Boko Haram In Nigeria: Strong Or Weak?

Boko Haram have been present in Nigeria since 2009, carrying out sophisticated attacks against soft targets and, in 2011, steadily progressing to carry out continuous suicide bombings, including that of police buildings and the United Nations office in Abuja. In 2012, the Nigerian government declared a State of Emergency. Since then, the Nigerian government has continuously claimed that Boko Haram have lost and are losing their powerful foothold in Nigeria. However, despite this, the group has continued to carry out suicide bombings and other targeted attacks.

The security advisor of the governor of the Borno State, Kashim Shettima, has claimed that the ongoing attacks are due to the group becoming scattered, thereby only being able to carry out isolated attacks in public places as opposed to the previous occupancy of large areas of territory. Locals in Nigeria are also reportedly optimistic about Boko Haram’s prospects despite many villages still being occupied by them. Whatever the case, the Nigerian government has made progress by renewing their commitment to ‘root out’ Boko Haram. By sharing intelligence with neighbouring countries, the Nigerian government is working to keep track of areas which they control and have been able to free many captives.

However, experts on the Boko Haram conflict contend that the optimism may be just wishful thinking brought on by President Muhammadu Buhari’s new administration and tough stance against Boko Haram. Attacks in Maiduguri, which make up the front lines of the Nigerian army’s engagement with Boko Haram, indicate that the Nigerian military may not have as strong of a hold over Boko Haram as they think. Also, Boko Haram still occupies areas of Chad in which both the Nigerian and Chad military have little knowledge of. Further, just last week across the border in Cameroon 3 people were killed in a suicide bombing involving female teenage suicide bombers. Such factors have led to the claim that simply chasing out Boko Haram is not enough and requires an ‘impenetrable’ administration and security that can withstand the Boko Haram.

Boko Haram’s influence over the Nigerian youth also continues to be an issue, recruitment and temptation to join Boko Haram remain high. Nigeria’s security adviser has, however, addressed this and pointed a need for more jobs to occupy the youth. He also states that there is a need for the government to remain close with citizens in order to continue to deter support for Boko Haram. Further, because of Boko Haram’s foothold, many schools have also been closed in response to raids on classrooms aimed at killing and kidnapping students. While the government has promised to re-open schools, it has yet to happen, and Nigerian youths often remain displaced with little purpose. However, in Borno, programs have been set up to train young people displaced by Boko Haram in skills such as carpentry and brick laying in an attempt to deter them from joining Boko Haram. Such programs have also helped to rebuild areas destroyed by Boko Haram.

The further establishment of programs similar to the ones running in Borno would create much needed unity throughout Nigeria, and also reduce the number of children recruited by Boko Haram. While it seems that Boko Haram has somewhat lost their ‘foothold’ in Nigeria, the conflict prevalent in neighbouring states indicates that Boko Haram is still strong. The strengthening of both security and administration forces, as opposed to simply  ‘chasing out’ Boko Haram, would help the Nigerian government in their plight against the terrorist group by creating an collective, organized force.