Boko Haram is no longer, if ever it was, a Nigerian problem. This new alliance of extremism would most certainly have major implications for broader international security.
As of late, Boko Haram and its terrorist activities have dominated international headlines. Over the course of the last five years, following the launch of its military insurgency, bombings, assassinations and abductions committed by the group have become commonplace.
Founded in 2002, the exact membership of the group is unknown but what is apparent is it its ability to draw ample recruits from the disaffected regions of northern Nigeria whose demographics are mostly poor, uneducated youth with few to nil employment prospects.
The group, who has become notorious for indiscriminately waging violence on Nigerian civilians and military and police personnel alike, made international headlines with the kidnapping of over 200 school girls from the village of Chibok in Northern Nigeria. While their atrocities have been committed mostly in rural parts of north-eastern Nigeria, the activities of the group have escalated within the nation’s city centers targeting police and UN headquarters in the Nigerian capital of Abuja.
Though the group claims their motivation is to create an Islamic state in Nigeria through the institution of Sharia law, its attacks are directed at both Christians and moderate Muslims. By and large, the group has been successful in making gains towards achieving its goal. Recently, the group has made gains in areas of Northern Nigeria, hoisting flags and laying claim to areas including Damboa, Gwoza, Buni Yadi, Gamboru and Madagali.
On August 24th, following the defeat of Nigerian security forces and subsequent capture of Gwoza, a territory in Borno State, Nigeria, under the leadership of Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram declared an Islamic caliphate over Gwoza.
In response, the Nigerian Armed Forces released a statement via its official Twitter feed stating, “That claim is empty. The sovereignty & territorial integrity of the Nigerian state is still intact...Appropriate military operations to secure that Area from the activities of the Bandits is still ongoing.”
In an interview with Sunrise Daily, Security Expert, Captain Umar Aliyu (RTD) speaks to the challenges faced by the Nigerian security forces in dealing with the security threat posed by Boko Haram. He states that even if the territorial integrity of the region is intact, there are, “indicators that it is threatened.” He suggests that administrative and operational weaknesses of the police have emboldened the group to declare a caliphate in Gwoza.
Capitan Aliyu also raised concerns over loss of morale and inadequate provisions made for Nigerian security forces in their fight against the terrorist group. Just earlier this month, Nigerian soldiers mutinied over inadequate artillery provisions. In a statement made by a soldier to a BBC correspondent, one soldier expressed concern that the Nigerian Army was “not ready to fight Boko Haram.” The issue of unpreparedness was recently evidenced by the fleeing of an estimated 480 Nigerian soldiers into neighboring Cameroon in the face of a Boko Haram attack on a military base in Gamboru-Ngala occurring on Monday.
In spite of the May 2013 declaration of a state of emergency in the states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, the Nigerian government has proven unable to provide adequate protection and security measures against the threat of Boko Haram. Neither has it been able to curtail the actions of the insurgents or bring the perpetrators of violence to justice.
The Jonathan administration has requested $1 billion to better equip the army to combat the security threat. However, the lack of accountability for previous funds set aside for security personnel, coupled with the political complexities of accusations that members of the Goodluck administration may be providing financial support to Boko Haram, are sure to further complicate matters and compromise counter insurgency measures.
Many analysts have taken to comparing the Islamist terrorist group to the militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) a jihadist group based in the Middle East, which for all intents and purposes has become widely known as the successor to Al-Qaeda in Iraq. As early as July, Shekau publicly endorsed and voiced his support of ISIS militants in Syria and Iraq.
International advisor Stephen Davis has predicted the development of a kind of alliance between Boko Haram, ISIS and Al-Shabaab, a jihadist group based out of Somalia. He suggests that currently we are standing at the precipice of the birth of a new radical Islam.
Davis, who spent four months attempting to broker a deal to secure the release of the 270 girls kidnapped from Chibok said, in an interview with Radio Australia, in order to stop the kidnappings, the flow of funding to the group would have to be stopped. According to Davis, Nigerian politicians provided a major source of funding to the group.
While such claims may be difficult to substantiate, what is clear is that collusion with security forces exists on some level. Footage provided by Boko Haram suggests that military equipment including tanks and artillery has been looted and/or provided likely, from Nigerian security forces. What is also clear is that efforts of the Nigerian authorities to curb the activities of Boko Haram have fallen far short of the mark.
The prospect of collusion amongst extremist groups, would in some ways represent a dramatic turn of events, if not for Nigeria, for the larger international community. This new alliance of extremism would most certainly have major implications for broader international security. Boko Haram is no longer, if ever it was, a Nigerian problem. As its activities have escalated over the last five years they have become an international security concern.
While it is imperative that the international community determine its role in addressing and rooting out global extremism, it is crucial that the Nigerian government take decisive yet careful action to address the scourge of extremism within its borders through engagement and with strict adherence to international law, particularly, implementation of UN resolution 1325, which calls for the protection of women during war and resolution 1820 which condemns the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.
While the government registered some measure of progress early on in the fight against the insurgency indicated by the 2009 capture of then, leader Mohammed Yusuf, it has failed to initiate any meaningful engagement which might lead to an end of the violence.
Arguably, the killing of Mohammed Yusuf and some 800 of his men and the subsequent 2011 police raid which resulted in the detention of the wives and children of suspected Boko Haram leaders may have served to further radicalize the group members and frustrate early prospects for reconciliation or a cessation in violence.
What remains to be seen is whether the Jonathan administration retains both the political legitimacy and the backbone needed to engage the extremist group to find an end to the violence daily committed against both Christian and Muslim civilians alike within Nigeria’s borders.
Tiffany Wheatland is an Adjunct Professor teaching courses on African development and crime in Africa at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York. Follow her on Twitter: @TWheatland.