John Campbell

Africa in Transition

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

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Where Is Nigeria’s Boko Haram Going?

by John Campbell
July 29, 2014

Security personnel comb the scene of a bomb explosion at the Sabon Gari bus park in Kano, July 24, 2014. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)


After a weekend of carnage in Kano and two high profile kidnappings in Cameroon—following a nearly successful attempt on the life of former chief of state Muhammadu Buhari—Boko Haram is more than ever a central preoccupation in Nigeria (and now, presumably, in Cameroon).

The only thing we know for certain is how little we actually know about Boko Haram. It should be noted, for example, that Boko Haram has yet to claim responsibility for the attempt on General Buhari’s life. Certain political elements in Nigeria would be happy if Buhari left the scene, and pre-electoral periods in Nigeria are historically murderous. So it is possible that the attempt on Buhari’s life was authored by a group—or individual—other than Boko Haram. It’s also true that Buhari stands for many of the elements that are anathema to Boko Haram, at least in its rhetoric. A genuine Nigerian patriot, he is also a devout Muslim. An active participant in public life, he has constantly interacted with Christians on the basis of mutual respect and shared interests. And his fierce battle against corruption was an attempt to address the fundamental bad governance that has fed Boko Haram. Boko Haram murders Muslims who participate in secular politics, and who oppose the group. It is hostile to Muslims who seek good relations with Christians. It utterly rejects the secular state. Hence, I think it is likely that Boko Haram was in fact the perpetrator. But the evidence remains circumstantial.

So, where is Boko Haram going? Is it seeking to establish a territorial state along the lines of the ‘caliphate’ established by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)? Boko Haram warlord Abubakar Shekau has said he wants to establish a ‘caliphate’ in northern Nigeria, and he has praised the ISIS caliphate. Boko Haram’s recent campaign of bridge destruction in Borno state could be part of an effort to establish a separate territorial entity, one which may be the basis for a caliphate. Perhaps Maiduguri could play a role similar to that of Mosul in Iraq. However, Boko Haram has not yet established any visible institutions of government in the territories it controls, though there are reports that it is levying tolls at checkpoints.

A Boko Haram caliphate is, of course, only speculation for now. But, because the group appears to be evolving quickly, scenarios difficult to imagine only two or three months ago have become plausible.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Obichukwu Matthew

    Type your comment in here…Buhari’s bumb drama was either stage-managed or an autoimmunity of desperate northern agenda. boko haram was quiet until Buhari lost election and made inflammatory statements. Atiku will soon tell us that he narrowly escaped bumb blast after saying he would make the nation ungovernable. who sponsors goko haram? how are they surviving in that forest this rainy season and coordinate all the bumblings in Nigeria? northern elders are deceiving themselves. I have a wisdom gift for them : HE WHO BREEDS WILD DOGS FOR FREINDLY WRESTLING MATCH WITH HIS HUMANE NEIGHBOUR SHOULD REALISE THAT AFTER THE MATCH , HIS ENTIRE COMMUNITY HAS BECOME MAD PEOPLE’S DOMAIN WHERE HIS OWN LIFE IS NO LONGER SAFE. Welcome to the golden rule – AUTOIMMUNITY

  • Posted by Jim Sanders

    U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit activities this week in Washington, D.C. focus attention on the very top of Africa’s leadership hierarchy. But in countries such as Nigeria, where a civil war rages in the northeast, leadership may be emerging that is very far from conventional notions of the phenomenon.

    Much attention is aimed at Boko Haram, and while its leadership models warrant scrutiny, not least because they have been successful, there are now grassroots examples of leadership from among those villagers who are fighting back.

    Events in northeastern Nigeria parallel, to some extent, what is happening in Syria, where tribal groups are unifying to fight against ISIS. CNN reported on May 15, 2014 that Nigerian villagers had fought off a determined Boko Haram offensive, killing many in the process.

    Nigeria’s elected government in Abuja provides little governance and the Nigerian Army’s incompetence as well as the unwillingness of its soldiers to face Boko Haram, mean that it has fallen to ordinary people in villages to defend themselves.

    In this cauldron of war and want, far from the country’s urban centers, it is very possible that a new generation of leaders is germinating. With what consequences down the road, one can only speculate.

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