Boko Haram remains faceless and mysterious to Nigerians, but it does appear to have a strategy and organization, according to an interview with Ahmad Salkida, the Nigerian journalist widely considered to know the group more intimately than almost anyone. In 2005, Salkida began praying at Mohammed Yusuf’s mosque, where Boko Haram originally took shape, was arrested with Yusuf and overheard his execution by police officers, and remains in close contact with the group. Salkida’s neutrality has been questioned by those who think he is too close to Boko Haram, but no one doubts that his information is accurate. What he has to say is very interesting for those of us concerned about Boko Haram’s continued attacks against civilians, the Nigerian government, and Western institutions in Nigeria.
“Boko Haram was founded on ideology, but poor governance was the catalyst for it to spread. If there had been proper governance and a functioning state, Yusuf would have found it very difficult to succeed,” Mr Salkida says…The recent attacks on Christian churches were designed to provoke retaliation against Muslims, which could drive more people into Boko Haram’s arms, Mr Salkida says. But he rejects the notion that the insurgency is a reaction to having a Christian president, Goodluck Jonathan, or that some northern politicians are involved.“If there was a Muslim president tomorrow, this would not end. The war is not about individuals, it’s about institutions. Boko Haram sees the northern governors and emirs as part of the institutions.”Mr Salkida dismisses reports that the group has different factions. Its 30-member ruling council is largely unchanged since 2010, he says, apart from two members arrested by police. “It’s clear they [Boko Haram] are winning the war,” he says. “But I believe Boko Haram wants to end this, just not in a climate of uncertainty and insincerity. Compromises are possible.”
The reports concerning Boko Haram’s organization are particularly disturbing. After Yusuf was executed, Boko Haram went quiet. It has reemerged under Yusuf’s deputy, Abubakar Shekau, but no one was quite sure if he controlled the group as Yusuf once had, or even if Boko Haram could be called a “group” at all. Northern Nigeria is home to thugs, opportunists, and terrorists, and not all of them are affiliated with Boko Haram. Within Boko Haram itself, it wasn’t clear that its leaders all believed in the same strategy, or what kind of forces its leaders even controlled.Mr. Salkida, with his contacts and knowledge of the group, has shone some light on these important questions: Boko Haram intends to continue its attacks against installations it views as oppressive against northern Nigeria, including those tied to the West. It is not focused solely on attacking Christians; in fact, according to the FT it has killed more Muslims than Christians. This is true of most of these “Islamic” terror movements; far more Muslims have been killed by their attacks than members of any other religion.Perhaps most disturbing is the news that Boko Haram’s links with al-Qaeda are deepening. Africa is full of local conflicts; al-Qaeda money, experience and ideology can transform small local conflicts into much more serious affairs, and the weakly governed back country of Africa is hard for the forces of order to police and control.This is not good, and we have not heard the last of Boko Haram.Mr. Salkida might be a reliable source, but his information still shouldn’t be swallowed hook, line, and sinker. His reports paint a picture of Boko Haram as anything but weak and disorganized, yet there appears to be room for the Nigerian government to negotiate a resolution to Boko Haram’s violence and an end to the oppression that begat Boko Haram in the first place.