Despite operating as a regional terrorist organization in Nigeria, Boko Haram has gained international attention since kidnapping 276 schoolgirls in 2014. Scholarly research on the organization has since surged, but the literature is still in its formative stages in that it remains fractured and in need of greater synthesis. This assessment of the scholarly literature focuses on two of the most pressing questions concerning religion and Boko Haram and concludes by raising a third question concerning foreign influences that deserves greater scholarly attention. First, what are the causal implications of religion for explaining Boko Haram’s genesis, evolution, and particularly its violent tactics, as opposed to alternative explanations—economic inequality and depravation, political corruption, anti-imperialism, educational disparities, etc.? Second, to what degree is Boko Haram the latest iteration of Islamist violence in Northern Nigeria versus an organization with distinctive origins requiring fresh analysis? Neither question has been definitively answered. While religion is a clear motivation for Boko Haram, questions remain concerning whether it is a root motivation or a symptom of secular causes. Additionally, Boko Haram’s synthetic character—as a Nigerian Islamist group that is simultaneously networked with multiple transnational terrorist organizations—makes it difficult to categorize. Finally, questions concerning foreign influences over Boko Haram—both ideological and financial—have been raised but few empirically validated answers have been produced, offering fertile ground for future research.
Abimbola O. Adesoji
Although the Boko Haram crisis started like other riots before it and was initially treated as such, its escalation and metamorphosis from ordinary religious protest to insurgency has given an air of notoriety and fatality to it in Nigeria and across the borders of Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Despite being similar in orientation, philosophy, and modus operandi to the Maitatsine religious crises of 1980 to 1985 in Nigeria, the Boko Haram crisis is clearly marked out by its more virulent nature, its sophistication, the wider global attention it has attracted, its festering nature, and more significantly the seeming inability to bring it under control. Presented here are the views and perspectives of scholars on the origin and growth of the Boko Haram phenomenon in Nigeria, its philosophy and ideology, its strategies and tactics, and its progression from common religious crisis and eventual metamorphosis to insurgency. The highly volatile religious background from which the sect emerged and the central role played by Mohammed Yusuf in its nurturing and growth are discussed. Also discussed are the impact of Salafism and the writings of Ibn Taymiyya, among others, on the sect and the motivation it derives from the global jihad movement. The article examines and appraises the Nigerian government approach in seeking to contain the group and situate it in the context of the African states and global coalition against terror and discusses why the central government has struggled to firmly contain the group. The central role played by Mohammed Yusuf in the evolution and growth of the sect is brought out in the first part of the article. Pertinent was the influence of individuals and groups on Yusuf’s beliefs and activities aided by his demagoguery. His group’s abhorrence of Western education and lifestyle as well as rejection of democracy as a form of government and justification of violence, aided by Salafist thoughts and writings, form the kernel of the next section on philosophy and ideology. The third section, on transformation and changing strategies, discusses the factors in the escalation of the crisis, its various manifestations, and the growing global link of the sect resulting from its brutal suppression in 2009. The various measures devised to contain the sect and its effectiveness or otherwise are presented. A final section discusses the efforts made by the group to integrate itself into the global jihad movement as well as government response, particularly at the regional level, to defeat it.
Women are playing an increasingly significant role in terrorism. As men are progressively targeted by security personnel, using female operatives provides terrorist organizations with a “win–win” scenario; if security forces avoid invasively searching women for fear of outraging the local conservative population (based on social norms of women’s modesty and the honor code), women are the ideal stealth operatives. If security personnel are too aggressive in searching women, they aid terrorist recruitment by outraging the men in that society and providing the terrorists with propaganda that “our women” are being violated. In most conflicts, women remain an untapped resource. Recruiting women allows terrorist organizations to access an additional 50% of the population. Attacks by females generate greater media attention than those conducted by men. This is especially relevant when media attention is one of the terrorists’ main objectives. Although women’s involvement in terrorist and extremist activities is not a recent development, their presence as frontline activists, propagandists, and recruiters is increasing around the globe.