“Religion is so frequently a source of confusion in political life, and so frequently dangerous to democracy, precisely because it introduces absolutes into the realm of relative values.”
― Reinhold Niebuhr
Formerly known as Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihād and commonly known as Boko Haram, there is a jihadist terrorist organization based in Nigeria whose operations expand into the countries of Chad, Niger and Cameroon as well. Founded in 2002 by Mohammed Yusuf, Boko Haram advocates strict adherence to Sharia law.
The words Boko Haram essentially translates to ‘Western education is forbidden’ or ‘Western influence is a sin’. The group is against any form of westernization and focuses on propagating Islam amongst people through methods they deem proper and necessary.
Initially, the purpose of the group was simply to purify Islam through nonviolent methods which is why any warnings that were given to the Nigerian government about it were overlooked. In 2009, Boko Haram’s leader and founder was arrested and it was rumoured that he died while trying to escape from the police and post that, they started to adopt violent methods which commenced a mass prison break encompassing breaking out of 105 Boko Haram members along with 600 other prisoners.
Random shootings at police and even at common people became popular where the reasons cited were either none or for the revenge of the killing of Mohammed Yusuf. After the death of Yusuf and the jail break out, the reins of the party came in the hands of Abubakar Shekau who was mostly successful in keeping the various Boko Haram factions from fighting.
Since 2009, Boko Haram has been indulging in suicide bombing and merciless killing of people. The most prominent violent activities include blowing up of the United Nations building in 2011, kidnapping 276 girls from Chibok in 2014 and abduction of 350+ boys from Kankara in 2020. There has been loss of countless lives, uprooting uncountable lives through such acts of terrorism.
The abduction in 2014 had resulted in a worldwide outcry promoted by #BringBackOurGirls and even though most of the girls were returned, some are still missing. Additionally, these girls have faced rejection in the society because of the stigma surrounding sexual violence. With regards to the kidnapping in 2020, 344 boys have been released, however an unknown number still remain missing.
A state of emergency had been declared in 2012 which lasted for an entire year. The economy of Nigeria has been hit badly because of Boko Haram since there had been several curfews imposed by the government to restrict the group. Although Nigeria accounts for about 60% of Africa’s population, a majority of its people earn just about $1 per day while having large families to feed.
Boko Haram has strong connections with various militant groups outside Nigeria, the most popular being Al-Qaeda. Goodluck Jonathan, an ex-president of Nigeria, went so far as to call Boko Haram “the Al-Qaeda in West Africa”.
In 2019, the president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, stated that Boko Haram had been technically defeated but the acts of violence by them have only escalated since. In their 18 years of existence, according to the United Nations, about 36000 people have lost their lives and more than 2 million people have been displaced. During their insurgency in 2010, Boko Haram was known as the world’s deadliest terrorist organization according to the Global Terrorism Index in terms of the number of people they killed. Boko Haram uses numerous child soldiers (including 12-year olds) and women for suicide bombers as they blend with the crowd easily and draw lesser suspicion. A study shows that almost 40% of the soldiers in the Boko Haram group are underage.
While the Nigerian government has been receiving support from countries such as China, United States, United Kingdom, etc. in the form of troops and military equipment, it is not enough to squash the efforts of Boko Haram as it has now become too widespread and out of control. Additionally, the Nigerian government still lacks the equipment to confront them.
What the government could focus on, in light of the surrendering of some militants as well as the return of the abducted kids, is providing services by rehabilitation centres so that they are not rejected by the society and do not go back to Boko Haram. They can perhaps teach them some new skills or provide support which will act as a major difference in the lives of many people who want to start over.
“Al-Qaeda in West Africa” does require an increased amount of attention from countries all over the world so that it can be quelled and the people of Nigeria can start living their lives without being under the constant threat of being shot. In order to have an extensive knowledge about Boko Haram, the perfect book is “Boko Haram: Inside Nigeria’s Unholy War” by Mike Smith who tells the story from the perspective of a journalist along with the history and insurgence.