Boko Haram Series

In case you haven’t seen them, parts one and two of my series on Boko Haram are up at al Wasat. Part one looks for patterns in the violence, part two at the state’s response. Let me know what you think!


14 thoughts on “Boko Haram Series

  1. Interesting pieces. What indications are there about the makeup of the group? Disaffected young college students who are unemployed? Members of a northern tribal/ethnic group? I’m wondering how they were able to continue these attacks (and even expand them in some cases). Have they shown any signs of growth since Jonathon’s victory? Lastly, do they enjoy any support among northern leading figures? I ask because everything I have seen in my own studies* has suggested anti-establishment groups must have some elite support or they are doomed to failure.

    On another note it’s interesting that the Niger Delta got a mention, it seems to have been out of the news recently.

    *In Southeast Asia, not the Sahel I must admit

    • “Disaffected young college students who are unemployed” is definitely a serious constituency for the group from what I’ve heard. But information about the group from the inside is so murky that it’s hard to tell – and that goes for growth as well. We could say that the growth in attacks suggests a growth in membership, but I have no way to tell whether that’s true. I think they have some elite support in terms of maybe a few financiers, but beyond that it’s hard to tell. So to sum up, great questions and I really don’t have much in the way of answers!

  2. I’m usually the one argueing with Nigerian friends that education alone is no panacea but Gov. Shettima’s approach kind of echoes opinions I heard expressed in the strongest terms during fieldwork:

    Strong arguments that what was referred to as Western education was principally cultural imperialism (or something along the lines) that had resulted in the moral decline of Kanem-Bornu. But eventually that clash of civilisations rhetorics lead to an argument about social injustice: Institutions of ‘Western’ education, they argued, were only accessible to a selected few while the ‘traditional’ system of Quranic schools was highly inclusive. But this system and its graduates had been marginalised by the introduction of ‘Western’ education and the increased need to hold formal qualifications to access many desirable professional and social roles.

    Partly in response to Gyre, I heard those arguments at an academic conference, so I guess some of the people who made these points would be considered members of an elite. Though that probably wasn’t quite the direction of your question …

    @ Alex, have you read anywhere more detail about the kind of education Gov. Shettima was talking about? In terms of the different hybrid curricula that have been experimented.

    • Thanks for stopping by Kat. I have not seen more details regarding the proposal. I think Gov. Shettima is trying to identify the root causes of the violence and the anger, but he will have to lay out more details before we can see whether he is proposing a panacea or a real reform.

    • Some of them sound* like social and religious elites as well as intellectuals. The next question then is that, if the previous sentence is correct, does this mean that the Nigerian elites have splintered over how to handle Boko Haram**? Given some of what the government has said that might be the case.
      Alternatively it’s also possible that the individuals at that conference are more like radicals who have been expelled from the political mainstream and that calls (such as an op-ed an article by Thurston linked to) for Jonathon to crack down on Boko Haram might mean that the elites are willing to give him greater leeway and power to deal with a threat to their security and wealth. Unfortunately it would take far more knowledge about the past sixty years of Nigerian history than I have to accurately decide based on recent models.

      *Based purely on that mention. They could just as easily be disaffected but ultimately nonviolent.
      ** Does anyone know what the name means?

      • @ Gyre:

        The Hausa word ‘boko’ derives from the English word for book and has come to refer to what’s referred to as ‘Western’ education, I kind of assume it is used in the same sense Kanuri (which is the language spoken in Maiduguri, while Hausa serves as lingua franca across much of northern Nigeria).’Haram’ as elsewhere in the Muslim world means forbidden (as in halal vs. haram).

        As for the conference and speakers I referred to above, if I remember correctly they were working at schools and colleges in Borno State. But, my gut feeling based upon a year’s fieldwork is that they expressed concerns that were more widespread. But, that’s more a gut feeling than evidence based.

        As Alex noted in the posts, Boko Haram has been challenged locally and already before the 2009 crisis, some well respected sheikhs challenged Muhammed Yusuf in public debates, some at the university in Maiduguri (at some point DVDs of the debates were available but I never got my hands on one). So, I suspect that there is little point of speaking of ‘the’ religious and/or intellectual establishment as one coherent group. My gut feeling is that politicians and other social actors in this part of the world as elsewhere at different times act upon a variety of concerns and activate different ideologies in order to achieve their goals. The rhetorics of cultural imperialism/’Westernisation’ (and, btw, ethnic and religous divisions) are just one such set of ideas which admittedy is more fundamental to the actions of some people and groups including Boko Haram than others.

      • So their name is a literal statement of their position. At least it’s a refreshing change from the typical names involving ‘independence’ ‘liberation’ ‘people’s’ etc. Come to think of it, a good number of extremist Muslim groups use different naming conventions than the what’s been seen. Al Qaeda, Taliban, Al Shabab, Hizb’allah (not sure of the spelling) etc. I wonder if there’s a deliberate move away from the more secular sounding phrases of old and to ones more definitively religious. It’s hard to say since some of the groups have existed since the 1970s while others are creations of the 1990s or early 2000s.

  3. I think Boko Haram is merely the latest incarnation of the Matatsine problem. As far back as 1980 there was a very serious confrontation between Mohammed Marwa Matatsine’s people and the Nigerian security forces in Kano. Thousands of people were estimated to have died. The Nigerian president then, Shehu Shagari characterised the crisis as the “greatest security challenge to Nigeria since the Civil War”.

    There were re-occurences of similar problems, if I can recollect in Jimeta, Bauchi and other Northern towns in the mid-eighties. There was Zakzaky and his “Shiites”. These kind of occurences are not new and we cannot categorically state that they are primarily motivated by poverty. I can predict that the Nigerian State will deal with this problem, and the problem might rear its ugly head in the future.

    A significant part of Northern Nigeria sees its future in an Islamic State not in a modern Westernised State. This is not new. A carefull observer of Nigeria in 1960 would have noticed that. There are different strategies for achieving that goal – the imposition of Sharia law in 12 Northern States is one, Boko Haram is another (albeit misguided).

    In Southern Nigeria, there is a consensus that “Western modernisation” is desirable. The signficant Muslim population in South-Western Nigeria has absolutely no problems with that. Thus, children are more likely to be educated and the trajectory of growth is different. On the other hand, in Northern Nigeria there is a debate on the desirability of Western education / Western ideas. Parents are still reluctant to send their children to school and there is significant cultural resistance to all things Western. This is clearly shown in the wide disparity in human capital indices between the North and the South (and Middle Belt).

    As a Nigerian, I am wary of the argument that merely investing in jobs and education will solve these problems. Northern Nigeria does not lag behind the South in education because less money has been invested in the North. On the contrary, more has been invested in the North for education and several schemes such as the “disadvantaged education area scheme”, the National Youth Service Corps, Universal Primary Education and Jubril Aminu’s “children of migrant herders” schemes have been devised to bridge the educational gap.

    Time and time again, they hit against the stone wall of a cultural reluctance to Western education / Western ideas.

    In the South, female literacy is as high as 85% in some states while in some Northern states it is as low as 20%. How long can a “two-speed” Nigeria be sustained ?

    • I’ve definitely heard the Maitatsine comparison a few times now, and I think there’s a lot to that. I am not sure I agree that Northerners are uninterested in education – BUK and ABU and other Northern universities have thousands of students, after all – but I do agree that jobs and education alone will not be enough. Boko Haram has a political agenda and not just a set of economic grievances.

      • No, I am not saying that all Northerners are not interested in Western education, but a significant proportion are yet to reconcile their understanding of Islam with the “impurity” of Western education. There are thousands of students in BUK and ABU but there millions of “Almajiri” children and millions of girls that will not see the four walls of a Western-style educational institution.

        Northern Nigeria has always had this problem, from the first day Lord Lugard set up his head quarters at Kaduna.

        Do you think a movement of Yoruba Muslims / Southern Muslims called “Western education is sin” would have a following?

    • It sounds like the primary source of separation in Nigeria is ethnic/tribal and/or geographic, rather than religious*. In Nigeria’s colonial history were the southerners and Christians given more political weight than the northerners and Muslims?

      *Though it may be a factor, even among the same branch of Islam there is not necessarily a consensus.

      • Gyre,

        The southerners and Christians “were not given more political weight” than the northerners and Muslims. In fact, the position of the Northern Emirs was strengthened not weakened by colonial rule.

        However, the British policy of discouraging the activities of missionaries in the Muslim areas of Northern Nigeria had the effect of restricting access to Western education. In any case, the British ensured that the majority of the rank and file of the Nigerian army came from the North and most Army installations were cited in the North. So the British worked hard to ensure that the North would not be dominated by the South.

        The “success” of British policy is reflected in 38 years of Northern (largely Military) rule.

  4. Thanks for all the comments recently everyone, especially on this and the last Somalia piece. I really appreciate the feedback and information and questions, and I’m doing my best to respond!

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