Nigeria and the Existential Threat of Boko Harum

In the northeastern Nigerian state of Gombe, the brazen detonation of explosives in a crowded bus station in the state capital on Friday left four dead and more than thirty wounded. Although no group has claimed responsibility for this senseless act of violence at the time of writing, it is almost certain that the anti-western Islamist insurgent group Boko Haram carried out the attack. It is the latest in a series of bombings and kidnappings that have occurred since an October 17th ceasefire was purportedly reached between the Nigerian government and the militants. More than five years into the group’s campaign of terror, news stories like this continue to dominate headlines in Nigeria and elsewhere in western Africa. Boko Haram attracted worldwide attention for the kidnapping of over two hundred schoolgirls six months ago, inspiring the hashtag “bring back our girls” in social media. While some have managed to escape, most of the girls continue to be held hostage by the Islamic extremists.

Although the scale of Friday’s bombing was relatively small in comparison to others that the group has staged, it nevertheless represents a potential turning point in the militants’ war on the Nigerian state primarily because of the attack’s location. Boko Haram has succeeded in taking control of large areas in the deeply impoverished northeastern states of Adamawa, Borno, and Yobo where the group has flourished thanks in part to a lack of existing governmental institutions and infrastructure. Although the Nigerian government declared a state of emergency in each of these states in 2013, it failed to reestablish control over the region all but ensuring the absence of security and rule of law. With Friday’s attack, Boko Haram has veritably expanded its operations and presence into the neighboring state of Gombe. This underscores the fact that Boko Haram has greater territorial ambitions than the areas it presently controls and poses a long-term threat to the stability and cohesion of the Nigerian state. With an estimated five to ten thousand fighters (many of whom are coerced into joining), caches of stolen weapons, and a growing expertise in military exercises, Boko Haram is well equipped to pursue its agenda indefinitely and unimpeded.

This is bad news for Africa’s most populous country and largest economy. A major oil exporter with burgeoning industries, Nigeria’s GDP could grow by more than 7% a year for a decade or more according to some predictions. The rapid development that can accompany economic growth is already evident in Nigeria’s south, but the wealth that characterizes cosmopolitan urban centers like Lagos is a world away from the northeastern states where Boko Haram operates with relative impunity. In Nigeria’s northeast, three out of every four residents are below the poverty line, illiteracy is rampant, and schools are shuttered because of Boko Haram. Fighting Boko Haram is made all the more difficult because graft and corruption are virtually ubiquitous in Nigeria and the Nigerian army is ineffective in countering the insurgency. Juggling Boko Haram and such rapid economic growth will at some point become untenable. Nigeria’s future and prosperity depends on addressing the problem of Boko Haram before Nigeria begins to fracture.


10 thoughts on “Nigeria and the Existential Threat of Boko Harum

  1. This is a great topic to talk about. I think the media really puts West Africa’s problems aside due to all the attention in the middle east. This Islamist extremist group is very capable of harming more and they have had a successful past. The U.N. really needs too look at the issue of the schools girls. Very sad to see many are still held captive. There are so many problems in the world currently and the U.S. uses it’s military for many causes already, that It would be difficult to help in this situation. Morally it’s great to help, but I think the american people would not find a national interest in helping the cause. This group is important to watch for. The government needs to keep and eye on them, even though they most likely already are. Who knows, the military probably has SEALs and Army Special Forces helping train the Nigerian military to defeat groups like Boko Harum.


  2. This group annoys me, as did the Bring Back Our Girls campaign. Rather, the effect of that campaign annoyed me, in that failed to achieve any notable changes in Nigeria despite massive publicity. It demonstrates the nature of crises within countries; if there is not a clear interest for a foreign nation to get involved, they won’t, much as Frank mentioned. Michelle Obama’s show of support appeared dramatic and genuine, but months later the issue was never resolved. People and media organizations got bored of it after a while and the campaign died. People are willing to show ‘support’ when it costs them nothing, but actually taking action is another matter altogether.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think your choice of topic is a good one. Boko Harum is an issue in Nigeria, and I am sure other African countries are worried about spillover. I am curious as to if their has been any joint African military action taken against the group. If a few of the nations contributed troops, then they have a good chance of taking down this monstrous, hateful terrorist organization.


  4. I didn’t know about Boko Harum, and this should be such a big issue in Nigeria.
    I wonder what the independent valuable on this issue is.
    You wrote “The rapid development that can accompany economic growth is already evident in Nigeria’s south, but the wealth that characterizes cosmopolitan urban centers like Lagos is a world away from the northeastern states where Boko Haram operates with relative impunity.”
    This wealth inequality between urban and rural areas should be the one independent valuable. So, even if the Negerian government takes action, it wouldn’t resolve the problem well.


  5. The same as kkato2299, I did not know this group in Nigeria was as big of a problem. What I wonder is if this group, among many other insurgencies throughout Africa, is in any way involved with al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other anti-western group.

    Also, is the UN making moves to deal with Boko Harum in Nigeria and the neighboring countries? They could intervene like many other African countries, like Uganda and Sierra Leone like we talked about in class, through aid in DDR processes.


  6. I agree with amckee173, it was a big issue for a very short period of time in this country but with the ever shrinking attention span of the US population, all but a few have moved on to a new topic to focus on such as Ebola and ISIS.


  7. This post was extremely interesting to read and I could agree with Frank in saying that the current issues that West Africa is faced with are often pushed aside in the media by what is going on in the Middle East. The situation in West Africa needs to be contained as soon as possible because if it isn’t things will only get worse right before our eyes and it will be too late.


  8. I am also annoyed by the fact that this issue suddenly got so much attention and then we hear almost nothing about it. Therefore I think it is a very good subject to write about in this blog. The inequality in economic wealth definately seems to be a big problem as well as the lack of governmental institutions and infrastructure. Without this it´s impossible to reach security and rule of law which is crucial to stop Boko Harum. It really is a huge problem for the country and it´s something that has to be taken care of, although right now it seems to be easier said than done if other states don´t set their self interest aside for a while and help.


  9. Thank you for bringing up this topic. It is true that compared to other issues, this was not taken as serious nor noticeable. No one really can not guess how Boko Harum would turn out in the future. It might put world on shock just like ISIS did few months ago. And yet sadly but true there are no advance on “bring back our girls”. How international society should accept this? Were there any action released?


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