Nigeria: Boko Haram fact-file

Bomb attacks on government buildings by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram killed at least 165 people in the northern city of Kano on January 20th, the biggest death toll in a single day yet. 

President Goodluck Jonathan said in January that Islamic militants pose a worse threat to the country than the 1967-1970 Biafra civil war. Analysts say the threat will disappear only if the Nigerian government manages to reduce the region’s chronic poverty and builds an education system which gains the support of local Muslims. In 2011, Boko Haram was responsible for more than 450 killings in Nigeria.

Boko Haram means “Western education is sacrilege (or sin)” in the local Hausa language.  The group is believed to include different factions, including those with political links as well as a hard-core Islamist cell that has drawn supporters from young people in the deeply impoverished north. Its Arabic name is Jama’atu Ahlus Sunnah Lidda’awati Wal Jihad, roughly translated as “People Committed to the Prophet’s Teachings for Propagation and Jihad”. It does not have a clear structure or evident chain of command. It exploits the divisions between the impoverished north and oil-rich south.

When did it begin?
The organisation was first set up in 2002. An early version of the group formed in 2004 went by the name the “Nigerian Taliban”. A group of around 200 sect members set up a camp dubbed “Afghanistan” in the village of Kanamma on the border with Niger. From there it launched attacks on police stations, killing policemen and stealing ammunition.

Who is the leader?
A charismatic figure named Mohammed Yusuf whose fiery speeches condemning the military and corrupt leaders were sold on audiotapes and DVDs, is credited as the founder. Yusuf was captured in 2009 and was later killed, allegedly while trying to escape.

The sect went dormant for more than a year before re-emerging in 2010 with a series of assassinations. Yusuf’s deputy, Abubakar Shekau, is widely believed to currently lead the main Islamist cell.

What do they want?
Boko Haram initially sought the creation of an Islamic state based on Sharia in the north of Nigeria, but is now said to have aspirations to spread this further. The August 2011 attack on the UN building in Abuja was a sign of this. The Kano attack was also “to avenge the persecution” of Boko Haram members in Kano, spokesman Abu Qaqa said.

What are its links to other terror groups?
It is unclear whether Boko Haram has any formal links to terror outfits outside Nigeria. Its aims and ideology are comparable to Al Qaeda’s, particularly in its emphasis on the individual obligation to wage jihad, and the adoption of takfiri (excommunication) ideology.

It has apparent ties to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQLIM), which operates in North Africa and the Sahara. Abubakr Shekau has reportedly sworn allegiance to Abdelmalek Droudkel, AQLIM’s founder and leader.

The White House’s National Strategy for Counterterrorism reported in June 2011 that AQLIM has trained Boko Haram members as part of its efforts to spread its influence outside its traditional region of operations.

It may have also established ties with Al Shabaab in Somalia. A blog dedicated to Boko Haram’s fatwas posted a photo claiming to depict group members training in Somalia.

How is it funded?
The group is largely self-financed, reportedly in part by demanding that members turn over their possessions, but unconfirmed reports indicate that it may receive financial support from other Islamic militants and traditional sponsors of terrorism.

What has been done to try and stop them?
The Nigerian government has proved unable to stop the group, despite heavy-handed military crackdowns which analysts say only worsen the problem, causing civilians who may not otherwise sympathise with the extremists to do so.  Dialogue has been mooted but only after the group renounces violence.

On December 13th 2011 President Jonathan announced that the government would spend a staggering Naira 921bn (US$5.5 bn.) of the N4,749 bn budget for 2012 on the armed forces and security services. He declared a state of emergency in parts of four states in the north-east region on December 31st 2011.

Boko Harem’s attacks

2009: Hundreds killed when Maiduguri police stations stormed. A confrontation between authorities and sect followers seeking to attend a funeral for Boko Haram members killed in a road accident led to nearly a week of fighting that ended with a military assault that left some 800 dead and the sect’s mosque and headquarters in the northeastern city of Maiduguri in ruins. Mohammed Yusuf captured by army, handed to police, later found dead

Sep 2010: Hundreds of prisoners are set free from Maiduguri jail

Dec 2010: Bombed Jos, killing 80 people and blamed for New Year’s Eve attack on Abuja barracks

2010-2011: Dozens killed in Maiduguri shootings

May 2011: Bombed several states after president’s inauguration

June 2011: Police HQ bombed in Abuja

Aug 2011: Suicide bombing of the UN HQ bombed in Abuja killing 24 people.

Nov 2011: Co-ordinated bomb and gun attacks in Yobe and Borno states

Dec 2011: Multiple bomb attacks on churches on Christmas Day kill dozens.

In January 2012, as well as the Kano attack, gunmen killed at least 11 people when they attacked a bank, a police station and a hotel in the northeastern town of Tafawa Balewa, about 100 km south of Bauchi, police said. Churches in Bauchi were damaged by night-time explosions.

Find out more with the following back issues of the Africa Research Bulletin

Christmas Bombings (Vol. 48 no. 12)

Latest Boko Haram attacks  (Vol. 48 No. 11)

Security Report (Vol. 48 No 10)

Subscribe to the Africa Research Bulletin today