Last Friday, June 9, 2017, Boko Haram attacked a Cameroonian town on the Nigerian-Cameroonian border, killing one soldier and injuring two others. A few weeks earlier militant kidnapped three Cameroonian women from a border town, which compel the UN to warn people against travelling to northern Cameroon. The recent arrest of a Boko Haram commander has led to an uptick in violence as the group continues to pursue its goal, creating an Islamic state in West Africa targeting on several Nigerian states and neighbouring countries like Cameroon, Chad, and Niger.
Boko Haram captured the world’s attention in April 2014 when it kidnapped 276 schoolgirls in the town of Chibok in Borno State. However, the group’s origins should go back to the early 2000s when the group’s founder Mohamed Yusuf began setting up schools across the Borno State to attract poor Muslim families and unemployed young men. In these first seven years, the group was seemingly peaceful. Many Nigerian politicians, Islamic religious and military officials warned the NTA, the national public broadcaster, not to broadcast Yusuf’s preaching and urged the government to monitor the group closely. They feared the group was hiding more sinister intentions, believing that Boko Haram had ties to larger global terror networks, specifically al-Qaeda
Boko Haram has been exceedingly effective in exploiting a common sentiment among many residents in the North where there is a majority Muslim population, who felt neglected and maligned by the federal government. These tensions date back to the 1960’s when British colonial rule in Nigeria came to an end. Like many newly formed African nation states, these formerly independent kingdoms were united under a new flag irrespective of the ethnic and religious contours. Many in the region felt they were being systematically neglected and exploited as the country’s wealthy and powerful are concentrated on the majority Christian South. Fundamentalist Islamic religious leaders exploited this grievance and preached that it is necessary for the Muslim majority in the north to separate themselves from the rest of the country and to get rid of western influence. In the majority Muslim north, these sentiments came to a head at the summit when riots broke out across Kano state. Often known as the Maitatsine uprising, the riots claimed thousand of lives and the Nigerian government met with increased military presence throughout the region.
The group took up arms in July 2009 after a standoff with Nigerian security forces. Since 2009 the group has carried out a wave of attacks in several Nigerian states after the May 2011 inauguration of President Goodluck Jonathan. Boko Haram’s campaign of violence persisted and expanded its targets to neighbouring countries. In January 2015, Nigeria along with Cameroon, Chad and Niger launched the West African Offensive, which severely weakened Boko Haram. The group responded by formally pledging allegiance to ISIL in March of 2015 under the leadership of Abubakar Shekau. Nigeria’s President Buhari claimed the group had been defeated by September. While smaller scale attacks continue, the group has experienced a rapid decline in the last few years, which the Nigeria Social Violence Research Project at John Hopkins University attributes it to improved counterinsurgency, a lack of popular support, infighting, the inability to spread and the poor strategic planning on the part of Boko Haram.
Although the decline of Boko Haram is encouraging, the group remains active. As a result, while Nigeria and its neighbours maintain counter-insurgency efforts, they must also address issues of poverty, development, extremism, and corruption that ultimately gave way to the rise of Boko Haram, in order to avoid its resurgence or that of a similar group.
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