In 2015, the Internationally-based Institute for Economics and Peace released their Global Terrorism Index, which identified Boko Haram as the deadliest terrorist group in the world. However, all existing strategies – up to now – have not hindered the group’s ability to continue its expansion throughout the Lake Chad region. Paxcely Marquez’s analysis on Boko Haram’s ability to continue using its current recruitment and financial tactics, while hindering multiple governments’ responses, will help shed further light on potential solutions to ending the insurgency.
When President Muhammadu Buhari ran for the Nigerian presidency in 2015, he ran on a platform to rid Nigeria of Boko Haram. Once he was elected, even people that did not vote for him, expected concrete results from their newly elected President, regarding the fight against Boko Haram. The fact that he’s Muslim, originally from Nigeria’s north, and has a military background were factors they believed would help end Boko Haram’s insurgency. His self-imposed deadline to eliminate the group by December 31, 2015 has come and gone; yet, Boko Haram continues to exist and attack villages, towns, and regional capitals within and outside of Nigeria. One of the most recent attacks was the quadruple suicide bombing in Bodo, a Cameroonian village in Far North region. Before trying to tackle this issue, it’s important to understand the origins of Boko Haram and the impoverished vacuum that has helped the group’s expansion throughout the region.
Boko Haram has roots dating back to 1995 as a non-violent movement, but that changed in 2002 through their leader Mohammed Yusuf. The group has used multiple names throughout the years, including its official Arabic name Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, which means “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad.” However, locals began to use the name Boko Haram, which in Hausa can be loosely translated to, “Western education is forbidden,” because of the group’s initial focus to oppose western education. In Maiduguri, Mohammed Yusuf began to preach his radical form of Islam, which helped to build the groups’ strength in numbers. He did this through his mosque and Islamic school, while keeping in mind the group’s ultimate goal of establishing its own caliphate. In 2009, Yusuf was killed by Nigerian security forces, which paved the way for his more radical deputy Abubakar Shekau to lead Boko Haram. Since 2009, Boko Haram has expanded its scope of attacks and influence throughout Nigeria and in neighboring countries Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Throughout its existence, Boko Haram has taken advantage of the impoverished northern region by using tactics, unfortunately, already seen in other conflicts.
Boko Haram’s recruitment tactics have primarily focused on disaffected youth, unemployed high school and university graduates, and destitute children. Unfortunately, this focus is a result of social and economic problems that are continuously seen throughout Nigeria, where 110 million people live in extreme poverty, while the country’s wealth is held by a small portion of the population, and corruption is widespread. Of course every country has their problems, however, Nigeria’s lack of opportunities and social services for youth are exasperating young peoples’ abilities to live successful lives. According to United States Institute of Peace’s Special Report on Boko Haram, a few young people chose to freely join Boko Haram for multiple reasons Some of the most common reasons indicated in the report were, “ignorance of religious teachings opposed to violence, unemployment and poverty, difficult upbringings, and illiteracy.” At the same time, others have been forcibly conscripted and/or kidnapped, such as the over 200 Chibok school girls that were kidnapped in 2014 and reportedly forced to marry fighters.
Besides having some wealthy members, Boko Haram has used multiple methods to finance its operations including, “membership dues, donations from politicians, financial assistance from foreign terrorist groups, raiding of banks, and ransom from kidnapping. It also has extorted money from residents of areas it has controlled, as well as from wealthy persons whom they have intimidated into paying protection fees to avoid being attacked by them.” At the same time, they have increasingly focused on neighboring Cameroon for both recruitment and financing since many of their initial financial support from individuals stopped once Boko Haram began to increase their attacks. Increasingly, Cameroon’s Far North region has not only become an important supply line for weapons from Libya and Chad, but has historical significance to a potential caliphate.
Cameroon and Nigeria’s northern regions are similar culturally, religiously, and linguistically. At the same time, their woes with their southern capitals link the northern regions closer to each other. Although my experience in Cameroon was limited to just two years in the Grand North, I saw and experienced those woes through multiple facets, including a lack of infrastructure, extreme poverty, a lack of social services, and illiteracy, which can prevent people from living safe and successful lives. Although military intervention is necessary – at this time – all affected countries need to work on providing social services to all and relocation services to all IDPs, providing youth with access to quality education and job opportunities, and collaborating with community leaders to stop Boko Haram’s influence. Otherwise, Boko Haram will continue expanding and thee groups demise will take even longer.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.
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