Boko Haram/ISWAP Roundup for August 6, 2020

Previous roundup here.

On August 4, after meeting with his top security personnel, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered what his National Security Advisor Babagana Monguno has referred to as “an immediate re-engineering of the entire security apparatus” (it is not clear to me whether this framing represents Monguno directly quoting, or just paraphrasing, Buhari). It is not immediately clear, however, what this might actually mean (Hausa).

Snapshots of some of the latest violence:

Issue 245 of the Islamic State’s Al-Naba’ (July 30, p. 10) details ISWAP’s attacks in Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon as part of the Islamic State’s “Attrition Campaign (Ghazwat al-Istinzaf.” Available here for registered users of the website Jihadology.

On August 2, presumed Boko Haram fighters killed at least 16 people in an attack on an IDP camp at Nguetchewe (or Guetchewe), Cameroon, near the Nigerian border. Here is a French-language video report (saying 18 people killed):

For context, here is UNHCR:

This attack follows a significant rise in violent incidents in Cameroon’s Far-North Region in July, including looting and kidnapping by Boko Haram and other armed groups active in the region. The Far North region, tucked between Nigeria’s Borno and Adamawa states and Lake Chad, currently hosts 321,886 IDPs and 115,000 Nigerian refugees.

The incident is also a sad reminder of the intensity and brutality of the violence in the wider  the Lake Chad Basin region that has forced more than three million people to flee: 2,7m are internally displaced in Northeast Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, while 292,682 Nigerian refugees fled into neighbouring countries.

Cameroon reports that since January this year, it has recorded 87 Boko Haram attacks on its northern border with Nigeria. Twenty-two of them were in the northern district of Mozogo alone.

More context, from FEWS Net, on the economic impact of Boko Haram attacks in Cameroon’s Far North:

Markets in the Far North region play an important role in regional trade with neighboring Chad and Northeast Nigeria. The Douala – Maroua – Kousseri corridor that extends to Chad includes the flow of imported commodities. The Maiduguri (Nigeria) – Maroua and Maiduguri – Kousseri corridor, both continuing to Chad, includes the flow of processed goods and also the re-export of key staples such as sorghum and rice back into Cameroon during the lean season and imported staples from surplus producing areas in Nigeria during harvest and postharvest periods. However, as result of frequent Boko Haram attacks, these trade corridors are often closed by the government re-orientating trade flow more towards southern destinations precisely Yaounde, Douala, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and the Central Africa Republic (CAR).

Via Nigeria’s The Guardian, new possible indications of Boko Haram activity in Niger State, north central Nigeria:

The Abubakar Shekau-led faction of Boko Haram has released a video showing members claiming to be from Niger State.

A footage seen by The Guardian Nigeria shows about 100 persons praying Eid in the heart of a bush before showing three fighters sending Eid greetings in Hausa, English and Fulfulde.

Malik Samuel of the Institute for Security Studies writes, in a short article, that “Boko Haram is extending its reach from north-east Nigeria into the country’s north-west. It is taking advantage of old and new local conflicts and insecurities to further embed itself in the area through violent extremism.” This is now a widespread narrative among journalists and analysts. I’m reserving judgment until I see more evidence.

In another story, on August 5, This Day reports, the Borno State Police Command announced the arrests of 45 alleged criminals, including one alleged Boko Haram logistics supplier. According to the police, the individual had 200,000 Naira in cash, which might sound like a lot but it’s a little over $500. I’d be surprised if this individual was a major player.

Meanwhile, there is continued fallout from the July 29 attack on Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum’s convoy in Baga. My post on the incident, and the ensuing battle to control the media narrative, is here. Ambassador John Campbell has also blogged about the episode here. The Nigeria Governors Forum, among others, have expressed support for Zulum.

Zulum’s camp has voiced skepticism about the military’s narrative regarding the Baga incident. Responding to that, the Defence Headquarters Media Operations has once again stated that

From the analysis, [the attack] was purely that of the enemies, Boko Haram, in that area. From the tactics, and from the search conducted, it was the insurgents. So, our fears were allayed within 48 hours. It is not anything sabotage from the tactical, operational and strategic level, that is if you want to rate it from rank down to the person on the frontline.

Finally, on another note, Ewan Davies writes about the Urban Africa Labelling (URBAL) tool and how it can be used to analyze violence:

The URBAL tool can also be used to study how the patterns of attacks of specific extremist groups such as Al Shabaab in the Horn of Africa and Boko Haram in West Africa have changed over time (Figure 1). For both groups, the percentage of events and fatalities occurring in urban areas have dramatically decreased over the years despite the rapid population growth of cities in Somalia and northern Nigeria. While Al Shabaab and Boko Haram were predominantly active in cities until the early 2010s, both groups have reorganized into rural guerrilla forces following the counter-offensive of the African Union Mission (AMISOM) in Somalia and the Nigeria-led Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) around Lake Chad.

Feel free to share any relevant links in the comments.

Nigeria: Competing Narratives Circulate in the Aftermath of Attack on Borno Governor Zulum’s Convoy

On July 29, the convoy of Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum was attacked in the town of Baga (map), possibly by Boko Haram. The incident has generated competing narratives and speaks to the wider “information war” that is a core part of the crisis – even Boko Haram’s own leader Abubakar Shekau has referred to the centrality of the “information war (yakin bayani).”

In the aftermath of the attack, some of the main contention is between the governor and the Army. Various videos of the attack (see here) have circulated, including one clip from the vantage point of a driver in the convoy, and one short clip of Zulum arguing with a Nigerian Army officer. Zulum has also been quoted as saying to the Army officer:

You have been here for over one year now, there are 1,181 soldiers here; if you cannot take over Baga which is less than 5 km from your base, then we should forget about Baga. I will inform the Chief of Army Staff to redeploy the men to other places that they can be useful. You people said there’s no Boko Haram here, then who attacked us?

Some of Zulum’s staff have also been blunt in their criticism of the military:

MNJTF here refers to the Multi-National Joint Task Force, which includes the militaries of Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon with some participation by Benin as well. Note too that part of the information war concerns not just who perpetrated the attack, but also how serious it was or wasn’t.

In remarks to the press the day after the attack (see also here), Zulum appeared to imply that there were no actual Boko Haram fighters involved in the attack, and that there was “serious shooting by the Nigerian armed forces.” These remarks are tricky to parse. The prominent Nigerian analyst Bulama Bukarti has implied that the military staged the attack (or feigned being under attack?):

I’m not convinced. It seems to me that if the Army wanted to block Zulum from Baga, it could have done so without staging a kind of theatrical performance. But anything is possible.

Zulum also stressed, in that press interview, the economic importance of Baga. He suggested that eventually it may be necessary for the military to leave Baga, if they cannot secure the town, and for the local population “to take destiny into their own hands.”

In additional remarks that were, I believe, delivered over the weekend, Zulum noted that the situation in Borno since 2015 has been different, and in his view better, than in the period 2011-2015, but he made headlines (even more so than for the other interview) for referencing “sabotage within the system” as a (the?) reason why the insurgency persists.

More coverage of Zulum’s remarks can be found here.

Amid the competing narratives, part of what’s at stake is that the governor’s ability to move around the state is, both practically and symbolically, inseparable from his ability to demonstrate control – both in the face of the jihadist insurgency and vis-a-vis the military. Threats to his free movement are also threats to his political capital.

In the aftermath of the attack (as beforehand), Zulum has emphasized his direct physical outreach to Borno’s most vulnerable populations. I don’t think such gestures are cynical or empty, but I also think they have a political dimension:

Meanwhile, the leadership of the Nigerian Army has framed the attack as a Boko Haram attack but also as “an isolated and most unfortunate incident that occurred in a territory where normalcy has since been restored with socio-economic activities picking up.” We see a hint of a gap between the statements of the officer who appears in the video I linked to above, who can be heard saying “there is no Boko Haram inside the town,” and the official Army statement, another portion of which reads, “The good people of Baga town and indeed the entire Borno State are enjoined to continue to provide credible information that will assist the security agencies to successfully combat terrorism as well as apprehend and flush out the perpetrators of the attack.” The Army is keen to present itself as being in control, but there is the faintest acknowledgment here that they do not have the human intelligence they need. The reasons for that are manifold, but one obvious reason is the Army’s own past history in Baga. The statement has also promised an investigation into the incident.

The Army is also keen to control the narrative about the trajectory of the conflict – in other words, the Army would like audiences, local, national, and international, to believe that the trajectory is positive. This convoy attack, however, has prominent voices in Borno and beyond saying that the situation is deteriorating – the State’s foremost religious leader, the Shehu of Borno, said, “If a convoy of such highly placed person in the State will be attacked, I repeat, nobody is safe. The matter is getting worse, I urge everyone to raise up our hands to seek Allah’s intervention.” This is precisely how the Army does not want people to feel.

There are multiple audiences in play. One is President Muhammadu Buhari – Zulum explicitly said, in his remarks about sabotage, that this is something he is conveying to the president. The Army, obviously, also wants Buhari to be convinced that they are making progress. Another key audience is ordinary people (and voters) in Borno. And there is an international audience too, obviously.

Who controls what now, in Borno? The picture is constantly shifting, but humanitarian access maps give one perspective – here is one June 2020 map of educational activities in Borno, for example. For context, Baga is located in Kukawa Local Government Area (LGA), northeastern Borno State. The map does not classify Kukawa as inaccessible but it does mark two nearby LGAs, Abadam and Marte, as red zones. Adjacent Monguno LGA is also very dangerous. Contrary to the military’s claims, Baga is still very much part of the conflict zone.

Finally, for further context, this is not the first time a Borno governor’s convoy has been attacked – Zulum’s predecessor, Kashim Shettima, was attacked on the road between the state capital Maiduguri and the northeastern town of Gamboru in February 2019.

Boko Haram/ISWAP Roundup for July 30, 2020

I’m considering doing a weekly roundup on Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). Here’s my first stab at it:

United Nations Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General, “Children and Armed Conflict in Nigeria” (July 6, posted to Relief Web July 24). The report covers January 2017-December 2019. One excerpt (p. 6):

According to information gathered and verified by the country task force, the recruitment and use of children accounted for the greatest number of verified violations in north-east Nigeria. A total of 3,601 children (780 girls, 2,820 boys, 1 sex unknown) aged between 6 and 17 years were verified to have been recruited and used by CJTF [Civilian Joint Task Force] (2,203), followed by Boko Haram (1,385) and the Nigerian Security Forces (13). Of the total attributed to CJTF, 41 children were recruited and used between January and September 2017 while the remaining 2,162 were recruited and used between 2013 and 2016 but verified as such during the reporting period. Within the framework of its action plan, CJTF granted access to the country task force to carry out extensive verification of children formerly associated with the group.

On Wednesday, July 29, gunmen attacked the convoy of Borno State Governor Babagana Zulum as it was returning from Kukawa to Baga, northern Borno – see The Cable‘s report and video:

Some of the latest violence by ISWAP:

Issue 244 of the Islamic State’s al-Naba’ newsletter is available here (with registration). Page 7 discusses ISWAP operations in Nigeria and Chad, while page 9 features a brief (and quite generic) biography of a slain company commander.

Kingsley Omonobi, Vanguard, “Chaos as Boko Haram/ISWAP executes its own ‘governor of Lake Chad’ in power struggle” (July 28). I’ve been tinkering with a separate post about all these reports and rumors of internal violence, and how difficult it can be to verify any of what’s reported.

Channels Television, “601 Repentant Boko Haram Members Graduate From DRR Camp Set For Integration” (July 26).

On the other hand:

More on Ndume’s comments here.

Shola Oyepipo, This Day, “In Buratai’s Nigeria, Insecurity Now ‘Under Control’” (July 26).

Finally, here is the latest weekly roundup from the Council on Foreign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker, covering July 18-24.

My New Article on Sectarianism in Nigeria – And Some Bonus Primary Source Translations

I have a forthcoming article in the journal Politics and Religion, and the article is now available in “first view” online. Titled “Sectarian Triangles: Salafis, the Shi‘a, and the Politics of Religious Affiliations in Northern Nigeria,” the article examines Salafi-Shi’i tensions in northern Nigeria – or rather, it explores how various Muslim third parties have reacted to those tensions. My micro-case studies of third parties are Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai, the Tijani Sufi Shaykh Dahiru Bauchi, the former Emir of Kano Muhammadu Sanusi II, and Boko Haram.

This paper went through a ton of revisions and I left a lot of material on the cutting room floor – including some valuable primary source material relating to how the Salafis and the Shi’a talk about each other in Nigeria. Below I have pasted partial translations of three polemics, one by the Shi’i group called the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN), and two by prominent Nigerian Salafi scholars.

Translation 1: A 2008 IMN Polemic Relating to Sokoto State, Northwestern Nigeria

Sokoto has periodically been a flashpoint for tensions between the IMN and Sunnis, as well as between the IMN and the authorities. In one 2008 polemic, the IMN depicted a series of setbacks for the Sokoto elite as divine punishment. These setbacks included the accidental death of then-Governor Shehu Kangiwa in 1981, the military regime’s dismissal of Sultan Ibrahim Dasuki in 1996, and the death of his successor Muhammadu Maccido in a 2006 plane crash. The polemic concluded:

At the end of this commentary, we want society to look at the history of persecution and intimidation that they spent years doing against the Muslim Brothers in Sokoto State, so that they’ll see – who had a happy ending? Let’s expose the history a little in order to see. A court in Sokoto State was the first to prosecute Mallam Zakzaky and some Muslim Brothers in the time of Governor Kangiwa’s rule. So, today where is he? He died. He left the Islamic Movement to keep on developing! … History is telling us that the persecution suffered by the Muslim Brothers during the present Sultan and the serving governor is just temporary and will never last long. And the same thing that happened to their predecessors will happen to them, with the permission of God Almighty. So it doesn’t matter that they are still oppressing the Muslim Brothers. It is clear: the prayer of the one who was oppressed will not go unanswered [literally, “fall to earth in vain,” faduwa kasa banza]. So better watch out!


Translation 2: A Salafi Argument that Shi’ism Is Un-Islamic and Chauvinist

In northern Nigeria, the most basic Salafi argument against Shi’ism charges the Shi’a with heresy and heterodoxy. One prominent example of this approach is the pamphlet Qalubale Ga ‘Yan Shi’ah: Tambayoyi 70 Waɗanda Ba Su Da Amsa (Challenge to the Shīʿa: 70 Questions For Which They Have No Answer). The author, Muhammad Mansur Ibrahim of Sokoto, is a well-known preacher and a graduate of the Islamic University of Medina. His pamphlet, published in 2008, is an edited transcript of a lecture he delivered in Sokoto in December 2006.

Much of the pamphlet portrayed Shi’ism as incoherent – or deceitful – in its presentation of early Islamic history. The pamphlet attempted to prove that it was inconceivable to believe that ‘Ali bin Abi Talib had considered himself an Imam in the Shi’i sense, or that parts of the Qur’an had been suppressed by the Companions, or that the Prophet Muhammad had intended ‘Ali to be his primary spiritual heir. The pamphlet’s core arguments are captured by the very first question: citing Qur’an 5:3, “This day We have completed your religion for you,” the pamphlet asks, “Is Shi’ism part of the religion that was completed on the day of Arafat? … If indeed it is part of it, then why did the Prophet, may God bless him and grant him peace, not say so?” Such arguments are useful to Salafis because they not only attack Shi’ism, they also provide an opportunity to rehearse the premises of Salafism: to wit, that Islam contains only what was explicitly authorized during the foundational period.

In addition to casting Shi’ism as un-Islamic, Salafis raise questions about the motives of the Shi’a depicting Shi’ism as a front for the interests of other groups. One of the pamphlet’s questions concerned the Persian language: “What is the relationship between your religion [i.e., Shi’ism] and the Persian language? Because we have noticed that the Arabic language has no value with you. You favor Persian and Persians over any language and any kind of people.” This line of argument again sets up a contrast between Salafism (here, presented as authentic due to its affinity for the Arabic language) and Shi’ism (here, presented as a vehicle for Persian culture masking itself in Islamic garb). Dismissing IMN leader Ibrahim al-Zakzaky as a fraud, Mansur Ibrahim recounted the story of an Al Jazeera interview where “they were translating Arabic for him so that he could answer in English!” Casting aspersions on the allegedly Persianized Shi’a is not unique to Salafis, of course, but for northern Nigerian Salafists – who present their Arabic fluency as a marker of their claim to mastery of Islamic sources – the dismissal of al-Zakzaky as a Persian stooge takes on a particular edge.

Translation 3: A Salafi Rejoinder to the Idea of Shi’i Anti-Imperalism

In a 2008 lecture entitled “Musulunci a Jiya da Yau (Islam Yesterday and Today),” Muhammad Sani Umar Rijiyar Lemo, a prominent Salafi scholar and Islamic University of Medina graduate, argued at length that the Shi’a perennially ally with non-Muslims against Sunni Muslims. He challenged the audience, rhetorically, to name a Shi’i force that helped Sunnis. Anticipating possible counterexamples, he cautioned the audience against glorifying Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Rather, he argued, Hezbollah undertook the kind of self-defense that any normal person would:

Any person, when you enter his home, when you attack him, he will try to defend himself. It has no relationship with his faith, with his character. Whatever creed he has – pagan, Christian, whatever – if you attack him in his home, he will try to defend himself and his children and his wealth and whatever he owns … But if he goes somewhere to help others, then he has some spirit in him.

Then Rijiyar Lemo turned to some of the foremost conflicts of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s in the Muslim world, again challenging the audience to name a place where the Shi’a had helped Sunnis against a foreign enemy.

If you say “Afghanistan” – there was not one Shi’i who brought help to Afghanistan…At the time that the Soviet Union was trying to impose its Godless rule [mulkin ba Allah] in Afghanistan, Sunni Muslims everywhere [went]. There was no place from which they did not go. Even from Nigeria, here, there were some who went.

But the Shi’a, he said, merely stood by and “waited eagerly” to see what share of Afghanistan’s cake they would get after the Soviets withdrew. Then, after the Taliban set up their state, Iran provided “logistics support” to the American invasion: “They helped them defeat the Taliban.”

“In Chechnya, Palestine, and other sites of struggle,” he added, “the Shi’a were also absent.” Iran’s declarations against America as the “Great Satan” were mere “political propaganda” – in reality, he argued, Iran was willing to cooperate with America in the destruction of Sunni Iraq. For thinkers such as Rijiyar Lemo, the Shi’a – and the IMN – are not revolutionaries but troublemakers and traitors.

Nigeria: Controversy at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission

Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was created in 2003, under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, as an anti-corruption law enforcement body. Corruption, as I have heard many Nigerians say, is one of Nigeria’s core challenges – as is the case in many countries, including mine.

Current President Muhammadu Buhari won his first term in 2015 on a platform that foregrounded anti-corruption, drawing on Buhari’s image (right or wrong) with many Nigerians as an austere and incorruptible personality. Buhari was re-elected in 2019, and his administration has prioritized anti-corruption and asset recovery efforts (notably the money stolen and held abroad by military dictator Sani Abacha, who died in 1998) – yet many Nigerians and even many of Buhari’s own supporters and former supporters feel that he has not lived up to expectations on anti-corruption. The EFCC is part of that story.

The EFCC has had controversies in the past, but several new ones have occurred in the past few weeks. On July 7, the Commission’s Acting Chairman Ibrahim Magu was suspended, and was detained for ten days in connection with a fraud investigation. A number of other senior EFCC officials and investigators have also been suspended and sacked. The presidency’s official statement on Magu’s firing is here, but it (deliberately, I strongly suspect) does not go into detail about the content of the allegations against the suspended chairman. According to some reports, the case against Magu and the others concerns alleged “re-looting of previously stolen funds.” There is a lot of potential irony here, of course.

The EFCC has had only four heads since its creation, with the “pioneer chairman,” Nuhu Ribadu, often seen as the most effective. Michael Dada reviews the history here – one of recurring battles between EFCC chairs, attorneys general, and presidents. An excerpt:

Critics alleged that EFCC’s anti-corruption war under [second Chairperson Farida] Waziri from 2008 to 2011 grew timid and lethargic in comparison with Ribadu’s tenure.

Even though she was able to score one of the commission’s landmark prosecution that led to the former national deputy chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Bode George serving a two-and-a-half year sentence, Waziri, like Ribadu,  also fell out with the Attorney-General, Mohammed Bello Adoke over EFCC’s prosecution of cases.


[The third Chairman Ibrahim] Lamorde’s leadership of EFCC left a great deal to be desired. Unlike his predecessors, EFCC recorded no major conviction under Lamorde.


He was thereafter, investigated over allegation of money diversion. On November 9, 2015, President Buhari sacked Ibrahim Lamorde and appointed Ibrahim Magu as the acting chairman of the EFCC.

All of this, as Dada emphasizes, has damaged the EFCC’s image – for critics, it is not merely toothless, but also politicized and internally corrupt.

The Financial Times surveys the key reactions to Magu’s firing, with Magu’s lawyer decrying the charges against his client as politically motivated, and with some civil society groups coming to Magu’s defense. Such groups argue that Magu’s firing undoes crucial progress, and that he has been more aggressive than his predecessors in terms of going after major targets.

Meanwhile, Magu has been replaced by Mohammed Umar, who was Director of Operations. He is apparently not a target of the investigation against Magu and others.

Umar’s appointment has, in the context of the scrutiny given to senior appointees’ geographic origins, raised a few eyebrows, especially among southerners. The southern politician Sunny Onuesoke publicly complained that all of the EFCC chairs have so far been northerners:

In a statement, he said: “Is there any law that says EFCC chairmen can only come from the North? Magu goes and is replaced with another northerner, Mohammed Umar.

“There have now been five chairmen. Each has been a northerner. What‘s happening? Are there no credible southerners?”

With that said, many Nigerians do not view the struggle over the EFCC in geographic terms – some of the most ardent public defenses of Magu have come from voices in the south, for example this column by a Bayelsa State politician.

A lot is at stake in Magu’s firing, then, and what one makes of it. Is the presidency cleaning house and expelling someone who perverted the core mission of his own agency? Or are the presidency and the attorney general’s office settling scores in a fashion that suggests that EFCC will always be hamstrung by politics and interagency rivalries? A lot of Buhari’s second term is still left, but it already appears clear that his legacy on anti-corruption will be fairly mixed.

Mali’s Imam Mahmoud Dicko and the Northern Nigerian Salafi Ulama, Briefly Compared

As the tension grows surrounding the June 5 protest movement in Mali, the protesters’ most prominent leader – Imam Mahmoud Dicko – is the subject of new and in some cases renewed attention from journalists and others (see here for one recent profile – h/t Andrew Lebovich, who adds his own observations here).

One thing I’ve been thinking about with Dicko is the comparison, or mostly the contrast, between him and some of the northern Nigerian Salafi scholars I wrote about in my first book. Dicko and some of those figures – the late Jafar Mahmud Adam, the late Muhammad Auwal Adam Albani Zaria, Abdulwahab Abdallah, and others – belong to roughly the same generation, born in the 1950s and 1960s, and their careers all included time in Saudi Arabia, especially at the Islamic University of Medina.*

The two contrasts that stand out to me are (a) the relatively much denser field of prominent Salafi scholars in northern Nigeria versus Mali, especially Bamako; and (b) the more clearly pedagogical focus of the northern Nigerian Salafi scholars in comparison to Dicko.

That there would be more prominent Salafi scholars in northern Nigeria than in Mali makes mathematical sense. Say just for the sake of argument that there are 100 million people in northern Nigeria and 20 million people in Mali. One might expect to find five times as many major scholars in northern Nigeria than in Mali. Yet in Mali, there appears to be less than one-fifth of what one finds in northern Nigeria. In terms of fame and influence among Salafis, Dicko appears to stand in a tier by himself, with a sharp drop-off after that in terms of what other Salafi scholars have a mass presence; the name Ibrahim Kontao comes to mind, and there are a few others whose Friday sermons attract massive crowds in Bamako but who probably wouldn’t appreciate having their names published on this blog. Meanwhile, the northern Nigerian sphere is different not just quantitatively but qualitatively – northern Nigerian Salafi shaykhs have YouTube channels, Facebook pages, and a level of media presence that most Malian Salafi shaykhs appear to lack.

This brings us to the second difference: pedagogy. The major northern Nigerian shaykhs, even when highly active in politics and other domains, typically appear to keep a major focus on teaching, often teaching in a more or less classical mode of reading through entire books with students over long periods of time. There is even a Twitter account that I stumbled across recently consisting entirely of clips from Albani Zaria’s lessons, with some clips of Jafar Adam’s lessons as well – showing how the pedagogical dimension and the mediatization dimension intersect in northern Nigeria.

Now this is not a knock against Dicko, but it is not clear to me whether and how much he teaches. As you can see in the profile I linked to at the beginning of this post, there is no question that he has a solid scholarly pedigree and that he could teach – but unlike the northern Nigerian Salafis for whom teaching was not just a pursuit but also a core part of the infrastructure of Salafism in northern Nigeria, Dicko appears to operate less in that mode. Perhaps this is because he is too busy; again, there’s no other Salafi in his weight class in Mali, which probably reinforces what I take to be his absorption in organizational matters. He definitely gives Friday sermons, but this is different from teaching.

Admittedly, as I’ve mentioned here before, a good deal of the religious field of Mali lies outside my view; this may extend to my awareness of which books get taught, and by whom, in Mali – certainly an ability to deal with Hausa sources for northern Nigeria, and my inability to deal with Bambara, is probably making a big difference in what I pick up on and what I don’t. And Malian Salafism on the whole appears to be much less mediated than northern Nigerian Salafism, which also makes a big difference. But still – I haven’t found any videos on YouTube of Dicko teaching, whereas YouTube is replete with videos of the northern Nigerian Salafi scholars delivering lectures and courses.

A final question, then, concerns whether Dicko has clear successors or even close junior peers within the Salafi milieu. The question may seem absurd – anyone who can turn out tens of thousands to protest in Bamako must surely be grooming proteges, one would think. And yet Dicko, when stepping down as president of the High Islamic Council in 2019, appears not only to have been unable to impose a Salafi successor on the council, but not to have put forward a candidate in the first place. Perhaps that was a strategic choice, about picking battles, and not a sign that he lacks protégés, but it is striking that Dicko’s foremost allies and associates all appear either not to be Salafis or not to be shaykhs. Again this contrasts with the northern Nigerian milieu where, at least in my time in Kano, I had the sense that the Salafi scholars formed a real network, with both senior and junior members. And the pedagogical infrastructures in northern Nigeria gave aspiring star clerics a relatively clear path – study the books with the shaykhs.

*Albani Zaria perhaps never formally enrolled at the Islamic University – it is hard to tell from some of the biographies (Hausa) of him that circulate online; he at least studied with scholars in Medina.

On the Turmoil in Nigeria’s Ruling All Progressives Congress (APC)

On September 19, Edo State in Nigeria’s “South South” geopolitical zone will hold gubernatorial elections. The default political calendar in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic is that national and state elections take place every four years starting from the Fourth Republic’s establishment in 1999, meaning that the next national and state elections are scheduled for 2023 – but a number of states’ gubernatorial cycles have moved to different calendars over the years due to court cases, re-run elections, impeachments, and other circumstances. Edo State is one of those; a 2008 court decision moved the calendar to its present cycle. This year’s gubernatorial contest in Edo has widened into and/or crystallized a fight over who will control Nigeria’s national ruling party, the All Progressives Congress or APC.

A key figure in this fight is Adams Oshiomhole. After a career in the labor movement, Oshiomhole entered politics, ran for governor in Edo in 2007, and won a 2008 court case contesting and overturning the results of the election. He served two four-year terms from 2008 to 2016. In June 2018, Oshiomhole became national chairman of the APC; he was suspended from that role in March 2020 for reasons stemming both from hyper-local politics in Edo and from the overall battle to control the party.

Two pieces of context are crucial before we go further:

  1. Term limits (two four-year terms for both presidents and governors) help to incentivize what is often called “godfatherism” in Nigeria, meaning a kind of clientalist politics where the “godfather” seeks to control key offices and decisions in one or more states. Term limits are not the only ingredient in godfatherism, but many ex-governors attempt to position themselves as godfathers after their terms end. Short of the presidency itself, there are few or perhaps no positions as important in Nigeria as being a governor – senators don’t typically have power equivalent to the power of governors, for example. So when governors leave office, they often hand pick a successor and attempt to dominate the office through a proxy. This almost never works for long, because inevitably the successor will butt heads with the predecessor. The falling outs can then have major political repercussions.
  2. The APC is a political coalition of several pre-existing parties; it coalesced in 2013, in the lead-up to the 2015 elections, when its candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, scored the first successful presidential election upset in Nigeria’s history. The APC is ostensibly a center-left party but a lot of what has held it together so far is its success, rather than ideology, demography, or some other factor. In crude terms, the APC is an alliance between powerful northern politicians, especially in the north west and north east geopolitical zones, and powerful southwestern politicians; the east and “south south” have become mostly strongholds of the former ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party or PDP, which is now Nigeria’s main opposition party. The picture in the sixth and final geopolitical zone, the North Central, is a bit more mixed.

Turning back to Edo, when Oshiomhole left office in 2016, he appears to have put himself strongly into the godfather role, at least according to his opponents. Oshiomhole was succeeded as governor by Godwin Obaseki, who came out of the financial sector and served in several key economic posts in Oshiomhole’s two administrations. Most accounts (example) suggest that Oshiomhole hand-picked Obaseki to succeed him – Obaseki’s team recently stated that in 2016, Oshiomhole not only picked Obaseki, he “compiled the list of those to be appointed commissioners in Edo in his sitting room in 2016. Asides [sic] from  picking the governor, he also picked his deputy and the [Secretary to the State Government].”

Then came the inevitable falling out. Tension, according to this report, surfaced quickly, having to do with control of personnel appointments and with the power and access given – or denied – to Oshiomhole’s people in Obaseki’s administration. Throughout the 2016-2020 period, Oshiomhole had a powerful weapon, and he eventually wielded it: blocking Obaseki’s re-election, at least on the APC ticket. On June 12, an APC screening committee in Edo disqualified Obaseki from participating in the gubernatorial primary; the official reason was alleged questions about Obaseki’s academic credentials, but most observers view Oshiomhole’s influence as the real deciding factor. Events then moved rapidly: the APC selected Osagie Ize-Iyamu as its candidate, and Obaseki defected to the PDP and became the PDP candidate. Here is a fun fact that will help you understand something about Nigerian politics if you are not familiar with it: in 2016, Obaseki and Ize-Iyamu also competed for the Edo governorship, but at that time Obaseki was the APC candidate and Ize-Iyamu was the PDP candidate.

Meanwhile, Obaseki had political weapons to use against Oshiomhole. In November 2019, Oshiomhole’s home ward in Etsako West Local Government Area of Edo passed a vote of no confidence in him. The state party then suspended him. Those moves provided the legal underpinning for eventually suspending Oshiomhole as National Chairman of the APC on the grounds that he is no longer a member in good standing of the party itself.

Now we need to bring another character into the story: Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State (1999-2007) and arguably the most successful “godfather” of the Fourth Republic – someone who has not only picked several successors in his home state and kept a remarkable influence over politics there, but whose influence extends throughout the southwest and to a real extent nationwide. Tinubu was perhaps the key architect of the APC, more influential in its coalescing even than Buhari himself. Tinubu also selected Buhari’s Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, and Tinubu is likely a 2023 presidential aspirant (Buhari will be term limited).

The Edo fight has implicated Tinubu in numerous ways. The Nigerian press and the Obaseki camp have depicted Tinubu as a strong backer of Oshiomhole both within the national party and within the Oshiomhole-Obaseki power struggle. Tinubu and Oshiomhole have come in for strong criticism. Here is Vanguard:

Obaseki’s defection to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP followed earlier defections by Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue, (July 2018); Abdulfatah Ahmed, of Kwara July 2018; and Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, Sokoto, August 2018.


The defections coming on the heel of the loss of Zamfara, Bauchi and Adamawa States in the 2019 General Election have inevitably brought to fore the prospects of the party in the immediate future.

The situation in Edo is now becoming a test of Tinubu’s influence as well, and a loss for the APC in September would be seen by many as damaging Tinubu personally.

A struggle has also occurred to determine who would become Acting National Chairman amid Oshiomhole’s suspension. Here, many observers feel that Tinubu and Buhari landed on opposite sides of the question, with Tinubu, via the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party, seeming to support first Abiola Ajimobi (who died suddenly in late June) and then Prince Hilliard Etta for the position, while Buhari ultimately backed Victor Giadom – and dissolved the NWC. Tinubu and Oshiomhole have both publicly accepted (Pidgin) that decision, with Oshiomhole saying he is not going to pursue reinstatement as National Chairman. Buhari and Tinubu have worked to present a united front, but the president’s backing of Giadom has been widely seen as a rebuke of Tinubu. Meanwhile, as one article put it, “The forces working against Mr Oshiomhole are also majorly the same group of people committed to blocking Mr Tinubu’s presidential ambition.”

What next? An in-depth analysis of the Edo race contains this very blunt passage:

Obaseki certainly has the power of incumbency to his advantage. But in Nigeria, this is greatly limited when your party is not in control of the police, military and all other security services that are usually deployed to monitor elections and provide security. The governor’s incumbency advantage may be effectively neutralised by the federal might. As a matter of fact, Ize-Iyamu may even be the ultimate beneficiary of federal might if the lessons of history are factored in.

Off-season elections, like the ones about to hold in Edo and Ondo states, are usually an easier turf to deploy the full powers of the federal government in trying to sway outcomes.

Win or lose in Edo, Tinubu isn’t going anywhere, but obviously a win there would allow him to avoid the accusation that his ally (Oshiomhole) bungled everything.

At the level of the party as a whole, though, can the APC hold together? Political scientists like Carl LeVan, and Olly Owen and Zainab Usman, have written about the political settlements that held the PDP together for 16 years as Nigeria’s ruling party, settlements that then fell apart in the lead-up to 2015. If the APC is seen as representing an agglomeration of interests rather than a cohesive party, the question is whether the party will find a candidate for 2023 who preserves enough of the political settlement to allow the party to remain majoritarian. I’ll leave you with the aptly titled analysis “Pandemonium at the Alter” by Chidi Amuta, writing in This Day. An excerpt:

Now that the Buhari transition has been fast forwarded by three years, the internal contradictions of the party in power have surfaced to haunt the party as a party. Forget that governance and the common good at the national and most state levels will begin to take a back seat. The present skirmishes are merely rehearsals of the bloody wars that will be fought in the party to succeed Mr. Buhari. The factors and factions in contention counterbalance themselves and may cancel each other out at the expense of the party itself. The single most important feature of the party that will hasten its unraveling is perhaps the fact that its leading elite are persons of near equal age, resources and political gravity. The possibility that they will cancel each other out while entertaining the nation in the law courts remains the most interesting prospect in the political drama of the future of the APC.


The expectation that the rival Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would fare better is unfounded. Sixteen years of institutional existence and power incumbency has not translated into either a superiority of organization or perspective. Even now as an opposition, the PDP has remained frozen at the level of abuse and personal insult. It has hardly risen to the occasion of positing a logical ideological or policy alternative to the ruling party. Its leadership has not grown neither has its internal democracy or party technocracy. It has remains at the same level of pedestrian and mundane opportunism and indiscriminate brandishing of titles and changing postures.


Paper for POMEPS on Electoral Islamism’s Weakness in the Sahel

The Project on Middle East Political Science (POMEPS) has a new collection out titled “Africa and the Middle East: Beyond the Divides.” From the introduction by Hisham Aïdi, Marc Lynch, and Zachariah Mampilly:

The goal of this volume is to get American political science to break down the barriers between academic subfields defined by regions and open the fields to new questions raised by scholars from and across Africa and the Middle East.

The impetus behind this is both intellectual and practical.  As our framing essay explains, the fields of Middle East Studies and African Studies emerged out of very different ideological and scholarly circumstances, and evolved in very different ways in the decades since.  Where African Studies grew out of the legacies of European colonialism and American racial politics, Middle Eastern Studies evolved from European Orientalism, the American Christian interest in the Holy Land, concern for Israel, and the intensity of Cold War strategic interests. Each area studies field passed through revolutionary moments, before moving into today’s professionalized, methods-driven and more disciplinary focused modes of political science. The divides between these fields are striking. Scholars within each field are far more likely to be conversant with and to draw upon research in that field than to reach out to the other for insights or comparative cases.  Little effort is usually made to justify regional boundaries which are in fact quite arbitrary.  Why, for instance, are the historical connections between the Horn of Africa with Yemen and Oman less significant than those with the African continent?  The artificiality of this division is especially clear with the definition of African Studies in terms of Sub-Saharan Africa, which has left North Africa, Sudan and the Horn in an uneasy position relative to contemporary area studies.

My contribution is called “Why Are There Few Islamist Parties South of the Sahara?” An excerpt:

First, there is the greater hegemony of clerical models of religious authority in the Sahel and Nigeria, in comparison with North Africa where clerics maintain substantial authority but where lay-led activist groups have also acquired a substantial share of the religious field. Second, there is a triple interaction between constitutionally-imposed secularism in most Sahel countries, the lack of Islamist mobilization in the Sahel in the 1970s and 1980s, and the way that liberalization in the 1990s favored French-educated technocrats in the Sahel and military-civilian networks in Nigeria. Third, there are demographic contrasts between North Africa on the one hand and the Sahel on the other hand, particularly the latter region’s relatively lower rates of middle class formation, urbanization, and formal education, as well as higher rates of religious diversity in parts of the greater Sahel. Together, these factors have shrunk the political, social, and religious space available to would-be Islamist movements.

Two Recent Reports on Conflict, Children, and Education in Nigeria and Burkina Faso

Two reports came out last week examining, respectively, conflicts in Nigeria and Burkina Faso. They make for effective if troubling paired reading.

The first report is Amnesty International, “‘We Dried Our Tears’: Addressing the Toll on Children of Northeast Nigeria’s Conflict.” An excerpt (p. 6):

Both sides of the long-running armed conflict in the Northeast have committed crimes under international law, including against children. They continue to commit such crimes regularly. Almost everyone in the Northeast has been affected, but the impact on girls and boys has been and continues to be particularly pronounced. Absent a major shift in strategy by the Nigerian authorities, an entire generation may be lost.

And another excerpt (p. 7):

People who recently fled Boko Haram-controlled areas, including children, describe worsening food insecurity. [Abubakar] Shekau’s faction [of the Boko Haram insurgency] seems especially under strain, pillaging villages and forcing families to give larger percentages of their harvest than in prior years. Families struggle to feed themselves, though at times still feel that staying and growing their own food is safer than being displaced to a site where they would depend on inconsistent aid delivery. Food insecurity is exacerbated by Boko Haram’s attacks on aid workers and the Nigerian military’s restrictions on humanitarian access. Amnesty International documented deaths of young children in 2018 and 2019 related to acute malnutrition in Boko Haram-controlled territory.

For further context on food insecurity in northeastern Nigeria, see FEWS Net’s May update.

And a third and final excerpt (p. 8):

The military’s practice of mass unlawful detention is as ineffective as it is inhumane. Many of the children interviewed by Amnesty International, including those who said they had been recruited “voluntarily” by Boko Haram, described hearing messages on the radio that told them if they fled Boko Haram territory, they would find safety and support in government areas. Instead, they often suffered years of unlawful detention and torture or other ill-treatment, while never facing any charges. Many former child detainees said that, after their experience, they would not counsel others to come out from the bush; several former child soldiers said they would not advise those still in Boko Haram to surrender. Some expressed regret at having fled themselves. And women, men, and children who fled Boko Haram-controlled villages in late 2019, after never having any involvement with the group other than being forced to relinquish part of their harvest, told Amnesty International that there were many more people who want to flee, but are reluctant because they fear the military will detain them or their relatives in brutal conditions for an extended period.

Amnesty is critical of the Nigerian government’s Operation Safe Corridor, a program for “rehabilitating” former Boko Haram members – more context on that program here, here, and here.

The second report is Human Rights Watch, “‘Their War Against Education’: Armed Group Attacks on Teachers, Students, and Schools in Burkina Faso.” An excerpt:

[Jihadist] attacks, the terror they generated, and worsening insecurity have resulted in a cascade of school closures across the country, undermining students’ right to education. By early March 2020, the Ministry of National Education, Literacy, and the Promotion of National Languages (“education ministry,” or MENAPLN) reported that over 2,500 schools had closed due to attacks or insecurity in Burkina Faso, negatively affecting almost 350,000 students and over 11,200 teachers. This was prior to the country’s Covid-19 outbreak, which resulted in the temporary closure of all schools from mid-March.

And a second excerpt:

Of the five regions most affected by the conflict-related school closures, Sahel region topped the list in early March with a reported 947schools closed (80 percent of the region’s schools), followed by 556 schools in Est (38 percent), 366 in Centre-Nord (21 percent), 357 in Nord (18 percent), and 239 in Boucle du Mouhoun (13 percent). The remaining closed schools were in Centre-Est (46) and Centre-Sud (1).

For additional context, see UNHCR’s most recent humanitarian snapshot for Burkina Faso, Mali, and western Niger. Out of the estimated 4,043 non-functioning schools in this region, Burkina Faso has 62% (2,512), but Mali has approximately half that number, and western Niger has 270 schools closed which is, though nothing like the figures in its neighbors, still a real educational crisis on top of the other multi-faceted crises the region is suffering.

Roundup of Recent Reports on Boko Haram, Ansaru, ISWAP, and the Surrounding Conflict

Philip Olayoku and Bassim Al-Hussaini, Spoor Africa, “Beyond the Decade of Boko Haram Insurgency in Nigeria: Counterinsurgency through the Eyes of Key Stakeholders.” For me, the most interesting part was Chapter 4, “Multi-Stakeholder Counterinsurgency Approaches in Nigeria’s Northeast.” An excerpt (pp. 12-13):

Abiola Sanusi, the Chair of the Safe Schools Declaration Sub-Committee of the Education in Emergencies Working Group Nigeria emphasised the fact that women and children remain the worst sufferers as they constitute 79% of the IDPs. Overall, women make up 54% of the total IDP population as most of them have become household heads resulting from death of or separation from their spouses. In giving the statistics of the impacts on these vulnerable groups, wom- en and children in the base states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, about 2.7million women and children need nutrition, out of which around 350, 000 children suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) and 250,000 others from moderate acute malnutrition (MAM). Children victims include at least 3,500 recruits by the insur- gents while young girls have been most targeted as human bombs numbering up to 136 from 2017 according to the available data. Education has also been un- der severe attacks with 867 schools reportedly closed, leading to at least 390,150 children out of school and 19,000 teachers displaced. Also, 645 teachers have been killed and 1,500 schools destroyed or occupied (by the insurgents, military or IDPs). There is however the effort to create safe schools through the develop- ment of the Policy on Safety and Security in schools to ensure minimum stand- ards for ensuring that school children, teachers and administrators are protected from harm in schools. Edwin Kuria, Director of the Humanitarian Programmes at Save the Children, Nigeria puts the total number of people in need of assistance in affected communities at 7.1million across Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States, with about 930,000 people in very remote areas that are hard to reach resulting in very minimal or no access to aids by humanitarian actors, and 230,000 pregnant and breastfeeding women acutely malnourished. 2.8 million children reportedly out of school in Borno State alone while children constitute 58% of the total num- ber of 5.8 million people in need of assistance. He therefore advanced the need for the special protection of children facing grave human rights violations to avert a lost generation of children.

Zoë Gorman, Aspenia Online, “Chad: Extremist Violence and Recession in the Wake of the Pandemic.” A quote:

[Chadian President Idriss] Déby, who has held office since 1990, is struggling to balance a need to confront internal vulnerabilities with external military engagements critical to his continued political longevity.[6] Home to 60 million people from more than 200 ethnic groups, Chad is surrounded by conflict states — Libya, Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR), as well as the Lake Chad states, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria.[7] Against a highly variegated security landscape and a faltering oil-dependent economy, Chad faces internal insurgency and youth unrest. Elections for the national assembly have been repeatedly postponed or cancelled since 2015 with security concerns cited, and soldiers are increasingly frustrated with rampant corruption and ethnic discrimination concerning the payment of military salaries and access to medical care.[8]

Abdullahi Murtala, The Republic, “The Resurgence of Ansaru.” I wasn’t convinced by this one. From the article itself:

Ansaru claimed responsibility for the 17 January attack on a convoy in Kaduna State. This was the group’s first attack since 2013. Through Al Qaeda’s Al Hijrah Media, Ansaru stated that it targeted a military convoy and destroyed several vehicles along the Kaduna-Zaria road. It was later revealed that the military contingent attacked was escorting the convoy of the Emir of Potiskum, the northeastern town. In response, the Nigerian Police Force conducted a raid that supposedly killed 250 Ansaru members in the group’s Birnin Gwari camp in Kaduna. The 17 January attack is a disturbing signal that Ansaru is resuming its activities. Furthermore, the group is currently exploiting ungoverned spaces, vulnerable rural communities, and the existing climate of insecurity in the North, a region that has been plagued by kidnappings, armed rural banditry, and violence.

That’s the contradiction that runs through so much of the writing on Ansaru (and other jihadist groups) – any time they make a public statement or claim an attack, it’s supposedly a sign of their resurgence; but then they’re treated as super insidious because of all their supposedly unclaimed attacks. Which is it? If they’re dangerous because they’re in the shadows, then why is it a big deal when they make a statement? And if they only claim a few attacks, then how can we be confident they’re so powerful in the shadows?

One could ask related questions about the new International Crisis Group report on violence in northwest Nigeria. An excerpt (p. 12):

Many Nigerian security and other independent local sources interviewed by Crisis Group corroborate that amid the breakdown of stability in Zamfara and elsewhere, two Boko Haram offshoots are making inroads into the region, where they are forging tighter relationships with aggrieved communities, herder-affiliated armed groups and criminal gangs. The first is Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan (or the Group of Partisans for Muslims in Black Africa), better known as Ansaru, an al-Qaeda-linked group that declared itself independent from Boko Haram in 2012 and was operating in north-western Nigeria until it was largely dismantled by security forces by 2016. Now it seems to be making a comeback. Secondly, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) – another splinter of Boko Haram in Nigeria’s North East zone – has forged links to communities in the north-western region on the border with Niger, which is separately in the throes of fighting its own local Islamic State insurgency. Ansaru, which has a long history of operating in the North West (where it engaged in the high-profile kidnapping of expatriate engineers between 2012 and 2013), is forging new relationships with other smaller radical groups in Zamfara state, particularly in the areas around Munhaye, Tsafe, Zurmi, Shinkafi and Kaura Namoda. The group has also deployed clerics to discredit democratic rule and the state government’s peace efforts, a “hearts and minds” campaign aimed at winning support from rural communities. It is also wooing some of the armed groups to its ranks, including by offering or selling them AK-47 rifles supplied by its allies in the al-Qaeda-linked Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), at lower than the prevailing market price. Security officials say it has been recruiting members, and that it previously sent some recruits to Libya for combat training.

First, why should these statements from security officials – or even from ICG’s other interviewees – be accepted uncritically? And second, if Ansaru is so embedded in the conflict that it traffics arms, allies with other groups, and operates a preaching network, why does it not announce these activities? Are they shy? Again, you see this pattern throughout much analysis of jihadism. “The group made a statement! Drop everything!” and then in the next breath “This group is too clever to proclaim themselves publicly! Drop everything!”

Finally, Folahanmi Aina, Wilson Center Africa Up Close, “Re-Engineering Counter-Terrorism Efforts in Nigeria’s North East: The Pursuit of Peace.” Aina discusses what he calls “mutuality”:

Let us consider two levels of mutuality, using the case study of Nigeria’s North East region. The first level is international—the Nigerian state and its neighbors and partners under the umbrella of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJT)—which can be seen as the two ends of the same cord. For peace to be nurtured and achieved, it has to be rooted in mutuality between the two actors as distinct political entities. This requires their respective political leaders to commit to upholding agreements and commitments in the common war against the region’s insurgencies.

A second level of mutuality needed to nurture and achieve lasting is internal: each state must be able to secure mutuality with its own society in attaining shared goals. This internal mutuality is what this essay focuses on. This essay argues that the chances of ensuring lasting peace are better when this second level of mutuality (internal) is pursued alongside the first level (international), rather than being completely ignored.