As Nigeria’s Twittersphere is flooding with rumours over what the deadly Islamic militant group Boko Haram’s next target will be – the latest online whispers hint at a possible attack on commercial centres on Valentine’s Day – there are new indications that the feared group is ready to enter talks with the Nigerian Government. Boko Haram, or what is left of it following an apparent ideological split, is reportedly insisting on holding negotiations with President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration outside of Nigeria, with the likely spot expected to be Qatar. Jonathan has also hinted at entering into talks with the terror group. Following this news, as well as the recent high-profile arrests of key militant members and growing dissent within the Islamic extremist group’s ranks, analysts are asking: is this beginning of the end for Boko Haram?
Boko Haram: Losing Its Edge?
Boko Haram, which means, “Western education is sinful” in Hausa, a language spoken in northern Nigeria, is a Taliban-inspired organisation that emerged in 2002 in Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria’s Borno state. The group has since spread to several other northern and central Nigerian states and has been blamed for the deaths of more than 900 people in at least 160 separate attacks since July 2009. Following criticism both at home and abroad, Jonathan’s administration has been waging an all out war against the terror group, and have since the start of 2012, made numerous key arrests with many authorities claiming that the group will soon be defeated. The biggest arrest came on 01 February 2012, when Nigerian Security Services (SSS) arrested Abu Darqa, the suspected spokesman Boko Haram. Although questions are still looming over whether or not Darqa is in fact the mouth piece of the terrorist group, there is a clear indication that Darqa is a critical member of the organisation which has plagued Nigeria for years indicating that his detention has hurt Boko Haram.
In an additional blow to the group, reports indicate that Boko Haram may have split in two separate sects following disputes over ideologies. The two new organisations are now Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan (Ansaru), or “Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa” and Boko Haram. Abu Usamata Al’Ansari, who has asserted himself as Ansaru’s new leader, described Boko Haram’s style of operations as “inhumane to the Muslim Ummah” and promised to return the dignity of Islam to Nigeria. The Ansaru members may be the more “moderate” Islamic militants that the Nigerian Government has been attempting to negotiate with. Such a split may be beneficial to Jonathan’s regime, which earlier indicated that it would work with the moderate group in order to prevent further attacks. However, despite this positive news, there are still reasons to suggest that Boko Haram may actually be gaining ground.
…Or Growing More Powerful?
Whilst the Nigerian Government appears to be making headway on a variety of fronts, there are still more reports which indicate that Boko Haram may be growing more powerful. To start with, Boko Haram members are likely receiving money and tactical support from al Qaeda. The group is also said to be equipped with better weaponry and has the ability to engage in more advanced fighting tactics than Nigeria’s national security forces. Boko Haram also appears to have a never ending supply bomb making materials – a recent raid by the Nigerian police saw security personnel obtain some 300 improvised grenades among other explosive devices. The group reportedly obtains most of its bomb making material from the country’s mining companies, either through extortion or payoffs. For its part, Jonathan’s administration has tried to prevent explosive material from reaching militants’ hands, but his government appears to have failed in these attempts. The group also has no problems recruiting militants, many of whom are simply fed up with the country’s growing income divide between the north and south. Although there is a greater sense of marginalisation among Muslim communities in the north leading many to join for religious reasons, analysts maintain that the real cause of violence may be due to extreme poverty, as most Nigerians live on less than US$2 a day. This is problematic, as Boko Haram pays aspiring militants at least US$2 a day to take part in terror attacks. Compounding this issue is that Boko Haram may not be as organised as many believe. Although the original members of the group are still active, most of the attacks may actually be conducted by separate gangs with no affiliation to the group and are simply committing acts of terror under the banner of Boko Haram.
Furthermore, there are reports which suggest that Boko Haram’s infiltration of the Nigerian security forces may be more widespread than previously reported, with sources close to the government indicating that the Islamist terror group is now a “multi-billion naira” (multi-million US$ dollar) organisation. Boko Haram has apparently invested millions of naira to penetrate Nigeria’s security agencies, and as a result, has obtained critical counter-terrorism information allowing it to always be one step ahead. Anonymous sources have also indicated that Kabiru Sokoto, a suspect in the 2011 Christmas Day bombing of a Roman Catholic Church in Madalla, who escaped police custody, may have simply been set free by Boko Haram-linked police officers. On 09 January 2012, Jonathan, himself, confirmed that Boko Haram had secret backers among government and security officials.
Although the Nigerian Government appears to be making progress in its fight against the deadly group, the strength of Boko Haram should not be counted out. For now it appears that there is growing sentiment among Jonathan’s regime that only through negotiation can the terror organisation truly be stopped, in a move similar to the upcoming negotiations expected to be held between the US and the Afghani Taliban following a decade of war. Such a move may be detrimental to Jonathan’s government in the short term, as Nigerians in the south may label him as weak and caving in to terrorism. However, in the long run this may be the wisest choice, as despite Boko Haram’s setbacks, the group looks to be a serious threat.
(Image: International Institute for Strategic Studies)