John Campbell

Africa in Transition

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

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Boko Haram Pivots Toward Rural Areas in Nigeria

by John Campbell
November 19, 2013

Soldiers walk through Hausari village during a military patrol near Maiduguri June 5, 2013. Burnt out vehicles and scattered rubbish is all that's left of a militant camp near Maiduguri, northern Nigeria. (Joe Brock/Reuters Staff)


The jihadist insurgency called Boko Haram appears to have reduced its operations in urban areas. This follows the massive deployment of security forces in northeastern Nigeria in line with the Abuja government’s June proclamation of a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa. According to the media, life has almost returned to normal in some parts of Maiduguri. However, the Nigerian security services claimed in October that they thwarted a possible terrorist attack in Kano, Nigeria’s second largest city.

Despite this relative calm in urban areas, Boko Haram killings and kidnappings have not diminished. Recent analysis of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker indicates that they have in fact increased.

Fighting has instead shifted to rural areas. The media reports Boko Haram efforts to cut off access on the road between Kano and Maiduguri by targeting truck drivers, whom they behead using chain saws. There are also media reports of Boko Haram carrying out forced conversions to Islam in rural areas, with the alternative being death.

This pivot to the countryside follows a familiar pattern. When the Nigerian army crushed the “Nigerian Taleban” in 1993, operatives melted into the countryside. In 2009, when the security forces murdered Boko Haram leader Mohammed Yusuf and some 800 of his followers in Maiduguri, the movement went underground and regrouped under the current leader, Abubakar Shekau.

While the relationship between the “Nigerian Taleban” and “Boko Haram” is murky, both are violent jihadist movements that seek to impose a strict sharia regime on northern Nigeria and perhaps the rest of the country, as well.

So long as northern Nigeria remains alienated from the government in Abuja and profoundly impoverished, with the worst social statistics in the country, jihadist insurrections are likely to be reoccurring.

Post a Comment 4 Comments

  • Posted by Chike

    “So long as northern Nigeria remains alienated from the government in Abuja and profoundly impoverished”.

    So how do you intend to remedy this “alienation”? And why do you imply that Northern Nigeria is the only “alienated” part of Nigeria?

    I pump my water, generate my own electricity, pay out of my pocket for my medical bills, pay for my children’s school fees in private schools (government schools are below par) – am I not “alienated” from the government in Abuja?

    Or should I relocate to Northern Nigeria so you’ll accept without hesitation that I’m also “alienated from the government in Abuja”?

    Nigeria’s problems are deep, complicated and have a historical basis. Sweeping generalizations and simplifications like “Northern Nigeria remains alienated from the government in Abuja” are essentially meaningless – and add zero content to a very politically charged and important argument.

    The Niger Delta is “alienated”, so are the 100 million Nigerians that live on less than a $1 a day. Many other Nigerians who are not as poor are “alienated” by the Nigerian state’s incompetence. Singling out the North as having a monopoly on “alienation” doesn’t help us deal with these problems.

    I need to remind you, constantly, that Northern Nigeria DOES NOT exist in isolation.

  • Posted by jasmine opperman

    Thank you for an excellent blog. It is not only informative but also directs towards issues likely to gain prominence both at state and continental level. This blog is one of my must reads! Jasmine – Editor: TRAC

  • Posted by Uche

    Boko Haram is in the first instance a problem of law and order. The shifting patterns of its activities reflects at least a certain degree of effectiveness of Nigeria’s security forces in combating urban terror and this needs to be recognised with due credit. To our young men and women in uniform risking their lives at the frontline without even the certainty of a timely remuneration by Nigeria’s incompetent federal government and corrupt ministry of defence, we owe a debt of gratitude.

    The shift to rural areas presents unique problems to Nigeria’s ill-equipped military. It is not possible to have boots on the ground over the vast territory that is northeast Nigeria. The Nigerian military will need to develop better intelligence capabilities, small highly mobile forces, close air support capability and a whole new COIN strategy. It is doubtful whether the corrupt goons at the ministry of defence and the top echelons of the military high command can deliver on this.

    It is also time to bring terror suspects to justice. There are far too many in detention without trial. An open, free and fair trial that holds the militants to account for their action publicly will be a big boost for the battle for hearts and minds. In the “liberated” urban areas, the process of transition needs to proceed apace and a fit-for-purpose anti-terrorism police force should gradually take over from the army’s 7th Division.

    It is not entirely clear what Mr Campbell and other so-called “experts” on Nigeria mean when they talk about “alienation” of Northern Nigeria or how much they know about how revenues are shared in Nigeria’s federal system. Except for the Niger-Delta states with extra 13% derivation, all other Nigerian states get proportionate monthly allocations from the federation account according to their population. The differences in social statistics is due to what these states in the various regions choose to do with the money-while some build primary schools, others build mosques. And that is the crux of the matter, a crucial detail that seem to elude quite a lot of commentators.

  • Posted by Oladipo Bakare

    That Ambassador Campbell choose to use the word ‘Alienation’ in his argument of the situation in north eastern Nigeria like all other that see the situation from a position that is aim at a predetermine conclusion. Every Nigerian not connected to power is alienated from Abuja between 1979 and 1999 that the power resided in the north was the north not alienated we still have catalogues of religious crisis. If I may asked what has happened to the north east share of the federation account money sin 1999 if you go their you will not see what it has been used for. Nigerian Import bill in 2010 was $10 billion 85 % of what was imported could be produced in the north east why hasn’t the government in those state key in to that economics opportunities instead of waiting for the government in Abuja .

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