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Resurgent Boko Haram – Professor Hussein Solomon

December 6, 2013

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Resurgent Boko Haram

By Hussein Solomon

RIMA Policy Papers, Volume 1 (2013), Number 3 (December 2013)

It was not supposed to happen – Boko Haram, we were assured, by the Nigerian government was all but finished. In May, 2013 the government of President Goodluck Jonathan announced a major new offensive against the Islamist militant group seeking to impose Islamic sharia law in Nigeria. Overwhelming force, we were told, will now be used to force Boko Haram to surrender.

As the weeks and months went by, government officials were singing their own praises with regards to the successes in the counter-terror campaign. Only a week after this major offensive was launched, Doyin Okupe, Advisor to the President crowed, “The progress is encouraging and we believe that if things go on like this, we should be singing hallelujah shortly”[1]. With each passing month, government would announce new reports of some stunning military victory. Two Boko Haram members were killed in September 2013, another 75 in the following month, and 20 more in November[2]. Its leadership was either killed or was on the run. Thousands of its members were arrested. The Nigerian public and the international community can rest assured that its men in uniform were in command of the situation.

So, if one was to give credence to government accounts, Boko Haram was on the ropes and this week’s spectacular attack would not have occurred. But it did. At 3 am on the 2nd December, hundreds of Boko Haram fighters attacked Nigeria’s armed forces in the Islamist sect’s home town of Maiduguri. The attack was methodically planned with Boko Haram gunmen on motorcycles neutralising the surrounding military checkpoints first whilst 20 pick-up vans and other military trucks proceeded to bases of the 79 Composite Group of the Nigerian Air Force and the 33 Artillery Battalion of the Nigerian Army.  Soldiers, fighting an insurgency in the most volatile part of Nigeria, should have known better than to fall asleep, but asleep they were. Bloody mayhem followed with the destruction of fighter jets and helicopters, the capture of an armoured personnel carrier and the military barracks was set alight[3].  The Maiduguri assault was a direct response by Boko Haram to the recent Nigerian military strikes against their fighters in a forest near the border with Cameroon in which 50 militants were reportedly killed[4].

In retrospect, the absurd claim of military victories by government officials was always difficult to accept. Despite the launch of this major military offensive, there were at least 40 Boko Haram attacks since May, 2013 when this offensive was supposedly launched[5]. Whilst hundreds of arrests were made of supposedly Boko Haram members, the reality was that the Nigerian Joint Task Force engaged in dragnet arrests of people in an area where a Boko Haram attack took place instead of forensic investigations. In the process, local citizens were alienated from the security forces whilst actual terrorists walked free. On 4th December, for instance, 167 such Boko Haram suspects were released by the Nigerian military from custody on account of there being no “compelling evidence” against them[6].

The truth is that the Nigerian state is losing the war against Boko Haram. It was, after all, one of the main reasons why Nigeria withdrew its forces from northern Mali where it confronted another Islamist insurgency to focus on its own restive northern region. Far from deluding itself, its citizens and the wider international community, President Goodluck Jonathan and his administration needs to focus on certain home truths. First, Boko Haram has been regionalized especially in its relations with Ansar Din in Mali and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa as well as its growing ties to Al Shabab in Somalia. To this effect, a regional strategy is required at the level of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU). Second, given the regionalization and internationalisation of Boko Haram, it is imperative that Nigeria accept the assistance of the international community. Whilst some of this is already happening, more needs to take place. Third, the weaknesses of Nigeria’s security forces need to be rectified especially as it relates to intelligence gathering and analysis.


[1] Boko Haram cannot be beaten by guns alone – analysis, The Guardian, 3 December 2013. Internet: http://www.theguardian.com/world.2013/dec/03/nigeria-boko-haram-analysis. Date Accessed: 5 December 2013.

[2] Ibid.

[3] AFP, Boko Haram stages major urban attack on Nigerian army. Internet: http://www.news.yahoo.com/islamist-attacks-prompt-24-hour-curfew-nigerias-maiduguri. 2 December 2013. Date Accessed: 5 December 2013.

[4] Mike Pflanz, Dozens killed by Islamist gunmen in Boko Haram attack in Nigeria, The Telegraph, 3 December 2013. Internet: http:// www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/nigeria/10492767. Date Accessed: 5 December 2013.

[5] Boko Haram cannot be beaten by guns alone –analysis, op.cit.

[6] Defence HQ To Try Over 500 Boko Haram Suspects, Releases 167,” Sahara Reporters, 4 December 2013. Internet: http://saharareporters.com/news-page/defence-hq-try-over-500-boko-haram-suspects-releases-167. Date Accessed: 5 December 2013.

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