April briefing

Following President-elect Buhari’s victory in the presidential election last month, we were pleased to see the incoming president call for a renewed effort to tackle the underlying causes of the Boko Haram insurgency. Writing in the New York Times, President-elect Buhari called for Nigeria to “address why it is that young people join Boko Haram”, and pointed to lack of education as a core driver of the conflict.

Indeed, education is an important way to tackle poverty and to challenge extremist views. But the full spectrum of underlying causes must be addressed, including not only lack of education but poverty more broadly, political marginalisation, and human rights violations. In particular, accountability for past human rights violations in the fight against Boko Haram would send a powerful signal to the people of the north-east that the new government is serious about addressing the roots of the conflict.

This month’s briefing contains commentary from John Campbell on President-elect Buhari’s new strategy for countering Boko Haram, an interview with the Executive Director of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission from the Testimonial Archive Project, a piece from Jason Warner on how to re-build Nigeria after Boko Haram, and analysis from Emily Mellgard of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.

Andrew Noakes

Our analysis

Buhari’s strategy for stopping Boko Haram
In this blog, John Campbell praises President-elect Buhari’s new strategy for tackling Boko Haram, noting that it is astute, realistic, and within his power to implement. He focuses in particular on Buhari’s recognition of the socio-economic causes of the Boko Haram insurgency, and welcomes his decision to focus on female education.

“The responsibility of the state to protect its people doesn’t cease because they have been internally displaced”
Saratu Abiola’s Testimonial Archive Project interviews the Executive Director of the National Human Rights Commission, Chidi Odinkalu. The interview focuses on the plight of internally displaced persons in Nigeria’s north-east, and sheds light on abuse of IDPs as well as their exploitation for political purposes during the recent election campaign.

After Boko Haram: how to re-build Nigeria
Jason Warner co-authors this piece on how to re-build Nigeria after Boko Haram. He notes that the conflict has caused enormous economic damage and has uprooted Borno state’s social and political system. If the north-east is neglected now, further turmoil could ensue in the years to come as new armed groups emerge.

What is Boko Haram?
Emily Mellgard provides an overview of Boko Haram’s leadership, ideology, recruitment, and international links in this outline of the insurgent group. She warns that although Boko Haram appears to have been put on the back foot in recent weeks, the group is resilient to eradication.

Key points from this briefing

  • President-elect Buhari is right to focus on tackling the underlying causes of the Boko Haram insurgency
  • Education is an important area to concentrate on but other areas also need attention, including human rights, political inclusion, and development more broadly
  • Internally displaced people in Nigeria’s north-east continue to suffer greatly, including from abuse while in IDP camps
  • Boko Haram is likely to prove resilient in the face of recent territorial gains by the government
  • However, if Boko Haram can be defeated there must be a major reconstruction effort in the north-east to prevent further conflict

March briefing

This month’s briefing comes on the day of Nigeria’s presidential election, which is now taking place after the government and its regional partners successfully cleared Boko Haram out of much of its territory in the north-east.

The government should be congratulated for its rapid territorial gains against Boko Haram over the last few weeks. However, in our new special report, The end of Boko Haram?, we warn the insurgents are likely to melt back into the countryside and continue the guerrilla warfare that characterised Boko Haram’s fighting up until mid-2014. Nigeria’s next government must not assume the war is over. The report also warns that the use of foreign military advisers in the conflict should be restricted to non-combat roles.

This month’s briefing includes our special report, as well as analysis from Jacob Zenn focusing on Boko Haram’s emergence as part of a transnational jihadist movement, the launch of a new Boko Haram tracker from Zacharias Pieri and his colleagues at the University of South Florida, and an interview from the Testimonial Archive Project with a member of Baga’s Civilian JTF, among other contributions.

Andrew Noakes

Our analysis

Special Report: The end of Boko Haram?
In our special report, we warn that the government’s recent territorial gains against Boko Haram do not signal the end of the insurgency. We argue that Boko Haram is likely to continue waging a guerrilla war now that it has been chased from the battlefield. We also warn against foreign military advisers becoming directly involved in combat.

Foreign mercenaries will worsen the Boko Haram insurgency
Andrew Noakes speculates about the impact foreign mercenaries could have on the Boko Haram insurgency, following unconfirmed reports foreign military advisors have become involved in the combat in north-east Nigeria. He argues that the short-term military gains could soon be eclipsed by dire political consequences.

A biography of Boko Haram and the bay`a to al-Baghdadi
Jacob Zenn charts Boko Haram’s emergence as part of a wider transnational jihadist movement. He warns it may evolve into a revamped Islamic State version of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) that is capable of competing for a recruiting pool in an area of operations spanning from Nigeria to Libya.

Global Initiative Analysis: Nigeria and Boko Haram tracker issue 1
Zacharias Pieri is part of the team at the University of South Florida behind the Global Initiative Analysis: Nigeria and Boko Haram tracker. This issue examines whether we have reached a turning point in the counter-insurgency campaign, looks at Boko Haram’s key narratives, and makes recommendations on governance and security, among other topics.

Boko Haram, Ballot Cards and Bunkering: Security challenges facing the Nigerian elections
In this blog, Ryan Cummings analyses the security challenges facing the Nigerian elections, including political unrest following the results and Boko Haram attacks.

It got to a point that soldiers offered us their guns
Saratu Abiola’s Testimonial Archive Project records an interview with a member of Baga’s Civilian JTF. He recalls Boko Haram’s notorious attack on Baga, saying that soldiers fled as CJTF volunteers stayed to fight.

Nigeria re-takes territory from Boko Haram
John Campbell tracks the re-capturing of Boko Haram territory by the government and its partners and comments on the possible reasons behind the rapid reversal in fortunes. He argues six weeks is too short a time for the Nigerian army to have transformed itself into a force capable of defeating Boko Haram

Key points from this briefing

  • The government should be praised for turning the tide against Boko Haram, though the insurgency is unlikely to be defeated
  • The use of foreign military advisers in combat roles may backfire on the government if they are indeed being used in this way
  • Nigerian army soldiers fled from Boko Haram as Baga was attacked
  • Boko Haram could be emerging as an Islamic State version of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa
  • There are multiple security challenges surrounding the upcoming elections, particularly from political unrest and Boko Haram
  • Boko Haram is likely to exploit grievances following the presidential election
  • Attacks against Western interests in Nigeria are growing more likely

Special report: The end of Boko Haram?

NSN has published a new special report, The end of Boko Haram? The report focuses on Nigeria’s recent territorial gains against the insurgency in the country’s north-east, and the role of foreign military advisors.

The report notes the extraordinary progress the Nigerian government has made in pushing Boko Haram out of territory in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe, but warns this does not signal the end of the insurgency.

“The insurgency does not need to operate like a conventional army, which can be expelled from territory in a series of pitched battles”, the report says. “Instead, it has the capacity to quickly melt away into the countryside and avoid large-scale confrontation.”

The report continues, “Boko Haram can be expected to retreat into its hideouts and switch back to fighting the guerrilla campaign it was engaged in up until the middle of 2014.” The recent spate of suicide bombings, including in Borno state’s capital Maiduguri, are a strong indication of this.

The report notes confirmed reports of foreign advisors providing assistance to the Nigerian military, and unconfirmed reports that this assistance involves direct participation in combat. While supporting the former as a necessary form of capacity building, NSN expresses serious concern about the possibility of foreign soldiers becoming involved in combat.

NSN has not been able to verify the unconfirmed reports of foreign advisors being involved in combat.

Even if the reports of advisors becoming involved in combat are exaggerated, the experts warn that the distinction between advisor and mercenary can break down very quickly. “Private military contractors who advise, train, mentor, and maintain equipment can easily find themselves playing a combat role even if it was unintended”, the report notes.

NSN recommends that the use of foreign advisors be restricted to training and advice, and that the government should continue to focus on building the capacity of the Nigerian army to implement a comprehensive counter-insurgency strategy against Boko Haram.

Find the full report here.

February briefing

The Nigerian military’s success in recent days and weeks recapturing territory from Boko Haram should give observers cause for relief. Complemented by regional intervention from Nigeria’s neighbours, the Nigerian army appears to be making significant gains in the north-east. We must hope this is the beginning of a reversal of Boko Haram’s fortunes over the last few months.

Much of the analysis over recent weeks has focused on President Jonathan’s decision to postpone the presidential election in order to give the army a chance to recapture territory. As ever, NSN’s own focus remains on the security situation. However, we remain concerned about the possibility that Boko Haram could destabilise Nigeria’s democracy and trigger considerable violence and unrest more broadly in the country.

This month’s analysis focuses on Boko Haram’s evolving media and public messaging strategy, Boko Haram’s threat to the elections, the insurgency’s geographic spread, and the response to the insurgency.

Andrew Noakes

Our analysis

Boko Haram mimics Islamic State
This piece by Zacharias Pieri argues Boko Haram is learning from Islamic State, especially with respect to its media and public messaging strategy.

Blood and the Ballot Box: Boko Haram and Nigerian elections
Ryan Cummings examines the threat Boko Haram poses to Nigerian democracy and the upcoming elections. He assesses the risks across geographic areas and types of target, and analyses the political implications of Boko Haram’s violence.

The Boko Haram insurgency: separating fact from fiction
Ryan Cummings picks apart the various fact/fiction debates surrounding Boko Haram, including the group’s name, its relationship with Islamic State, and its hold over territory.

“The soldiers are less motivated than the insurgents”
In this interview, Nnamdi Obasi answers a series of questions about Boko Haram and the counter-insurgency, including whether the West should intervene military in Nigeria and what the best strategy for defeating the insurgency is.

Mindful of the Islamic State, Boko Haram Broadens Reach into Lake Chad Region
Jacob Zenn analyses Boko Haram’s expansion into the Lake Chad region. He concludes that the insurgency’s focus is still on Borno but is also expanding to neighbouring countries, including with respect to recruitment.

Has the tide turned against Boko Haram in Nigeria?
John Campbell argues that recent gains against Boko Haram by the Nigerian military may be enough to satisfy President Jonathan’s criteria for holding elections.

Key points from this briefing

  • Boko Haram is learning from Islamic State and developing a more sophisticated media and public messaging strategy
  • Boko Haram represents a clear threat to Nigerian democracy, particularly because their attacks have the potential to cause a political crisis
  • Boko Haram does not hold territory in the traditional sense, often leaving captured areas undefended
  • There must be no major Western military intervention in Nigeria because it would be resented by Nigerians and could be counter-productive
  • There still remain problems in the Nigerian army with lack of resources, equipment, and poor motivation
  • Boko Haram is still mostly focused on Borno but is extending its reach into countries in the Lake Chad region
  • The Nigerian military’s successes in recent weeks may make elections possible

January briefing

Boko Haram continues to carry out attacks across north-east Nigeria and would appear to be gaining momentum. This month alone has been characterised by widespread violence with suggestions that up to 2,000 people died in a single attack in Baga on the 7 January. It may, however, be impossible to independently verify this figure due to a lack of clear information.

The porous border between Nigeria and Cameroon continues to be utilised by Boko Haram as a safe haven and transport route for fighters and supplies. Seemingly, Boko Haram has no regard for national boundaries and whilst the majority of attacks have taken place in Nigeria, the possibility of continued cross border attacks should not be ruled out. The most recent atrocity which occurred on the 18 January in Cameroon in which 80 people were abducted would explain the calls by African heads of state for an African Union led offensive to combat Boko Haram once and for all.

Upcoming elections continue to create mounting anxiety as escalation of violence by Boko Haram looks set to intensify. As with previous elections, ethnic and religious identities are emphasised with Muhammadu Buhari being perceived to be the Muslim presidential hopeful of the north and incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan as the Christian president of the south. However, with one million displaced persons in the north unable to vote, this could have significant implications on the outcome of the elections.

Ola Akinfolarin
Assistant Coordinator

Our analysis

Murder by numbers: assessing the credibility of the Baga death toll
In this piece, Ryan Cummings questions whether it is indeed credible to believe that Boko Haram killed as many as 2,000 people in a single act of mass violence on 7 January. The attack on Baga as well as surrounding towns looks as if it could be Boko Haram’s deadliest act in a catalogue of increasingly heinous attacks carried out by the insurgency. However, the quoted death toll of 2,000 may not be specific to Baga alone but rather a cumulative figure derived from a spate of Boko Haram attacks which occurred between 3 and 7 January.

Briefing note: Boko Harm in Cameroon
Emily Mellgard examines the legacy of Boko Haram attacks that have taken place in Cameroon. On 18 January, suspected Boko Haram militants attacked multiple villages among the Mandera Mountains in the Mayo-Tsnaga Department of Cameroon’s Far North Region. At least 4 people were reported dead and 80 people were abducted, 50 of which were children.

Boko Haram has conducted post border raids since at least 2013 in Cameroon. As military pressure on Boko Haram activities in Nigeria escalates, it can be expected that they will continue to use the border as a base from which to launch attacks.

Boko Haram: Jihad is local
In this interview, Zacharias Pieri discusses the latest ideological and tactical developments of Boko Haram. The mass abductions of the girls in Chibok and the use of young girls as suicide bombers would indicate that Boko Haram is in a new phase and their strategies have changed. On an ideological level however, the movement has remained consistent since 2009 in trying to create an Islamic caliphate in northern Nigeria. The Boko Haram ideology is also internationally enhanced and tied to the global growth of radical Islam, particularly in the form promoted by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Boko Haram and the Ballot Box
Andrew Noakes analyses the potential impact of the Boko Haram insurgency on the February 14 presidential election as their campaign of terror continues in the northeast of Nigeria. Since June, the Islamic militant group has seized some 20,000 square miles in the three north eastern states of Yobe, Adamawa and Borno. This is problematic for presidential hopeful Muhammadu Buhari as support for APC comes largely from Nigeria’s majority Muslim northern states. One million plus people that have been forced to flee the militants in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa will not be allowed to vote as Nigeria’s election law only allows people to cast ballots in their local area; one million votes could make all the difference in what is set to be a close race.

Nigeria’s elections in 2011 and 2015
In this piece, John Campbell provides a comparative analysis of the 2011 Nigerian elections and the upcoming 2015 elections. In 2011, sitting president Goodluck Jonathan was elected defeating Muhammadu Buhari. In many ways the 2011 elections set the stage for the current national crisis. As in 2015, the two presidential candidates are the Christian Jonathan and the Muslim Buhari. The campaigns were marred by ethnic and religious identities. As a result the election results further demarcated the country along the lines of a Muslim north and a Christian south. Once again in 2015, there are appeals to ethnic and religious identities but the question still remains as to how the one million displaced persons will vote – the mounting anxiety therefore surrounding the upcoming elections is not misplaced.

Key findings

  • The reported 2,000 people massacred in Baga is yet to be verified.
  • Boko Haram continues to utilise the porous border between Cameroon and Chad, using it as a transportation corridor for supplies and fighters.
  • Religious and ethnic identities continue to play a prominent role in the upcoming elections. Buhari is seen as the Muslim president of the north and Jonathan, the Christian president of the south.
  • With one million displaced persons potentially unable to vote in north eastern Nigeria, this may disadvantage Buhari.
  • There is a strong possibility of increased levels of violence before and after the elections due to ethnic and religious identities that continue to play a prominent role.

December briefing

The February 2015 elections look set to be the most contentious to date. The potential risk of violence remains particularly high given the set of complexities faced by the Nigerian government. These include the Boko Haram insurgency, religious tension spilling over into politics, and insecurity in the Niger Delta.

It is crucial that the government and other key state actors work together to ensure the risk of violence is minimised; this is of particular importance for northern Nigeria where the safety of voters is a major concern.

Political candidates have even been advised by religious leaders not to contest the forthcoming elections as it could only serve to intensify ethno-religious tensions. Religious affiliations have the potential to shroud issues that are also of great significance for Nigeria such as the importance of good governance.

This month’s analysis includes a report principally authored by Nnamdi Obasi assessing the potential risk of violence during the upcoming elections, a blog post by Emily Mellgard detailing the advice given to political candidates by a religious cleric, a piece by Ryan Cummings which considers the asymmetric warfare of the insurgency, and a blog by Andrew Noakes looking at the possibility of peace with Boko Haram.

Ola Akinfolarin
Assistant Coordinator

Our analysis

Nigeria’s Dangerous 2015 Elections: Limiting the Violence
Nnamdi Obasi, the principal author of this Crisis Group report, suggests that the risks of violence during the 2015 elections are particularly high given that this is the first nationwide contest between two parties since the return to civilian rule in 1999. Recommendations are offered to a number of key state actors to help mitigate the risk of widespread violence.

Nigerian Religious Leaders Advise Political Candidates
Emily Mellgard in this blog post highlights the advice that has been given to presidential aspirant Muhammadu Buhari and the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan by a prominent Muslim cleric.

Both politicians have been advised not to contest the election as it may propagate ethno-religious tensions with Buhari being seen as the Islamic candidate and Jonathan, the pro-Christian President. She concludes by suggesting that only time will tell if Buhari and Jonathan will heed this advice.

Elections, Boko Haram and Security: Assessing and Addressing Nigeria’s Complex Challenges
Dr Oliver Owen and Professor Mohammed Kuna, explore some of the debilitating challenges that Nigeria presently face; listen to the full discussion here.

Boko Haram and the Symmetry of Asymmetric Warfare
In this piece, Ryan Cummings assesses the acts of violence that have been carried out by the Boko Haram insurgency. He suggests that such acts remain characteristic of typical asymmetric warfare with suicide and car bombings, targeted assassinations and kidnappings to name a few, continuing to serve as preferred attack vectors. He analyses the possible strategic and ideological motivations behind the sect’s ongoing reliance on dispersed asymmetrical forms of violence.

Boko Haram: can a peace deal be negotiated?
Andrew Noakes, writing for Oxford Research Group’s sustainable security blog, considers what it would take to do a peace deal with Boko Haram. He concludes that the first step for achieving peace must be for the army to re-establish security for civilians in the north-east and take the momentum away from the insurgents. Then the underlying drivers of the conflict, including under-development and human rights violations, must be addressed.

Key findings from this briefing

  • 2015 elections will be the most contentious elections since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999.
  • There is a potential risk of violence during the upcoming elections and the government must take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of voters.
  • The state of emergency in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe could prevent voting in parts of north-eastern states.
  • Ethno-religious tensions could be a prominent feature of the 2015 elections; political candidates have been advised not to politicise religious differences.
  • A contest between a political candidate from the north and his Niger Delta counterpart, could result in violence in both regions depending on the outcome of the election.
  • The possible strategic and ideological aims of Boko Haram would suggest that the acts of terror employed could have some underlying motivations.
  • Taking the momentum away from Boko Haram in the north-east is a prerequisite for any peace deal.
  • It is essential to address the underlying drivers of the conflict in order to lay the groundwork for peace.

Nigeria’s Dangerous 2015 Elections: Limiting the Violence

In this comprehensive report, Nnamdi Obasi, the Principal Author reviews the potential risk for violence around the 2015 elections in Nigeria. With the first nationwide contest between the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) since the return to civilian rule in 1999, the risks are particularly high.

Read the full report here.