John Campbell

Africa in Transition

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

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Is the Nigerian Military Winning Against Boko Haram?

by Guest Blogger for John Campbell
October 9, 2013

A newspaper is displayed at a vendor stand in Ikoyi district in Lagos September 30, 2013. (Akintunde Akinleye/Courtesy Reuters)


This is a guest post by Emily Mellgard, research associate for the Council on Foreign Relations Africa Studies program.

Five months since the imposition of the state of emergency in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe states on May 14, 2013, it is clear that the dedication of ever growing numbers of troops to the region has increased, not decreased, the levels of  violence. September was the bloodiest month that the Council on Foreign Relations has yet recorded on the Nigeria Security Tracker (NST). Nation-wide, 841 people were killed. Of those, 552 died in Borno state.

If we broaden the lens and look at the entire period of the state of emergency, the picture is even grimmer: 2,226 people have been killed in politically motivated violence in Nigeria in the past five months. Of that total, 1,006 have involved Boko Haram. That’s 45 percent.

Rather than decreasing Boko Haram’s lethality, the state of emergency forced it to change tactics, something it has proven adept at doing.

The five months prior to the state of emergency–December 2012 to April 2013–had an average of seventy-seven incidents per month, and an average of 450 deaths per month. The five months under the state of emergency–May to September–had an average of forty incidents per month, with an average of 518 casualties per month.

As security tightens, it appears that violence is being concentrated into fewer attacks that result in higher casualty rates. For example, of the ten bloodiest incidents since May 2011, four have occurred under the state of emergency. A fifth was the destruction of the fishing town of Baga, which was a catalyst for declaring the state of emergency.

It is important to bear in mind that the NST data is indicative rather than definitive, but the trends are clear.

The security-centric approach that President Goodluck Jonathan is using to suppress the insurrection in the North is not working. Neither “Boko Haram” nor other violent actors in northern Nigeria are going away. The harder the security services push for their eradication, the more they appear to slip through the cracks and re-emerge as something slightly different, but just as deadly.

This strengthens the argument that it is not “merely” a small group of hardcore Islamists intent on jihad who are perpetrating the violence. Instead, the chaos in the region is broader-based, a grassroots rejection of the established political economy.

The culture of violence in Nigeria appears to be escalating, especially in the North. The violence is being perpetrated not just by Boko Haram, but by a plethora of actors related and unrelated to Boko Haram. The Ombatse cult in Nasarawa state is one example. They claim to be trying to restore Nigeria to its pre-colonial perfection. In September they were responsible for at least fifty deaths and the displacement of tens of thousands after they burned down multiple villages. But, they do not appear to be related to the jihadists.

Some of the many individuals and groups acting out in the North are also possibly tied to the recruitment by politicians of gangs to harass their rivals and pressure potential voters in the lead up to the 2015 elections. Radical Islamism is not the only root of Nigeria’s violence, and unleashing military might against the jihadists is unlikely to solve the problem.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Tosin Osasona

    Your thesis on the failure of the declared emergency rule in North East Nigeria failed to ask the most import policy questions,viz: is there a better way of curtailing the Boko Haram escalation of the insurgency to other regions asides the emergency rule? what would the scale of violence in that region be now if the emergency rule was not introduced? overall has emergency rule improved governance in the region?
    Definitely military options alone will not address insurgency in a region blighted by extreme poverty and illiteracy, but the emergency rule has broken the momentum of the Jihadist group.

  • Posted by peccavi

    It is possible to look at the number of casualties as a measure of failure (and they are) but it would depend on what the military objectives are. If the objective is to attrit the enemy, denude their equipment or keep them away from the cities then it is succeeding albeit slowly.
    There is virtually never a purely military solution to an insurgency (although the Sri Lankans will beg to differ, but the 2 cases are different) however there is no logical political solution to the Boko Haram insurgency either as they have no logical objectives one can accede to or negotiate over and no political or ideological figureheads that one can look to for indications of their thinking.
    Other than stabilisation operations, basic development and good governance there is no other option than to use military force against Boko Haram. How much force and how applied is of course debatable

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