John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Boko Haram, International Terrorism, and the Obama Administration

by John Campbell
September 12, 2011

People gather to pray near a coffin at the grave site of one the victims of last Friday's U.N headquaters bomb attack, in Gwanrinpa district in Nigeria's capital Abuja September 1, 2011. (Afolabi Sotunde/Courtesy Reuters)

I have a piece today on where I discuss Boko Haram, that shadowy Islamic terrorist group based in northern Nigeria that has claimed responsibility for the UN headquarters bombing in Abuja two weeks ago. As I’ve argued in previous blog posts, a security centric solution, particularly when implemented by a poorly trained and trigger happy military and police insensitive to civilians, does not address the conditions that motivate Boko Haram. Instead, political solutions that reduce northern alienation are needed. The United States should encourage the Nigerian government to reach out to the North while deepening its own ties to the North by means such as opening a consulate in Kano.

Read the whole oped here.

In another recent oped, Nigeria expert Jean Herskovits raises questions about the credibility of Boko Haram’s claim of responsibility for the bombing and argues that close association with the Jonathan administration could actually lead to stronger ties between Boko Haram and international terrorist groups, which are currently weak at most. Read her oped here.

More indepth background on Boko Haram can be found via CFR  here and the International Crisis Group here.

H/T to Asch Harwood.

Post a Comment 6 Comments

  • Posted by Maduka

    Ambassador Campbell,

    I am writing on this on the 13th of September, 2011, exactly two days after the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks in New York.

    When the twin towers were leveled, the Government you represented as an ambassador refused to negotiate with either the Taliban or Al Qaeda, they delivered a clear message using military means.

    That is exactly what the Nigerian state will and should do.

    These people are criminals and they should be dealt with mercilessly. Nigeria has never been known for suicide bombing and unless we spell it out in clear terms that suicide bombing will not be tolerated in Nigeria, we are doomed as a nation.

    Even if the US Government were to fund the building of Mosques in Northern Nigeria, these people will not be appeased.

    The Niger Delta militants are rational and have real grievances. These criminals, these murderers are completely irrational, their demands cannot and will not be accepted by any modern state. These criminals represent pure evil.

    The United States refused to negotiate with either Osama Bin Laden or Adolf Hitler. Nigeria should not negotiate with these representatives of pure evil.

    With all due respect, sir your recommendations are wrong. The Nigerian people and the Nigerian military will not tolerate appeasement of terrorists.

  • Posted by Maduka

    This is my more sober post.

    1. Washington cannot afford to alienate Africa’s largest Muslim population, but it also cannot afford to alienate Africa’s largest Christian population.

    2. Your solutions are heavily skewed towards the Northern Muslim population, whilst ignoring a significant minority of Christians in Northern states.

    3. Tempers are raw in Nigeria, and it is better for you to distinguish between (a)acts of terror (b)economic deprivation and (c)inter-communal clashes. The second two can be handled within a solid economic / political framework, the first is an extraordinary event and should be handled as such.

    4. Poverty in Nigeria is pervasive and the responsibility for the disparity in poverty rates between the North and South of Nigeria lies firmly at the feet of Northern politicians. (For example, Kano State has consistently been allocated more than Lagos from the federation account. Successive governors from Kano state need to explain how this money was spent).

    5. Northern Nigeria is not marginalised, the rest of Nigeria has often bent over backwards to accomodate the wishes of Northern Nigeria. (Most Nigerian leaders since independence were from Northern Nigeria and several of the key positions in Nigeria are held by Northerners).

    6. The United States Government must not be seen to take sides in a religious crisis. Please hand over the work on Islamic manuscripts to the Smithsonian and initiate conversation with BOTH Christian and Muslim scholars / opinion leaders.

    7. Nigeria needs reconciliation, not a one-sided discussion with opinion leaders from only one religious tradition.

    8. The US should open a consulate in Kano, but it should also open a consulate in Port Harcourt / Enugu (if Port Harcourt is too dangerous).

  • Posted by Maduka

    1. If we were to assume that Gaddafi ordered the bombing of UN headquarters in response to Nigeria’s position on UN, to whom do we attribute the suicide bombing on the Nigerian Police headquarters? (The similarity of these two events points to a common source).

    2. Suicide bombings are not Gaddafi’s usual modus operandi – he is a terrorist of the old PLO / Saddam Hussein school.

    3. Conventional terrorism and suicide bombing are vastly different things. It takes a certain amount of religious credibility to influence a suicide bomber. There is no evidence that Gaddafi has or ever possessed that degree of credibility.

    4. If Gaddafi cannot influence a single suicide bombing in chaotic post-conflict Libya, how could he possibly influence one in Nigeria?

    5. It takes a massive leap of logic to suggest that Islamist terrorists in Nigeria are more likely to be influenced by Gaddafi than AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb).

    6. The escalation in the frequency and scope of terrorist attacks on State Institutions Northern Nigeria since Goodluck Jonathan assumed office is not lost on Nigeria’s significant non-Muslim population.

    7. Western analysts should be extremely careful in their analysis of complex events in Nigeria. They should be wary of simply rehashing the talking points of some members of the Northern elite who are still in denial about the challenge Boko Haram presents to national security.

  • Posted by Zainab

    Thank you Ambassador. Like you rightly noted, the root cause of the growing influence and strength of Boko Haram is political, the political alienation of the North. Its absolutely amazing that many people cannot understand this basic logic. These Boko Haram militants are not animals or scum, they are living, breathing human beings. Some of them are even university graduates, completely disillusionwd with the state of things, tired of being oppressed by their local leaders and politicians who are squandering their common wealth. Ask anyone who lives in the north, the person will tell you that a number of university graduates tore-up their certificates and joined the ranks of Boko Haram. However their approach of killing innocent citizens who are “suffering” as much as they are is completely inexcusable!

    An all-out use of force and blitzkrieg approach will do very little in containing this disturbing phenomenon, as was done in 2009 when the leader Mohammed Yusuf was murdered by the police. Presently the Joint Military Taskforce has been accused of murdering innocent civillians including women and children in Borno state. This will only fuel resentment for security agencies amongst ordinary citizens.

    Jonathan needs to muster the political will to tackle this phenomenon decisively by showing that he is a national leader, not a sectional leader as he is widely perceived in many parts of the country, and as some of his actions are showing. There also needs to be an overhaul of the entire security apparatuses which are plagued by incompetence and mediocrity.

  • Posted by Maduka


    Terrorism is a criminal offence, they are criminals.

    They are not the only graduates without jobs. I had a Masters degree, yet I was jobless. I did not retaliate against the Nigerian state by committing senseless acts of violence.

    My elder brother was jobless for more than a year and virtually all of my relatives have been jobless at one time or another. Joblessness is common in Nigeria, they should get over it.

    If all jobless graduates in Nigeria were violent, Nigeria will cease to exist as a united entity.

  • Posted by Musbau Abdulazeez

    The boko haram terror campaigns in northern nigeria is more of a problem of a decayed elite class looking for ways to remain relevant in the country’s political calculus under the unexpected presidency of a southern nminority than religious . Prior to the murder of their leader, the sect never vociferously agitated for the practice of shariah law in the north for most northern states have codified sharia legal system. The sect is only a political weapon. And this explains why the traditional ruling class and the intellengentsia in the north have remained criminally silent in the face of war _like bombings by boko haram; but were alwyas swift to condemn MEND at the height of their terror campaigns. UNtil the traditionala institution in thwee north rein those people the world should expect more damning attacks from them

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