International cooperation and the fight against Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria

Terrorism is a threat to international peace and security. After the 9/11 attacks on USA, the world became totally a strange place to live in; national and international security designs were upgraded instantaneously. Since then, virtually every country in the world had at one point or the other, adjusted security apparatus to cope with increasing global security threat. The heightened military campaign against terrorism engineered by America in the Middle-East and north Africa have had a rebuttal effect on other countries and regions with potential security threats to breed conflict and get support and sympathy with ease, and Nigeria has had her fair share of global terrorism in the face of the deadly Boko Haram.

Boko Haram is an Islamic extremist sect operating in Northern Nigeria with headquarters in the North-eastern state of Bornu. In Arabic, they are called Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihād (“Group of the People of Sunnah for Preaching and Jihad”) and Wilāyat Gharb Ifrīqīyyah (Islamic State of West Africa Province, ISWAP) after they pledged allegiance to ISIS in March 2015. The name Boko Haram, if literarily translated means Boko – book; Haram – sin. They stand against Western Education in all ramifications. They are responsible for several terrorist attacks in northern Nigeria and patches of attacks in north central part of the country. The sect rose to global prominence after they abducted about 250 girls from Government Secondary School Chibok (a town in Bornu state).

Some of the girls abducted by Boko Haram
Some of the girls abducted by Boko Haram

Their terrorist activities has caused the death of more than 13000 people and has destroyed properties worth Billions of Dollars. In 2015 an estimated figure of 2000 people were killed by the sect in one attack on Baga. They target everybody (Christians and Muslims alike) who isn’t sympathetic to their cause. Their most popular method of attack is suicide bombings and the use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) in populated areas. Their motive for carrying out attacks is to calve out an Islamic caliphate for themselves where Sharia Law will be fully enforced as opposed to the Nigerian (secular) laws.

Middle: Abubakar Shekau - leader of BokoHaram
Middle: Abubakar Shekau – leader of BokoHaram

Before the Boko Haram insurgency, Nigeria had come under dozens of religious conflicts in the past. It all began with the Maitatsine uprisings of 1980 in Kano, 1982 in Kaduna and Bulumkutu, 1984 in Yola and 1985 in Bauchi; these were probably the first attempts at imposing a religious ideology on a secular, independent Nigeria, marked the beginning of ferocious religious conflicts and crises in Nigeria. From the beginning of Boko Haram attacks in July 2009 till date, the Nigerian government have engaged the sect in fierce battles, sometimes interchanging defensive and offensive fronts, pushing insurgents to the fringes of the country’s northern boarders with Cameroon, Niger and Chad. This created room for the ongoing regional frontal attack on the sect by the Nigerian government and her neighboring allies – Chad, Cameroon, Benin and Niger.

Nigeria and insurgency; a historical review

From the later part of the 1970s to the early 1980s, Kano and Yola (northern Nigeria) witnessed severe Islamic insurgencies planned and executed by Mohamed Marwa, popularly known as Maitatsine, and his followers, even after his death. The crises was code named the Maitatsine Uprising, and led to the death of about 7000 people (5000 in Kano and 2000 in Yola). The 2009 Boko Haram uprising which began in Bauchi state and spread to Kano, Yobe and Bornu – which later became a safe haven for breeding their violent extremist ideology, Nigeria was bedeviled by ethno-religious conflicts with devastating human and material losses.

A careful observation of both uprisings show that there is little or no difference between their ideologies as well as their mode of operation. The Maitatsine sect were against the use/believe in western ideas, and technologies while the Book Haram sect is against western education. In the same vein government’s initial approach to both crisis was no more different; the Abubakar Rimi led government of Kano state which was in the opposition party (PRP) played blame games with the Shehu Shagari led Federal government of the PNP political party during the 1982 Maitatsine uprising, which was one of the reasons why the conflict thrived into a full blown sectarian war.

The ineptitude and negligence of the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration towards taking decisive actions to end the Boko Haram insurgency as well as the government’s alternation of blame propaganda with the opposition party – All Progressives Congress (APC), were basic factors that facilitated the growth of the sect in the country. At some points, President Jonathan was quoted saying that his administration underestimated the capacity of the set to initiate massive attacks that will lead to massive killings, abductions and destruction of public properties. Both administrations had a lukewarm approach towards nipping the crisis in the bud. Generally, social inequality, poverty and the increasingly radical nature of Islam, locally and internationally, contributed both to the Maitatsine and Boko Haram uprisings.

Boko Haram recruits fighters from the large population of poor and uneducated youth in the north. According to UNESCO Institute for Statistics, about 70% of youth (15+) in Nigeria are uneducated, of which a larger concentration of the population is located in the north eastern states where the Boko Haram sect has most of their followership. The configuration of human natural society provides that whenever there is a discord between government/leaders and the people, chaos becomes inevitable. Aside religious claims of the Boko Haram sect there is a political side to it; they aim to calve out an Islamic (political) caliphate for themselves in areas conquered.

In the early years of the conflict, government security forces were first on the offensive. The tables gradually turned after the death of their leader – Muhammed Yusuf in police custody, and the sect, after a brief break for recruitment and armament, began to terrorize both state and federal security apparatus and the unprotected masses in a manner that drove even the military into defensive positions at some points. In August 2014, Premium Times (Nigeria’s leading investigative newspaper) reported the massive escape of Nigerian troops into neighboring Cameroon after they failed to suppress the sect in an offensive along the border.

Currently, the Nigerian government has largely decimated the capacity of the sect to launch attacks on the public. This is credit to the genuine commitment of the government of the day to truly end the insurgency coupled with implementation of regional cooperation from her neighbors as well as international support. Recall that in 2013 the US government refused to sale arms and ammunition to the Nigerian government to fight insurgency owing to the deep rooted corruption the military and among top government officials. The present government of President Muhammadu Buhari has promised to cleanse the system off corruption, which might be the conviction that has facilitated the flow of foreign support. As a matter of urgency, the president moved the terrorism command headquarters to the frontline on the day he assumed office. Presently the Nigerian government says all territories which were grabbed from Nigerian forces since the beginning of the insurgency by Boko Haram have been successfully reclaimed by the Nigerian government, and normalcy is gradually returning to the formal besieged territories. Meanwhile the United Nations Refugee Agency reported that about “1.5 million people have been displaced due to the violence and over 13,000 have been killed” at the hands of Boko Haram.

International & regional cooperation
The abduction of about 250 school girls by the Boko Haram sect between 14th-15th April 2014 did not only spark global outrage on the absurdity of the act; it drew a significant amount of regional effort on creating a firm regional security force and cooperation in order to prevent the sect from either expanding their scope or getting external aid – a move which the country had previously rejected. Countries like France, USA, China, Columbia, Israel etc. made significant commitments in areas of intelligence gathering and sharing, training and equipping the Nigerian security forces. Cameroon, Chad, Benin, and Chad joined forces with Nigeria to form a regional “Multinational Joint Task Force” (MNJTF) against the sect with about 8,700 boots on ground. ECOWAS which has previously been described as a toothless bulldog on regional and sub regional security issues, among other international organizations, pledged full support to the fight against the sect.


The activities of Boko Haram is aided and abated by the porous borders surrounding their area of operation, coupled with the fact that the Nigerian military is underequipped/under-experienced to fight the insurgents. Geographically, Nigeria is bordered to the northeast by Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republic. Reports and recent events reveal that Nigeria maintains a very porous border security points with these neighboring countries; bulk of the assistance Boko Haram has gained came from outside Nigeria’s borders. The sect largely shop weapons from the ‘black market’ which is readily available across the Sahara desert; after the fall of the Libyan state. The stockpile of weapons in Libya after the fall of Muamar Gadhafi – the country’s former leader, easily found it’s way into the hands of radical militant groups not only in Nigeria but throughout Africa.

Geographically, Niger covers Nigeria’s largest northern border line and has a significant border line with Libya, Algeria and Mali which makes it much easier for the sect to transport arms across the Sahara into Nigeria’s northeast without much hindrances. Chad on the other hand has a direct link with Libya and Sudan, and the poor security within the Chad Basin has made it a hub for arms trade during the thriving years of Boko Haram. As a matter of urgent national security, the Nigerian authorities installed a paramount navy seal operation around the Chad region in February 2016 which has intercepted tones of military hardware allegedly on its way to the Boko haram terrorists. The Cameroonian borders with Nigeria runs across Adamawa and Borno state respectively (both of which have been badly hit by the activities of Boko Haram insurgents), and serves as a hiding place for the insurgents and a port of influx for new recruits.

In May 2014 the presidents of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin were invited to a meeting in Paris, with representatives from France, the UK, the USA and the European Union. The meeting marked the beginning of the construction of a strong and united regional cooperation against the Boko Haram sect. Former President GoodLuck Jonathan in his speech noted that “Boko Haram is a major threat for all of western Africa and now central Africa with proven links to AQIM [al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb] and other terrorist organizations.”

With increasing regional and international support, Nigeria have been able to combat the Boko Haram sect; reduce their ability to carry out massive attacks and get external aid. Much has been achieved in terms of moral support in weakening the ideology of the insurgents. In September 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari was quoted saying that the activities of the sect has been limited to Sambiza Forest – the acclaimed headquarters of the sect. Evidently, the Nigerian military seem to be winning the war against Boko Haram given that between January and April 2016, more than 3000 people have been rescued from the sect; tens of attacks have been foiled; unaccounted figure of the sect’s fighters have been arrested or killed on the frontline; weapon stockpiles have been discovered and retrieved, or in some cases destroyed; meanwhile international support seem to have been cut out totally.

The spate of Boko Haram attacks aided by the weak response launched by the Nigerian military and intelligence apparatus from the onset, as well as poorly managed borders had laid a poor precedence that faded hopes of winning the war against the sect. But with the institution of regional military coalition as well as international assistance against the group, the odds quickly turned on the insurgents, and hopes of killing both the sect and their ideology is raising again.

For the Nigerian government to maintain maximum control of the outcome of the conflict, there is need to first of all, rebuild the connection between the government and the citizens; invest in a national inclusive socio-economic development of the country and particularly the impoverished northern regions; and restore access to basic education to encourage massive enlightenment. There is urgent need to maintain a firm security intelligence gathering and sharing within the various security agencies in the country; sustain and maintain the tempo of the ongoing regional campaign against terrorism; run a comprehensive upgrade on border security; update the capacity of the armed force to global best standards; and initiate a broad de-radicalization program so that the captured insurgents are reintegrated into the society without fear of having to battle another insurgency in the future.



• Curbing Violence in Nigeria (II): The Boko Haram Insurgency Crisis Group Africa Report N°216, 3 April 2014
• Adesoji, Abimbola (2010), The Boko Haram Uprising and Islamic Revivalism in Nigeria, in: Africa Spectrum, 45, 2, 95-108.
• Lori-Anne Théroux-Bénoni (Institute for Security Studies); A REGIONAL MULTINATIONAL JOINT TASK FORCE TO COMBAT BOKO HARAM in; Parliamentarians Network for Conflict Prevention
• What we can learn from Maitatsine History; Tunde Leye’s Friday Thoughts; in Demola Rewaju Daily
• O. Omotosho; Religious Violence in Nigeria – the Causes and Solutions: an Islamic Perspective
• Peter Clottey; ECOWAS to Increase Security Collaboration over Nigeria Abduction; in Voice of America (May 11, 2014)
• Martin Williams and agencies; African leaders pledge ‘total war’ on Boko Haram after Nigeria kidnap; in The Guardian UK (Saturday 17 May 2014)
• Ludovica Iaccino; President Buhari assures Boko Haram ‘limited to Sambisa forest’; in International Business Times (September 8, 2015)
• DIONNE SEARCEY and MARC SANTORA; Boko Haram Ranked Ahead of ISIS for Deadliest Terror Group; in The New York Times (NOV. 18, 2015)
• Clement Ejiofor; Boko Haram’s Source of Weapons Revealed; in (May 2015)
• Nnenna Ibeh; Nigerian military calls soldiers’ escape to Cameroon ‘tactical maneuver’; in Premium Times (August 25 2015)


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