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Home Discussion Papers Conflict & Terrorism Nigeria’s Boko Haram: The emerging threat expanding
Nigeria’s Boko Haram: The emerging threat expanding
Written by Annette Theron (1) Monday, 18 July 2011 00:05

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of Islamic sects in Nigeria. Groups such as the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, the Boko Haram (the Nigerian Taliban), the Kala-Kato, and the Tariqqa group have been seeking political and religious changes in the country. Two specific groups are the cause of large internal conflict. In the southeast, there is the conflict in the Niger Delta and, in the northeast, there is Boko Haram.

Boko Haram is of special note, as the group has been growing in scale and has been intensifying their activities. This is why some consider the group as an emerging threat in Nigeria. Others have already identified the group as a threat and emphasise the recognition of the growing menace that this group presents. This paper, therefore, assesses the development, ideology, and activities of this sect to determine whether it is in fact a large-scale threat or simply acting in isolated events that are the result of the situation in Nigeria.

Boko Haram

The current situation in Nigeria has been in development since British control of the state in 1903, as there has been resistance among the area's Muslims to Western education, while civil wars created economic hardship in the country.(2) Since then, the actions of several separatist movements have been set against this state of affairs, while simultaneously shaking the country’s integrity, and thus adding insecurity to the situation.(3) In reaction to this, another organisation developed; the Sahaba group, which was created in 1995. Yet when the leader Abubakar Lawan left to study at the University of Medina, the leadership was conceded to Mohammed Yusuf, who was a young and versatile man.(4) Yusuf, a charismatic Muslim cleric, changed the doctrine of the sect in 2002 and formed Boko Haram. Boko Haram is now an Islamic sect, based largely in the northeast part of Nigeria. The group is based on a fundamentalist ideology, which rejects the legitimacy of the Nigerian state, insists on an Islamist state, and rejects Western education.(5)

In fact, the name, Boko Haram, given to the group by residents in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, where the group has its headquarters, loosely translated means “Western education is forbidden.”(6) The group's official name is Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad, which in Arabic means "People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad."(7) Boko Haram promotes a version of Islam, which forbids Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society. Yusuf has described his group as non-militants - a group of youths who are bent on upholding the words of Allah. Yet the group has also stated, and shown, their willingness to die for an Islamic state and educational system.(8) It is this dedication that makes this group such a threat.

Until recently, the Boko Haram’s trademark has been the use of gunmen on motorbikes. Yet there has been a clear shift in the group’s activities. From gunmen on motorbikes, their activities recently have escalated to another level. It seems that of all the separatist groups operating in Nigeria, the Boko Haram is the most daring and expanding rapidly.(9) It is this intensifying and growth that make the group a possible developing threat, and makes it harder to predict what the group will or will not achieve in the future.

Identifying the emerging threat

Boko Haram has, until recently, focused their activities in the far northeast of the country. However, as mentioned, since 2009, the sect has gradually increased the sphere and range of their activities. The police have been Boko Haram's main target, but they have also bombed churches and assassinated Islamic clerics.(10) These assaults started in 2009 when Boko Haram carried out attacks on police stations and other Government buildings in Maiduguri, which eventually led to shoot-outs in the streets. Hundreds of Boko Haram supporters were killed and thousands of residents fled the city.(11) When the Nigerian security forces finally seized the group's headquarters, capturing its fighters and killing Yusuf, this round of violence ended. Yet, in spite of the loss of leadership, later that year another uprising followed, with the loss of more civilian lives. Since then, Boko Harem has been involved in more bombings, assassinations and armed attacks, targeting police officers, Government officials and religious leaders in Nigeria's north.(12)

Then, on 26 June 2011, Boko Haram detonated bombs and indiscriminately shot revellers at a beer garden in Maiduguri, killing 25 people and wounding 30 others. Later, another 10 people were killed in a car bombing in the city.(13) These attacks are believed to be Nigeria's first suicide bombings, which indicate another development in the group’s activities. The attack also notably came less than 24 hours after the Inspector General of the Police declared that Boko Haram's days were "numbered."(14) The bomb attack by Boko Haram in the capital, Abuja, has raised questions about Nigeria's ability to defend itself, while showing the group’s determination. Having long regarded the Islamist sect as a localised problem, security sources have told BBC News that they now believe the radical Islamist group to be receiving training and expertise from outside Nigeria.(15) Spokesman for Boko Haram, Usman Alzawahiri, has said that Boko Haram personnel had returned from training in Somalia, and have been scattered throughout the north, preparing for intensified attacks.(16) This warning, along with the clear development of the group, has been a troubling expansion for many. It points towards Boko Haram developing from a marginal, violent and radical Islamic sect, into an insurrection that seems to have more widespread support, in spite of their violent means. It also shows that the group is capable of operating in more regions than just the north, by using increasing violent means.

Increasing risk presented, the expanding threat 

These activities have caused upheaval and devastation, and will continue to do so as the threat they pose is unlikely to disappear in a poverty-stricken northern Nigeria. Especially not with a large part of the population against the political and social influence of the West.(17) The roots of the problem are not only religion-oriented, but also tie into the country’s economic hardships and unemployment, as well as into alienation from the central Government.(18) This includes the incapability and lack of political will of the Government to handle these groups, which has allowed the spread and resurgence of Boko Haram, as they question the state’s capabilities. Due to the combination of religious revivalism and weak governance, there has been an uprising and growth of religious sects.  
Nonetheless, of all factors that promote the activities of such terrorist groups, religion still seems to be the most prominent; the group has even been called Nigeria’s version of Osama bin-Laden’s al-Qaeda. There is also a possibility that these groups have received some form of support or have been influenced by a global jihadist movement. One could point to the fact that the organisation is still growing in spite of the death of its leader and several supporters during previous movements. Religious ties have the ability to act as motivation and rationale for insurgencies. Yet, despite Boko Haram's recent claims to ties with violent Islamists in Somalia, security analysts say the group remains a home-grown insurgency with decidedly internal aims, at least for now.(19) It is this dedication that has made the group a threat, two years ago.

Nigerian security forces are cracking down on the militant Islamic group Boko Haram. Nigerian authorities and analysts say the extremist group, once confined to the country's northeast, is becoming a nationwide security threat.(20) Many politicians believe that the solution lies in the adoption of a “carrot and stick” approach; giving people jobs and peace, while those against peace are punished. Thus far, the Government has responded against Boko Haram’s activities by imposing a curfew on the national capital city and restricting the parking of vehicles on certain roads. This is part of "Operation Flush", the Nigerian authorities' attempt to clamp down on the Islamist sect. So far, the operation has not proven successful.(21) President Goodluck Jonathan's much vaunted "carrot and stick" solution has not proven to hold any promise for Boko Haram members. Analysts believe the threat will disappear only if the Nigerian Government manages to reduce the region's chronic poverty and build an education system, which gains the support of local Muslims.(22)

Concluding remarks

Boko Haram’s development since 2009 shows a worrying trend. The group has not been hampered by the death of their charismatic leader or by the death of several followers. In spite of this, the group has been winning support from more people and has shown their ability to operate in more regions and to also intensify their activities. This intensification has included the death of anyone attempting to stop them such as the police or religious leaders, which highlights the need for a solution to the issues that lead to uprisings or even a way to stop this group. However, thus far, the Government has been unable to find any viable solutions for this threat.

The presence of a group such as Boko Haram in the country is dangerous for the state itself and also for the West African sub-region. The problems and effects of these issues in Nigeria will soon spread out to neighbouring states or even encourage similar movements in the region. It would seem that the group is a clear, undeniable threat in the country. The threat has been identified by many in 2009 already, and it would seem that events in 2011 support the idea that the group is expanding and developing, making them a growing danger that Nigeria and the neighbouring regions face. Conflict will be inevitable if a solution is not found soon. Until the group reaches their goal of overthrowing the Nigerian Government, a new host of problems has been brought to the country. 


(1) Contact Annette Theron through Consultancy Africa Intelligence's Conflict and Terrorism Unit ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ).
(2) Chothia, F., ‘Who are Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists?’, BBC African Service, 17 June 2011,
(3) Bokor, M.J.K., ‘Opinion: Boko Haram’s Terrorism does not threaten only Nigeria,’ My Joy, 1 July 2011,
(4) Sani, S., ‘Boko Haram: The Nothern Nigeria (Hausalnd)’, Special Report, 1 July 2011,
(5) Ekine, A., ‘Boko haram – Nigeria’s New National Crisis?’, Pambazuka News, 23 June 2011,
(6) Chothia, F., ‘Who are Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists?’, BBC African Service, 17 June 2011,
(7) Ibid.   
(8) Sani, S., ‘Boko Haram: The Nothern Nigeria (Hausalnd)’, Special Report, 1 July 2011,
(9) Chothia, F., ‘Who are Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists?’, BBC African Service, 17 June 2011,; Bokor, M.J.K., ‘Opinion: Boko Haram’s Terrorism does not threaten only Nigeria,’ My Joy, 1 July 2011,
(10) Fisher, J., ‘Are Nigeria’s Boko Haram getting foreign backing?’, BBC News, 21 June 2011,
(11) Chothia, F., ‘Who are Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists?’, BBC African Service, 17 June 2011,
(12) Look, A., ‘Nigeria’s Boko Haram threatens broader attacks’, VOA News, 20 June 2011,
(13) Bokor, M.J.K., ‘Opinion: Boko Haram’s Terrorism does not threaten only Nigeria,’ My Joy, 1 July 2011,
(14) Look, A., ‘Nigeria’s Boko Haram threatens broader attacks’, VOA News, 20 June 2011,
(15) Fisher, J., ‘Are Nigeria’s Boko Haram getting foreign backing?’, BBC News, 21 June 2011,
(16) Look, A., ‘Nigeria’s Boko Haram threatens broader attacks’, VOA News, 20 June 2011,
(17) Chothia, F., ‘Who are Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists?’, BBC African Service, 17 June 2011,
(18) Look, A., ‘Nigeria’s Boko Haram threatens broader attacks’, VOA News, 20 June 2011,
(19) Ibid.
(20) Ibid.
(21) Fisher, J., ‘Are Nigeria’s Boko Haram getting foreign backing?’, BBC News, 21 June 2011,
(22) Chothia, F., ‘Who are Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamists?’, BBC African Service, 17 June 2011,


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