Essay On Boko Haram

Nigeria, a West African country with a population of about 170 million people has witnessed several terrorist attacks since 2003. Nigeria is a multi-ethnic country with different religious groups. The country is made up of both Muslims and Christians with Muslims more in the north and Christians in the south1. For many decades Nigeria has witnessed various forms of violent conflicts. In recent times the activities of a group known as Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria has become the major source of crisis and fear in the country2. This group has been designated a terrorist organization3. The activities of Boko Haram are mainly focused on Borno State and neighboring countries such as Cameroon, Chad and Niger4. In April 2014, it became a very popular internationally after it abducted over 200 schoolgirls from the northern town of Chibok. Over the course of 2014 alone, over 5,000 people were killed in Boko Haram related violence as the group demonstrated new, more deadly tactics in order to increase casualties5.
About 13,000 people are estimated to have been killed in Boko Haram-related violence6, making it one of the dangerous terrorist groups in the world. It is estimated that more than 6 million Nigerians have been affected by the conflict between Boko Haram and the Nigerian government, and more than 300,000 have been displaced. It has spread across the mainly Muslim north and central Nigeria. With the attacks becoming increasingly sophisticated, there is growing concern that Boko Haram is receiving backing from al-Qaeda-linked militants in other countries7.
Notable among the gruesome activities of this group are attacks on churches and other public places resulting in the death of many civilians. Since Boko Haram is viewed as an Islamic fundamentalist group, the nefarious activities of the group against Christians are capable of igniting violent conflicts between Christians and Muslims8. The group’s April 2014 abduction of over 200 schoolgirls has drawn international attention. Periodic attacks against foreign targets in the region and growing evidence of ties to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have also raised the concern of U.S. policymakers9. Many civil society organizations have expressed their concern over the activities of the Boko Haram group towards Christians and other Nigerians, calling on the Nigerian government to more urgently and effectively bring an end to the crisis.
This article examines the history, and effects of Boko Haram insurgency in Northern Nigeria. It also discusses the role of civil society in preventing the escalation of the crisis into a battle between Christians and Muslims. Specifically the article examines the role of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and other religious bodies in the prevention of the escalation of the crisis. Data were collected from primary and secondary sources. The source of primary data is key informant interviews. Secondary data were collected from magazines, newspapers, textbooks and journal articles. The article will provide useful information to policy makers in Nigeria, regional organizations in Africa, and policy makers in countries experiencing inter-religious conflicts.
Clarification of Major Concepts
This section clarifies the concept of civil society and Boko Haram. According to Fatton, ‘civil society is the private sphere of material, cultural, and political activities resisting the incursions of the state’ 10. Civil society is also defined as the sphere of organized social life that is open, voluntary, self-generating, at least partly self-supporting, independent from the state, and guarded by a legal provision or set of shared rules. Civil society is different from society in that it involves the citizens acting jointly in a public realm11. On the part of Bratton, ‘civil society refers to the advent of new patterns of political participation outside of the formal state structures and one party system’ 12. Similarly, Dwayne13 espoused the view that civil society is an all-embracing term that refers to social occurrence assumed to be beyond the formal state structure, but essentially free of all interaction with the state. Civil society includes a vast array of organizations, which are formal and informal in nature. These include: cultural, economic, educational, interest based and civic-seeking in non-partisan manner to improve political system14. The main functions and significance of civil society is that it provides a forum for the citizens ‘to express their passions, interests, ideas and preferences, to exchange information, to achieve collective goals, to make demands on the state, and to hold the state officials accountable15. However, it is pertinent to know that the different groups that constitute civil society do not have equivalent political and economic power that may be deployed to influence the policies and actions of government16.
Boko Haram
Boko Haram group formally calls itself Jama’atul Alhul Sunnah Lidda’wati wal Jihad which means people dedicated to the spread of the Prophet’s teachings and Jihad17 . The expression ‘Boko Haram’ is originated from one Hausa word Boko which means book and an Arabic word Haram which means sin or forbidden. Generally, the expression portrays western education or anything associated with western development as sinful and forbidden18. It is important to note that one could argue that this is an extreme interpretation and that the real grievance of members of the Boko Haram group is the corruption associated with people who benefit the most from ‘Western’ education. In the same vein, Abdulkarim Mohammed, a researcher on Boko Haram, added that violent revolts in Nigeria are generally due to “the fallout of frustration with corruption and the problems of poverty and unemployment”19. Some other scholars are of the view that the motive of Boko Haram supporters is to replace modern state structure with the traditional Islamic state, because Western values run contrary to that of Islam20. They believe that problems in the society is as a result of the acceptance of Western ideas, and in order to curb such evil an Islamic society must be established by destroying modern state institutions. The ideology goes hand in hand with the introduction of the Shari’a law in the society21.
In a study conducted by Centre for Naval Analyses (CNA), it was asserted that Boko Haram is a local radical insurgent group which uses subversion, guerilla tactics, and terrorism to achieve its goals. Its ultimate objective is to replace the existing political system by overthrowing and replacing the existing secular Nigerian state with an Islamic government. The study ruled out the idea that Nigeria is presently in a state of civil war. It also refuted the notion that Boko Haram is a Nigerian branch of another international terrorist organization, such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Boko Haram is an insurgent group which is sustained by localized grievances and conflict dynamics22.

The Nigerian State and the History of Boko Haram
The terrorist activities of Boko Haram have increased the insecurity problem in Nigeria. That is why in March 2014, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navi Pillay, asserted that Nigeria is ‘currently facing its most daunting set of challenges for decades23.’ The current insecurity challenge in Nigeria is not a day-old problem but a cumulative effect of unresolved or poorly managed situations. Ogunyemi making reference to Frantz Fanon’s dimensions of violence argues that any attempt to explain the emergence of security problems in Nigeria must recognize the physical, structural and psychological violence unleashed on the people over the years by a tiny class of oppressive and manipulative rulers of the Nigerian state24. The history of Boko haram can be traced to Muhammed Marwa. He was an Islamic intellectual who moved from Marwa in Northern Cameroun to the city of Kano in 1945. He was interested in purifying the practice of Islam. He felt that transformation in modern societies as a result of the introduction of Western education has contaminated the practice of Islam. He engaged in abusive and provocative preaching. Between 1972 and 1979 Marwa was incarcerated several times for his confrontational preaching and acts of disorder against the state 25.
The history of the current upsurge of Boko Haram activities can be linked to Mohammed Yesuf who was born on January 29, 1970. He studied the Qur’an in Chad and Niger Republic. While in the two countries, he developed radical views that were abhorrent to Westernization and modernization. Like the Mohammed Marwa, Yusuf came back to Nigeria and settled in Maiduguri and established a sectarian group in 2001 known as the Yusufiyya. The sect was able to attract many members across Northern Nigeria as well as in Chad and Niger Republic. Yusuf began his radical and provocative preaching against other Islamic scholars such as Jafar Adam, Abba Aji and Yahaya Jingir and against established political institutions26.

Effects of the Boko Haram Crisis on Civil Society in Nigeria
The activities of the Boko Haram group have affected Nigerians and foreigners in different ways. For example the abduction of over 200 female students in Government Secondary School in the town of Chibok in Borno State, Nigeria on the night of April 14-15, 2014 has been a cause for concern to both Nigerians and the international community. Human Rights Watch observed that over 25, 000 people have been killed in the country since 1999 and events since the start of 2014 have reached unprecedented levels27. The United Nations and Nigerian officials report that more than 6 million Nigerians have been affected by the conflict between Boko Haram and the Nigerian government, and more than 300,000 have been displaced. Nigeria’s heavy-handed response to Boko Haram’s insurgent and terrorist operations has also taken a toll on civilians and complicated U.S. efforts to pursue greater counterterrorism cooperation with the Nigerian government, in spite of shared concerns about Boko Haram and its ties to regional and international terrorist groups and operatives28.
Boko-Haram activities have adverse effects on the social and economic life of people in Nigeria especially those living in the North East. It has crippled educational activities in most parts of Adamawa, Bornu and Yobe states. The insurgents have invaded primary and secondary schools, killing scores of children and their teachers in savage attacks unknown in modern history. In the mix of this insecurity, parents have to withdraw their children and wards, some undergraduates of higher institutions in the states affected have also sought admissions in equivalent schools in the south. Governments have been forced to also close down some of the schools in the most notorious areas that the sect has major hold. This has worsened the illiteracy rate in a region where illiteracy rate is as high as 80 percent, with many children roaming the streets. Boko-Haram crises and anti-insurgency operations and general insecurity had uprooted or displaced over 6000 people in north-eastern Nigeria. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) maintained that 6,240 people have taken refuge in Niger Republic for safety reasons. Others from Adamawa have also crossed over to Cameroun and Chad republics since the crises started in 200929. Additionally, the state of emergency in the North-East of Nigeria and the accompanying military operations in that part of the country have adversely affected economic activities generally, including agricultural production and food prices as well as consumer demand. The insurgency and the fight against it by the government have the potential of crippling the economy of northern Nigeria, and affecting economic growth30.
The Boko Haram crisis has also affected the activities of religious organizations in Northern Nigeria. For example, the Young Men Christian Association (YMCA) noted the effects of Boko Haram on religious activities. There are 13 local YMCA branches in Northern Nigeria. Though, there has not been any direct attack on any YMCA structure, but some of the YMCA members have indirectly been affected by the frequent uprisings caused by Boko Haram. Consequently, these incessant attacks have instilled fear and insecurity in the minds of the YMCA members. This sense of insecurity has reduced the activities of the YMCA. For example, in 2010, the Easter Youth camps organized by the Northern Zone were moved to a neighbouring state that seemed safer compared to Jos where the National Leadership Training Centre the usually venue is located. In 2011, another camp was cancelled because parents were not willing to send their children because of the fear of the unknown. In the 2012 Easter camp there were few participants because of fear due to speculations about erupting violence during the Easter celebration31.
The military approach to curbing the activities of Boko Haram has also affected civil society negatively. The Nigerian government established a special Joint Task Force (JTF), known as Operations Restore Order (JTORO). According to Agbiboa, ‘the President ordered some 8,000 soldiers to the region in a direct military offensive against Boko Haram members’32. However, far too often, members of the JTF have been accused of killing innocent people in the name of counter-terrorism. In Borno State, for example, the JTF resorted to extralegal killings, dragnet arrests, and intimidation of the unfortunate Borno residents33. Solomon also asserted that instead of ‘conducting intelligence-driven operations, the JTF simply cordoned off areas and carried out house-to-house searches, at times shooting young men in these homes’ 34. In a series of interviews with residents in the city of Maiduguri, Human Rights Watch reported that, during raids in communities, often in the aftermath of Boko Haram attacks, members of the security forces have killed men in the presence of their families; indiscriminately arrested or beaten members of the community; burned houses, shops, and cars; stolen money while searching homes; and, in at least one case, raped a woman35. Commenting on the activities of the Joint Task Force, Marchal opined that ‘the Nigerian state apparatus ‘kills even more civilians than Boko Haram does’36.

Responses of Civil Society to the Boko Haram Crisis
Several civil society organizations have responded in different ways to the persistent Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria. For example, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), the umbrella social-cultural organization for northern Nigeria has made appeals to Boko Haram insurgents to stop their destructive activities. In addition to regular appeals, ACF organized a peace conference in 2011 to address the security challenges posed by Boko Haram. Also in Northern Nigeria, the Inter Faith Partners for Peace & Development Initiative (IFPPDI) works with the aim of promoting peaceful coexistence between different ethnic and religious communities in northern Nigeria, especially in Kano state. The organization makes effort to address ethnic and religious crises within Nigeria, particularly in the north through religious inter-faith teachings, workshops, symposiums and public lectures in order to encourage religious leaders to always deliver peaceful sermons37. In spite of the efforts of civil society organizations to prevent the escalation of the crisis especially revenge by Christians, some Christians especially youths have reacted violently in some instances. For example in June 2012, the perceived inability of the government to curtail the activities of the Boko Haram group following several attacks on churches made some Christian youths to engage in violence against Muslims. It was reported that about 35 persons were injured and 7 killed38.
Since many attacks by Boko Haram insurgents are on Christians, it would have been possible for the crisis to become a battle between Christians and Muslims. For example after the abduction of the Chibok girls and the release a video on May 12, 2014 claiming that the abducted Chibok girls were converted to Islam, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) stated that Boko Haram activities have become war against Christianity. This section of the article examines the efforts and responses of religiously related civil society organizations including the Christian Association of Nigeria in preventing the situation from becoming a fight between Christians and Muslims. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) which was founded in 1976 was originally made up of the Catholic Church and mainline Protestant groups but later expanded to include Pentecostal churches. In other words; what role has CAN and other religious bodies played in preventing the Boko Haram crisis from escalating into a battle between Muslims and Christians? To answer this question, let us begin by considering some notable Boko Haram attacks on Christians and the responses of CAN.
One of the most serious attacks on Christians by the Boko Haram insurgents was the Christmas day bombing of churches in 2011. On this day a series of bombings occurred during church services in northern Nigeria on 25 December 2011. This occurred in places such as Madalla, Jos, Gadaka, and Damaturu. At least 37 people died and 57 others were injured in an attack at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Madalla, a satellite town of Abuja located 40 km (25 mi) from the city center. 39 Following these attacks, the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria states:
The Nigerian Nation and the international community have been witnesses to the step by step escalation of violence against innocent citizens with the Christian and the Church suffering the greatest loss. We have persistently pleaded with Government to take courage and act to stop the surge of terror. At this point in the unfolding insecurity challenges, it has become irrelevant whether the root cause is political, religious, ethnic or ideological. The fundamental issues are that the intimidation, killings, bombings and wanton destruction of lives and properties must stop immediately. As President of the Christians Association of Nigerian (CAN) my first call to all peace loving Nigerians is remain calm in the face of all the insecurity challenges as I am aware that the greater part of the overall design is to instill fear in the populace. I will now make final call to Nigerian Government to use all resources available to it to clearly define and neutralise the problem as other nations have done. The Church leadership has hitherto put immense restraint on the restive and aggrieved millions of Nigerian but can no longer guarantee such cooperation if this trend of terror is not halted immediately40.
The above statement of the President of CAN indicates one reason why Boko Haram attacks on Christians has not become a fight between Muslims and Christians. The emphasis of the association is not for Christians to retaliate, but a call to the government to prevent the reoccurrence of such attacks. This kind of response can to some extent prevent Christians from reacting violently, thus making the situation a conflict between Muslims and Christians. If CAN has persistently engaged in provocative statements that could incite Christians to fight against Muslims the situation could have been different. Sometimes when notable leaders of CAN make aggressive statements, some other members attempt to reduce tension by opposing such confrontational statements and encouraging Christians to pray for peace.
The youth section of CAN also played useful roles in reducing the escalation of the crisis. For example, the Kaduna chapter of the youth section of CAN) gave part of their praying grounds to their Muslims friends for prayers. Such inter-religious activities helped to foster peace between Muslims and Christians despite the activities of the Boko Haram group41.
The second reason why the situation has not become a conflict between Muslims and Christians is the response of the Sultan of Sokoto (the religious leader of Muslims in Nigeria) and other Islamic civil society organizations. For example, after several attacks by Boko Haram insurgents, the Sultan states that ‘there is no conflict between Islam and Christianity and I want to assure that we will do all we can in the best of our ability to solve the numerous problems confronting our country’ 42. In addition, when the Sultan was also told to comment on the general notion that Muslim religious leaders have not been vigorous enough in their disapproval to the violent acts, he stated:
Have we not been speaking out? Did you read the press statement I issued out the day before yesterday? What else do you want us to say? We are totally against what has been happening, we totally condemn all these. Nobody can take anybody’s life, its unIslamic, its ungodly, nobody can take anybody’s life, all lives are sacred, must be respected and protected by all. So we have been speaking out. We all know what the situations are and we can only advise the government and we have been advising the government on several occasions’ 43.
Like the Sultan, Muslim leaders in the country have always assured Christians that Nigerian Muslims were not at war with them, and that the activities of Boko Haram were contrary to Islamic teachings44. In the same vein, the Federation of Muslim Women’s Association in Nigeria (FOMWAN) led a protest against increasing Boko Haram casualties in April, 2014. The leader of the association condemned the continuous escalation of violent attacks on innocent lives and properties in different parts of Nigeria.
A third reason why the activities of Boko Haram insurgents have not become a fight between Christians and Muslims is the nature of Boko Haram attacks. This is the reason given by most key informants interviewed. To the key informants the failure of Christians to retaliate Boko Haram attacks is not mainly because of the efforts of CAN but because the attacks are directed towards different categories of individuals and organizations in Nigeria. One of the key informants mentioned that ‘Boko Haram insurgents attacked United Nations building in Abuja, Police Stations, and other public places, and as such Christians cannot view Boko Haram activities as an attack solely on them’. Another key informant also argued that:
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Borno State has been weakened by indigenization and politicization. But more importantly, it has been rendered impotent by the Boko Haram (BH) insurgency as a result of the following: (1) BH’s shadowy nature which makes it difficult if not impossible to identify its members for discussion, dialogue or confrontation even if CAN wanted to; (2) the violent and ruthless nature of BH in killing any person, Christian or Muslim who was known to have said anything negative about it. For instance, the Borno State Secretary of CAN, Reverend Musa was brutally murdered; and (3) Of course, the fact that BH is heavily armed and organized to the point that even the state security forces are overwhelmed by it not to talk of CAN.
Generally, an atmosphere of fear pervades the whole of the North Eastern part of Nigeria such that people avoid open discussion and would only discuss privately with trusted friends and family members anything about BH. Even in churches, the general statement is ‘sai addua’,’ sai azumi’ meaning ‘pray’ and ‘fast.’ In other words, CAN in the affected states could hardly make statements or organize to dialogue with or confront BH.

This article has demonstrated that the activities of religious institutions such as the Christian Association of Nigeria and Muslim leaders contributed to the prevention of the Boko Haram crisis from escalating into a battle between Christians and Muslims. Although the general effects of the crisis on civil society is enormous, the pursuit of peace and the condemnation of the activities of the Boko Haram group even by adherents of the Islamic religion has made Nigerians especially Christians to have an accommodative disposition rather than a confrontational one. The general lesson from this article is that violent conflicts that have religious undertone can be prevented from escalating if adherents of other religions avoid violent confrontations and retaliation.
The Boko Haram crisis remains one of Nigeria’s most serious problems. The extent to which the problem is effectively handled by the Nigerian government and the international community will go a long way to determine the continued existence of Nigeria. Although the crisis has not escalated into a fight between Muslims and Christians, there exists the possibility of further escalation if effective strategies are not adopted and implemented. In the view of James Forest effective strategies should address both the terrorist threat of Boko Haram and the root causes of the grievances of the communities in which they operate. This is because no terrorist group has ever emerged in a vacuum45.

Boko Haram insurgency
Part of the Religious violence in Nigeria and
the Military intervention against ISIL

Nigerian soldiers during an operation against Boko Haram in March 2015.

Multinational Joint Task Force

Local militias[4]
Foreign mercenaries[5]

Boko Haram(main faction, 2009–15)

Boko Haram (Shekau loyalists, from 2016)[23][24]

Supported by:

AQIM(until 2017)[27][28]
Commanders and leaders

Muhammadu Buhari
Goodluck Jonathan (2010–2015)
Umaru Yar'Adua (2009–2010)
Ibrahim Geidam (2007–2009)
Ali Modu Sheriff (2009–11)
Kashim Shettima (2011–present)
Isa Yuguda (2007–2015)
Paul Biya (2014–present)
Idriss Déby (2015–present)

Mahamadou Issoufou (2014–present)

Abubakar Shekau
Abu Musab al-Barnawi (POW)
Mallam Sanni Umaru[30]
Mohammed Yusuf 

Abu Usmatul al-Ansari (POW)[31]
Abu Jafa'ar

Nigerian Army:
130,000 active frontline personnel;
32,000 active reserve personnel
Nigeria Police Force:
371,800 officers
Multinational Joint Task Force:
7,500 active personnel[7]
(excluding Cameroon and Nigeria)
Cameroonian Armed Forces:
20,000 active personnel

300 advisers[20][21]

ISIL: 7,000–10,000[32]

Ansaru: Unknown
Casualties and losses
Unknown1,957+ killed[citation needed]
1,713+ surrendered[33][34][35][36][37][38]

51,567+ total killed[39]

2,400,000 internally displaced[40][41][42][43][44][45][46]

The Boko Haram insurgency began in 2009,[47] when the jihadistrebel groupBoko Haram started an armed rebellion against the government of Nigeria.[48] In 2012, tensions within Boko Haram resulted in gradual split of the group between Salafist conservative faction led by Abu Usmatul al-Ansari, and the more dominant, violent faction led by Abubakar Shekau. By 2015, part of the group split into al-Qaeda affiliated Ansaru, and Shekau's faction became ISIL's West Africa branch.

In 2013, over 1,000 people died as a result of the conflict. The violence escalated dramatically in 2014, with 10,849 deaths.[40][49][50][51] In 2014, the insurgency spread to neighboring Cameroon, Chad, and Niger thus becoming a major regional conflict. In 2015, a coalition offensive forced Boko Haram to retreat into the Sambisa Forest. The insurgency took place within the context of long-standing issues of religious violence between Nigeria's Muslim and Christian communities. Boko Haram has been called the world's deadliest terrorist group, in terms of the number of people it has killed.[52][53][54]


Nigerian statehood[edit]

Nigeria was amalgamated both the Northern and Southern protectorate in 1914, only about a decade after the defeat of the Sokoto Caliphate and other Islamic states by the British which were to constitute much of Northern Nigeria. Sir Frederick Lugard, assumed office as governor of both protectorates in 1912. The aftermath of the First World War saw Germany lose its colonies, one of which was Cameroon, to French, Belgian and British mandates. Cameroon was divided in French and British parts, the latter of which was further subdivided into southern and northern parts. Following a plebiscite in 1961, the Southern Cameroons elected to rejoin French Cameroon, while the Northern Cameroons opted to join Nigeria, a move which added to Nigeria's already large Northern Muslim population.[55] The territory made up much of what is now Northeastern Nigeria, and a large part of the areas affected by the insurgency.

Early religious conflict in Nigeria[edit]

Main article: Religious violence in Nigeria

Religious conflict in Nigeria goes as far back as 1953. The Igbo massacre of 1966 in the North that followed the counter-coup of the same year had as a dual cause the Igbo officers' coup and pre-existing (sectarian) tensions between the Igbos and the local Muslims. This was a major factor in the Biafran secession and the resulting civil war.


Main articles: Maitatsine and Yan Tatsine

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was a major Islamic uprising led by Maitatsine (Mohammed Marwa) and his followers, Yan Tatsine that led to several thousand deaths. After Maitatsine's death in 1980, the movement continued some five years more.

In the same decade the erstwhile military ruler of Nigeria, General Ibrahim Babangida enrolled Nigeria in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. This was a move which aggravated religious tensions in the country, particularly among the Christian community.[56] In response, some in the Muslim community pointed out that certain other African member states have smaller proportions of Muslims, as well as Nigeria's diplomatic relations with the Holy See.

Establishment of Sharia[edit]

See also: Sharia in Nigeria

Since the return of democracy to Nigeria in 1999, Sharia has been instituted as a main body of civil and criminal law in 9 Muslim-majority and in some parts of 3 Muslim-plurality states, when then-Zamfara State governor Ahmad Rufai Sani[58] began the push for the institution of Sharia at the state level of government. This was followed by controversy as to the would-be legal status of the non-Muslims in the Sharia system. A spate of Muslim-Christian riots soon emerged.

In the primarily Islamic northern states of Nigeria, a variety of Muslim groups and populations exist, who favour the nationwide introduction of Sharia Law.[59] The demands of these populations have been at least partially upheld by the Nigerian Federal Government in 12 states, firstly in Zamfara State in 1999. The implementation has been widely attributed as being due to the insistence of Zamfara State governor Ahmad Rufai Sani.[58]

The death sentences of Amina Lawal and Safiya Hussaini attracted international attention to what many saw as the harsh regime of these laws. These sentences were later overturned;[60] the first execution was carried out in 2002.[60]

Blasphemy and apostasy[edit]

Main article: Blasphemy law in Nigeria

Twelve out of Nigeria's thirty-six states have Sunni Islam as the dominant religion. In 1999, those states chose to have Sharia courts as well as Customary courts.[61] A Sharia court may treat blasphemy as deserving of several punishments up to, and including, execution.[62][63] In many predominantly Muslim states, conversion from Islam to another religion is illegal and often a capital offence.[64]

Demographic balance[edit]

According to a Nigerian study on demographics and religion, Muslims make up 50.5% of the population. Muslims mainly live in the north of the country; the majority of the Nigerian Muslims are Sunnis. Christians are the second-largest religious group and make up 48.2% of the population. They predominate in the central and southern part of the country.[65]

For reasons of avoiding political controversy, questions of religion were forgone in the 2006 Nigerian census.[66][67]


Main article: Timeline of the Islamist insurgency in Nigeria

2009 Boko Haram uprising[edit]

Main article: 2009 Boko Haram uprising

Boko Haram conducted its operations more or less peacefully during the first seven years of its existence.[68] That changed in 2009 when the Nigerian government launched an investigation into the group's activities following reports that its members were arming themselves.[69] Prior to that the government reportedly repeatedly ignored warnings about the increasingly militant character of the organisation, including that of a military officer.[69]

When the government came into action, several members of the group were arrested in Bauchi, sparking deadly clashes with Nigerian security forces which led to the deaths of an estimated 700 people. During the fighting with the security forces Boko Haram fighters reportedly "used fuel-laden motorcycles" and "bows with poison arrows" to attack a police station.[48] The group's founder and then leader Mohammed Yusuf was also killed during this time while still in police custody.[70][71][72] After Yusuf's killing, Abubakar Shekau became the leader and held this position in January 2015.[73]

2010 resurgence[edit]

After the killing of M. Yusuf, the group carried out its first terrorist attack in Borno in January 2010. It resulted in the killing of four people.[74] Since then, the violence has only escalated in terms of both frequency and intensity. In September 2010, a Bauchi prison break freed more than 700 Boko Haram militants, replenishing their force.


On 29 May 2011, a few hours after Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in as president, several bombings purportedly by Boko Haram killed 15 and injured 55. On 16 June, Boko Haram claimed to have conducted the Abuja police headquarters bombing, the first known suicide attack in Nigeria. Two months later the United Nations building in Abuja was bombed, signifying the first time that Boko Haram attacked an international organisation. In December, it carried out attacks in Damaturu killing over a hundred people, subsequently clashing with security forces in December, resulting in at least 68 deaths. Two days later on Christmas Day, Boko Haram attacked several Christian churches with bomb blasts and shootings.

15 June 2011 also marked the start of a Federal Government sanctioned military effort to counter the growing threat of Boko Haram's insurgency. With 21 Armoured Brigade (21 Bde) of the Nigerian Army as its nucleus, Joint Task Force Operation Restore Order (JTF ORO 1) marked the start of the Army's lengthy counter-insurgency (COIN) campaign against Boko Haram. The campaign has gone through several phases and has greatly escalated in scale, capacity, components and stakeholders, since that time.[75] Results, however, have sometimes been mixed and the Army has been criticised for being too kinetic in its COIN.


In January 2012, Abubakar Shekau, a former deputy to Yusuf, appeared in a video posted on YouTube. According to Reuters, Shekau took control of the group after Yusuf's death in 2009.[76] Authorities had previously believed that Shekau died during the violence in 2009.[77] By early 2012, the group was responsible for over 900 deaths.[78] On 8 March 2012, a small Special Boat Service team and the Nigerian Army attempted to rescue two hostages, Chris McManus and Franco Lamolinara, being held in Nigeria by members of the Boko Haram terrorist organisation loyal to al-Qaeda. The two hostages were killed before or during the rescue attempt. All the hostage takers were reportedly killed.[79]

2013 government offensive[edit]

This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it.(September 2013)

In May 2013, Nigerian government forces launched an offensive in the Borno region in an attempt to dislodge Boko Haram fighters after a state of emergency was called on 14 May. The state of emergency, which was still in force in May 2014, applied to the states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa in northeastern Nigeria.[80] The offensive had initial success, but the Boko Haram rebels were able to regain their strength. In July, Boko Haram massacred 42 students in Yobe,[81] bringing the school year to an early end in the state. On 5 August 2013 Boko Haram launched dual attacks on Bama and Malam Fatori, leaving 35 dead.[82]

2014 Chibok kidnapping[edit]

Main article: 2014 Chibok kidnapping

On 15 April 2014, terrorists abducted about 276 female students from a college in Chibok in Borno state.[83] The abduction was widely attributed to Boko Haram.[84] It was reported that the group had taken the girls to neighbouring Cameroon and Chad where they were to be sold into marriages at a price below a Dollar. The abduction of another eight girls was also reported later. These kidnappings raised public protests, with some protesters holding placards bearing the Twitter tag #BringBackOurGirls which had caught international attention.[85] The Guardian reported that the British Royal Air Force conducted Operation Turus in response the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping by Boko Haram in Nigeria in April 2014. A source involved with the Operation told the Observer that “The girls were located in the first few weeks of the RAF mission,” and that “We [RAF] offered to rescue them, but the Nigerian government declined,” this was because it viewed any action to be taken as a “national issue,” and for it to be resolved by Nigerian intelligence and security services, the source added that the girls were then tracked by the aircraft as they were dispersed into progressively smaller groups over the following months.[86] Several countries pledged support to the Nigerian government and to help their military with intelligence gathering on the whereabouts of the girls and the operational camps of Boko Haram.

2014 Jos bombings[edit]

Main article: 2014 Jos bombings

On 20 May 2014, a total of two bombs in the city of Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria, were detonated, resulting in the deaths of at least 118 people and the injury of more than 56 others. The bombs detonated 30 minutes apart, one at a local market place at approximately 3:00 and the second in a parking lot next to a hospital at approximately 3:30, where rescuers responding to the first accident were killed.[87] Though no group or individual has claimed responsibility, the attacks have been attributed to Boko Haram.[88]

First responders were unable to reach the scenes of the accidents, as "thousands of people were fleeing the scene in the opposite direction". The bombs had been positioned to kill as many people as possible, regardless of religion, which differed from previous attacks in which non-Muslims were targeted. The bombers were reported to have used a "back-to-back blast" tactic, in which an initial bomb explodes at a central location and another explodes a short time later with intent to kill rescue workers working to rescue the wounded.[89]

Escalation in fighting[edit]

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Starting in late 2014, Boko Haram militants attacked several Nigerian towns in the North and captured them. This prompted the Nigerian government to launch an offensive, and with the help of Chad, Niger, and Cameroon, they have recaptured many areas that were formerly under the control of Boko Haram.[90][91]

In late 2014, Boko Haram seized control of Bama, according to the town's residents.[92] In December 2014, it was reported that "people too elderly to flee Gwoza Local Government Area were being rounded up and taken to two schools where the militants opened fire on them." Over 50 elderly people in Bama were killed.[93] A "gory" video was released of insurgents shooting over a hundred civilians in a school dormitory in the town of Bama.[94]

Between 3 January and 7 January 2015, Boko Haram attacked the town of Baga and killed up to 2,000 people,[95] perhaps the largest massacre by Boko Haram.[96]

On 10 January 2015 a bomb attack took place at the Monday Market in Maiduguri, killing 19 people. The city is considered to be at the heart of the Boko Haram insurgency.[97] In the early hours of 25 January, Boko Haram launched a major assault on the city.[98] On 26 January CNN reported that the attack on Maiduguri by "hundreds of gunmen" had been repelled, but the nearby town of Monguno was captured by Boko Haram.[99] The Nigerian Army claimed to have successfully repelled another attack on Maiduguri on 31 January 2015.[100]

2015 counter-offensive against Boko Haram[edit]

Main article: 2015 West African offensive

Starting in late January 2015, a coalition of military forces from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger began a counter-insurgency campaign against Boko Haram. [101] On 4 February, the Chad Army killed over 200 Boko Haram militants.[102] Soon afterwards, Boko Haram launched an attack on the Cameroonian town of Fotokol, killing 81 civilians, 13 Chadian soldiers and 6 Cameroonian soldiers.[103] On 17 February 2015 the Nigerian military retook Monguno in a coordinated air and ground assault.[104]

On 7 March 2015, Boko Haram's leader Abubakar Shekau pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant via an audio message posted on the organisation's Twitter account.[105][106] Nigerian army spokesperson Sami Usman Kukasheka said the pledge was a sign of weakness and that Shekau was like a "drowning man".[107] That same day, five suicide bomb blasts left 54 dead and 143 wounded.[108] On 12 March 2015, ISIL's spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani released an audiotape in which he welcomed the pledge of allegiance, and described it as an expansion of the group's caliphate to West Africa.[109]

On 24 March 2015, residents of Damasak, Nigeria said that Boko Haram had taken more than 400 women and children from the town as they fled from coalition forces.[110] On 27 March the Nigerian army captured Gwoza, which was believed to be the location of Boko Haram headquarters.[111] On election day, 28 March 2015, Boko Haram extremists killed 41 people, including a legislator, to discourage hundreds from voting.[112]

In March 2015, Boko Haram lost control of the Northern Nigerian towns of Bama[113] and Gwoza (believed to be their headquarters)[114] to the Nigerian army. The Nigerian authorities said that they had taken back 11 of the 14 districts previously controlled by Boko Haram.[113] In April, four Boko Haram camps in the Sambisa Forest were overrun by the Nigerian military who freed nearly 300 females.[115] Boko Haram forces were believed to have retreated to the Mandara Mountains, along the Nigeria-Cameroon border.[116] On 16 March, the Nigerian army said that it had recaptured Bama.[117] On 27 March 2015, the day before the Nigerian presidential election, the Nigerian Army announced that it had recaptured the town of Gwoza from Boko Haram.[118]

By April 2015, the Nigerian military was reported to have retaken most of the areas previously controlled by Boko Haram in Northeastern Nigeria, except for the Sambisa Forest.[119]

In May 2015, the Nigerian military announced that they had released about 700 women from camps in Sambisa Forest.[120][121]

In August 2015, it was reported that over one thousand deaths had occurred since the inauguration of the new administration.[122]

On 28 October 2015, it was announced that Nigerian troops have rescued 338 people from Boko Haram near the group's Sambisa Forest stronghold. Of those rescued, 192 were children and 138 were women.[123]

In December 2015 Muhammadu Buhari, the President of Nigeria, claimed that Boko Haram was "technically defeated"[52] and it was reported that 1,000 women had been rescued from Boko Haram in January 2016.[124][125]

American military support[edit]

In early October 2015, the US military deployed 300 troops to Cameroon, with the approval of the Cameroonian government, with the primary mission of providing intelligence support to local forces, and conducting reconnaissance flights.[20][21]

The troops are also overseeing a program to transfer American military vehicles to the Cameroonian Army to aid in their fight against Islamist militants.[126]

As of May 2016, U.S. personnel are involved in drone operations from Garoua to help provide intelligence in the region to assist local forces. There are additional drone operations based out of Niger.[127]

Status of sharia in Nigerian states (in 2013):[57]

  Sharia applies in full, including criminal law

  Sharia applies only in personal status issues

  No sharia

Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Region, as of 14 March 2015
Map of Boko Haram's territorial control on 10 April 2015, over 2 months after the start of the 2015 West African offensive

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