Why Care about Boko Haram?

Does Anyone Care?

Many of us heard about Boko Haram when the terrorist group attacked a girls’ school in Chibok, Borno on April 15, 2014 , abducting between 250 -300 school girls. This led to an international outcry, with an internationally trending hashtag on Twitter: #BringBackOurGirls shared by likes of the First Lady Michelle Obama. However, Boko Haram has been around since 2002 and has committed deadly incidents since the mass abduction at Chibok. Concern of Boko Haram has been partly eclipsed by concerns of ISIS. Their attacks and outreach have been more geographically varied, more social media savvy, and publicly more brutal. One way of comparing the coverage of one topic versus another is to examine the number of times each topic is mentioned in the news. Using the online, freely available tool, Media Meter from Media Cloud, I was able to quantitatively compare the number of sentences mentioning ISIS/ISIL versus Boko Haram over a time period I defined.

Overall, one sees that the Media cares more about ISIS than Boko Haram. To see how much the average citizen is concerned about both groups, I have used Google Trends to compare worldwide search interest for both organizations over time.

Unfortunately, like online news sources, Google search interest is comparatively sparse for Boko Haram. Perhaps, by learning about the devastation caused by Boko Haram, the average person like myself will take more of an interest in one of the world’s deadliest terrorist groups

Who Are Boko Haram?

Before learning of the havoc wreaked by Boko Haram, it is necessary to know who they are. Boko Haram is a violent Sunni jihadist group founded by cleric Mohammed Yusuf, a trained Salafist who adhered to the school of thought most often associated with Jihad. The group was relatively quiet up until 2009.

Mohammed Yusuf

Mohammed Yusuf

In July 2009, Nigerian police cracked down on Yusuf’s group after its members refused to follow a new motorbike helmet law. A series of violent clashes between the group and security forces erupted in Bauchi, Borno, Yobe, and Kano states, killing upwards of 700 people. Yusuf was captured during a battle with security forces in Borno. He was later executed while in police custody.

The group was inactive for the next year until July 2010 when the former second-in-command of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, released a video assuming leadership as well as promising attacks. The threat was acted upon when Boko Haram conducted several suicide bombings and assassinations around the country as well as carrying out a prison break in Bauchi, which freed close to 700 inmates.

Abubakar Shekau

Abubakar Shekau

The sect calls itself, Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad, or “people committed to the propagation of the Prophet’s teachings and jihad”. It is more widely known as Boko Haram, which is colloquially translated as “Western education is sin,” for the group’s rejection of Western concepts such as evolution. By most accounts, Boko Haram is not a monolithic organization. Except for a few core militants ascribing to a violent Sunni extremist ideology, the group appears to draw support from a broad group of followers, predominantly young men from northeast Nigeria and the border areas of southeast Niger and northern Cameroon. The goals of the group are to expel the political community of the north, which they believe has been seized by corrupt, false Muslims and seek to establish a fundamentalist interpretation of Sharia law across all of Nigeria.

The Havoc Wreaked by Boko Haram

Using data from the Global Terrorism Database (GTD), one can see that Boko Haram’s attacks have primarily consisted of armed assaults and bombings/explosions.

In addition, the primary targets of Boko Haram have been private citizens and their property.

The havoc wreaked by Boko Haram is made even more evident when looking at fatalities. Using Armed Conflict Location & Event Dataset (ACLED), which produces real-time data for disaggregated conflict analysis and mapping in Africa, the map shows that most deaths have happened in the northeast.

In addition, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of deaths since 2013. Specifically, there has been a  322% increase in fatalities from 2013 to 2014 and a 61% increase in fatalities from 2014 to 2015.

Why Has Nigeria Not Yet Defeated Boko Haram?

There are many issues at play for why Boko Haram has increasingly become deadly and why Nigeria has not yet defeated them.

The North-South Divide

One larger issue that has fed into Boko Haram’s genesis and rise is the North-South Divide. Nigeria has long struggled with how to govern its diverse nation, split between a Muslim-dominated north and Christian South. The northern portion of the country is not only divided along religious lines, but economic lines as well. While Nigeria has the biggest economy in Africa, the wealth is concentrated in the South. Overlaying GDP per capita rates (2010) with the total number of deaths from Boko Haram, shows that Borno state, where Boko Haram is based out of, has a low GDP per Capita rate.


Another major issue is corruption and rising criminality.

Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) ranks countries by how corrupt their public sectors are seen to be on a scale of 1 to 10. As the chart shows, Nigeria has consistently ranked low.

Corruption has also marred former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, with many former senior officials being arrested on corruption charges, including the former National Security Advisor, who has been charged with fraud over a $2 billion arms deal that was reportedly never delivered. Such high-level corruption has been addressed in a much better way by new President Muhammadu Buhari, whose arrests of corrupt high-level officials has improved morality within the Nigerian army. Though Buhari has been accused by critics of selectively fighting corruption by targeting politicians linked to the former government. 

So What?

While Boko Haram’s attacks have been predominantly contained to Nigeria, since early 2014, the group has expanded its operations into neighboring Cameroon, Chad, and Niger.

Also on March 7, 2015, Abubakar Shekau pledged loyalty to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. This might not be too alarming since Boko Haram’s base of operations is geographically removed from ISIS’s. What actually is of more concern are reported links between Boko Haram and Islamic militants in North Africa. Indeed, prior to its pledge to ISIS, Boko Haram was allegedly cooperating with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a regional criminal and terrorist network operating in the Sahel and North Africa. There has also been speculation for a long time that Boko Haram has acquired weapons from former Libyan stockpiles through AQIM ties.

The cause for concern is reflective in the growing U.S. security assistance provided to the four Lake Chad Basin countries. Since 2014, all four countries are benefiting from a $40 million Global Security Contingency Fund (GSCF) and is set to receive more security assistance. Besides fiscal assistance, since 2016, about 250 US troops have been deployed.

Hopefully by dynamically reviewing the destruction and rise of Boko Haram, this article can convince those who come across it to be more engaged with news of this deadly terrorist group. Because as the growing attacks on nearby countries have shown, the deadly organization is growing.

To have a more in-depth understanding of Boko Haram, check out the resources below:


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