Boko Haram: A Threat to Nigeria and the Sahel

Posted on Posted in Africa, Analyses, Terrorism, Organized Crime & Security

By Georgios Papatzikas, Junior Analyst KEDISA


Boko Haram: An introduction

Boko Haram is an Islamist militant group[1] that has officially pledged its allegiance with the goals of the ISIS and operates mainly in Nigeria, Chad, Niger and in the northern part of Cameroon. It has been ranked as the deadliest terror group by Global Terrorism index in 2015[2]. Regarding the roots of this organization, its birth took place in 2002. In the beginning, the organization had a non-violent character as the main intention of its believers was to disseminate the idea of Islam to the Nigerian country. Concerning its identity in the spectrum of terrorist groups, the principles of Boko Haram are being opposed to modernity as well as all principles that derive from the Western culture and way of life. As a result, even, western education is declared as a sin by the organization, being the primordial reason behind their attacks at schools[3], while the group is completely against any empowerment of the women and for that it is abducting girls as slaves and trade commodity in order to gain profit. Extensively, the name Boko Haram, in accordance with the Hausa language, means the western education is forbidden.

The flagship idea of the organization[4] is that nowadays in Nigeria values of individualism, materialism have been integrated in the social, political and economic life. Therefore, the group predicted that a moral crisis has been enforced by the western-based educational system of the country, as a result it pushes the idea of purification that comes from the traditions of Islam. Of course, this situation led to many young people abandoning Nigeria as it can be seen in the data of UNESCO Institute of Statistics, where students abroad increased by 164 percent between 2005 to 2015, that is 75,000 students. The aforementioned facts confirm this specific strategy that ISIS implements in general

In the next few years though, Boko Haram became a more militarized organization in order to control more territorial ground and influence local communities by force. The then leader of the faction, was the cleric Mohammed Yusuf, who was responsible for the radicalization of the group as well as for its terrorists’ attacks, such as the organized suicide bombings of police infrastructures with one of the most recent ones being the attack in Borno last December. However, the interception of Yusuf by the local police authorities resulted in his execution as an effort to halt any future terrorist effort. That of course, did not happen as Abubakar Shekau became the leader of the group and still remains until today. Inside Boko Haram there are two clear sub-units, the conservative side of Abu Usmatul al-Ansari and the radical armed side of its main leader Shekau. Today Boko Haram is taking action precisely on the area of Borno and the villages of this territory such as Malari, Gumsuri and Maiduguri.

The presence of Βoko Haram in Nigeria

Today, militants of Boko Haram are involved in heinous acts, such as the abduction of more than 500 women, kids and are responsible for many more executions. Regarding the activity of the organization[5], in 2011 they began their terrorist activities with suicide attacks of police buildings and the UN offices in Abuja. Later on, in 2012 they started the armed attacks on Nigerian ground around the boarders of Chad, Cameroon and Niger. Furthermore, in 2015, they counted an estimated amount of 9,000 militants. Uniquely, over the past years their efforts became more frequent in order to press down the government.

Τhe grave consequences that came with their  attacks led to the destruction of public infrastructures such as hospitals, schools and the buildings of public administration. Progressively, more and more people were forced to leave their properties leading to huge flows of Nigerians, leaving the country. According the World Bank, this situation caused 9 billion dollars’ worth devastations. These conditions drove the state in a continuous instability and turmoil as, during several anti-terrorist operations, the state forces caused casualties of innocent civilians. There were many accusations against the forces which resulted in the abuse of human rights[6] of the civilians with their tactics.

More precisely, the National Security Forces of Nigeria operated an airstrike, in Rann, on 17th January 2017. Due to the operation against Boko Haram they killed 234 citizens according to local officials. Also 100 people got injured. At the moment, the militants have the absolute control of the eastern rural areas of Nigeria that is Gwoza, Maiduguri and Kukawa. All in all, the most harmful operation of Boko Haram took place in the year of 2014. On 14th of March of that year, the extremist fighters attacked the Giwa military barracks, around Maiduguri. The aftermath was 600 casualties just in one day. Furthermore, when the rebels drove into the city, they killed 2,000 residents. At the present time, there have been almost 12,000 deaths and incidents involving this extremist group

An unexpected advantage: The Civilian Joint Task Force and a possible threat

Today, the military forces have retrieved the control of the North-eastern part of the country due to the essential help of the voluntary civilian force, the Civilian Joint Task Force. (CJTF) To elaborate on this, in the beginning when Boko Haram’s armed operations began, the Nigerian army was unable to control the northeast zone and cities such as Maiduguri. The CJTF contributed to the effective mitigation of the extremist attacks.  Regarding the members of this group, it is consisted by veterans and civilians who receive special training in unorthodox war, for this purpose. They are not equipped with heavy weaponry and stockpile of ammunition but with improvised weapons like sticks, machetes etc. Through this way they are protecting their own property from Boko Haram. Regarding the numbers, CJTF counts 26,000 members but only 600 get paid for 50 dollars per month. Eventually the group created in 2011 – 2012 by the local government of Borno State, after Boko Haram perpetrated many terrorist attacks in the local state.

Despite the great effect of this mercenary unit to mitigate Boko Haram at the northeast region of Nigeria, many issues rose up. More precisely, although the  militants have been retreating the integration of the members of CJTF, is difficult because of the high unemployment rates and the enormous sociopolitical crisis that outbroke in the country. In another note, the CJTF has been criticized by the way they are treating enemies because of their violent tactics, committing extrajudicial executions by slitting throats. As a potential effect, numerous vigilant groups have been created over the last years and civilians pointed out violations even against them. The abuse of men and women became a common reality, leading to public opinion recognizing CJTF as a potential threat[7] along with Boko Haram members.


Although the jihadist fighters of Boko Haram focused their attacks on the rural areas, they pose as formidable threat for the Nigerian government and for the sub-Saharan  region itself[8] In the beginning of December 2018, there was an attack which had been held, at the territory of Lake Chad. That clearly shows their intention to expand their area of activities, as well as violating strategic points in order to renew their stockpile and ammunition. An example was their deadly attack in the outposts of a strategic base in Baga[9].

In conclusion, the Nigerian government understood that the implementation of a determinative solution is crucial, and it has to happen through a constructive and collaborative effort in terms of economic assistance and close military coordination of common operations with the other countries. With this intention, African Union promoted and established a coalition among neighboring countries[10], the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) – comprising the four Lake Chad Basin countries and Benin – to combat Boko Haram militancy, in concert with other national-level initiatives, with Nigeria which are facing troubles with the extremist activity. It remains to be seen, if this coalition will last towards its opposition against terrorism in the dub-Saharan region, although the model of regional military cooperation has proven efficient, contemplating the case of the Sahel 5.




[1] Jennifer G. Cooke, Thomas M. Sanderson. Militancy and the Arc of Instability: Violent Extremism in the Sahel, 2016. Washington DC. p19-29. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 3 Αpril 2019].


[2] Institute for Economics and Peace: Global Terrorism Index 2017:  Measuring and understanding the impact of terrorism. [Online] Available from:  [Accessed 3 April 2019].


[3] Landry Signé. Boko Harams campaign against education and enlightenment. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 3 April 2019].


[4] To Bήμα, Νιγηρία: Η ακτινογραφία των τρομοκρατών της Μπόκο Χαράμ. [Online] Available from:  [Accessed 3 April 2019].

[5] CNN. Boko Haram Fast Facts. [Online] Available from:  [Accessed 3 April 2019].


[6] Human Rights Watch, Nigeria: Events of 2017. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 3 April 2019].

[7] Hilary Matfess. Nigeria wakes up to its growing vigilante problem. [Online] Available from:  [Accessed 3 April 2019].


[8] Council on Foreign Relations. Nigeria’s Battle with Boko Haram. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 3 April 2019].

[9] The Guardian. Boko Haram’s ‘deadliest massacre’: 2,000 feared dead in Nigeria. [Online] Available from: [Accessed 3 April 2019].


[10] Institute for Security Studies. AU summit 29: Eradicating more than just Boko Haram. [Online] Available from:  [Accessed 3 April 2019].