October briefing

Our October briefing comes a week after an extraordinary announcement from the governments of Nigeria and Chad that a ceasefire agreement has been reached with Boko Haram. The deal is said to include a commitment from the insurgents to imminently return the Chibok girls.

However, the girls are yet to be released, and Boko Haram are reported to have carried out a series of attacks in north-east Nigeria in recent days, including an attack on the strategic town of Damboa in Borno state. There have also been reports of more girls being kidnapped.

Though the Chadian government has dismissed the attacks as the work of irreconcilable factions in Boko Haram, they do cast doubt on the ceasefire. The credibility of Boko Haram’s “representative” during the talks, Danladi Ahmadu, has also been questioned by sources familiar with the group’s leaders, most notably the journalist Ahmad Salkida.

We hope these doubts are put to rest and the ongoing negotiations bear fruit. The next few days will be a test of their credibility.

This month’s briefing includes an analysis of the ceasefire deal, a piece by Elizabeth Pearson examining the increasingly important role women are playing in Boko Haram, and an article by Ryan Cummings assessing the options for bringing back the Chibok girls.

I would also like to use this briefing as an opportunity to pay tribute to Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, who recently stepped down as Minister of State for Defence. Senator Obanikoro’s willingness to embrace a holistic approach to tackling Boko Haram has set a strong example for the rest of the security establishment to follow. We wish him well for the future.

Andrew Noakes

Our analysis

Nigeria’s Boko Haram ceasefire deal: too good to be true?
Andrew Noakes questions the credibility of the ceasefire deal reached with Boko Haram. He warns of the danger of political motivations becoming a driving force behind the approach to the insurgency, noting that both the APC and the PDP have been guilty of politicising the war. He calls on all parties to agree to keep politics out of the counter-insurgency campaign.

Nigeria’s female suicide bombers: a show of strength
Elizabeth Pearson argues that although the deployment of female suicide bombers by Boko Haram has not proved a long-term tactic thus far, women are playing an increasingly important role in the insurgency. They are particularly useful for helping the group to conduct its activities, such as smuggling weapons, in secret. The use of female suicide bombers has served an important propaganda purpose and initially helped to divert attention away from Boko Haram’s operations in the north-east.

Where are our girls?
In this piece by Ryan Cummings, he assesses the various options open to the Nigerian government to secure the release of the Chibok girls. He argues that a negotiated settlement is very possible, though the government must be careful not to give too much away. He questions whether a military operation to rescue the girls would be feasible, given the level of risk involved.

Key points from this briefing

  • There are reasons to question the credibility of the ceasefire deal with Boko Haram, though we remain hopeful that negotiations will bear fruit.
  • Politicisation of the insurgency is becoming a major hindrance to efforts to tackle it.
  • The emergence of female suicide bombers shows Boko Haram’s ability to wage an effective propaganda campaign and divert attention away from its real goals.
  • Women are playing an increasingly important role in Boko Haram in general.
  • The government’s best option for securing the release of the Chibok girls is a negotiated settlement, though it must be careful not to give too much away.

September briefing

Since our last briefing in August, Boko Haram has made major territorial gains in Nigeria’s north-east region, seizing a string of towns in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states. In our special report, North-east Nigeria on the brink, we warned that Maiduguri – the capital of Borno – was in danger of being attacked.

Since then, Boko Haram has advanced to within 35km of Maiduguri and is now launching attacks on the nearby town of Konduga. Though the pace of the insurgency’s gains has slowed in the last two weeks, the threat to Maiduguri remains.

As well as featuring our special report, this briefing includes a piece from Ryan Cummings analysing the connection between events in Iraq and Nigeria, an article from Alkasim Abdulkadir questioning controversial claims made by Stephen Davis about Boko Haram’s political supporters, new analysis from Zacharias Pieri on Boko Haram’s plans for a caliphate in northern Nigeria, and an interview from the Testimonial Archive Project providing a rare insight into what’s going on in the towns captured by Boko Haram.

Andrew Noakes

Our analysis

North-east Nigeria on the brink
In a joint report from the members of the Nigeria Security Network, we warn of the danger posed to Maiduguri and the rest of north-east Nigeria following Boko Haram’s rapid territorial gains. We warn that the military must act quickly to send reinforcements, ammunition, and equipment to the north-east to counter Boko Haram’s changing tactics.

Of Caliphates
Ryan Cummings answers some commonly asked questions about the connections between the Islamic State in Iraq and Boko Haram in Nigeria. He concludes Boko Haram’s aspirations for a caliphate predate the Islamic State and that it is unlikely the two groups will develop a formal alliance due to Boko Haram’s relationship with al-Qaeda.

Boko Haram, Stephen Davis and the strange tales from Perth
Alkasim Abdulkadir questions the credibility of Stephen Davis and his claims about Boko Haram’s political connections. He argues Davis cannot have gone to north-east Nigeria and would not have been seen by Boko Haram as a legitimate intermediary.

Boko Haram’s Islamic Caliphate is becoming a reality in Northeastern Nigeria
In this analysis piece, Zacharias Pieri provides some historical context for Boko Haram’s stated aim of establishing a caliphate, explaining that the insurgents are inspired by Dan Fodio’s Sokoto Caliphate. He also shows how the group is developing the infrastructure for a caliphate in the north-east.

‘How can you depend on the military to protect you?’
In this interview from Saratu Abiola’s Testimonial Archive Project, a resident of Maiduguri relays information from towns captured by Boko Haram. He reveals that only women and the old remain in captured areas, Boko Haram are doing nothing to provide services, and people are struggling to feed themselves. He adds that he supports the military but does not trust them, though he points out the CJTF have done much to improve relations between the people and the army.

Key points from this briefing

  • Boko Haram has not yet attacked Maiduguri but they remain in control of large parts of Borno State.
  • The military must continue to reinforce Borno and provide enough ammunition and functional equipment to counter-attack.
  • Boko Haram’s tactics have changed in the north-east. They have gone from carrying out hit-and-run attacks to seizing and holding territory.
  • Boko Haram is not going to join up with the Islamic State in Iraq, though they have undoubtedly been spurred on by its successes.
  • The insurgency’s aim of establishing a caliphate has historical roots.
  • Stephen Davis’s claims about Boko Haram’s political connections are highly dubious.
  • There is no evidence of Boko Haram attempting to govern in any meaningful way in the areas it has captured.
  • The military are not trusted by the local population in the north-east, though the CJTF have improved relations a little.

Nigeria on the verge of losing Borno state

Nigeria on the verge of losing Borno state

Nigeria stands on the verge of being split in two as Boko Haram makes lightning territorial gains in the north-east of the country, we warn in a special report, North-East Nigeria on the brink

The report warns that Boko Haram is preparing to take over Borno’s state capital, Maiduguri, following an attack on Bama to the south-east.

“If Maiduguri falls, it will be a symbolic and strategic victory unparalleled so far in the conflict,” the report says.

A successful attack could be followed by a take over of the whole of Borno state and possibly parts of Adamawa, Yobe, and neighbouring Cameroon.

The report says, “Unless swift action is taken, Nigeria could be facing a rapid takeover of a large area of its territory reminiscent of ISIS’s lightning advances in Iraq.”

We call on the Nigerian government to urgently reinforce Maiduguri to prevent it falling into enemy hands and re-gain control over Borno’s network of roads to stem the insurgency’s advance.

Low morale and inadequate equipment in the army is causing soldiers to refuse to counter-attack and flee from battle. They must be provided with adequate equipment and ammunition to confidently stand against Boko Haram in battle.

Unless drastic action is taken, Nigeria stands to lose a large portion of its territory with an accompanying humanitarian crisis.

For more information, read the full report.

August briefing

As we approach the 2015 presidential election, the temptation to use the insurgency for electoral gain is getting stronger. Politicians from both the PDP and the APC are blaming each other for Boko Haram, with some even accusing their opponents of supporting the insurgents.

It’s worth remembering that politicising a conflict can make it even worse. By turning against each other, political leaders risk distracting themselves from fighting the real enemy. Boko Haram is making alarming gains in the north-east, even recently seizing the town of Damboa. Now is not the time to take our eye off the ball. Much needed funding for the counter-insurgency has also been delayed by politicking, and the demonisation of the APC is undoubtedly further fuelling discontent in the north.

The 2015 election should be a time for Nigeria to show its strength and resolve against the insurgency. The best way to do that is for politicians to avoid blaming each other and instead unite against their common enemy.

This month’s analysis includes a more detailed warning from me about the dangers of politicising the insurgency, a piece by Andrew Walker reviewing the 100 days since the Chibok abduction, new observations from Jacob Zenn about Boko Haram’s evolution, and more.

Andrew Noakes

Our analysis

Playing politics with Nigeria’s insurgency risks civil war
This piece draws attention to the risks of playing politics with the insurgency, including further alienation of the north, distracting the country’s leadership away from Boko Haram at a time when they’re making gains, and hampering the allocation of resources to the military. The nightmare scenario is that the election causes broader unrest and violence in the north. Politicians should do everything they can to ensure this doesn’t happen.

Nigeria is dancing on the brink
John Campbell gives this interview to the Citizen. He warns there is a serious risk of instability in Nigeria and that political life has become unsettled by the approach of elections in 2015. Asked whether there’s anything he would now add to his book about Nigeria, Campbell suggests he would pay more attention to the problem of corruption.

100 days of violence, rumors, and loss
Andrew Walker gives a critical assessment of Nigeria’s response to the Chibok abduction, 100 days on. He suggests that the government’s ability to handle Boko Haram will determine Nigeria’s long-term stability and viability, and that much remains to be done. He also offers an overview of the myriad conspiracy theories that have cropped up following the abduction, and reminds us that all of the theorising and politicking surrounding Chibok are a world away from the real struggles faced by people in the north.

Boko Haram opens new fronts in Lagos and Nigeria’s middle belt
In this new analysis from Jacob Zenn, he argues that Boko Haram are expanding their operations into the middle belt and Lagos. He suggests that a new faction is responsible for the Lagos suicide attack in June, and that Ansaru has reintegrated into Boko Haram and is carrying out the middle belt attacks. He also says that Boko Haram has internalised Ansaru’s kidnapping skills and is using them to carry out abductions in the north. The biggest threat to Nigeria, though, comes from Boko Haram’s seizure of territory in the north-east. Zenn argues that they could create a region free from government control in which to found a new Islamic state.

“I have more than twenty refugees seeking refuge in my house as a result of this insurgency”
Saratu Abiola’s Testimonial Archive Project has conducted a fresh group of interviews with people affected by the insurgency, as well as subject matter experts. In this interview, a young civil servant in Yobe explains that Boko Haram attacks villages when their inhabitants refuse to cooperate. He also says the state of emergency has not been very useful in the fight against Boko Haram.

Is Nigeria’s Boko Haram Becoming Territorial?
In his latest blog, John Campbell asks whether Boko Haram is establishing territory in north-east Nigeria. He notes that Boko Haram has taken over the town of Damboa, raising its flag and establishing checkpoints. Until now, Boko Haram has been more well known for its hit-and-run attacks rather than for seizing towns. Damboa could signal a new phase of the insurgency.

Key points from this briefing

- There’s a growing risk the 2015 elections will inflame the Boko Haram insurgency unless politicians are able to avoid politicising the conflict

- The elections are going to be destabilising in general

- While conspiracy theories abound about the Chibok abduction, the people of the north need practical help to keep them safe

- Boko Haram has opened up new fronts in Lagos and the middle belt

- The greatest threat still comes from Boko Haram’s activities in the north-east, where they are trying to create an Islamic state

- Boko Haram have started to seize territory

- The insurgents attack villagers when they are not cooperative, suggesting people are forced to cooperate through fear


100 days on from Chibok

In an article for Foreign Policy, NSN member Andrew Walker reviews the 100 days since the Chibok abduction. While the world’s attention has shifted away from Nigeria, Andrew notes that the insurgency is still raging. “Since Boko Haram seized the girls of Chibok”, he says “Nigeria has racked up the world’s highest terrorism fatality rate”.

He goes on to discuss the politicisation of the conflict, with the government, the opposition, and civil society all accusing each other of using the insurgency to further a political agenda.

You can read the full article here.

Is Boko Haram becoming territorial?

In his latest blog, former US Ambassador to Nigeria and NSN member John Campbell asks whether Boko Haram is establishing territory in north-east Nigeria.

He notes that Boko Haram has taken over the town of Damboa, raising its flag and establishing checkpoints. Until now, Boko Haram has been more well known for its hit-and-run attacks rather than for seizing towns. Damboa could signal a new phase of the insurgency.

You can find the full blog here.

July conflict briefing

As we bring you this month’s conflict briefing, the Boko Haram insurgency shows no sign of stopping. Over the last few weeks, there have been reports of further kidnappings, bombs in Abuja and elsewhere, and multiple clashes between Boko Haram and the military.

Minister of State for Defence, Musiliu Obanikoro, has rightly spoken of the need for a new approach to the counter-insurgency, focused on tackling the root causes of insecurity, particularly under-development and inadequate education. He has also called for community diplomacy and peace-building, engagement with civil society, efforts to win public support for the counter-insurgency, and steps to avoid harming civilians during military operations. We believe this approach could be decisive in tackling the insurgency if properly implemented and sustained.

This month’s analysis includes a ground-breaking study of the reasons young people join Boko Haram by Freedom Onuoha, a warning from John Campbell on Boko Haram’s seizure of territory, and testimony from the Testimonial Archive Project revealing people’s views towards the security forces in the north-east, among other important contributions.

Andrew Noakes
Nigeria Security Network

Our Analysis

A Boko Haram enclave in northeastern Nigeria?
John Campbell draws attention to Boko Haram’s successes in taking over territory in north-east Nigeria. Noting that Boko Haram’s flag has been hoisted in several villages, he argues that the insurgency has been seeking to destroy all vestiges of government authority in areas like Gwoza, Borno State. He warns that Maiduguri could be the insurgents’ next target. However, he also notes that Boko Haram do not appear to have taken over any governance functions in the areas they occupy.

Why do youth join Boko Haram?
Freedom Onuoha has published a ground-breaking study of the reasons young people join Boko Haram, based on survey data gathered by the CLEEN Foundation in 2013. The report, entitled “Why do youth join Boko Haram?”, finds that poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, and weak family structures make or contribute to making young men vulnerable to radicalization. It recommends monitoring and regulation of religious preaching, strengthening education, job training and job creation programs, robust programmes to aid destitute children, peace education, and anti-corruption measures.

Rejoinder to ‘why fear Boko Haram’
In this article, Hannah Hoechner warns against assumptions regarding Boko Haram recruitment from West African madrassas. She argues that, although many have said Boko Haram’s ranks are filled with almajiri graduates, there is little empirical evidence to support this. Crucially, she says, from a policy-making perspective this suggests easy answers where they do not exist.

“After [Boko Haram] do their own operation and go, the police will come for innocent people”
Saratu Abiola’s Testimonal Archive Project interviews a woman from north-east Nigeria about her experiences of the insurgency. She shows how the war has caused economic activity to grind to a halt, and reveals how her calls to security forces go unanswered. She says people do not trust the security forces, as they arrest innocent civilians. She also reveals how Boko Haram mainly recruit by force.

Insurgency prolonged: Nigeria’s lack of strategic adaptation and the rising Boko Haram death toll
In this joint article with Rafael Serrano, Zacharias Pieri provides a critical analysis of the Nigerian military’s symmetric approach to an asymmetric conflict, while also drawing attention to under-development in the north and corruption as contributing factors to the ongoing insurgency. He argues for renewed leadership to tackle corruption in Nigeria, and calls for the authorities to work with local civil society partners and neighbouring countries to tackle the insurgents.

Key points from this briefing

  • Poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, and weak family structures make or contribute to making young men vulnerable to radicalization in Nigeria.
  • Monitoring and regulation of religious preaching, strengthening education, job training and job creation programs, robust programmes to aid destitute children, peace education, and anti-corruption measures will be important for tackling radicalization.
  • Boko Haram have been seizing territory in north-east Nigeria but they do not appear to have taken over governance functions.
  • There is little empirical evidence to suggest almajiri students are filling the ranks of the insurgency.
  • People in the north-east lack confidence in the security forces, who are perceived to target innocent people and fail to respond to attacks.
  • Economic activity has suffered as a result of the insurgency.
  • Boko Haram are recruiting by force.
  • Corruption remains one of the main challenges undermining Nigeria’s response to the insurgency.