mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Africa's God Wars
Boko Haram Carving Out Its Own ISIS-Style State In Nigeria

Boko Haram is nearing the point where it can be credibly described as an Islamist statelet with a conventional army rather than just an insurgent group. Since July 2014, Boko Haram has advanced rapidly, and now stands on the brink of seizing the Nigerian state of Borno and its capital, Maiduguri. As the Nigerian Security Network explains:

If Boko Haram are able to continue seizing territory in Borno, including the state capital, it is likely that almost the entire state will soon fall under the insurgency’s control. This will be the realisation of Boko Haram’s ambition to establish a caliphate in north-east Nigeria…

If Borno falls to Boko Haram, parts of Yobe and Adamawa can be expected to follow. Parts of Cameroon along the border area would also probably be overrun. Unless swift action is taken, Nigeria could be facing a rapid takeover of a large area of its territory reminiscent of ISIS’s lightening advances in Iraq.

Following ISIS’ lead, Boko Haram has already begun to call itself a caliphate. And its militants are becoming both better equipped and more organized. According to the NSN, one report compares Boko Haram’s soldiers using heavy weapons and tanks while the Nigerian soldiers facing them are often sent into the field with only 60 rounds of ammunition.

John Campbell, a former US Ambassador to Nigeria and no one’s idea of a hothead, has been sounding the alarm bell at the CFR blog. Boko Haram might not be ISIS, but its ISIS’ West African wannabe — just as evil, just as vicious, and if not yet as capable, certainly aiming to grow more so. If Boko fractures Nigeria, it would have serious regional security implications—not to mention be a humanitarian crisis that would dwarf the #bringbackourgirls incident.

Features Icon
show comments
  • Gene

    I think the White House is gonna need a bigger hashtag.

    • rheddles

      They got a drone base in Niger.

  • gabrielsyme

    What precisely is the downside to providing equipment, arms and military support to Nigeria to crush these evil men? Even if Western countries were to put boots on the ground, I see little strategic downside. Surely as the price for aid in the fight the US could demand Nigerian officers or army units with records of human rights abuses not participate in the operation?

    More broadly, long-term policy in the entire zone of Muslim-Christian interaction in Africa ought to be focussed on (1) promoting what peaceful Islamic leaders there are and (2) promoting conversions en masse to Christianity. Such a policy of encouraging Christianisation should include providing close and strong security to Christian missionaries and communities, official encouragement and assistance to mass communication ministries in the native languages of Muslim tribes. Until the Muslim community either dwindles due to conversion or becomes uniformly peaceful, there will continue to be groups such as Boko Haram, AQIM and al-Shabaab which will arise in the hinterlands of Africa to kill, rape and enslave.

    • B-Sabre

      The main problem is that the Nigerian army is just as much (if not more so) a broken reed as the Iraqi army, with the added disability of not having been previously lavished with aid. Its problems read like a litany of typical Third World military problems – corruption, human rights abuses against the citizens they are supposed to protect, leaders appointed based on political allegiance rather than ability, etc, etc. Add to the mix persistent rumors that elements of the Nigerian government are supporting Boko Haram (or at least hindering government responses against) to undermine the current president, and things are going to get worse before they get better.

      If I were the president, I’d be thinking of changing my name to something like “Badluck” or “Outofluck” Jonathan.

      • gabrielsyme

        There are times when you have to work with very imperfect allies, and I’m afraid this is one of them. Engagement should mean some degree of influence on the Nigerian government to help reform the army, so co-operation should be seen at least as a step in the right direction. Now, in a perfect world, it probably should be the UK & France that take the lead in assisting regional powers in crushing Boko Haram, with the United States providing mainly diplomatic support, but that may not be possible.

        Boko Haram needs to be destroyed, both for humanitarian and strategic reasons. We can wish for better allies on the ground, but inaction is a terrible option.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service