While Nigeria is no stranger to violence, it is being torn apart, perhaps irreparably so, by a sophisticated Salafi-Jihadist Muslim group in the north that has managed to exploit longstanding ethnic and religious divisions and bring the fragile democracy to the brink of war. The group, commonly referred to as “Boko Haram,” is officially named “Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal Jihad” or “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad.”The name “Boko Haram” is derived from the combination of the Hausa word for book—“boko”—and the Arabic term “haram,” the designation for all things ungodly or sinful. Thus, “Boko Haram” is not only the group’s common name, but also its slogan to the effect that “Western education (and such product that arises from it) is sacrilege.”
Despite numerous factors that may have suppressed the movement, Boko Haram has managed not only to continue their operations, but to grow and evolve as an organization. What are the factors behind Boko Haram’s rise and continued success in its violent, ideologically-driven campaign that continues to affect Nigeria?
The first section traces the early evolution of what is now Nigeria, and attempts to explain how the fault lines that are today so easily apparent in the social, political and religious fabric of the country, came to be entrenched before independence from Britain. In addition, it highlights longstanding sources of tension over power and prestige within various ethnic groups and how this friction paved the way towards Boko Haram’s message taking root.
The second section lays out the ramifications of the political turmoil in the modern state of Nigeria and how, as a result, the separation between north and south came to be institutionalized. The paper addresses the issue of rampant poverty in Nigeria, and how the juxtaposition between the comparatively wealth south and the increasingly poor north provides credence for Boko Haram’s message of violent jihad and martyrdom. It assesses the historical antecedent of Boko Haram and attempt to explain just what makes Boko Haram so much more dangerous.
The third section examines the origins and evolution of Boko Haram, from foundation to early setbacks, and then shows the recent development of the group both in terms of leadership and tactics as they became influenced by al-Qaeda.
Fourthly, the paper examines the international ramifications of the group’s increasing notoriety, and what the broader implications of an increasingly sophisticated Boko Haram means for regional and global security considerations. The paper concludes by analyzing the role of the Nigerian government in the crisis, and suggests potential steps that must be taken to effectively undermine the insurgency.