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The Boko Haram insurgency started in 2002 as a domestic Islamic religious group in Maiduguri, Borno State, in northern Nigeria. The insurgent group clearly opposed the Nigerian government and Western influence in the northern part of Nigeria as it sought to introduce Sharia law. Like most insurgent groups, the Boko Haram sect resorted to the use of violence and guerilla tactics against the Nigerian state in an attempt to undermine the government. Unlike other insurgent groups, the Boko Haram wanted to replace government rule and establish a Caliphate within the northern region. 

Despite the efforts by the Nigerian government to curtail the insurgent group Boko Haram has transformed into a transnational threat, thereby creating more concern for the international community. Boko Haram currently operates throughout the Republic of Niger, Chad, and Cameroon. The group has carried out series of coordinated attacks against citizens, government officials, military forces, and foreigners in order to create fear, gain popularity, or inspire other Islamic extremist groups and individuals. Consequently, the activities of the Boko Haram insurgents have threatened the existence of the sovereign state of Nigeria and its neighbors within the Lake Chad Basin (figure 1).


Nigeria is located in the sub-Sahara West Africa, bordered on the west by the

Benin Republic, north by Niger Republic, northeast by the Republic of Chad, Republic of Cameroun to the east, and the Atlantic Ocean to the south. The country has a population of approximately 180-million people and over three hundred and fifty ethnic groups, and four hundred languages.[1] The north is predominantly Muslim while the south is predominantly Christian.

Nigeria was colonized and ruled by Great Britain from 1855-1960. Before Colonial rule, the northern part of the country came under the influence of Islam through the Arab traders and Berbers of North Africa in the eleventh century when Islam first appeared in what was the area of “Kanem Borno” in the northeast of the country.[2] Portuguese sailors introduced Christianity to the region in 1841, which influenced the southern part of the country.[3]

In 1914, during the Colonial Era (British rule), the northern and southern part of the country was amalgamated. Subsequently, Nigeria gained independence in 1960 from British Colonial rule. However, people remain divided due to ethnic, regional, religious, and political sentiments. The division resulted in the military coup on 15 January 1966 that threw the country into chaos. Targeted killings of individuals and prominent figures, based on their ethnic affiliations and political background, was the order of the day as the country was in turmoil. Immediately, the Nigerian Civil War broke out as the eastern part of the country attempted to secede. The war lasted for three years from 1967 to 1970.[4] The country has since witnessed a series of political stalemates, military coups, and saw the rise of ideological and militant groups, such as the Maitatsine sect and militancy in the Niger Delta oil region. The most recent problem has been the emergence of the Boko Haram terrorist group. 

29 May 1999 marked a new beginning for Nigeria and Nigerians. With the rebirth of democracy, the people of Nigeria said goodbye to decades of military rule, and saw hope for a better future under a civilian government. Consequently, the international community lifted economic sanctions and other security restrictions imposed on Nigeria. However, hope soon turned into frustration as the people witnessed increased levels of insecurity, militancy, economic problems, and the threat of terrorism following sixteen years of a democratically elected government. In 2002, the dreaded Boko Haram group emerged in the northeast of Nigeria, which brought a new dimension of terrorism into Nigeria as it employed suicide bombings, assassinations, kidnapping, murdering the civilian population, and targeting security forces for political objectives.

Boko Haram, which means, “Western education is forbidden,” is a controversial

Nigerian extremist Islamic group that seeks to impose Sharia law in the northern part of Nigeria. The group originated in Maiduguri in Borno State, located in northeast Nigeria, around 2002. It started as a small group founded by Mohammed Yusuf. The group established an Islamic school in Maiduguri from where they operated. The group’s message of Islamic Radicalism drew the attention of prominent Islamic scholars in the region, who challenged Boko Haram’s interpretation of the Quran. Subsequently, the group relocated from Maiduguri in 2004 to a remote village called Kanamma in Yobe State where they formed a base and named it Afghanistan.[5] Gradually Boko Haram increased in their numbers as Mohammed Yusuf attracted people who were mostly school dropouts, unemployed, and disgruntled.[6] The Boko Haram Jihadist group shared a common ideology (jihadist) with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Al-Qaeda groups operating in the Sahara and Sahel region.[7] 

Under the guise of Islam, Boko Haram carried out its radicalization activities without interruption for about seven years. During this period, the group was considered peaceful, as there were no major provocation between it and the Nigerian government. However, the group isolated itself from the Muslim population, who did not share their ideology.[8] A series of intelligence and security reports were forwarded to the government as Boko Haram gradually became more violent and anti-government. It was learned that the group was arming itself at this stage. In July 2009, Boko Haram clashed with

Nigerian security forces, which resulted in the death of some of Boko Haram members in Bauchi State northern Nigeria. This led to the arrest of Mohammed Yusuf, the group’s leader, who was later executed by the Nigeria Police Force while in their custody. 

This incident provoked the Boko Haram membership to demand an apology from the Nigerian government, and vowed to take revenge if the government failed to apologize.[9] Neither the government nor the security forces responded to this threat. On 25 July 2009, Boko Haram made good on its threat as they took up arms against security forces in four northern states, namely Borno, Bauchi, Yobe, and Kano States.[10] 

Since then, the Jihadist group has continued to perpetrate violence using guerrilla warfare in many parts of Nigeria, especially in northeast Nigeria, where they mostly operate. In spite of the efforts of the Nigerian government and its allies to eradicate the Boko Haram insurgents, the group still poses a grave threat to the sovereignty of Nigeria and its neighbors in the region. In 2014, the group abducted two hundred schoolgirls from Chibok village in the Borno State of Nigeria. The abduction drew the attention of the international community, and provoked worldwide condemnation. The Boko Haram group further pledged allegiance to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2014 to consolidate their network and gain more recognition. 

Figure 1. Map Showing Countries of the Lake Chad Basin Region of Africa

Source: Rigzone, “Chad Basin,” 11 March 2004, accessed 16 November 2016, http://www.rigzone.com/news/image_detail.asp?img_id=446.

Figure 2. Map Showing Muslim Dominated States with Sharia law

Source: Homeland Security Agency, “More Inter-Religious Violence in Nigeria,” 21 January 2012, accessed 16 November 2016, http://www.hlswatch.com/2012/01/21/moreinter-religious-violence-in-nigeria.

Statement of the Problem

The emergence of the Boko Haram Insurgency in northeast Nigeria has created a security vacuum within the region. The threat of the group to Nigeria, its neighbors and the international community cannot be ignored. The group has engaged in guerrilla warfare against the Nigerian government and its citizens for the last decade. Living conditions in the region have been degraded, life and properties have been destroyed, and an increasing refugee crisis across the region calls for action. Despite efforts by the Nigerian government and its partners to combat the Boko Haram insurgency, the group continues to pose a threat and challenge to the government of Nigeria and its partners. The security situation in the region has deteriorated, and the territorial integrity of Nigeria is being undermined. This research will try to gain an understanding of the concepts behind the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria, and how the government can use that understanding to effectively fight the group.

Objective of the Study

The objective of the study is to seek an understanding of the concepts behind the Boko Haram Insurgency, and look at possible ways forward.

Significance of the Study

The research will be significant to the Nigerian government, its partners, and civil societies concerned with the eradication of the Boko Haram insurgency. The study will seek to understand the conceptual basis and activities of Boko Haram, and the correct measures for tackling the Boko Haram menace in Nigeria. It will also be useful to future researchers in the academic field of counter insurgency. Most importantly, the research work will serve as a guide to present and future generations in the field of security.

Primary Question

Does Mao’s Revolutionary Warfare theory provide a useful framework for understanding Boko Haram?

Secondary Question

How can the Nigerian government effectively fight the Boko Haram Insurgency?


This research focuses on Nigeria, being one of the fifty-four countries in Africa.

The research will be limited to the Nigerian government’s efforts in combating the Boko Haram insurgency, which poses a threat and problem to the Nigerian government. This research will consult and refer to materials, books, internet, articles, and scholarly writings. However, due to financial constraints, time, and security of materials, the research will not generate new data or use human interviews, which could have added more evidence to the research. Thus, the research will be based on records, events, and access to relevant materials that already exist. 

Definition of Key Terms

African Union: The African Union (AU) was established in 2002 from the vestige of the Organization for African Unity (OAU) with the aim to protect the security of the Continent. Although, the AU still struggles to reform its governing bodies, it plays an increasingly high-profile role in peacekeeping.[11]

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM): An Islamic militant group, also sometimes referred to as Al Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQLIM). It is an Algerian-based Salifist-Jahadist organization, which became affiliated to Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda in 2006. The group originated as the Salifist Group for Preaching and


Al-Qaeda: A global terrorist network founded by Osama bin Laden and other militant groups with a strong base in Afghanistan, although the group has gone underground since the elimination of its leader Osama bin Laden and other prominent members.

Boko Haram Insurgency: The group known by the world as Boko Haram is officially called “Jama’atu Ahlis Suna Lidda’ Awati Wal-Jihad,” an Arabic phrase meaning, “people committed to the propagation of the prophet’s teaching and Jihad.” It is an extremist Islamic sect in northeast Nigeria that has created havoc across the country and in the capital, Abuja. Its violent attack on government offices, the United Nations, civilians, and churches threaten the sovereignty of the country. The group actively operates in Republic of Chad, Niger, and Cameroon.[13]

Boko Haram: An expression in Hausa language, which means, “Western education is forbidden.” Hausa is a major tribe in northern Nigeria and the Republic of Niger.

Caliphate: The position of a Caliph or an area of land ruled by over by a Caliph.[14]  Counter Insurgency (COIN): “is the blend of comprehensive civilian and military efforts designed to simultaneously contain insurgency and address its root causes.”[15] Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS): The Economic

Community of West African States was created by the Treaty of Lagos, in Lagos, Nigeria, on 28 May 1975. The primary purpose of the organization was to promote economic integration, national cooperation, and monetary union for growth and development throughout West Africa. There are currently fifteen countries in the Economic Community of West African States. Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Cape Verde, Guinea Conakry, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Senegal, Niger,

Sierra Leone, Niger, and The Gambia constitute the members.[16] 

Insurgency: “Is the organized use of subversion and violence to seize, nullify, or challenge political control of a region. It is primarily a political struggle, in which both sides use armed force to create space for their political, economic and influence activities to be effective. Insurgency is not always conducted by a single group with a centralized, military-style command structure, but may involve a complex matrix of different actors with various aims, loosely connected in dynamic and non-hierarchical networks. To be successful, insurgencies require charismatic leadership, supporters, recruits, supplies, safe havens, and funding (often from illicit activities).”[17]

Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Islamic State (IS): A jihadist group, which appeared on the international scene in 2014, when it seized large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq. The group aim is to establish a state called caliphate across Iraq, Syria and beyond. ISIS is known of carrying out public executions and killing of dozens of people at a time. The group also uses “social media to promote reactionary politics and religious fundamentalism.”[18]

Maitatsine: A faction of radical Islamic group that originated in Kano State, northern Nigeria in the late 1970s. Its founder, Mohammed Marwa, was against Western culture and influence in Nigeria, especially in the North. His preaching and practices became increasingly against the Nigerian government, which led to a government crackdown on the group in the early 1980s. As a result, scores of people lost their lives, including Muhammed, the group leader, and the Maitatsine group was put to rest.[19] 

Terrorism: The use of violent acts to frighten the people in area as a way of trying to achieve a political, ideological, economic, or religious goal. The unlawful use of violence and intimidation especially against innocent civilians by and individual or a group of organized individuals, in the pursuit of political, religious, ideological aims.[20]


The research is organized into five chapters. Chapter 1 talks about the general background to the study, statement of the research problem, research questions, objectives of the study, and definition of concepts. Chapter 2 deals with the literature review and theoretical framework. Chapter 3 looks at the research methodology. Chapter 4 deals with data presentation and analysis. Finally, chapter 5 contains the summary, conclusion, and recommendations.

[1] Trading Economics, “Nigeria Population: 1960-2016,” accessed 30 October 2016, http://www.tradingeconomics.com/nigeria/population.

[2] African Studies Centre Leiden, “Islam in Nigeria,” accessed 2 November 2016, http://www.ascleiden.nl/content/webdossiers/islam-nigeria.

[3] Helen Chapin Metz, ed., Nigeria: a Country Study, 5th ed. (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing, 1992), 28.

[4] John de St. Jorre, The Nigerian Civil War (London: Hodder and Stoughton Ltd, 1972), 17-424.

[5] Ezema O. Ogochukwu, The Socio-Economic Implications of the Boko Haram Insurgence in Nigeria: 2009-2013 (Amorji-Nike, Nigeria: Caritas University, August 2013), 50.

[6] Anthony Abayomi Adebayo, “Implications of ‘Boko Haram’ Terrorism on National Development in Nigeria: A Critical Review,” Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences 5, no. 16 (July 2014): 481.

[7] Stuart Elden, “The Geopolitics of Boko Haram and Nigeria’s ‘War on Terror’,” The Geographical Journal 180, no. 4 (December 2014): 414-25.

[8] Adebayo, 482.

[9] Adebayo, 82.

[10] Adesoji Abimbola, “The Boko Haram Uprising and Islamic Revivalism in Nigeria,” Africa Spectrum 45, no. 2 (2010): 95-108, accessed 15 November 2016, https://ideas.repec.org/a/gig/afjour/v45y2010i2p95-108.html#author-body.

[11] Stephanie Hanson, “The African Union,” Council on Foreign Relations, 1 September 2009, accessed 31 November 2016, http://www.cfr.org/africa-subsaharan/african-union/p11616.

[12] Stanford University, “Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb,” accessed 20

November 2016, http://web.stanford.edu/group/mappingmilitants/cgi-bin/groups/view/65.

[13] Andrew Walker, “What Is Boko Haram?” U.S. Institute of Peace, 30 May 2012, accessed 19 November 2016, http://www.usip.org/publications/what-Boko-Haram.

[14] Oxford Living Dictionary, s.v. “Caliphate,” accessed 17 November 2016, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/caliphate.

[15] Department of State et al., U.S. Government Counterinsurgency Guide (Washington, DC: Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, January 2009), 2, accessed 17 November 2016, http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/119629.pdf. 

[16] Alistair Boddy-Evans, “What Is the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)?” About Education, 5 April 2016, accessed 31 November 2016, http:/africanhistory.about.com/od/glossarye/g/ECOWAS.htm.

[17] Department of State et al., U.S. Government Counterinsurgency Guide, 2. 

[18] Cable News Network (CNN), “ISIS Fast Facts,” 1 November 2016, accessed 24 December 2016, www.cnn.com/2014/08/08/world/isis-fast-Facts/index.html.

[19] John Ford, “The Origins of Boko Haram,” The National Interest, 6 June 2014, accessed 17 November 2016, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/the-origins-boko-haram10609.

[20] Merriam-Webster, s.v. “Terrorism,” accessed 17 November 2016, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/terrorism.

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