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Boko Haram can be considered as the most significant threat to the most populous country of Africa. As a result of the insurgency, which was led by this Islamist group, tens of thousands of people have lost their lives and millions of people have been displaced during the recent years. There are times when the violence spilled over the borders of Nigeria into other countries situated in the Lake Chad Basin. According to certain experts the brutal campaign carried out by Boko Haram, including the burning of villages, attacks on schools and a large number of abductions, can be considered as a respond to the long-standing, religious tensions, widening economic disparity and the political corruption in Nigeria. The heavy handedness of and the police and counterterrorism tactics adopted by the government have also fueled the flame of the group, according to the analysts.
The government of Nigeria has been using its regional power and influence for controlling how the Boko Haram features on African agenda and that of international security. However, although reluctantly it has started to accept that it requires external assistance. With the spread of insurgency by Boko Haram, the neighboring countries of Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon have offered to cooperate with Nigeria to stop the progress of the militant group. The search for regional solution achieved the momentum in May 2014.
In October 2014, the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) agreed regarding a plan for deploying a multinational joint task force to deal with the activities of Boko Haram. According to the terms of regional and global security governance related with the legitimate use of military force, the proposal required form of authorization by the African Union and also by the UN Security Council. Consequently, the African Union formally authorized the task force for an initial period of 12 months. It also called on the Security Council for doing the same and also to provide logistical and financial support to the task force.
What is Boko Haram: it is an Islamist group that is based in the North East of Nigeria. The group was created by Mohammed Yusuf, who is an influential Islamist cleric from the Borno State, in 2002. The main objective of this group, which started as an offshoot of the Salafi movement, which is a branch of Sunni Islam is the establishment of fundamentalist Islamic state that has Sharia criminal courts. The followers of the movement were known as Yusuffiya comprise of the northern Islamic students and clerics. However, they also include professionals has a lot of them are struggling to find a job. However, it is difficult to exactly trace the size of Boko Haram. But according to an estimate by the US intelligence officials, the hard-core militants are anywhere between four and six thousand. However there are other analysts, according to whom the membership of the group can be three times more. At this point, it also it should be noted that a large number of the fighters of the group and also its victims are likely to be Kanuri Muslims, who are the major ethnic group in Borno.
Political and social economic background: according to a large number of analysts, it is believed that the rise of Boko Haram was the result of deep religious and ethnic cleavages that have troubled Nigeria for long. During the nearly half century tool of the British, various territories and people having little in common, apart from geographic proximity have been merged. There are nearly 350 ethnic groups in Nigeria, which include the Hausa and Fulani (29%), Yaruba (21%) the Igbo (18%) the Ijaw (10%) and Kanuri (4%).
Another significant thing that needs to be noted in this context is that the nation has been roughly divided between the North dominated by the Muslims and the South, dominated by the Christians. For decades, these two largest religious groups of the country have generally followed an informal power rotation agreement regarding the presidency, even if political friction is still a major factor in the present unrest in the country.
Another factor that has significantly contributed to the rise of the group is the record of political corruption and inequality in Nigeria. Although, Nigeria is the biggest economy of Africa, and it is also the home to vast amount of natural resources, still Nigeria is one of the poorest populations of the continent. Nearly half of the 200 million people of Nigeria live on less than $1.90 per day. It is also worth mentioning that poverty is much higher in the northern regions dominated by the Muslims. Oil also played a significant role in the creation of economic inequality in the country. The reason is that and the oil revenues have been tightly held by a small number of elites. The corrupt ministers of the government have also been charged with embezzling tens of billions of dollars from the oil sector.
Therefore, analysts believed that the rise of Boko Haram also signifies the maturation of long festering extremist impulses that were deeply present in the social reality of the northern part of the country. They claim that Boko Haram in itself is in effect and not a cause. The group can be described as a symptom of the failure of the government for decades and elite delinquency, which finally resulted in to social chaos. After Nigeria gained independence in 1960, it have to deal with a wave of instability, which included at least half a dozen coups, decades of rule by the military and the Civil War (during 1967 to 1970). This war alone claimed nearly 2,000,000 lives and a large number of people lost their lives as a result of the blockade induced famine.
The rise of the group: During the initial years of Boko Haram, Yusuf was critical of the northern Muslims or they have participated in what he considered to be an illegitimate, non-Islamic state. Therefore in context of northern Nigeria, Yusuf's vision was extreme, but not so extreme that it may be considered as unrecognizable. In different ways, most of the Muslims in the northern part of the country believe that Islam provides a framework that should be used for shaping public life.
The group started to radicalize between episodic clashes that took place between Muslims and Christians. At the same time, security forces adopted very harsh measures against the suspected militants. The flashpoint for Boko Haram was in 2009 when as a result of a police crackdown, an armed uprising was set off in Bauchi State, and soon it spread throughout the Northeast. More than 800 people were killed by the government forces. These included a large number of suspected members of the group in the ensuing protests. After the uprising, Yusuf was murdered when he was in police custody.
Evolution of Boko Haram: after the death of Yusuf, Boko Haram was divided into at least two factions. Today, one section is headed by Abubakar Shekau. This section appears to be focused on fighting with the government of Nigeria in the Northeast. On many occasions, a claim has been made by the military of Nigeria that Shekau had been killed, but the videos of the leader can also be seen as recently as 2018.
On the other hand, the second faction of Boko Haram has been led by Yusuf's son, Abu Musab al-Barkawi for the last two years. It is said that this section has similar ultimate goals like the Shekau, but it has less strict view regarding what amounts to apostasy. According to some analysts, the increasing grisly nature of the atrocities committed by Boko Haram has resulted in the divide within the group. According to the Nigerian security officials and Boko Haram analysts, varying assessments can be offered regarding the links of the group with other Islamist militant groups. These include Al Qaeda, and also the self proclaimed Islamic State. In 2015 the group declared its allegiance to the IS, proclaiming itself to be the West African Province of the Islamic State. According to some experts, by focusing on the affiliation to these groups, the context in which Boko Haram emerged has been downplayed. On the other hand, according to some others, ignoring the evidence of the links of Boko Haram with other Islamist militant groups may obstruct the understanding regarding the insurgency.
Tactics of Boko Haram: a large number of activities of the group are the ones that are typically related with terrorism. These include kidnappings, suicide bombings, destruction of property, particularly the schools. During the recent years, the group has increased its attacks on soft targets or places that are relatively unprotected. More human and children are being used as suicide bombers by the group. Moving ahead of Nigeria, most of the activities of the group are taking place in northern Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
The name of Boko Haram is taken in context of the death of more than 37,000 persons since 2011. The figures have been affirmed by CFR's Nigeria Security Tracker, monitoring the quality of violence taking place in the nation. Nearly half of the persons killed were being suspected as the militants of Boko Haram while around 45 percent of those killed were civilians and the rest of the 5% were the members of security forces.
Response of Nigerian government: With the help of its neighboring states, including Niger, Chad, Cameroon, the security forces of Nigeria have been successful in making significant gains against Boko Haram. However, it appears that the momentum to effectively deal with the insurgent group has somewhat slow down during the recent years. The result is that the community is present in the Northeast region of the country are still beleaguered.
Pres. Goodluck Jonathan initiated a major offensive against the insurgent group in 2013. He also declared a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States. Even if the security forces of the country claimed to achieve some success in pushing the militants of Boko Haram, out of the cities, the attacks by the militants still take place with regularity in the rural areas. At the same time, the government troops have also been accused of the violation of human rights which includes extrajudicial killings.
During 2014 into the 15 the attacks by Boko Haram increased considerably. This raised the suspicions regarding the progress made by the government in containing the militant group. The operations of Boko Haram were particularly brazen, and it claimed a bombing of Abuja bus station in which around 100 persons were killed on April 14, 2014. This was the same day when the group abducted more than 200 schoolgirls from the northeastern town of Chibok. However, the latter attacks resulted in international response and many people severely criticized the slow response of the government of Nigeria at the time.
In 2015, the elected president of the country, Muhammadu Buhari introduces some modest reforms with a view to improve the effectiveness of the government forces against Boko Haram. In this regard, it needs to be noted that Buhari was a former military dictator during 1983 to 1985. He had moved the headquarters of the military from Abuja to Maiduguri and also increased funding for conducting operations in that area. He also appointed new leadership for the military.
Support provided by neighboring countries: in order to deal with Boko Haram, Nigeria military support from its neighboring countries, including Chad, Niger and Cameroon. These countries are also increasingly suffering attacks during the upsurge of Boko Haram. . Consequently after 2015, Niger, Chad and Cameroon deployed a large number of troops as a part of the multinational force that has been authorized by the African Union. Credit goes to the coalition for helping the military of Nigeria in retaking most of the territory that was claimed by the militant group and also in reducing violence associated with the group to the same level as before 2014.
It also needs to be mentioned in this regard that security partners from beyond Africa have also offered their help to Nigeria. For example, Boko Haram has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States in late 2013. However at times, military assistance has been withheld by Washington as a result of the concerns regarding the counterterrorism strategy adopted by Nigeria and its alleged abuse of human rights. After the abductions that took place in Chibok, the United Kingdom, France and the United States also pledged additional support to Nigeria, which included equipment and intelligence support. The assistance provided by the United States amounted to more than $400 million by early 2016. In the same way, in early 2018, Donald J. Trump, the US president posts and nearly $600 million deal for selling a dozen Super Tucano aircraft to Nigeria for the purpose of supporting its counterterrorism activities.
It also needs to be mentioned that on its part, the UN Security Council also introduce economic sanctions and arms embargo against Boko Haram in 2014. According to the analysts, this move was however, mainly symbolic. The reason was that the financial assets and movements of the militants of Boko Haram are not easy to track.
Wider risks to the region: as a result of the activities of Boko Haram. There has been instability across the Lake Chad Basin. This unrest resulted in displacement of millions of people and they were also both at the risk of starvation, education and health services were jeopardized, humanity in aid efforts were stalled and the government authority in Nigeria was undercut within the country and abroad. As a result of the activities of Boko Haram, the international investors were also scared off. This is particularly true in case of Nigeria where it adds to a list of threats, including other militant groups. The target of these groups is the oil infrastructure in the Niger Delta and the sectarian conflict taking place in the middle belt of the country. The result is that since 2011, the inflow of foreign direct investment has decreased significantly. It fell from a high of nearly $9 billion to $3.5 billion in 2017.
A signal is provided by the recent attacks and addictions that even if the militants of Boko Haram have been pushed into remote areas, but still, the insurgent group is likely to continue with the destruction of development of the region for some time. It can be said in the end that Boko Haram represents an ugly paradox. While the ideas of the group have limited appeal, but it has considerable staying power although it is possible to crush the militant group with the help of military but the violence committed by the state fuels the narrative of victimhood of the group.
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