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Terrorism And the Pragmatics Of Transnational Intervention By Sagir Musa

June 13, 2015

This paper looks at one of the most lethal terrorist groups in the world - the Boko Haram and the pragmatics of regional intervention or collaboration to deal with the threat. Considering the humanitarian concerns the crises had generated, the group's alleged links to Al-Qaida in the Maghreb (AQIM) and Islamic State (IS) and the rumbling issues in dealing with the problem, recourse to regional intervention is tenable.


ANALYTIC GROUNDING: The Boko Haram terrorist (BHT) group was founded in 2002 by a Sunni Islamic preacher Mohammed Yusuf in Maiduguri, Borno state in Nigeria's north - east. Yusuf exploited the seemingly conservative nature of Northern Nigeria as reflected in the region's opposition to or backwardness in western education. Consequently, Yusuf built a mosque and Islamiyah School in Maiduguri (madrassa). At the madrassa that thousands of people, mostly uneducated and poor Muslims and converts from across Nigeria and the neighboring countries of Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger were dogmatically radicalised into Boko Haram ideology. Similarly, the endemic poverty, illiteracy and unemployment in the north - east was also exploited by Yusuf, thereby succeeded in creating a cult like followership.

Gradually, the group became larger, the sermons very radical and the influence of the leader grew so much that he became politically relevant. He was often allegedly consulted in the distribution of political offices in the State. Consequently, having tasted the 'spoils of government', he became more interested and involved in politics. The political goal of the group was also broadened - to create an 'Islamic state' in Nigeria. The 'jihadist' impulse, the desire to create an 'Islamic state' and the seemingly repressive attitude of the then Nigerian security services triggered a wide spread, lethal uprising by the group. By 30 July 2009 nearly 1,000 people were killed and thousands fled the city (BBC Africa, 2015).

The 30 July 2009 insurrection and the reaction of security agencies led to the destruction of the group's headquarters in Maiduguri, the killing of Yusuf and subsequent regrouping of the fleeing terrorists under Abubakar Shekau as the new leader. Under Shekau, the group became deadlier, seemingly organized and allegedly affiliated to AQIM and IS (Robin 2014). 

With the sect's connection to these terrorist groups, proceeds from extortions, kidnappings, bank robberies and financial support allegedly from some vested interests bolstered the armory and finances of the group. Accordingly, the inflow of arms and ammunitions from Libya, Mali and other neighboring nations further serve as effective enabler to/sustainer of Boko Haram terrorism. However, in 2013 the group was proscribed and designated a terrorist organisation by the US (US State Dept. 2013).

Consequently, local and international attention was focused on the group. The group's modus operandi changed, from guerrilla warfare to include direct confrontation with the security agencies. Soft targets were attacked, bombs freely exploded in the markets, motor parks or road sides in different locations in northern Nigeria (Sagir, 2013). This led to monumental dislocation and a humanitarian crises.


The Boko Haram propensity for genocide is shown by the senseless killings and destructive attacks on security locations, churches, mosques, schools, markets, motor parks and family homes. This led to the death of thousands of security personnel, terrorists and civilians. Properties worth billions of Naira were destroyed. Many areas in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states fell under the control of the terrorists. Some swathes of the north - east particularly in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states have become terrorist enclaves. These problems compelled the federal government to impose a state of emergency in the three states and the activation of a robust military operation code named Operation BOYONA in 2013. Between May and November 2013, Operation BOYONA had made serious progress as many high - profile terrorists were either killed or arrested and many terrorist camps were destroyed with a large quantity of arms and ammunitions recovered. It was during this period - specifically on 30 June, 2013 that Abubakar Shekau was 'rumoured' to have died in an encounter with the JTF troops in Sambisa forest. In the midst of this operation, somehow, however, reorganisation and redeployment were made. The reorganisation led to the dissolution of Operation BOYONA and the creation and subsequent activation of 7 Division. As the new Division is settling to work, with fresh troops lacking adequate knowledge of the operational areas on the one hand, on the other hand, BHTs were recruiting fighters, amassing weapons and logistics in new enclaves in sambisa forest and Marte axis located in the Burma, Konduga and Marte areas of Borno state. As a result, terrorists become stronger numbering between 7,000 and 10,000 'Jihadist' fighters (UN 2005).  

Despite the state of emergency in the three states and increased military offensives, the insurgents successfully adopted a scorched - earth policy in rural areas, bombings in the cities and assaults on military and police bases. These attacks resulted in the death of over 5,000 civilians and the dislocation of about 750,000 people more between May 2013 and October 2014 (Mark, Guardian 19 January 2015). Consequently, by December 2014, many Local Government Areas (LGAs) and surrounding villages in the north - east became 'ungoverned' or 'under governed' and were thus effectively ransacked, controlled and declared 'caliphates' by the terrorists. 

By January 2015, the situation had degenerated with 12 out of the 27 LGAs in Borno state alone and 14 out of 774 LGAs of Nigeria falling under the control of BHTs.  Accordingly, the group expanded its operations in to the hitherto, seemingly referred -safe havens - border towns and villages of the neighbouring countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger with colossal loss of lives and property. Equally, the influx of refugees from Nigerian villages along the fringe of Lake Chad in to these countries, creates a serious humanitarian crises for them. Consequently, possibly, in concert with Nigeria, the three countries have come to the conclusion that the texture of the problem appears substantially beyond the responsibility of a single nation. These nations, reportedly agreed to pool resources and about 8,700 troops (comprising the military, police and civilians) to assist themselves and Nigeria in confronting the threat.

Note that since 1998, in reaction to armed banditry, arms trafficking and border intrusion, Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria had established a sub-regional force (Multi - National Joint Task Force) with Headquarters in Baga, Borno state to deal with the threats. That it could be the regional collaboration or intervention may subsume the sub - regional force (in Baga) in the fight against BHTs. In light of this, this essay, examines the imperative of regional intervention or collaboration in the North east Nigeria.


The prolonging nature of BH terrorism, and the resultant destruction and humanitarian crises it generated, necessitate a rethink of the nation's counter - terrorism strategy. Since the situation lingers, this means that it is likely the counter - strategy adopted has to be rejigged and or the problem is extremely complex and therefore, probably, beyond the responsibility of a single nation. Hence, recourse to regional intervention or collaboration to deal with the menace. 

Since the AU was established partly as a response to the failure or unwillingness of the international community to deal with or assist in countering African atrocities, such as the calamity of Idi Amin in Uganda, the Rwandan genocide, the Mali and Somalian incidents, the need for regional intervention or collaboration could be seen in the context of the massive humanitarian crises affecting Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. The fact that the Assembly of the Union as provided for in the Act, Article 4 (h) provides for intervention in respect of war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity and the breakdown of law and order such as the case in some parts of the north - east Nigeria has made this argument plausible. Consequently, the neighbouring countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger have since shown sufficient readiness to intervene to destroy the terrorists. At this point, an examination of the various reasons for intervention in the North - east Nigeria is worth undertaking. 


 Is not within the scope of this essay to examine the various theories that validate intervention in the internal affairs of sovereign nations by other states or bodies. However, there is need to mention the reasons and apply the ones that are in my opinion likely to fit in to the subject matter. There are many reasons in international law and within the framework of AU and UN that permit intervention. The reasons range from;  humanitarian crisis, self-defence, legal consideration, neutralised states, neutralised canals, pursuance of Treaty Agreements, when actions are committed against the Principles of international Law, protection of citizens, missionaries, recognition of belligerency or independence, threat to political, economic or strategic interest, mediation etc. But, for the purpose of this argument, - intervention to destroy BH in Nigeria within the framework of regional collaboration, the following reasons could suffice;

* Humanitarian intervention 

* Self defense 

* Legal consideration (to the extent that AU member - nations (neighboring countries) are under certain conditions, legally authorised to act to avoid humanitarian crisis, genocide and human rights abuses).


The notion of intervention for humanitarian reasons focused on the issues of war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity and the total breakdown of law and order as encapsulated in the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) and the UNSC. However, humanitarian intervention is one of the most contested reasons for intervention as it raises ethical, moral, legal and political questions. For instance, viewed from a wider perspective, why does humanitarian intervention appear selective? Why the intervention in Libya and not in Syria? Why the sustained interest in the Middle East?  Therefore, irrespective of the various reasons for intervention, this paper argues that an intervention in the north - east Nigeria could as well be based on moral and humanitarian and political imperatives. 

The AUPSC is the Africa's first continental and regional wide, collective security system on conflict prevention, management, resolution and peace keeping through military intervention. But, how capable and effective is the Union? Some have questioned the commitment of the AU to good governance and its capacity for humanitarian intervention in member states. The Union, like its predecessor the OAU, appears weak and ineffective in dealing with the crises facing the continent. For instance, take the wars in South Sudan, Mali and Central African Republic - in all these wars, the AU was nowhere to be seen, -French troops saved the day. Similarly, the political uprising in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and the 2010 elections crises in Cote d' Ivoire, the inability of the Union to intervene and the subsequent UN and French intervention (in Cote d' Ivoire) further questioned the will and commitment of the AU. So also the intense and prolonged BH crises in Nigeria was somehow ignored by the Union. 

Similarly, the failure of the AU to take robust action in response to specific humanitarian crises in the continent could be due to inability by the Union to garner the funds required to sustain such undertakings. The lack of political will and unity of purpose among the AU heads of state is another reason for the failure of the Union to take strong action required during a 'grave situation'. But in the case of Nigeria, there appears to be the required unity of purpose from some member nations (notably Benin, Chad, Cameroon, Niger and recently, to some extent, Burundi and Central African Republic). So, a regional force probably under an AU framework from the willing countries could be used.

Also the AU's acknowledgement of the ' responsibility to protect' - the universal belief that the international community has a duty to intervene to protect a population from mass atrocity crimes if governments abdicate their sovereign responsibilities is helpful in appreciating the need for a (regional) intervention in Nigeria (UN 2005: para 138 - 139).

Additionally, Nigeria's counter - terrorism strategy appears asymmetric. The strategy is weighted on the use of force to destroy the insurgents and this, so far require additional support side by side with military power to effectively deal with the problem. This could be through diplomacy and comprehensive, vigorous as well as sustained "hearts and minds" campaigns (at the strategic political levels) to halt recruitment and possibly win over some of the combatants. 

The issue of a development master plan for the worst under- developed region in Nigeria's north - east should have been a more pronounced and vigorous aspect of Nigeria's counter - terrorism strategy. Unlike the 2010 counter - terrorism strategy in the UK, Nigeria's counter - terrorism strategy seems to have inadequate policy of and for de - radicalisation, disarmament, de- mobilisation, rehabilitation, reconstruction and reintegration. Experiences have shown that post conflict arena is prone to resurgence of armed groups/conflicts (e.g. in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Sudan, Somalia, Syria) if there is no comprehensive programme for disarmament, demobilisation, reintegration, reconstruction and integrated development master plan for the affected area (s).  


Intervention in self-defence is a contentious issue even in the realm of the AU and the UN. Article 51 of the UN Charter and customary rules of law of nations recognise the right to self-defence either individually or collectively, but do so under the ultimate control of the UNSC. The legal parameters of self-defence remain as outlined in article 51, primarily, that self-defence can only legally take place when an armed attack takes place against a state. The legality of the use of force depends on the necessity and proportionality of its use. The danger with this authorisation is, first, it is too wide and second, as Armstrong argued, the scope of this right both in content and application is open to debate (Armstrong, Theo and Helen 2012).

 It is instructive to note the recent attempts by some states to expand the right of self-defence in response to terrorist attacks and anticipatory self-defence. As Christine D. Gray notes in her book 'International Law and the Use of Force', "the right of self-defence arise only if an armed attack occurs. This right is an exception to the prohibition of the use of force in Article 2 (4) and therefore should be narrowly construed" (Gray 2000). Despite this controversy, Malcolm Show argued in his book 'International Law' that "over the scope of the right of self-defence, there is an indisputable core and that is the competence of states to resort to force in order to repel in attack" (Malcom 2003).

Consequently, when humanitarian disaster is imminent, provision for the use of military force to stop mass carnages, with or without the consent of the target state is guaranteed under the AU right to intervene. This was corroborated by Puley (Puley 2005:12). Thus, like the normative commitment of Responsibility to Protect, Article 4 (h) acknowledges that the state has the responsibility for protecting its citizens from avoidable catastrophe. But when they are unable or unwilling to do so, that responsibility must be borne by the wider community of states, in particular the AU. This provision can be used to further justify regional intervention or collaboration in Nigeria.

Similarly, the four neighboring countries of Nigeria are in 'grave condition' in the face of occasional BHTs attacks on their territories. Nigerian villages and border towns of Abadam, Bama, Baga, Banki, Diffa, Gambaru - Gala, Gwoza, Kala - Barge, Malam Fatori, mongonu and many others- bordering Benin, Chad, Cameroon and Niger were on many occasions attacked by the terrorists. This compounds the humanitarian crises in the region. According to UN reports, 157,000 refugees have sought refuge in Niger, 40,000 others have gone to Cameroon and 17,000 to Chad (UN 2011). Additionally, these towns, geographically and historically, are regional trading centres now threatened by terrorists' activities. Consequently, regional economic and social activities are paralysed. Thus, the pragmatics of intervention entails that protecting Chadian, Cameroonian and Nigerean nationals as well as economic interests in these border towns and villages (within the parameters of Article 51 of the AU) could be considered as additional 'legitimate' reasons for regional intervention in the region. But the big concern is the ability of the region or the Union to fund and sustain the operation for some time. 

At the moment, the readiness of many member - states to contribute troops and resources as well as the explicit provision in the AU Act that requires the union to refer to the UNSC for financial assistance whenever there is sufficient reason may address this concern. Already, Chad, Cameroon and Niger have pooled troops and are willing to pool resources as well as commitment to share intelligence for the success of the mission. Given Nigeria's commendable record in foreign operations, and the successes achieved so far, and with the expected financial and material support from the UN and G7 member states, the country might have the capacity and ability to fund the mission and to simultaneously embark on the development of the region. For the intervention to succeed, it must focus on both military might, diplomacy and comprehensive development of the region as well as deliberate plans for post conflict disaster that could re-emerge if there is no arrangement made to contain such unwanted, but certainly - an obviously impending conundrum.


The genesis of BH terrorism in Nigeria can be traced to the extra - judicial killing of BH leader Mohammed Yusuf in Maiduguri by the Nigerian police. The group's activities escalated in response to the killing resulting in the creation of 'ungoverned' or 'under governed' - 'caliphates' and control of 'bases of terror' in the north - east Nigeria. Nigeria's counter -terrorism strategy does not seems to holistically address the problem, hence, the threat somehow dawdles. Therefore, the challenges of development such as poverty, unemployment and illiteracy must be addressed to be able to effectively slate the insurgency. If there is no comprehensive plan to address the 'roots and stems' (the conflict enablers and sustainers), the danger could be compounded in the light of post conflict challenges that could re-emerge when no arrangement is made to prevent them. In the light of this puzzle, and - terrorism been a transnational and intermestic threat, multinational efforts are required to stop this calamity. 

So, intervention as a (short/immediate measure), must be accompanied with a robust counter - terrorism and development programs in the region. Experience has shown that once a military operation has ended, there could be resurgence of armed groups and conflicts, if comprehensive development, disarmament, and demobilization plans are not articulated and delivered. Governments should also commit to sustained investment in security and intelligence and empower police and other para military organizations to effectively discharge their duties in the affected areas.