IDSA COMMENT

You are here

Boko Haram Gathers Strength as Nigeria Prepares For Elections

Anand Kumar is Associate Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. Click here for detailed profile
  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • December 11, 2018

    One of the most notorious terrorist organizations in the world, the Boko Haram, has intensified its terror activities in northeastern Nigeria and the Lake Chad region. Since July 2018, there have been at least 17 attacks on military bases in Nigeria, almost all of them in the region around Lake Chad. The Islamic State (IS) claimed its militants had killed 118 people in five operations in Nigeria and Chad between November 15 and 21. On November 18, in a daring attack, the IS-allied Boko Haram jihadists killed at least 43 soldiers when they overran a base in Metele village near the border with Niger. The survivors however put the death toll at more than a hundred. The Boko Haram has reportedly taken over two towns in this area, with the Nigerian military suffering huge damages.

    The resurgence of the Boko Haram is especially glaring as Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari declared the terrorist organization as ‘technically defeated’, after assuming power in 2015. Even in January 2018, Buhari insisted that Boko Haram has been defeated. With the Boko Haram intensifying its activities by attacking villages and military bases in the Lake Chad region, it has become clear that the terrorist organization has not been weakened. On the contrary, it appears to have only gathered strength. Now questions are being asked as to how a virtually defeated terrorist organization is able to cause so much damage to the Nigerian security forces and its people.

    Boko Haram was founded by Mohammed Yusuf in 2002. Yusuf was captured by the Nigerian police following the July 2009 Boko Haram uprising. He was summarily executed in public view outside the police headquarters in Maiduguri. Police officials had initially claimed that Yusuf was shot while trying to escape. The group has been led by Abu bakar Shekau since 2009, and the terrorist organization has been active since then in northeastern Nigeria. The influence of Boko Haram has gradually spread to neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger. In Nigeria alone, more than 27,000 people have been killed over the past nine years, and the violence has forced out some 1.8 million people from their homes. One of the most notorious acts of the Boko Haram was the abduction of Chibok girls in April 2014. The group advocates Sharia law and rejects Western education.

    The insurgency led by the Boko Haram is especially strong in the area known as the Lake Chad region. This is a strategic area where the borders of four countries – Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, converge. Since 2015, these four countries have been collaborating militarily as part of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF). After the recent upsurge in Boko Harm violence, leaders of all four countries met in the Chadian capital on 29 November 2018 to devise a joint response.

    Boko Haram split in August 2016, when IS supported a group of militants who wanted to part ways with Shekau. They crowned Abu Musab al-Barnawi as the new governor of Islamic State-West Africa (IS-WA). Shekau has not accepted this change and continues to command militants loyal to him under the group’s previous name, Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad (JAS). The Shekau faction of Boko Haram is notorious for using suicide bombers to attack military and civilian targets.

    When President Buhari came to power in 2015, there was lot of hope that he would improve the economy and deal effectively with the extremism. Hope on both these fronts seems to be vanishing as Nigeria prepares for elections in February 2019. The economy of Nigeria largely dependent on export of oil was in turmoil after the international oil prices fell in 2016.

    The upsurge in the Boko Haram violence has forced the Nigerian government to improve security forces deployment. There are now about 7000 personnel deployed in the destabilized Borno State. There have also been frequent changes in commanders of the force handling insurgency. In the latest change, the Federal Government of Nigeria ordered Chief of Army staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, to return to the northeast to oversee the fight against Boko Haram. He is expected to stay there until Boko Haram insurgents are crushed. The federal government has also instructed Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Abayomi Olonisakin, and Gen. Buratai, to overhaul the conduct of major operations in the country. These include Operation Lafiya Dole in the northeast, Operation Delta in the Niger Delta, Operation Sharan Daji in Zamfara and Katsina states, and Operation Awatse in the Southwest. President Buhari has also ordered the immediate procurement of critical equipment for the armed forces.

    While Buhari has been criticised for having termed Boko Haram as a ‘ technically defeated’ outfit, he is also accused of providing poor training and inappropriate weapons to the army resulting in massive casualties. Some are even accusing the President of purposely doing this so that military could be discredited, to prevent any possible coup d’etat. In the 55 years of Nigeria ’s post-colonial history, the country has been ruled by army generals for 40 years.

    Boko Haram has proved to be much more resilient than Nigerian authorities had anticipated. Its resurgence might affect the holding of credible polls in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe in February 2019. These areas are too volatile and vulnerable to the Boko Haram banditry. Nigeria needs a long term strategy to defeat Boko Haram as the latest round of violence indicates that the terrorist organization is expected to survive beyond the February 2019 elections. In the near term, if the Nigerian state is able to check Boko Haram’s present activities by the increased deployment of its security forces and holds credible elections in the troubled areas, that itself would be a big achievement.

    Dr Anand Kumar is currently Visiting Professor and Chair (India Studies) at the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, University of Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.

    Top