-2007), said: "It is a political issue; it is a social issue; it is an economic issue, and until these issues are addressed, the military can never give you a solution."
The military struggle and the so-called "military victory over Boko Haram" have not defied the group, which remains a real threat to Nigeria and its neighboring countries. The Nigerian army and the MNJTF struck blows of victory but did not achieve a knockout defeat. The path to peace is long. Purging the region of radical jihadist ideology is feasible only through comprehensive and long-term treatment of the political, social, and economic factors that fuel the sympathy for the group and its radical ideology. An "iron fist in a velvet glove" strategy will significantly degrade Boko Haram’s ability to carry out mass-casualty terrorist attacks, but it will not guarantee harmony.
Nigeria (as well as all countries worldwide combating radical Islam and terrorism) must develop an offensive strategy/agenda in which it provides the population (of any age) with a completely different narrative; when Boko Haram says that Islam is the answer to their political, economic and social problems, Nigeria must provide reasons to the contrary. Islam may satisfy their spiritual needs, but the people must ask themselves if it can really be the answer to its economic and political problems and come to the correct conclusion. In this way, young minds will be prepared when they are approached by radicals to not only ask the question but to provide their own answer. The new narrative and its chance of success can follow the example of the Communist ideology and system from the 20th century. Bolshevik Communism and Marxist ideologies of the 1950s and 1960s were defeated by providing Eastern Europeans and people living in the Soviet Union behind the Iron Curtain with reasons and arguments as to why Communism or Marxism were bad ideologies for the state, why they were not a solution to economic, social or political problems. Once this was accomplished, these ideologies collapsed.
Appendix A: The following are some of the major incidents involving Boko Haram in 2017.
 Muhammadu Buhari speaks in Abuja, April 2, 2015
 Buhari moved his military command from Abuja to the epicenter of the Boko Haram stronghold in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno. The move has isolated Boko Haram from the population it had frightened for so long, pushing the militants deeper into impenetrable forests and away from the northeast.
 In an interview to the BBC on December 24, 2015, he stated that the militant group could no longer mount "conventional attacks" against security forces or population centers and had been reduced to fighting with improvised explosives devices (IED), remaining a force only in its heartland of Borno State.
 Buratai: Boko Haram Defeated but ‘Not Eliminated'. BBC (July 4, 2017).
 Maj. Gen. Tukur Buratai, the acting Chief of Army Staff, launched "Operation Lafiya Dole'' as a new code name for a fresh impetus by the military to tackle the activities of Boko Haram.
 The division led by Shekau, Boko Haram’s most recognizable figure, operates in the northeastern Sambisa forest, Mandara mountains and usually deploys girls as suicide bombers. However, ever since the Islamic State named al-Barnawi as Boko Haram’s leader in August 2016, after the West African militants pledged allegiance the previous year, his Lake Chad-based faction has been moving fighters and ammunition across porous borders in northeast Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad. Refer to: http://studies.aljazeera.net/en/reports/2016/10/split-isis-aligned-boko-haram-group-161027113247008.html
 Today’s global war on terrorism demands a fresh look at the concept of territory. Therefore, for a broader look at the issue, I recommend reading Stuart Elden’s book: Terror and Territory: The Spatial Extent of Sovereignty (University of Minnesota Press, 2009).
 The Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) is a combined multinational formation, composed of mostly military units from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. It is headquartered in N'Djamena and is mandated to bring an end to the Boko Haram insurgency. In January 2015, the MNJTF, under the auspices of the African Union and United Nations, was relaunched to tackle the Islamist Boko Haram insurgency in northern Nigeria and wider Lake Chad Basin.
 Spreading its interpretation of shari’a across Nigeria has been Boko Haram’s goal since an Islamist preacher named Mohammed Yusuf founded the group at the Ibn Taymiyyah mosque in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, in the early 2000’s after splitting from other Salafi leaders along theological lines. Yusuf rejected Western education (earning the movement the nickname Boko Haram, or "Western education is forbidden") and cooperation with the Nigerian government.
 For more details refer to: https://www.unicef.org/media/media_100686.html
 Jason Warner, Hilary Matfess, Exploding Stereotypes: The Unexpected Operational and Demographic Characteristics of Boko Haram’s Suicide Bombers (Combating Terrorism Center at West Point: United States Military Academy, August 2017), p. iv.
 Abdulkareem Haruna, "Boko Haram kill 7 travelers, injure escort soldiers along Maiduguri-Biu road," Premium Times, 20.1.2017.
 Most Islamic leaders in northern Nigeria have shied away from direct criticism of the jihadist group for fear of reprisals.
 The famine in northeast Nigeria is one of four hot spots, together with South Sudan, Yemen and Somalia, that constitute the worst humanitarian crisis the world has faced since 1945, the U.N. said last March. In Nigeria, 4.7 million people (approximately 1 million children), many of them displaced by the conflict with Boko Haram, need rations to survive and experience famine. Refer to:
According to Amnesty, a total of 2.3 million people has been displaced across the region, including 1.6 million internally displaced and refugees in Nigeria, and 303,000 in Cameroon. Another 374,000 are displaced in Chad and Niger.
More than seven million people across the region face serious food shortages, including five million in Nigeria and 1.5 million in Cameroon. There were 515,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, more than 85% of them in Nigeria according to the Amnesty report. Refer to: https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/africa/nigeria/report-nigeria/ see also " Beyond Chibok" http://files.unicef.org/media/files/Beyond_Chibok.pdf
 The United Nations estimates that more than 2.4 million people in the region — half of them children — have fled their villages in recent years and are afraid to return.
http://www.latimes.com/world/africa/la-fg-nigeria-refugee-camp-20160623-snap-story.html ; http://www.unhcr.org/nigeria.html
 For example: In 2016, following alleged involvement in the dealing and selling of arms and ammunition to enemies of the nation, 20 Nigerian army soldiers (four officers and sixteen order ranks) were arraigned before a court martial over charges of sabotage and conspiracy.
 Abiodun Joseph Oluwadare, "Boko Haram Terrorism in the Lake Chad Basin Region: Implications for Sub Regional Security," Journal of International and Global Studies (Volume 8, Number 1), pp. 40-55; U.N. -Security Council: Boko Haram Still Threatens Civilians in Lake Chad Basin, Officials Warn Security Council, Urging United Front to Repair Material, Social Damage. (SC/12679, 12.1.2017).
 August 6, 2017, Brigadier General Sani Usman said: "The Nigerian Army wishes to appeal to religious, traditional and community leaders, as well as all well-meaning Nigerians especially in the North-east of our country, to help dissuade people from donating their daughters or wards, to Boko Haram terrorists for indoctrination and suicide bombing missions."
 Vanda Felbab-Brown, "DDR in the Context of Offensive Military Operations, Counterterrorism, CVE and Non-Permissive Environments: Key Questions, Challenges, and Considerations," Brooking (June 4, 2015).
https://www.brookings.edu/research/ddr-in-the-context-of-offensive-military-operations-counterterrorism-cve-and-non-permissive-environments-key-questions-challenges-and-considerations/; In April 2016, Nigeria’s Defense Ministry started the program, "Operation Safe Corridor", aimed at rehabilitating former fighters of the Islamist militant group, Boko Haram. The program is part of efforts by the government to counter the insurgency being waged by the militant group since 2009.Check link: http://www.africanews.com/2016/04/07/nigerian-gov-t-sets-up-camp-for-repentant-boko-haram-fighters/
 The goal is to get the individual to change his belief system, reject the extremist ideology and embrace a moderate worldview. This is difficult with Islamist extremists because the requirements of the ideology are regarded as religious obligations.
 The new book was presented in Abuja by Kole Shettima, Director, Africa Office, MacArthur Foundation. The research was led by the Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD).
 International Humanist News, http://iheu.org/ihn-february-2010-pdf/
 Why Military Can Never Provide Solution to Boko Haram Insurgency, Ex-Chief of Defence Staff, The Guardian (27.9.2017).
 Napoleon seems to have originated this phrase. The Dictionary of Clichés by James Rogers (Wings Books, Originally New York: Facts on File Publications, 1985).