On Monday, Feb. 8, three teen girls entered a refugee camp in Northern Nigeria. The scene was typical, since the rise of Boko Haram thousands of Nigerians have been displaced from their homes and forced to take shelter in under resourced camps provided by the Nigerian government.
However, the girls brought with them the same terror that the refugees had hoped to escape. The day after entering the camp, two of them blew themselves up, killing 58 people and injuring many more in the process.
Thousands of miles away in America, the story was briefly picked up by most major news outlets but was quickly overshadowed by the bickering of Presidential candidates, the latest saga of Kanye West and a man in Florida who threw an Alligator through a drive-thru window.
Nowhere on my Twitter feed did I encounter #PrayForNigeria, Facebook profile pictures didn’t have a green and white flag faded in the background, no vigils were held on campus nobody seemed to notice, nobody seemed to care.
The Creation of Boko Haram
The story of the creation of Boko Harm is surely one that requires historical context. The history of religious violence and colonialism have played a vital role in shaping modern day Nigeria. A formal understanding of the role of history surely assist in fully appreciating the rise of Boko Haram. Furthermore, there are also many technical Islamic and Nigerian terms that are essential in comprehending the current state of the country. But in an attempt to keep this article short and easy flowing I will not go into every detail but will instead provide additional links attached to as many possible people and words as I can.
The shorter history of Boko Haram starts in contemporary Nigeria, a deeply segregated country. The people of the north are almost all Muslim, while the south is dominated by Christianity.
The turns of time have not boded well for north, as corruption and poverty have left many unemployed, uneducated and angry. It is exactly this type of chaos that Mohammed Yusuf, the founder of Boko Haram, was able to take advantage of.
Yusuf’s is believed to have been born in the north-east city of Jakusko around 1970. While not much is known about his childhood, it is believed that he, like many others in the north, was raised in extreme poverty, with his parents possibly being substance farmers.
Yusuf eventually left home and found his way to Maiduguri, one of the largest and most important cities in the north. It is here that he met cleric Ja’far Mahmud Adam. Adam, a believer in the Wahhabi sect of Islam, is believed to be Yusuf’s first interaction with a fundamentalist version Islam.
Yusuf would become Adam’s protege but the student quickly surpassed his teacher in terms of radicalization. Adam had always advocated that Muslims work from within the system but Yusuf disdained the government and thought Muslims should take action externally.
Yusuf’s growing radicalization led to a split from his mentor in early 2003. Yusuf took this opportunity to begin preaching more on his own and advocated for an Islamic state in Nigeria. This crusade for a new government quickly attracted a following that seemed radicalized enough to attract attention of authorities.
Yusuf’s group’s radicalization did not go unnoticed and the group was ousted my many mainstream Muslims, forcing Yusuf to set up his own Mosque. From here the group slowly started to pickup the name “Boko Haram” after residents heard of the groups hatred toward Western education. “Boko Haram” loosely translates to “Western education is forbidden” in Hausa, Boko meaning western education and Haram meaning forbidden or sin.
For the next few years Yusuf would continue to preach in his Mosque, seemingly becoming more violent over time. While he often preached violence, no homicides had been directly traced to the group. That would all change in the summer of 2009.
While attending a funeral on June 11, Boko Haram members got in a scuffle with the police after they felt one of their members was being harassed. The incident reportedly left 17 Boko Haram members wounded and Yusuf outraged.
Yusuf’s response was an armed uprising over several days, attacking police stations and civilians alike. The attacks left between 700 and 1,000 innocent Nigerians dead.
Miraculously. Yusuf survived the onslaught while many of his followers died. However, the authorities were on his trail and he was captured on July 30, 2009. Upon, his capture he was interviewed by police. A video recording of the interview can be seen here in the original Hausa language. A translated transcript of the interview can be found here.
Immediately after the interview the police would execute Yusuf. As a result Abubakar Shekau would become the groups new leader; a man much more violent and deranged than his predecessor. He continues to lead Boko Haram today, a group that has gone on to become, by most accords, the deadliest terrorist group in the world.
The 2015 Nigerian Presidential Elections and Implications
From 2010 to 2015 Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south who seemed to accidentally stumble into politics, was the President of Nigeria. Under Jonathan, Nigeria’s government seemed to remain corrupt and Boko Haram continued to grow in power.
In 2015 Jonathan would run for reelection with his main opponent being Mohhammadu Buhari, a Muslim from the north who had previously ruled Nigeria after taking over power through a military coup from 1983-1985.
While far from a corrupt dictator, Buhari ruled Nigeria the same way he came to power, with force. Buhari declared a “war on indiscipline” in attempt to fight corruption; but rules were often too strict, punishing people for things as small as poor posture in public.
Neither candidate seemed equipped to run Africa’s biggest economy. The Economist endorsed Buhari, calling him “the least awful,” adding that “a former dictator is better than a failed President.”
The Nigerian people seemed to agree, after weeks of delays due to fears of Boko Haram attacks, the citizens finally casts their votes. Buhari won, taking nearly 54% of the vote.
Buhari gained much of his support because many people believed his past military experience made him better equipped to fight the insurgency. Sadly, thus far, they seem to be mistaken. While the military has seemed to taken back some of Boko Haram’s territory, the group has switched tactics that are often more deadly and hard to detect.
Chibok and the Modern day State of Nigeria
It’s very likely that the first time you ever heard of Boko Haram is in April of 2014. On the night of April 14th Boko Haram members stormed a girls dormitory in Chibok and abducted 276 girls ages 16-18.
The attack sparked international outrage with the #BringBackOurGirls campaign led in the United States by Michelle Obama. While a few girls were able to escape during the abduction the majority have not been seen since and are believed to be scattered all over Western-Africa, enslaved to terrorists.
As hopes of finding the girls faded so did Western interest in Nigeria. But to this day Boko Haram terrorizes the people of Nigeria who are already fighting extreme poverty and hunger. Boko Haram has forced millions of Nigerians to flee their homes for refugee camps, leaving many in the country lost and without identity.
Many schools have closed down choosing children’s safety over their education. As a result Nigeria faces a vicious cycle that displaces its people leaving them unemployed and uneducated. The Nigerian government has been fighting this battle alone for nearly a decade with little to no success.
It’s not clear what Western powers like the United States can do, Nigerians are skeptical of our help, siting the failed results of the ‘war on terror” in the Middle East. But we as citizens of the world can no longer sit idly by as our fellow humans are massacred, as mothers dig their own sons graves, as little girls are too scared to go to school.
If we can start anywhere, we can start by giving a damn. By treating the people of Nigeria with the same respect we treat our Western brethren in France.
We as human being must stand up to the evils of terrorism of all kinds and say this kind of massacre is not allowed, this kind of slaughter is not okay, this kind of of violence is Haram.
*I gained much of my knowledge about Nigeria and the Boko Haram insurgency by reading Mike Smith’s book, “Boko Haram: Inside Nigeria’s Unholy War. For more up to date information, simply search Google News.