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Boko Haram - Who are They?

By: Chris O.

Published June 6th, 2014

Boko Haram has hit the news in the recent past for its ruthless and merciless killings, abductions, and forced radicalization in the northern parts of Nigeria. The methods used to hit the target defies any law applicable in Nigeria, region, or even globally. The official Islamic name for the group is Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad which simply means a team solely committed to advancing teachings of prophet Mohamed about Allah and jihad. However, even as Nigeria, the entire West Africa and globe continue to cry from inhumane acts of Boko Haram, many still wonder who are they and what they indeed stand for.

The main driving force of Boko Haram is derived from one phrase in the Koran that says all the people who do not follow the teachings of Allah are sinful. This is used to derive the name Haram Islamic terms refers to being forbidden. In particular, the radical group indicates that Muslims are forbidden [Haram] to take social activities such as education, lifestyle, or even politics which are in line with western states. Because of this, activities such as going to school for formal education, voting in common elections, and wearing ordinary clothes is forbidden.



A short history of Boko Haram

The radical group was started in the year 2002 and started on a low note emphasizing commitment to Allah’s teachings and Jihad. During these early years, the main objective was to oppose education in Northern parts of Nigeria because it was perceived to be western. This resulted to the community in the area giving it a nickname, Boko Haram which indicated that education prescribed from west was forbidden.

The fighters are mainly recruited from Kanuri which is a dominant ethnic group in Northern Nigeria. High levels of poverty have been indicated as a key driver that makes it easy for youths to be enticed into the group.

In the year 2009, the objectives had evolved and the group started demanding for succession of Northern Nigeria in order to form a separate Islamic state. This was done through military operations targeting key areas, government utilities, and civilians. The founder, Yusuf Mohammed was captured and the group was taken over by Shekau Abubakar. Attacks by the militias have resulted to impacts on over 3 million people and declaration as a terrorist group in year 2013.

The group should be understood better from 1903 during the Sokoto Caliphate reign. As West Africa fell to the hands of the British, key resistance was evident in different Muslim regions. This trend persist to-date as some Islamic communities in Northern Nigeria do not see the need for sending children to school. Under Yusuf Mohammed and even his successor Abubakar, schools have become recruiting grounds and formation of an Islamic state is the ultimate goal of the group.

Re-emergence and intensified operations

In 2009, the Nigerian forces seized the headquarters f Boko Haram, captured and even killed the leader, Yusuf Mohammed. This did not culminate to ending of the radical group as was thought. Abubakar took over and helped to regroup it for more intensive attacks. The US categorized the group as a terrorist unit after it emerged that it operated in cohesion with al-Qaeda factions to advance Jihad.

The official trade name was a gunman with an AK-47 riffles on motorbikes attacking those who criticized the holy group. This was inclusive of politicians, Christians and even Islamic leaders. This has seen churches, bars, barracks, and open bus terminus attacked especially in the northern cities and central Nigeria. UN headquarters in Abuja has also not been spared.

Why Boko Haram is different

While Northern Nigeria and immediate neighborhoods have well documented history of insurgents, many of then easily fade away. However, Boko Haram has proven it is different and focus surpasses initial national agenda. The lethal capacity and international jihad objective helps to fuel insurgence even in other countries far from West Africa.

The ability to marshal thousands of young men and use lethal weapons demonstrates that the group has cells with military experts, bomb professionals, and master planners. Bombing major installations and killing innocent people touches the core of the government especially through ripple effects on economy.

Recently, Boko Haram abducted 300 young girls in a school in Chilbok which has attracted world anger. It has even gone ahead and abducted over 60 more people in the last four days. None of these appears to shake the deadly group. The government must address the problem of poverty and make the people to feel part of it even more. The group should also be addressed from a more aggressive focus, weakening it both locally and regionally.


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