The Fight Against Boko Haram
Boko Haram is a phrase that in Western media outlets is often associated with planned terrorism and ties to the barbaric actions of the alleged Islamic State. Boko Haram roughly translates to “western education is a sin,” according to several African language experts, with the word haram translated from Arabic to mean “forbidden”. Although the organization’s full name is Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad, the shorter moniker is an umbrella title for a group of radical Islamic militants in West Africa, specifically in northeastern Nigeria, dedicated to collective resistance against the Nigerian government. Since its formal convening in 2009, the organization’s intention has been clear: implementing in-state Sharia law, or rules and regulations based on traditional interpretations of Islam, by any means necessary.
Though at first thought, its goal may not seem entirely irrational, especially since insurgency and regime changes very rarely happen without war or bloodshed to accompany them, this group uses gruesome war tactics to commit atrocities against the people of Nigeria in trying to achieve that goal. One of the most prominent examples of Boko Haram’s terror was its kidnapping of over 200 Nigerian schoolgirls in 2014 from a town in northeastern Nigeria, a tragedy that has yet to have any reconciliation. Though social media has raised significant awareness worldwide through the hashtag #BringOurGirlsBack, many of the girls from the boarding school remain missing. The kidnappings were ultimately a victory for Boko Haram.
In terms of actual war-style attacks, Boko Haram is notorious for setting off bombs, raiding villages and towns, and killing innocent villagers and townspeople not affiliated with the war. Just recently, the group has declared internationally that they were responsible for the suicide bombing in the Nigerian state of Kano that killed over 21 people. However, this event was not mutually exclusive with the group’s raid of several villages on the same day, therefore highlighting that these surprise attacks could be an attempt to illustrate the Nigerian government’s inability to prepare civilians for the worst possible scenarios.
Earlier this year, former President of Nigeria Goodluck Jonathan lost in the national Nigerian elections to former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, who became the first opposition leader to win in a Nigerian election. Many civilians felt that Goodluck Jonathan turned a blind eye to Boko Haram and placated the Nigerian public with hollow promises and empty rhetoric. As a result, they turned to a new leader in Buhari, whom they deem fit to fight the battle against the terrorist group.
While Nigerian government forces have recently been reporting that the tables are turning in their favor, a large portion of civilians are becoming impatient with the government’s inability to effectively oust Boko Haram’s forces. One of the largest independently formed civilian militias that is making progress in the fight against Boko Haram is known as the Civilian J.T.F., a group that exerts the majority of its energy capturing younger and older men who have either joined the group already or are close to joining them and turning them into the Nigerian government. These men have been partly responsible for pushing Boko Haram back into the uppermost parts of the country. The Nigerian military reported that, in September, it had helped free 241 women and children from camps held by the terrorist group while also arresting a local leader that ran the camps in that part of Nigeria.
Boko Haram’s main weakness is that the majority of its members are concentrated within the relatively small region of northeastern Nigeria. Though it may not seem significant, this concentration makes the fight against the terrorist group all the easier.
Thus, there appears to be significant resistance in the face of Boko Haram, at least enough to almost maintain a stronghold in Northeastern Nigeria. The issue, however, is that as “weak” as Boko Haram is supposedly becoming, it remains prevalent because of aid and weaponry that comes from groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Earlier this year, Boko Haram pledged to support the Islamic State in its endeavors, and the Islamic State willingly accepted. Perhaps this is the reason that the group has been able to continue acting as a terrorist group.
Whether the Nigerian government is pulling its weight in the fight, Boko Haram’s allies directly join the fight, or members of NATO or the United Nations act to protect the innocent people of Nigeria, this current situation is nothing short of complicated. There does not appear to be an easy answer to solve the question how to get rid of a terrorist group that unjustly uses religion to proliferate its gruesome agenda.
- James Sabia