The threat of Boko Haram for Nigeria, Africa, and beyond

Earlier this month, J. Peter Pham of The Africa Center for Strategic Studies provided an in-depth analysis of the militant Islamic group Boko Haram. He makes the important point that since the group’s reemergence in 2010 and its association with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Boko Haram has grown to present a threat not only to Nigeria, but also across Africa and globally.

Boko Haram is a militant Islamic group that has become prominent in northern Nigeria. Founded in the early 2000s by Mohammed Yusuf, the group emerged during violence that split Nigeria along ethnic and religious lines. The Christian south receives most of the economic benefits from Nigeria’s extensive oil resources. The relative poverty in the Muslim north has created increasing dissatisfaction with the government. Boko Haram’s goal has been to establish an Islamic state throughout Nigeria.

In 2009, the group was weakened by a major government crackdown and the death of its leader, Yusuf. But since 2010, it has been rebuilding itself with new leadership, manpower, and tactics, and has renewed its terrorist campaign within Nigeria. According to Pham:

Since late 2010, the organization has been responsible for a brutal campaign of attacks target-ing public officials and institutions and, increasingly, ordinary men, women, and children, wreaking havoc across northern Nigeria. At least 550 people were killed in 115 separate attacks in 2011, a grisly toll that has been accelerating.

Featuring prominently in Boko Haram’s renewal is the assistance the group has received from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). AQIM claims that it has provided Boko Haram with weapons, training, and other support. As Pham writes:

Abu Musab Abdel Wadoud (also known as Abdelmalek Droukdel), the emir of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the head of al Qaeda’s North African franchise stated that his group would provide Boko Haram with weapons, training, and other support in order to expand its own reach into Sub-Saharan Africa not only to gain “strategic depth,” but also to “defend Muslims in Nigeria and stop the advance of a minority of Crusaders.

An additional sign of AQIM involvement is Boko Haram’s adoption of new tactics. For example, Boko Haram now employs suicide attacks, something not previously seen in Nigeria. And Boko Haram is also allowed to use AQIM’s media operation, al Andalus.

Association with Boko Haram has proven to be a significant development for AQIM as well; the al Qaeda affiliate has long had a strategic goal to extend its reach beyond its base in Northern Africa and into the rest of Africa. Pham’s article highlights al Qaeda’s pronouncements on this topic:

In June 2006, for example, Sada al-Jihad (Echo of Jihad), the magazine published by what was then al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, published a lengthy article by Abu Azzam al-Ansari entitled “Al-Qaeda is Moving to Africa.” The author was quite upfront about the jihadist agenda for Africa: “There is no doubt that al-Qaeda and the holy warriors appreciate the significance of the African regions for the military campaigns against the Crusaders.

Boko Haram provides al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb with an avenue to expand its operations in Africa. The two groups can be considered to be affiliated organizations, having causes and goals in common. They share ambitions in Nigeria, as well as in greater Africa and globally. Leaders of both organizations have publicly pledged mutual support. Abubakar bin Muhammad Shekau, head of Boko Haram, has linked the jihad being fought by Boko Haram with the global jihad. He has threatened attacks not only in Nigeria but also against “outposts of Western culture.”

Boko Haram, in association with AQIM, constitutes a threat not only to Nigeria, but also a wider, transnational, threat. Because Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer and most populous state, instability there has significant global implications. In addition, Boko Haram’s increasing ability to expand its operations beyond its northeastern Nigeria base poses a potential threat across Africa.

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  • Devin Leonard says:

    This is why we need to start assisting the nigerian Govt. more proactively in combating Boko. Drones and perhaps even Spec Ops would be reasonable in my opinion.

  • Neo says:

    @ Devin
    I’m not sure drones help much in Northern Nigeria. The militants are still relatively few and in amongst the population. You need effective local human intelligence on the ground and more effective policing. Figuring out who they are and where they are is more of a problem than getting too them once you have the intel.

  • Mr. Radin
    Thank you for the informative and timely note about Boko Haram.
    I must take issue with the need to insert the statement “The relative poverty in the Muslim north has created increasing dissatisfaction with the government.”
    It is simply not accurate to link poverty as the cause of or as a major catalyst for increased Muslim radicalism.
    We have a much more nuanced understanding of the cause of radicalism. This phenomenon famously latches on to grievances and rides them in order to build its power base.
    If not poverty, it would have likely found another.
    While I have not addressed the specifics of Boko Haram, I have found that the following theory explains the onset of radicalism in Muslim communities remarkably well: popularization or propagation of sharia and jihad in Muslim communities leads to backwardness and violent extremism in those communities.
    A full-fledged scholarship outlining this theory can be found here:
    I have developed a metric that provides a rough indication of the support Boko Haram enjoys among the local populace. Accordingly, about 56% of the Muslims in Nigeria identify with a core aspiration (a state governed by sharia) of Boko Haram.
    Good luck trying to battle it with Drones and Special Ops. This will be akin to trying to swat mosquitoes one-by-one without doing anything about the swamp.

  • Devin Leonard says:

    These are good points, but we can still be helpfull to the Nigerian Govt. with providing intel and logistical support so that their own Govt. can do a better job at wrapping up Boko on their own.

  • Eric says:

    The US Dept of state needs to provide more assistance Nigerian government efforts to correct the uneven income disrtibution in the north that drives Boko Haram’s base in the population. AQIM is not a good resource fit with Boko Haram, and the alliance is mostly just talk so far. Boko Haram has very limited access to Nigerian infrastructure. What the Nigerian government is unable to do because of corruption and underdeveloped institutions deserves more western attention and funding, as a hedge against projected military costs in the region. China has injected billions into central and west africa, but not much of it has had an impact on african institutional improvements. Distributed as power buys and bribes, China’s investments have had less than a positive impact on african governance and less still on the people’s bottom line. This is where the western nations should be at work.
    It remains to be seen in action, but once again the west has a perfect opportunity to stand with Nigeria as an ally, and go to work on the corruption and law enforcement environments these uprisings are getting started in. Pretty much goes for each Arab spring country as well, maybe. Nigeria’s christian majority sees things very differently, and there is no real chance of an islamic government by popular vote.

  • williams says:

    lets forget the isue of abject poverty in the northern part of nigeria.generaly there is poverty in the whole tribes in the country.i think this rubbish and useles attitude should not be linked with their level of is politicaly finetuned.the sponsorers are in the government of nigeria.if they are not part of the nigerian government,why have they not attacked the senators or the house of assembly in any of their meeting days.let any of these attacks directly affect them or any of them if there would be solution or bokoharam in nigeria is supported by some politicians.

  • Joacham says:

    The government of Nigeria has been run by NorthernerS since Nigeria’s Independence. The former Saduana of Sokoto and Hausa/Fulani Norhern think that Nigeria belongs to them. The poulation of Nigeria is about 50/50 Muslim in the north and christian in the south. All the past presidents, military dictators except Obasanjo have all come from the north. Their states consume 2/3 of Nigeria’s oil wealth. The professors and intellectuals come from the south. Since independen the south embraced western education, while the north adopted backward Arab culture. Their women hardly go to school. Self chosen illiteracy is the norm in the north, where government is looked upon as the family bread winner. Their few, but extremely wealthy leaderss control nearly all the privately ownEd oil blocks in south, while the north does not produce a single barrel of oil. They made clear, it is Sharia, Northern domination and war against Jonathan or no peace. They are killing Christains, bombing churches, Killing christians celrbrating Christmas and Easter with sophistecated bombs manufactured by very poor hungry people. They have tons and tons of these bombs purchased for pennies as some some fools in Washinton would want you believe. Whether you believe or not Arab countries and Northern Nigeria politicians are behind this eveil. The arms sold to Saidi Arabis, QATA, Kwuwait, Iran and Perhaps Pakistan are killing innocent Nigerians. You remember how they armed the Lybian rebels so as to grab oil in Lybia. They have already accepted the nonsense and lies from the north in preparation for backing them in the event of a civil war so that Nigeria’s oil will continue to be exploited by Shell and Cheron through Northern Oligarchy just as you have in Saudi Arabia and other oil producing countries. Igbos, Yorubas, Itshekiris, Ijaws, Ibibios, kalagbaris, Ogonis, and Middle belters, it is time for decision. It is now or never or you will be slaves and forced to be Muslims forever. They have made it clear- It is Islam or death, and they now have Muslim/Islamic sympathtizers in Washington. STOP FIGHTING AMONG YOUSELVES IN THE SOUTH. Read US REP IN NIGERIA’S Analysis- Johnny Carson. He has sold his biased pro Muslim distortion of the facts to Wasghinton, and the rest of the southerners except paster Ayo Oritsajafor has tried to counter him. He was preparing the ground. These bombers are indeed RICH.

  • Potiskum Man says:

    One false information in this piece is that the South of Nigeria benefits most from the oil wealth. This is absolutely false. The oil comes from the South, while the North controls the oil wealth. All the past dictators of Nigeria, with the exception of one, came from the North. Northerners are predominantly Muslims, but with a sizeable Christian miniority. Some states in the North are mostly Christian. The Christian South is peaceful – no religious violence as such. Most Nigerian presidents have been Muslims in a country where Muslims are not the majority. Boko Haram is killing Christians because today a Christian is the president in Nigeria. Terrorists will always find reasons to kill.

  • bada says:

    may God help us all in Nigeria.if how government cant overcome this boko haram sec. Let them meet other countries for assitance.we are tired of these crisis,nigeria was a country of peace n love among all in respective of our poverty level.ur government and co have take us for grounted even when we cry and smile in this the way other countries do to their loyal citizens?may God help us……


Islamic state



Al shabaab

Boko Haram