Boko Haram is the popular name for the Nigerian militant group Jamaat ahl al-sunna li-dawa wa-l-qital. Its name implies “Western education is forbidden” because of the notion that the organisation opposed all non-Islamic education. Boko Haram represents the likelihood of a domestic Salafi-jihadi organisation destabilizing Nigeria. In this article, we look at the history of Boko Haram who have been terrorizing Nigeria for many years now.
Boko Haram Background
There were powerful sultanates centered around Hausa cities near to Kano and Borno for about 800 years. Their rule was challenged by Shehu Usuman Dan Fodio’s jihad (1802-1812), which established a united caliphate over northern Nigeria and into neighboring nations. Most northern Nigerian Muslims accept Dan Fodio’s jihad legacy.
The British conquered his successors’ caliphate in 1905, and in 1914 muslim northern Nigeria was almagamated with predominantly Christian southern Nigeria. Until 1999, Nigeria was predominantly dominated by military governors, many of whom were northern Muslims. During this time, Sufis and Salafists fought over theological issues, blind to the fact that Christians were vigorously preaching throughout the country, especially in the Middle Belt.
The rise of Christianity was reflected in the election of Olusegun Obasanjo winning the presidential election and re-election in 1999 and 2003 respectively. Also Goodluck Jonathan who was successor to Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2010. In response to the Christian political ascendancy, Muslims imposed Sharia in 12 northern states between 2000 and 2003.
The installation of Sharia reunited previously squabbling Muslim factions, and takfir was no longer used. While the imposition of Sharia satisfies the official manifestations of Islam in the north for both Sufi and Salafi, doctrinally takfiris like Boko Haram were clearly left out.
The Start Of Boko Haram
Boko Haram’s ties to other Nigerian extreme groups are unclear. Some people believe the group to descend from the 2002 Nigerian Taliban group, but it is not certain that all of these groups are the same. The charismatic figure of Muhammad Yusuf, who died in July 2009, was the one who started Boko Haram’s first phase.
2002-2005 saw the establishment of small camps and schools in remote areas of Borno and Yobe states, following in the footsteps of Dan Fodio. The group transformed into more of an urban phenomenon practicing al-amr bi-l-maruf wa-l-nahy n al-munkar, meaning enjoining the good and forbidding the evil, as police pressure against smaller jamaat groups increased.
These operations, usually against alcohol and other non-Islamic practices, helped shape the group’s identity. Again, the entire process is based on Dan Fodio’s example. The attacks on the police began in 2004 and set Boko Haram apart from other Nigerian radical groups. It resulted in the death of Muhammad Yusuf after the Nigerian military attacked his compound. The military also attacked affiliated mosques, and Yusuf’s death was videotaped by the troops. Hundreds of his followers were also killed.
Rise of Boko Haram
The 2009 suppression operation and the subsequent killing of Muhammad Yusuf by Nigerian security forces in July marked a turning point for Boko Haram. The group was defunct for a while and after a jail break in September 2010, they resumed operations. The group’s second incarnation has shown considerable range, carrying out operations in Adamawa, Katsina, and Abuja.
Targeted killings reveal the most, including prominent political figures. Some of them include Abba Anas bin Umar, killed in May 2011, secular opposition figures Modu Fannami Godio, killed in January 2011, prominent clerics Bashir Kashara, killed in October 2010, and non-violent preachers Ibrahim Ahmad Abdullahi, killed in January 2011.
The death of these renowned clerics appear to be in line with Boko Haram’s purificationist plan. With the attack on the police general headquarters in Abuja on June 16, 2011, Boko Haram began the use of suicide bombers. There was also an attack on the UN headquarters in Abuja on August 26, 2011.
No other African radical Muslim group has used suicide attacks except al-Shabab in Somalia and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. Al-Shabab reportedly trained at least one of the attackers against the UN building. The attack on the police General Headquarters is consistent with Boko Haram’s focus on the Nigerian police and army.
On the other hand, the attack on the United Nations is reminiscent of the August 2003 suicide attack on the United Nations in Baghdad which was one of the first blows in the Iraqi insurgency. Overall, Boko Haram is displaying the model of a jama`at group with a quiet stage and then activist stage.
The death of Yusuf was the catalyst. It gave the terrorists group ulterior motives other than the “western education is a sin” agenda. Since then, Boko Haram has been able to expand their range of activity, not just in Nigeria but other nearby countries.
Boko Haram has virtually taken control of the northeastern Nigerian region, leaving the police and army in disarray. They have succeeded in seizing power in many cities and communities in Borno State. Boko Haram has clearly been able to tap into northern Muslims’ anger with the imposition of Sharia after 2000.
The terrorist grouping has reportedly enlisted the help of northern Muslim soldiers. Major Muslim religious authorities in the north oppose Boko Haram, suggesting it has local opposition it must muzzle to keep control. Boko Haram’s use of suicide attacks implies it has ties to other major Salafi-jihadi groups.
Most recently, the Nigerian Army has succeeded in capturing many Boko Haram terrorists. However, instead of sending them to jail or other sentences, they are being pardoned and sent back into society. This move has been criticized by the vast majority of Nigerians.