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Failed State Watch
Islamic State of Northern Nigeria

Boko Haram has allegedly taken the town of Chibok, home of the more than 200 girls whose abduction catapulted the militant group to international attention back in April. On the plus side, the Nigerian army claims to have retaken the town of Mubi from the militants. But even this victory reveals the vulnerability of the Nigerian army, as Reuters reports:

Adamawa State Governor Bala Ngilari told journalists that an alliance including local hunters and vigilante groups known as the Civilian Joint Task Force had helped the army chase the militants out.

People in the region often complain of feeling abandoned by the state and some have taken up whatever weapons they have to hand – such as hunting rifles – to defend themselves.

Nigeria’s north is in upheaval, and it is increasingly clear that the state lacks the strength to defeat Boko Haram. But what are the militants’ aims? Jacob Zenn, writing for the Sentinel, the magazine of the Combating Terror Center at West Point, provides a big-picture take on what could be Boko Haram’s eventual goal: the resurrection of a pre-colonial caliphate once made up of territory that now belongs to Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Here’s his sobering conclusion:

Boko Haram may…seek to gain control of interior towns in the Extreme North Region, such as Maroua, Waza, and Kousseri, not only for their importance in the supply line [for weapons trafficked from Chad and Libya], but also for their historic value as parts of the former Kanem-Borno Caliphate, or “Greater Kanoura.” The Kanem-Borno Caliphate’s former boundaries correspond almost precisely to Boko Haram’s current area of operations, and Boko Haram may seek to recreate that caliphate through its own newly-declared caliphate, but with takfiri ideology replacing the Sufi traditions of the descendants of the Kanem-Borno amirs, who Boko Haram has killed or expelled from northeastern Nigeria. […]

The “reunification” of the former Kanem-Borno Caliphate areas would seemingly erase the legacy of colonialism that Boko Haram founder Muhammed Yusuf criticized in his sermons for “amalgamating [Borno] to the infidels…leaving Niger in poverty…and creating ethnic problems and political divisions in Chad.”

It seems that Boko Haram aspires to be no less than the African version of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Zenn suggests that the “key question” for the Nigerian government will be whether any future negotiations, such as to liberate the schoolgirls, “would require Nigeria to cede territory to Boko Haram.” Boko Haram wants to place itself on “equal footing,” he writes, with the country’s government. If the militant group continues to be as successful as it has been, that bodes very ill for Nigeria’s future as a state.

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  • Kevin

    I wonder if this threat will be the catalyst which causes the south to get its act together. Southern Nigeria has vastly greater resources (wealth from oil and trade, a better educated populace, etc.) which, if properly applied, would allow it to handily crush Boko Haram. But corruption and infighting prevent it from mobolizinig its strengths. As its successful containment of Ebola showed the south has some surprising institutional strengths which could support a stronger state. However, unfortunately, the overwhelming levels of corruption lead one to bet against them getting their act together.

    While focusing reporting on the northeast is sexy I wonder if it is missing a key ingredient which is whether the south can build a more successful state.

  • FriendlyGoat

    I have always wondered what “negotiations” with groups like this (or, say, the Taliban in Af/Pak) are contemplated to include. Is there ANY goal of getting any of these groups to impose and practice only SOME of their nonsense? Or, are “negotiations” always confined to a discussion of the territories in which the groups will be permitted to impose and practice ALL of their nonsense?

    If it’s the latter, then sensible people would conclude (wouldn’t they) that there really is no such thing as negotiation.

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