Understanding the Intensity of Boko Haram’s Terrorism
By: Muhammad Feyyaz, University of Management and Technology
Few militant organizations have gained global prominence as rapidly as Boko Haram (BH), owing to its characteristically unrestrained violence. Research on BH has therefore bourgeoned equally quickly. The Nigerian government, with support from regional states and the international community, has likewise increased its engagement in counterterrorism activities, but the violence nevertheless persists. Two conspicuous undercurrents characterize the prevailing conditions in the country. First, most research is focused on ways to resolve the conflict, which is a long-term project.1 Second, the state's efforts are directed toward elimination of the violence by primarily military means.2 The result has been further aggression by BH and an increase in the appeal of its jihadist message, especially for youth. The fluidity of the situation on the ground, however, reveals that this is not a case for conflict resolution, nor can it be fixed by the impulsive and somewhat symptomatic approach adopted by the government. To create the space for other response strategies to take effect, the first requirements are to understand the situation and manage the spiral of violence. This study seeks to demystify the phenomenology of Boko Haram's escalating violence and provide some clarity on a relatively unexplored aspect of Nigeria's nascent civil war.
My primary argument is that the prevailing security conditions in northern Nigeria reflect a dynamic rooted in both the unbridled revenge killings of BH members and their affiliates by the state security apparatus and vigilante groups, and the militants' campaign of extremist religious violence against the state and society. There is a direct and causal correlation between Nigeria's political developments and the escalating sectarian violence, a correlation that has been underresearched and therefore remains the least understood dimension of Nigeria's conflict. This assertion challenges previous explanations, including those that link outbreaks of violence by Boko Haram directly to President Goodluck Jonathan's election in 2011 and his reelection bid in the upcoming February 2015 election.3 In my view, however, politics alone cannot fully explain the chronic nature of the problem, because even if power returns to the north—Boko Haram's base—in the future, the violence will very likely persist owing to a deeply entrenched, structural hatred of elites that permeates the ranks of BH.
This study begins with a brief history of Boko Haram's violence. I then try to make sense of the mayhem by identifying possible patterns, cycles, and trends in the violence through an analysis of data covering the period from 1 October 2010 to 15 June 2014. The analytical framework examines four concepts that researchers have proposed to understand Nigeria's situation: variability in the threshold of violence, time series, routine activity theory, and political developments. The time series encompasses trend analysis (the long-term movement in a series), cycles that are regular nonseasonal fluctuations, and seasonality (days of the week as well as time of the year).4 The seasonality component is drawn from routine activity theory. I first tested these three time-series elements to identify any peaks and patterns in the violence, and then analyzed the results in relation to major political developments to determine whether verifiable political triggers were inciting the violence.5
The Pathway and Profile of Violence
The exact origins of BH remain largely in doubt. The available records suggest that Mohammed Yusuf founded BH in 2002 in the city of Maiduguri with the goal of establishing shari'a government in Borno State in northern Nigeria.6 Prior to this, the group has been traced back as far as 1995, when it existed as a little-known Muslim youth organization called Shabaab, under the leadership of a cleric known as Abubakar Lawan.7 The command later shifted to Yusuf when Lawan departed for studies in Saudi Arabia. Yusuf's charm and religious appeal were instrumental in attracting wider swaths of the region's youth, who were disillusioned by their socioeconomic miseries.8 In fact, many poor families and unemployed youths from the neighboring countries of Niger, Chad, and Cameroon also enrolled in Yusuf's religious complex, which included a mosque and a school that offered primarily ideological studies.9 Those who interacted with Yusuf have quoted him as saying that his goal was the establishment of an Islamic state "in Nigeria, and if possible all over the world, but through dialogue." In January 2006, the imam was teaching approximately 3,000 students.10
It is unclear what motivated Yusuf to espouse violence; there is, however, a general consensus among independent observers that violent clashes between Christians and Muslims and harsh government treatment, including pervasive police brutality, encouraged the group to radicalize.11 The first known attack by BH was carried out in December 2003 by roughly 200 militants, who struck multiple police stations in the state of Yobe, near the Niger border.12 As the sphere of its activities spread to neighboring states, BH caught the attention of Nigeria's political leadership, who authorized military deployments against the group. After a major showdown with the military in July 2009, in which approximately 800 to 900 militants were killed, Yusuf was captured and died in police custody on 30 July.13 His followers regarded this as an extrajudicial killing, although the police claimed that he died trying to escape.14 State television footage shown to officials and journalists revealed jubilant police celebrating around his body. For rights activists and observers, "the extrajudicial killing of Yusuf in police custody [was] a shocking example of the brazen contempt by the Nigerian police for the rule of law."15
The 2009 massacre by the security agencies raised such alarm that the government ordered the prosecution not only of the police personnel who killed Yusuf but also the military commander of a unit that killed 42 other BH insurgents.16 The carnage, however, also marked the beginning of an organized, violent antistate terror campaign by BH. Over time, the group reevaluated its definition of the "legitimate" enemy and expanded its attacks beyond drive-by shootings of off-duty security officers to targeting local politicians, traditional authority figures, and Christian and eventually even Muslim civilians.17 Attacks by the group increased in frequency, reach, and destructiveness, especially from May 2011 onward.18 The most dramatic development came when BH began to use suicide bombers, starting with an attack on the Nigerian Police Force Headquarters in Abuja on 16 June 2011, which was followed by a car bombing at the UN headquarters, also in Abuja, on 26 August 2011.19
Over the next two years, the violence rose to alarming levels, with attacks occurring on an almost daily basis in the northern part of the country. Some days, fatalities exceeded 100, a pattern that has continued ever since. For example, on 22 December 2011, 125 people were killed by BH in parts of Borno and Yobe states.20 BH's most deadly single assault came in January 2012 when coordinated bomb and gun attacks in Kano City killed an estimated 185 people (the number claimed by BH).21 Similarly, on 17 September 2013, BH gunmen killed 142 people and burned dozens of homes in coordinated attacks on the town of Benisheikh in Borno State.22 The year 2014 was unprecedented for the intensity of the group's violence. Approximately 3,300 people, the majority of whom were civilians, died violently in different locations across northeast Nigeria during the first six months of the year alone. More than half of the killings were carried out by members of BH, whose victims included scores of schoolchildren who were deliberately targeted by the group. The rest were killed by security forces during fighting or in retaliation for Boko Haram's depredations.23 Hundreds of soldiers, members of the Civilian Joint Task Force (JTF) militia, and suspected BH fighters have also been killed in attacks and clashes in the conflict.24 The levels of violence in 2014 prompted Amnesty International to classify Nigeria's fighting as a noninternational armed conflict.25
These descriptions provide only a fractional view of the human tragedy suffered in Nigeria since the advent of BH-related violence.26 The death toll between 2001 and 2013 has been estimated at 10,000, with the greatest number by far coming since 2009.27 Although the estimates of total fatalities vary widely, between 2009 and 2013, this militant group alone was responsible for 2.34 percent of the more than 34,000 terrorist attacks that took place worldwide and caused 5.9 percent of fatalities.28 Headed by Abubakar Shekau since 2010, Boko Haram is now considered among the deadliest extremist groups in the world.29
Annual Violence Threshold Variability
A total of 6,634 Nigerian civilians and security personnel (excluding the military) lost their lives in 397 violent incidents between 2010 and 2014, the period of this study (see figure 1). The intensity of the violence has been on an upward trend with each succeeding year, registering a threefold rise in the annual number of fatalities. In 2011, violence by BH was largely confined to Nigeria's northeast; by the end of 2012, it had engulfed 14 out of the country's 36 states, including all 12 of the states that have already adopted Islamic law and the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja.30 Nineteen hundred people died in BH violence during 2013; the group was responsible for an average of 12.42 reported fatalities per conflict event (compared to two per event by Somalia's Al Shabaab in 2013).31 In the first half of 2014, violence reached an unprecedented level. Informed opinions about the causes of this increased intensity in BH's terrorist activity are scant, and those who study it generally focus on the highhandedness of the Nigerian military and law enforcement agencies, without relating the violence to situational dynamics.
The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), a research group that focuses on violence on the African continent, attributes this rise in the trajectory of violence to an alteration in Boko Haram's targeting strategy, that is, toward the discrete use of violence against noncombatants. ACLED posits that such attacks were almost entirely absent from the 2010 data, suggesting that 2011 marked an important turning point in the development of the group and its strategic and deliberate use of violence against civilians. According to ACLED, this was particularly noticeable in 2012, when high-intensity attacks on noncombatants outweighed clashes with security forces (see figure 2; the yellow dots represent civilian casualties).33 The tally in figure 1 supports ACLED's finding of an increase in violent fatalities since 2011.
Both of these figures, however, provide only a symptomatic picture and do not offer a rationale for the factors propelling the change. For example, each single year in figure 1 represents a cycle; when each year is broken into quarters, the cycle of violence even within one year appears random (figure 3). Nor is the assertion by ACLED that there has been a surge in attacks against civilians statistically substantiated. A closer scrutiny of the data reveals that, other than those who died in attacks on a pub and two churches in December 2011 and who were mostly Christians, the majority of BH's victims were collateral and politically engaged, such as Muslim clerics or suspected government collaborators. There were two or three instances of deliberate attacks in public places that resulted in relatively few deaths, possibly carried out simply to induce fear.35 Aside from those instances, there is no evidence that over the course of 2011, BH regularly engaged civilian targets. While it is clear from the evidence that civilians became part of BH's conflict strategy beginning in 2011, the erratic violence by the group indicates that its behavior was provoked by extrasystemic triggers. This is a vital aspect to understanding the phenomenology of Nigeria's violence.
Routine Activity and Seasonal Variation
Many scholars have attributed a noticeable increase in crime during the summer months to the greater availability of outdoor victims due to good weather and longer daytime hours. By implication, they endorse routine activity theory by suggesting a correlation between the summer months and the first few days of the week, when there may be more opportunities to strike.37 Nigeria has a tropical climate with abundant sunshine throughout the year; in the country's northern part, the weather is hot and dry most of the year, with temperatures climbing as high as 40 C (104 F), and the rainy season lasts for only three to four months (June–September). The country's general terrain is low grassland without significant obstacles to movement. To what extent, then, do climatic seasonality and topography contribute to Nigeria's patterns of violent activity?
As shown in figure 4, the incidence line for violent activity in Nigeria steadily rises during the first three months of the year, drops sharply during April, and rises again until June. A curve begins to form from June onward, which reaches another apex in October. The remaining two months of the year witness substantially less violence compared to earlier months. Figures 4 and 5 demonstrate that overall the event distribution is nonsymmetrical, whereas the central tendency of the incidence of violence across months is stable at a certain level. This horizontal leveling of occurrences is illustrated by the general trend line in figure 5 and implies that the level of violence has stabilized over time, despite occasional extremes in which the number of incidents rises above 40 or falls below 21. The relative stability of the mean level of violence can be interpreted as BH's intent to maintain its visibility, while the unusual escalations or reductions may show the group's willingness to match violence against them with more violence, as dictated by a circumstantial dynamic. This observation strengthens the underlying notion that there is a regulated nature to Nigeria's violence, consistent with a trigger. The relationship between continuity and magnitude is also robust; therefore, the histogram in figure 5 infers the persistence of this trend into the future.
To see whether fluctuations in the trend line of figure 4 are the result of a circumstantial dynamic, the potential impact of climate on the operational scale of violence should be examined. Local meteorologists have concluded that the expected frequency and
intensity of climatic hazards due to climate change in urban areas can no longer be predicted by relying solely on historical data, local experiences, and institutional memory. Through empirical analysis, they have found instead an increased likelihood of unpredictability in climatic conditions.40 When considering the June–October curve in Figure 4, this finding means that climate has no significant effect on the overall level of violence. For example, other than a quiet July during 2011 or low-key violence in August and September of 2012, the rainy months have not seen any notable decline in terrorist activity. Similarly, the timing of violence does not seem to have been influenced by high floods.41 In fact, while Kano State was experiencing devastating floods during July 2012, violent acts were considerably curtailed there but concomitantly, more targets were hit in the states of Borno, Yobe, and Bauchi, and in Abuja.42 While it seems clear that climate and topography do not hinder violence, this inference does not explain the dip in violent attacks that occurs during April or the peaks during February, March, June, and October.
Temporal Seasonality Trend and Patterns
Nigeria observes nearly two dozen annual public holidays as a result of its sociocultural and religious diversity. The country follows the common five-day workweek with a two-day weekend. Friday, which is generally observed as a weekend day in many Muslim countries, is a working day in Nigeria. As in other countries, each day of the week in Nigeria has some cultural, mystic, or mythological significance. But it can be assumed that these rituals do not mean anything to a terrorist organization, for whom opportunity and the availability of targets should take precedence over everything else.
Figure 6 depicts violent episodes according to historical data across the days of the week. The figure shows a single peak in violence on Sunday, with Tuesday, Thursday, and Fridays sharing an identical plane. As shown, the event record does not produce a coherent pattern; consistency in the prevalence of violence across the week is the only observable trend.
How does Nigeria's situation compare with terrorism trends across regions? Two data sets that track incidents of terrorism across the days of the week reveal some interesting insights. The first covers terrorist events throughout the world over a period of 34 years (1974 to 2007), while the second shows prevailing security conditions in Pakistan between 2009 and 2012 (see table 1). Monday shows up as the key day for acts of terrorism in both data sets. One common explanation for this is that private citizens and government institutions—the preferred targets for acts of political terrorism—are less available on the weekend, so terrorists simply wait until Monday to attack.44 Consequently, Saturdays and Sundays are the least active worldwide.45
Unlike the rest of the world, however, most terrorist attacks in Pakistan were carried out on Thursday, followed by Monday and Friday. In Pakistan, Thursday is traditionally the day on which large numbers of people go to shrines, while Fridays are set aside for prayers and religious observance. These days are therefore rational choices for terrorists who wish to produce mass casualties. The incidence profile reveals that Friday, far from being a day of peace, is an important day to hit a larger number of human beings at prayer time, perhaps in part because the terrorists imagine they will receive divine providence by attacking those they regard as apostate on the holy day.47 In more recent years, even this trend has tended to fluctuate according to the ideology of the terrorist group involved.
How does this pattern hold up for Nigeria? Over the last four years, churches were attacked by militants on more than 30 of a total 209 Sundays. It would be logical to expect the same trend for attacks against Muslims during Friday congregations. On a single Friday in December 2011, a BH bombing and shooting attack killed four Muslim worshippers in Maiduguri as they were leaving the mosque after attending Friday prayers. This attack, however, was directed primarily against a nearby military checkpoint, not the mosque. Likewise, coordinated strikes that killed at least 185, including 29 policemen, after Friday prayers on 20 January 2012 in Kano, a predominantly Muslim city, targeted the police headquarters.48 On two occasions, Christians were also attacked on a Friday,49 while unarmed Muslim village communities were targeted by BH at least 35 times on Sundays across large swaths of the country.
The spread of these attacks reveals indiscriminate targeting of civilians by Boko Haram, regardless of the victims' religious beliefs. Another distinction is that in Nigeria, terrorist activity tends to be low on Monday but much higher on Tuesday. This is the opposite of the trend both globally and in Pakistan, where Mondays attract greater terrorist activity compared with Tuesdays.50
The Linkages between Political Developments and Violence
The theory that the intensity of Boko Haram's violence can best be explained in terms of a political feud is premised primarily on the argument that, while the extrajudicial killing of the leadership of the BH in 2009 may have triggered a violent confrontation with the state, the more recent severity of violence is the fallout of a fierce political battle in April 2011 that brought Goodluck Jonathan—a southern Christian member of the powerful People's Democratic Party (PDP)—to power.51 The question is whether this political dynamic can be clearly linked with the contemporary security landscape. In Nigeria, national elections are a two-stage process: the presidential poll is followed by elections for state governors. It is intriguing to note that the north, which was gripped by devastating riots in the days after Jonathan's election in what looked like historical north-south animosity, just a short time later returned numerous incumbent PDP governors to office. The PDP basically held its ground in the north despite the opposition.52 Nigerian analysts have suggested that northern Nigerians tend to make different calculations regarding their interests at the national level than they do at the state and local levels, implying that they are strategic in their approach. These analysts further warn that outsiders who analyze local politics need to understand the different frames of reference that people shift between when making political decisions, and to consider the different priorities that people try to balance.53 In this light, the May 2011 unrest appears unlikely to be directly connected to the agenda of the insurgency.
Similarly, some speculate that BH was a creation of some disgruntled members of President Jonathan's ruling party, who appropriated the group to destabilize his government.54 President Jonathan himself has conceded that BH backers and sympathizers are "in the executive arm of the government; some of them are in the parliamentary/legislative arm of the government, while some are even in the legislative arm. Some are also in the armed forces, the police and other security agencies."55 While the motivations of alleged supporters warrant close study, their activities on behalf of the rebels are unlikely to be of any serious consequence compared to other strategic developments that have produced and animated the conflict environment.
On 31 December 2011, President Jonathan declared a state of emergency in parts of Borno, Niger, Plateau, and Yobe states after a Christmas Day bomb attack by BH on Saint Theresa Catholic Church in the town of Madalla near Abuja, which killed 42 worshippers. On 2 January 2012, BH issued a three-day ultimatum to southern Nigerians to leave the north. The group then carried out a series of attacks on Christians and churches after the deadline passed.56 In a video message posted online later that month, BH leader Shekau stated, "Everyone has seen what the security personnel have done to us. Everyone has seen why we are fighting with them,"57 apparently referring to abuses by the special military task force that was set up by the federal government in June 2011 in Maiduguri and the deployment of hundreds of soldiers in Borno State in October 2011.58
With the imposition of emergency rule at the end of 2011, it appeared that the floodgates of violence were opened. BH carried out more attacks and killed more people during the six months of the emergency than in all of 2010 and 2011 combined.59 The coordinated bombing and gun battle against police headquarters in Kano on 20 January 2012 was one of the deadliest attacks by BH during 2012. A message from the BH on 1 February 2012 asking Kano residents to bear with the violence, in an apparent bid to show people that the sect was only trying to target the government, proved to be a farce. Civilians clearly were targeted in this period: BH carried out 31 attacks against Christians and churches; 43 against Muslim clerics, mosques, and communities; and nearly a dozen against foreigners. Even so, the police and military, who suffered over 80 attacks, remained the group's principal focus. BH had warned in March 2012 that "all police stations and other security outfits are our targets."60 In the most horrific incident, in October 2012, BH operatives slit the throats of 26 people in a student housing area in Mubi town, in the state of Adamawa, bordering Cameroon. It is believed that the group's attacks against police officers, Christians, and Muslims in 2012 involved those who allegedly cooperated with the government or opposed BH.61
The year 2013 was especially notable because of the advent of what was, essentially, a state of civil war in northern Nigeria. Africa analyst Jacob Zenn suggested that the French-led military intervention in northern Mali in January 2013 may have indirectly revitalized BH. His comment was inspired by attacks along northeastern Borno's borders with Niger and Cameroon from March to May 2013, which were thought to be the work of former members of Ansaru, BH, and other militant groups, who had fought with or learned from the rebels in Mali.62 The fact that Nigeria had been wracked by instability prior to the Malian crisis does not, however, lend credence to this hypothesis. The dynamics of the rising violence were essentially informed and shaped by domestic concerns.
The Civilian Joint Task Force
On 14 May 2013, President Jonathan again declared a state of emergency in the three northeastern Nigerian states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa to curtail the activities of BH. This decree was followed by increased militarization of the troubled zones.63 A spate of kidnapings by BH began in May 2013; BH leader Shekau announced in a video that these were retaliation for Nigerian security forces' taking the wives and children of group members.64 Both conflict events and reported fatalities increased dramatically in that month.65 In June, President Jonathan declared BH and the splinter group Ansaru to be terrorist organizations, and imposed a 20-year jail sentence for their noncombatant supporters.66
The defining marker in the general escalation of violence, however, was the formation of a state-sanctioned militia called the Civilian Joint Task Force (JTF), also in May 2013. This group of loosely coordinated civilians was given powers to arrest suspected BH members and hand them over to the security forces.67 Not only did the Borno state government hail the role being played by the Civilian JTF, but the president himself hailed the youth vigilantes as "new national heroes."68 Much encouraged and supported by the military, police, and society, this group of young fighters seemed to many to be a harbinger of positive change in Nigeria's precarious internal security situation. In reality, however, this armed civil resistance formation incited BH into direct confrontation with the general population. Concurrently with the Civilian JTF, unsanctioned vigilante groups emerged in rural communities to oppose the terrorists.69 In turn, BH became intensely vengeful against the vigilante groups, plunging the country into a de facto civil war.70 Vigilantism is also displacing the government from its constitutional obligation to preserve the state and confront its challengers.
Another crucial episode that distinguished this violent year was the custodial deaths of more than 950 members of BH in detention facilities run by the military JTF (formed by the government in 2011) in the first six months of 2013 alone. Amnesty International claimed that prisoners were suffocated, starved, and arbitrarily executed in the army-led operation in the country's northeast. At least 622 suspected BH collaborators were killed by the security forces on 14 March 2014.71 On that same day, BH militants attacked Giwa barracks in Maiduguri and freed hundreds of detainees, but, remarkably, no soldiers were reported to have died in the attack. In contrast, the soldiers who regained control of the barracks after a few hours killed more than 600 people, mainly newly freed detainees, after the fighting had ended.72 When seen through the lens of an attack-retaliation feedback loop, the nonlinearity of the violence thresholds in the latter half of 2013 and in 2014, against law enforcement agencies but more specifically against civilians, is at once illuminated. This backdrop helps explain the rationale underlying BH's escalating punitive rampage—the group has often cited security forces' abuses to justify its attacks.73 Breaking into jails, detention cells, and barracks to free prisoners, sometimes on a very large scale, has remained one of BH's signature activities over the years.
Peace overtures that had been initiated in August 2011 continued into 2013. The history of such efforts, however, whether by the militants or on behalf of the government, has been one of enigma and controversy. For example, there are conflicting reports about talks held by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo with BH in September 2011. IRIN, a news service formerly under the auspices of the UN, reported that none of the demands submitted by BH to President Jonathan on 16 September 2011 were heeded, despite the fact that the militants appeared to be offering a ceasefire. These demands also included an end to the arrests and killings of BH members, payment of compensation to the families of sect members killed by security personnel, and prosecution of the policemen responsible for the death of the group's leader, Mohammed Yusuf, in June 2009.74
Iro Aghedo and Oarhe Osumah, two leading writers on Nigerian security, nevertheless seem to refute the idea that BH would offer to participate in such negotiations, noting that "even an attempt by Nigeria's ex-president, Olusegun Obasanjo, to broker peace with the group through some family members of the slain BH leader Mohammed Yusuf was rebuffed by the sect."75 Similarly, the fate of recommendations, including amnesty, by a fact-finding committee instituted by the federal government in 2011 and headed by Ambassador Usman Gaji Galtimari, is not known. BH has chosen to maintain a vengeful stance in retaliation for the slaying of Yusuf.76
The intransigence does not lie entirely with Boko Haram, however. The amnesty buzzword has been heard repeatedly in discussions of how to deal with BH up until the present time, but to no avail. Between March and August 2013, there were several botched attempts by the government to bring peace.77 In one instance, President Jonathan openly rejected calls for an amnesty deal for BH during a visit to Damaturu in March. In April 2013, the government convened a 26-member Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in the North, with a three-month mandate to try to convince BH to lay down its arms in exchange for a state pardon and social integration.78 In June, however, the president raised the stakes again by designating BH a terrorist organization. Again in July, the government declared it would form a negotiation panel to initiate talks with BH, but in the same month, Nigeria's minister of special duties announced he was in ceasefire negotiations with the Islamist insurgents, a claim which was promptly denied by BH.79 The government was reported to have rejected or discontinued negotiations with BH during the month of August. Other facilitators who tried to mediate between the two sides eventually pulled out of the process, citing insincerity on the part of the government or because BH accused the Nigerian state of bad faith.80 Similarly mixed signals radiated from the government during 2014. On 30 May, President Jonathan offered conditional amnesty to BH, while almost simultaneously ordering total war against the organization, seeming to justify accusations by BH that government peace offers were insincere.81 Boko Haram, meanwhile, has stuck with its demands for the release of all the BH members being held in various prisons for acts of terrorism, as a condition for dialogue with the government.82
Conclusion and Policy Implications
This article proposes that a cause-and-effect feedback loop, exacerbated by poorly conceived political interventions, is behind the prevailing security breakdown in Nigeria. This is a dynamic that has not previously been investigated with due scientific rigor. A careful analysis of available data supports the hypothesis that Nigeria's government and Boko Haram are trapped in an upward spiral of attack and retaliation that neither seems willing to break and that the principal underlying cause lies in the country's political dynamics.
Generally, the anatomy of Nigeria's violence suggests that the country presents a unique context in which BH is pursuing a deliberate path of retributive punishment. This strategy seems to have materialized from, and is sustained by, the memory of the 2009 massacre that its leadership and cadres suffered at the hands of the state security forces. BH can thus be understood as a traumatized militant structure that will continue with its violence as long as it perceives that justice is being denied.
The data also make clear that climate hazards and topographical configurations have no correlation with terrorism within the Nigerian context. Likewise, temporal seasonality with regard to the availability of targets is generally inapplicable with the exception of Sundays, which call for strong protective measures especially for the larger places of worship. The reason Christians are being discriminated against by BH appears to be a function more of politics and other events in the recent past than of the ideological leanings of BH. Muslims and Christians had peacefully coexisted in Nigeria for ages until increasingly severe economic inequality and corruption in recent decades spurred interfaith violence.
Like Sundays, Tuesdays appear to be a favored day for attacks on urban centers, but terrorist strikes against urban communities, rural areas, and the border regions of Nigeria have occurred on every day of the week.83 Temporal seasonality alone also fails to explain the monthly fluctuations in violence (i.e., a dip during April and peaks of violence during February, March, June, and October). When juxtaposed with political developments, however, these discontinuities not only become intelligible but reveal distinct dynamics that feed the cycles of violence.
First, there appears to be a direct and strong correlation between the declaration of an emergency and an escalation in violence. Three dynamics in particular transformed the existing environment each time an emergency was imposed: the deployment of military contingents, the indiscriminate use of lethal force, and extrajudicial (summary) executions. In effect, an organization like Boko Haram, with a history of trauma inflicted by the security establishment, is likely to regard the display of state symbols of power as a deliberate attempt at intimidation, which then obligates violent retribution. This finding rationalizes and places in perspective the assertion by ACLED that 2011 marks an important turning point in the development of the group and its strategic and deliberate use of violence against civilians. Military operations also have an implicit but strong association with the militants' rescue raids on prisoners' housing. Metaphorically, prisoners act as a magnet for action and should be understood as a major point of sensitivity for BH, regardless of the location and the cost that may ensue from attempted rescues. It can be safely predicted that this trend will continue.
Second, the analysis suggests a subtle linkage between the timing of the announcement of a state of emergency and Boko Haram's selection of a type of target. The president's first promulgation of an emergency came soon after BH's Christmas Day bomb attack on a Catholic church. The decree denounced the attack as religiously motivated, and BH responded by warning all southerners (mainly Christians) to leave Borno State. The frequent killing of Christians on Sundays during 2012 makes sense when viewed against this backdrop. Unlike most terrorist groups, for which military considerations (i.e., the opportunity and availability of targets) generally dictate their targeting strategy, BH appears to be driven more by politics and circumstance.
Another vivid dynamic correlating with the increased intensity of violence has been the deployment of vigilante groups since May 2013, a move that eroded the distinction between noncombatants and armed groups. State-sanctioned vigilantism enlarged BH's targeting scope to include more civilians. An indirect effect of this development has been the expanding culture of violence in the country, with a corresponding dilution of the rule of law and government writ large. The designation of BH as a terrorist organization during May 2013 also served to heighten the mayhem.
Finally, BH has offered no actionable response to peace overtures initiated by the state and private agencies, which indicates the pervasive mistrust among the parties. There also appears to be widespread confusion in the state's counterterrorism strategy, which is often characterized by incomprehensible backtracking and contradictions. More than lack of imagination and will, this incoherence reflects the lack of a structured state or public narrative to deal with BH, which appears to be more adept at strategic communication than the Jonathan government.
A meaningful policy response will have to isolate and disrupt these dynamics, if it is to break the cycle of retributive violence. A list that prioritizes the most essential dynamics to calm the violence must include the immediate disbandment and disarming of vigilante groups; revision of the rules of engagement for state security forces, with the aim to preserve life, coupled with stringent accountability measures; and reform of the criminal justice system so that it is transparent and upholds the ideals of the rule of law. In this regard, the release of prisoners who are being held illegally should be considered as a moral gesture. Muslim soldiers and police personnel involved in unlawful killings should be tried in the shari'a courts, with an emphasis on the "life for life" precept of Islam.
The mitigation of hatred is a time-consuming process that calls for a national effort. Two initial measures are essential. First, the state needs to institute a reconciliation program that follows five stages: (1) the conception, design, and organization of a plan; (2) a nationwide awareness campaign; (3) implementation of the plan; (4) both an in-process and post-reconciliation process review and assessment; and (5) the initiation of midcourse corrections or a reform agenda.84 In order to actualize such a program, the state must develop its own peace narrative, one driven by a philosophy of concordance that politically accepts the existence of the opposing side and attempts to incorporate it into the national mainstream. An effective peace narrative should revolve around mutual respect, trust, right to life, and a sense of reconciliation rather than retributive justice, while avoiding the use of security rhetoric. Second, and to immediately place the process on a sound footing, it would be worth contemplating an official acknowledgment of regret, short of an apology, for the unlawful killings by security forces. Whether the state should make concessions to an organization labeled as terrorist at home and globally is a predicament, but one that will have to be resolved through dialogue between state and society to avoid further human loss. None of these suggestions will work unless they are accompanied by the institutionalization of anti-intimidation strategies, such as enhanced public diplomacy that explains the rationale behind security force deployments, along with the commitment to withdraw forces upon the cessation of violence, appeals for civil-military cooperation, better training for soldiers that promotes civil communication, and so on.
Bringing an end to Nigeria's violence calls for major policy reorientations. To preserve the lives of its citizenry despite internal divisions and conflict, a state is expected not only to ensure security, but to preserve the trust of its people, upon whom it depends for its vibrancy. The policy response in Nigeria in particular demands a sense of urgency and the will to act at all levels, lest the country plunge deeper into a civil war of dangerous proportions.
About the Author(s):
Muhammad Feyyaz is an assistant professor in the School of Governance and Society at the University of Management and Technology in Lahore, Pakistan.
Copyright 2015, Muhammad Feyyaz. The US federal government is granted for itself and others acting on its behalf in perpetuity a paid-up, nonexclusive, irrevocable worldwide license in this work to reproduce, prepare derivative works, distribute copies to the public, and perform publicly and display publicly, by or on behalf of the US federal government. All other rights are reserved by the copyright owner(s). Foreign copyrights may apply.
- J. Peter Pham, "Boko Haram's Evolving Threat," Africa Security Brief, no. 20 (April 2012): http://ndupress.ndu.edu/Portals/68/Documents/archives/asb/ASB-20.pdf ; Freedom C. Onuoha, "The Audacity of the Boko Haram: Background, Analysis and Emerging Trend," Security Journal 25 (2012): 134–51; Freedom C. Onuoha, "From Ahlulsunna wal'jama'ah hijra to Jama'atu Ahlissunnah lidda'awati wal Jihad: The Evolutionary Phases of the Boko Haram Sect in Nigeria," Africa Insight 41, no. 4 (March 2012): 159–75; Daniel Egiegba Agbiboa, "No Retreat, No Surrender: Understanding the Religious Terrorism of Boko Haram in Nigeria," African Study Monographs 34, no. 2 (August 2013): 65–84: https://digitalcollections.anu.edu.au/bitstream/1885/10795/1/Agbiboa_NoRetreat2013.pdf
- Hussein Solomon, "Counter-Terrorism in Nigeria: Responding to Boko Haram," RUSI Journal 157, no. 4 (August 2012): http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03071847.2012.714183#tabModule ; Akinola Olojo, Nigeria's Troubled North: Interrogating the Drivers of Public Support for Boko Haram (The Hague: International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, October 2013): http://www.icct.nl/download/file/ICCT-Olojo-Nigerias-Troubled-North-October-2013.pdf ; Human Rights Watch, Spiraling Violence: Boko Haram Attacks and Security Force Abuses in Nigeria (New York: Human Rights Watch, 11 October 2012): 36: http://www.hrw.org/reports/2012/10/11/spiraling-violence-0 ; "Islamist Leader Killed in Nigeria," Al Jazeera America, 31 July 2009: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2009/07/200973135730251561.html
- Simeon H. O. Alozieuwa, "Contending Theories on Nigeria's Security Challenge in the Era of Boko Haram Insurgency," Peace and Conflict Review 7, no. 1 (Fall 2012): http://www.review.upeace.org/index.cfm?opcion=0&ejemplar=24&entrada=128
- Syed Ejaz Hussain, "Terrorism in Pakistan: Incident Patterns, Terrorists' Characteristics, and the Impact of Terrorist Arrests on Terrorism," Paper 136, PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania, 2010: http://repository.upenn.edu/edissertations/136 . See 19, 29–30 for details on activity theory and for a detailed explanation of time series.
- The data sources include a timeline of Boko Haram attacks and related violence compiled by the Nairobi-based humanitarian news and analysis service IRIN (until recently, affiliated with the UN), the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), Boko Haram Fast Facts from the CNN library, and reports from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The research also draws on two more data sets—global patterns of terrorism and patterns of terrorism in Pakistan—to evaluate the Nigerian seasonality paradigm. The composite data set from these sources uses incidents, timelines (years, months, and days of the week), and fatalities as indicators to illuminate idiosyncrasies of violence. I plugged any gaps in the data with miscellaneous media reports and scholarly literature.
- Daniel Egiegba Agbiboa, "Boko-Haram and the Global Jihad: ‘Do Not Think Jihad Is Over. Rather Jihad Has Just Begun'," Australian Journal of International Affairs 68, no. 4 (2014): 400–417.
- Olojo, Nigeria's Troubled North.
- Abeeb Olufemi Salaam, "The Psychological Make-up of Mohammed Yusuf," E-International Relations, 4 November 2013: http://www.e-ir.info/2013/11/04/the-psychological-make-up-of-mohammed-yusuf/ ; Eline Gordts, "The Deadly Rise of Nigeria's Boko Haram," Huffington Post, 30 April 2014: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/30/nigeria-boko-haram_n_5232957.html
- Olojo, Nigeria's Troubled North.
- Emmanuel Goujon and Aminu Abubakar, "Nigeria's ‘Taliban' Plot Comeback from Hide-outs," Agence France-Presse, 11 January 2006: http://mg.co.za/article/2006-01-11-nigerias-taliban-plot-comeback-from-hideouts
- "Timeline: Tensions in Nigeria," Al Jazeera America, 26 December 2010: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2010/01/201012314018187505.html ; Mohammed Aly Sergie and Toni Johnson, "Boko Haram," Council on Foreign Relations, 14 November 2013: http://www.cfr.org/nigeria/boko-haram/p25739 ; Agbiboa, "Boko-Haram and the Global Jihad," 1–18.
- "Boko Haram Fast Facts," CNN, 19 November 2014: http://edition.cnn.com/2014/06/09/world/boko-haram-fast-facts/
- David Cook, "The Rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria," CTC Sentinel 4, no. 9 (September 2011).
- International Crisis Group, Curbing Violence in Nigeria (II): The Boko Haram Insurgency, Africa Report no. 216 (Brussels: International Crisis Group, 3 April 2014): http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/africa/west-africa/nigeria/216-curbing-violence-in-nigeria-ii-the-boko-haram-insurgency.pdf
- "Islamist Leader Killed in Nigeria." Two other extracustodial killings, on 31 July 2009, warrant notice. One victim was Baba Fugu Mohammed, the 72-year-old father-in-law of Mohammed Yusuf, who had turned himself over to police on his lawyer's advice. The other was Alhaji Buji Foi, one of BH's alleged financial backers and a former commissioner in the Borno state government. Both were killed by mobile police personnel inside police stations. See Human Rights Watch, Spiraling Violence.
- Iro Aghedo and Oarhe Osumah, "The Boko Haram Uprising: How Should Nigeria Respond?" Third World Quarterly 33, no. 5 (2012): 853–69. Two years after the event, in July 2011, authorities finally arraigned five police officers in the federal high court in Abuja for Yusuf's murder. The court granted bail to four of the officers, while one remained in custody. There have been no further developments in the case. See US Department of State, Nigeria 2012 Human Rights Report (Washington, D.C.: US Dept. of State, 2013): http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2012humanrightsreport/index.htm?year=2012&dlid=204153#wrapper ; and Nigeria 2013 Human Rights Report (Washington, D.C.: US Dept. of State, 2014): http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/index.htm?year=2013&dlid=220146#wrapper
- Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), Country Report: Nigeria (Brighton, England: ACLED, April 2013): http://www.acleddata.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/ACLED-Country-Report_Nigeria_April-2013.pdf
- Odomovo S. Afeno, "The Boko Haram Uprising and Insecurity in Nigeria: Intelligence Failure or Bad Governance?" Conflict Trends (2012): 35–41.
- Cook, "The Rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria."
- IRIN, "Timeline of Boko Haram Attacks and Related Violence," 20 January 2012: http://www.irinnews.org/report/94691/nigeria-timeline-of-boko-haram-attacks-and-related-violence
- Corina Simonelli, Michael Jensen, Alejandro Castro-Reina, Amy Pate, Scott Menner, and Erin Miller, Boko Haram Recent Attacks, START Background Report (College Park, MD: National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism [START], May 2014): http://www.start.umd.edu/publication/boko-haram-recent-attacks
- IRIN, "Timeline of Boko Haram Attacks."
- Amnesty International, "Nigeria: War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity as Violence Escalates in North-East," 31 March 2014: http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/nigeria-war-crimes-and-crimes-against-humanity-violence-escalates-north-east-2014-03-31
- Amnesty International, Nigeria: More Than 1,500 Killed in Armed Conflict in North-Eastern Nigeria in Early 2014 (New York: Amnesty International, March 2014): https://www.amnesty.org.uk/sites/default/files/nigeria__more_than_1500_killed_in_armed_conflict_0.pdf
- ACLED categorized Nigeria as the fourth most violent country, measured by the number of violent events, and the seventh most fatal over the course of the data set's coverage (from 1997 through March 2013). See ACLED, Country Report: Nigeria.
- John Martin, "A Chilling Story Seldom Told," Triple Helix 58 (Winter 2013): https://www.cmf.org.uk/publications/content.asp?context=article&id=26108
- For details, see Simonelli et al., Boko Haram Recent Attacks.
- IntelCenter, "Top 10 Most Deadly Terrorist/Rebel Groups in 2014": http://intelcenter.com/reports/charts/most-deadly-groups-2014
- John Campbell and Asch Harwood, "Boko Haram and Nigeria's Pervasive Violence," Expert Brief, Council on Foreign Relations, 26 December 2012: http://www.cfr.org/nigeria/boko-haram-nigerias-pervasive-violence/p29706
- ACLED, "Trend 4: Trends in Violence by Country in 2014," n.d.: http://www.acleddata.com/violent-groups-in-2013/
- From data compiled by author.
- ACLED, "Real-Time Analysis of African Political Violence," Conflict Trends, no. 27 (June 2014): http://www.acleddata.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/ACLED-Conflict-Trends-Report-No.-27-June-2014.pdf
- Ibid. The yellow dots represent civilian casualties.
- Data come from the sources outlined in note 4.
- Nigeria Watch Database, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, n.d.: http://www.nigeriawatch.org
- Hussain, "Terrorism in Pakistan." See 19, 29–30 for details on activity theory and for detailed explanation of time series.
- From data compiled by author.
- From data compiled by author.
- C. U. Okoloye, N. I. Aisiokuebo, J. E. Ukeje, A. C. Anuforom, I. D. Nnodu, and S. D. Francis, "Rainfall Variability and the Recent Climate Extremes in Nigeria," 2013: http://africaclimateconference.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/B4-03_OKOLOYE.pdf
- IRIN, "Floods Test Nigeria's Preparedness," August 2013: http://www.irinnews.org/report/98644/floods-test-nigeria-s-preparedness
- IRIN, "Timeline of Boko Haram Attacks."
- From data compiled by author.
- Hussain, "Terrorism in Pakistan."
- This is not the case in Pakistan. This is because the weekend was shifted from Sunday to Friday during the military rule of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq (1977–1988), and shifted back to Sunday again in 1997 by the government of Nawaz Sharif. For two decades, therefore, terrorist activity tended to occur on Saturday and Sunday in Pakistan. To the contrary, the second data set (2009–2012) in table 1 points towards a major shift in the selection of days for terrorist action in Pakistan. Muhammad Feyyaz, "Conceptualizing Terrorism Trend Patterns in Pakistan—An Empirical Perspective," Perspectives on Terrorism 7, no. 1 (February 2013): 73–102: http://www.terrorismanalysts.com/pt/index.php/pot/article/view/243/html
- IRIN, "Timeline of Boko Haram Attacks."
- Feyyaz, "Conceptualizing Terrorism Trend Patterns in Pakistan."
- Alozieuwa, "Contending Theories on Nigeria's Security Challenge."
- Saratu Abiola, "Nigeria's Gubernatorial Elections and the Northern Voter," Nigerians Talk, 3 June 2011: http://nigerianstalk.org/2011/06/03/nigerias-gubernatorial-elections-and-the-northern-voter/
- Alozieuwa, "Contending Theories on Nigeria's Security Challenge."
- Monica Mark, "Nigerian President Admits Islamists Have Secret Backers in Government," Guardian, 9 January 2012: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/jan/09/nigeria-islamists-government-backers-admits-president
- International Crisis Group, Curbing Violence in Nigeria (II).
- Solomon, "Counter-Terrorism in Nigeria."
- Human Rights Watch, Spiraling Violence.
- International Crisis Group, Curbing Violence in Nigeria (II).
- Daniel E. Agbiboa, "Peace at Daggers Drawn? Boko Haram and the State of Emergency in Nigeria," Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 37, no. 1 (2014): 41–67.
- Jacob Zenn, "Kidnapping of the Chibok Schoolgirls," CTC Sentinel 7, no. 5 (May 2014): 1–8.
- Hamza Idris, "Nigeria: 2,000 Soldiers, Fighter Jets Deployed to Borno," Daily Trust, 15 May 2013: http://allafrica.com/stories/201305150398.html
- Holly Yan and Vladimir Duthiers, "In Nigeria, the Mass Abduction of Schoolgirls Isn't Shocking," CNN, 2 May 2014: http://edition.cnn.com/2014/04/21/world/africa/nigeria-abducted-girls/index.html
- ACLED, "Real-Time Analysis of African Political Violence."
- Tim Cocks, "Nigeria Orders 20-Year Jail Term for Boko Haram Support," Reuters, 5 June 2013: http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/06/05/uk-nigeria-violence-idUKBRE9540IJ20130605
- Amnesty International, Nigeria: More Than 1,500 Killed.
- Hamza Idris, Yahaya Ibrahim, and Ibrahim Sawab, "Who are Borno's ‘Civilian JTF'?" Weekly Trust, 29 March 2014: http://www.dailytrust.com.ng/weekly/index.php/top-stories/16115-who-are-borno-s-civilian-jtf
- Haruna Umar and Adamu Adamu, "Vigilante Groups Killing Suspected Boko Haram Militants in Nigeria after Kidnapping of 270 Schoolgirls," National Post, 14 May 2014: http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/05/14/vigilante-groups-killing-suspected-boko-haram-militants-in-nigeria-after-kidnapping-of-270-schoolgirls/
- "Nigerian Boko Haram and Vigilantes ‘in Deadly Clashes'," BBC, 8 September 2013: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-24011745
- Amnesty International, Nigeria: More Than 1,500 Killed.
- Ibid., 7.
- Human Rights Watch, Spiraling Violence, 65–66.
- The terms as outlined come from the author's reading of the material. See IRIN, "Hurdles to Nigerian Government-Boko Haram Dialogue," 28 November 2012: http://www.irinnews.org/report/96915/analysis-hurdles-to-nigerian-government-boko-haram-dialogue . For details on the state's response, see Agbiboa, "Peace at Daggers Drawn?"
- Aghedo and Osumah, "The Boko Haram Uprising."
- "Panel Recommends Amnesty for Boko Haram," Nigerian Voice, 27 September 2011: http://www.thenigerianvoice.com/news/70805/1/panel-recommends-amnesty-for-boko-haram.html ; Eke C. Chinwokwu, "Trend and Pattern of Violent Crimes in Nigeria: An Analaysis [sic] of the Boko Haram Terrorist Outrage," Journal of Culture, Society and Development 3 (2014): 8–16.
- Mark Caldwell, "Nigeria Pushes Amnesty Plan for Islamist Militants," Deutsche Welle, 18 April 2013: http://www.dw.de/nigeria-pushes-amnesty-plan-for-islamist-militants/a-16754470 . BH leader Abubakar Shekau has insisted that the group has done nothing to require amnesty and so rejects such offers.
- Agbiboa, "Peace at Daggers Drawn?"
- Jaiyeola Andrews and Segun Awofadeji, "Jonathan Offers Conditional Amnesty to Boko Haram," This Day, 30 May 2014: http://www.thisdaylive.com/articles/jonathan-offers-conditional-amnesty-to-boko-haram/179805/ ; Olalekan Adetayo, Fidelis Soriwei, and Ramon Oladimeji, "Jonathan Orders Total War against Boko Haram," Punch, 30 May 2014: http://www.punchng.com/news/jonathan-orders-total-war-against-boko-haram/
- Chinwokwu, "Trend and Pattern of Violent Crimes in Nigeria."
- See Amnesty International, Nigeria: More Than 1,500 Killed In Armed Conflict and "Boko Haram Fast Facts."
- This proposition was presented by the author at the thematic workshop, Restorative Justice and Reconciliation as Essential Tools for Societies in Transition, on the eve of the International African Solidarity Festival, organized by Action Support Centre and held at Bosco Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa, 3 November 2012.