John Campbell

Africa in Transition

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

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Nigeria’s Boko Haram Releases New Videos

by John Campbell
March 26, 2014

Pius Nna, the village head of Angwan Gata, walks through one of the rooms destroyed when gunmen attacked his village in Kaura local government Kaduna State, March 19, 2014. (Afolabi Sotunde/Courtesy Reuters) Pius Nna, the village head of Angwan Gata, walks through one of the rooms destroyed when gunmen attacked his village in Kaura local government Kaduna State, March 19, 2014. (Afolabi Sotunde/Courtesy Reuters)

On March 14, fighting broke out in the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri, including at the Giwa Barracks –the military’s main headquarters in Borno. “Boko Haram” claims it secured the release of two thousand detainees during the siege on the barracks. Abubakar Shekau released two new videos to claim responsibility for the attack.

Shekau, the successor to Mohammed Yusuf, who was killed by the police in 2009; is a leader of “Boko Haram,” the Islamist insurgency in northern Nigeria. As reports of the videos makes their way into the Nigerian press, they raise many questions.

The Daily Trust, a leading newspaper published in the north, reports that the attackers had camera men who captured the Giwa Barracks raid on film in great detail. The video apparently shows no resistance from the Nigerian security forces, but it also notes some 500 dead bodies were found in the aftermath of the fighting, though no casualties are shown in the video itself. Whether the dead were killed by the security services, Boko Haram, or by both is an open question.

Leadership, an Abuja-based newspaper, quotes passages from Shekau’s video. In them he reiterates that Western education is forbidden, all universities should be closed, and he calls for girls to return to their homes. He says that in Islam “infidel” women may be enslaved, and that Boko Haram will begin selling infidel women in the market “in due course.” He repeats that Boko Haram will kill all Muslim clerics who oppose it. But, he reserves his most blood-curdling language for the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), the civilian vigilante groups that oppose Boko Haram: “I cannot be happy if I don’t personally put my knife on your necks and slit your throats.”

In what may be a new departure, Shekau calls on his “brethren” throughout the country to take up arms and attack. He specifically mentions Abuja, Lagos, and the South: “Even as an individual, take up your swords and slaughter anyone you come across in his sleep…take up knives and start slaughtering people. Just pick up your knife and break into homes and kill.”

What are we to make of this? The fighting at Giwa Barracks hardly appears to be the government victory that the security services have claimed. The video seems to indicate that Boko Haram fighters were able to penetrate and destroy much of Maiduguri’s most important military installation. An unknown number of detainees escaped, though how many were Boko Haram and how many were innocents remains unknown. As for Shekau, Leadership’s evaluation is that: “Shekau’s video portrays him as a true lunatic.” Perhaps, but Boko Haram seems to be remarkably successful. Perhaps most disturbing is Shekau’s call for Boko Haram to attack all over the country. Though, it remains to be seen whether Boko Haram has the influence and reach to operate outside parts of the north.

Post a Comment 6 Comments

  • Posted by Ik Ejekwumadu

    It is very surprising that this blog and its writers stick to a mono-directional narrative on the Boko Haram – the one that constructs the insurgency as a “popular grassroots uprising against the largely marginal Abuja Government”. Secondly, you always focus on abuses of security operatives and the failures of the government but you hardly try to comment on the crimes against humanity that this group commits on daily basis. How do you really come to your conclusions, such that views the statements from the video to kill innocent people in their sleep as a grassroots response to marginalisation? Every Nigerian political analyst who actually knows anything about the country would tell you that the disconnection between Abuja and the citizens cuts across all regions of the country. You have many times tried to talk of a “wealthy South” and an “impoverished North” and try to make these differences in development outcome seem a result of Southern marginalization of the North. The “prosperity” in the South is not even fairly distributed and much of it is concentrated in the hands of the small midlle class in Lagos and some other cities. Secondly, the better outcomes in the South are largely down to their greater orientation towards western modernity, stronger community and private investment in human capacity and infrastructural development. It has little to do with what Abuja does (moreover Abuja has mostly been controlled by the North). If I may ask, what is the latent intention of this blog?

  • Posted by Chike

    At times like this, we have to take a step back – beyond predictable denigration of the operational capacity of the Nigerian military and the lack of capacity of the Nigerian government – and seriously think about what an Islamist insurgency does to a nation like Nigeria.

    The simple narrative promoted by many Western analysts is that it “damages Goodluck Jonathan’s credibility and the popularity of his government” – that is extremely simplistic.

    Many audiences will listen to Shekau – among them are Nigeria’s (largely Catholic & Evangelical) Christian community. About 50% of Nigeria’s population.

    These people have an entirely different interpretation of Boko Haram’s raison d’etre, who supports them, and what is responsible for their continued existence from Western analysts.

    It is extremely important to consider how Shekau is understood in Port Harcourt, Makurdi or Jos – not simply in Maiduguri or Washington D.C.

    We also need to understand that Nigeria is fighting an insurgency – and it is very difficult to fight insurgencies. American scholars may not instinctively understand this, but British scholars would (the UK government fought the IRA insurgency for almost 30 years before resolution).

    The Nigerian government (lacking many of the capabilities of the British government), is fighting two insurgencies. You cannot simply reform your security services in the midst of an insurgency & implementing all these recommendations will be both expensive and extremely difficult.

    We need to realize this, to look beyond “the Jonathan administration”.

    North Eastern Nigeria has a talent for being under the thrall of “mad men”. Shekau is the 21st Century equivalent of “Maitatsine” and as long as the low literacy rate (a deliberate policy of North Eastern leaders) persists – that region will simply wait for the next set of mad men.

    The Nigerian political elite is simply unserious – all of them, no matter where they come from. Some of them are using Boko Haram as a pretext to lobby the West or to seek some political advantage in order for them to occupy Abuja in 2015.

    Western analysts should be wary of being used as pawns by unscrupulous Nigerian politicians – there are too many layers of complexity in Nigeria (the simple “North/South dichotomy” promoted by many Western analysts – does not exist).

  • Posted by Nathaniel Manni

    It appears that the Boko Haram insurgency is gaining momentum throughout northern Nigeria. As the group seeks to expand its operations to major population centers such as Abuja and Lagos, we may see a dramatic decrease in FDI flowing into Nigeria due to decreased stability; resulting in the continent’s up-and-coming economic powerhouse falling by the wayside. If Goodluck Jonathan’s government wishes to secure Nigeria’s economic prosperity, they must pursue an effective counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy which integrates the Muslim north into mainstream Nigerian society; simultaneously targeting key leadership within the organization.

    Should the Nigerian government continue using heavy handed tactics to deal with the insurgency and continue neglecting the northern states, Boko Haram will expand its operations; destabilizing the entire region and scaring away foreign investors.

  • Posted by Ik Ejekwumadu

    @Nathaniel, I think you scarcely understand Nigeria and her already stretched fault lines. The greatest mistake Boko Haram will make will be to venture into the South. They have not done so not because they lack the capacity or the tight security in the country but they too well understand the political economy of their madness. Doing so will lead to widespread ethnic and national crisis which the unity of the country will hardly survive. The reason the crisis has not already pulled down the country is because their activities have been restricted to the North and the disconnection of Nigerian’s from and lack of concern for challenges outside their region has so far insulated widespread social unrest. It is a metaphor that Nigeria’s unity is surviving on the lack of unity. The need for continued access to the oil wealth in the Niger Delta for the North will deter the Boko Haram from ever conceiving an attack on the South. It is a costly venture they understand very well.

  • Posted by Nathaniel Manni

    @ Ik Ejekwumadu, I must disagree. Boko Haram is currently seeking to expand its operations into southern Nigeria; as evidenced by Shekau’s recent statement encouraging sympathizers throughout the country to take up arms. The fact that he specifically mentions Abuja, Lagos and the south in general is further evidence of this.

    To say that Boko Haram has not ventured south because they realize that it will plunge Nigeria into chaos simply does not make sense. Are you saying that Boko Haram somehow benefits from Nigeria’s oil revenue? I would say just the opposite and that the lack of oil revenue being invested in the north has led to a widespread sense of disenfranchisement amongst northern Muslims; something which has helped Boko Haram survive.

  • Posted by Chike

    @Nathaniel Manni

    “I would say just the opposite and that the lack of oil revenue being invested in the north has led to a widespread sense of disenfranchisement amongst northern Muslims;”

    Once again, this demonstrates that you know very little about Nigeria. This “lack of oil revenue being invested in the North” is simply not true. In fact, the bulk of the Nigerian government’s industrial investments have been in the North. I will list them.

    1. A refinery was built in Kaduna (1,000 km) from the coast & from the oil & gas resources of the Niger Delta.

    2. A multi-billion dollar steel mill was built in Ajaokuta.

    3. A steel rolling mill was built in Katsina.

    4. A cement plant was built in Ashaka.

    5. A standard-gauge, double-track high speed railway (the first of its kind) is being built between Abuja & Kaduna.

    6. Nigeria’s new capital, Abuja – was built entirely from the scratch (with money from the Niger Delta), in the North.

    7. The Defense Industries Corporation was built in Kaduna.

    8. The North has better roads & infrastructure than the South (the legacy of 38 years of Northern rule).

    9. Far too many examples to mention.

    On the other hand, as a “punishment” for the Nigerian Civil War, the South East was denied an international airport (President Jonathan just gave them one) & a second bridge over the River Niger.

    The only federal govt investment in the South East was the now defunct Mercedes Benz plant in Enugu. Yet the South East hasn’t spawned an insurgency.

    Before you comment, please try and understand Nigeria. Every one in Nigeria is rightly “marginalized”. What we should aim for is full inclusion, no selecting the latest winners of the “marginalization Olympics”.

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