Given the lack of coverage Boko Haram receives, and the remarkable acts of courage taking place to repel and disband the fundamentalist terrorist group, I write this piece with the hope to raise awareness about Black communities abroad.
In May 2014, Boko Haram came to hyper-national attention when First Lady Michelle Obama placed a placard before us reading #BringBackOurGirls. The social media campaign sought to rescue over 273 Nigerian girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram on April 14, 2014. The girls were all schoolaged, and were abducted from Government Secondary School, in Chibok. In a video released May 5th, members of the terrorist organization took responsibility for the mass kidnapping. Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau threatened to sell and marry off these young girls, referencing the underground market notoriously violent towards underaged women.
#BringBackOurGirls spread rapidly, with many political elite, business leaders, and celebrities tweeting and posting their commitment to finding the abducted girls. Nigerian popstar Adokiye even offered to give up her virginity in exchange for their safe return. But the hashtag yielded little results. To date, over 200 girls are still missing. 53 brave young women escaped, but the rest remain unaccounted for.
To date, #BringBackOurGirls is spoken―if spoken at all―with an air of nostalgia; as if Boko Haram is reminiscent of a distant past. Archived in the “top stories” section of 2014, Boko Haram quickly fizzled out of American national consciousness. We moved on.
But Boko Haram’s violence is escalating. Recently, they were responsible for the massacre of 2,000 Nigerians, the bloodiest act in their history. With very little media or political attention, its inexplicable that just a year ago, #BringBackOurGirls galvanized the global community, while 2,000 slain bodies in Nigeria was met with nary an outrage.
12 white journos die. The world mourns. 2000 Black Nigerians massacred. The world is silent. This is why I scream #BlackLivesMatter
— Arielle Newton (@arielle_newton) January 12, 2015
When Boko Haram is mentioned, there’s little detail of their history, nor is there insight of the socio-political context of Nigeria―a country that is rapidly modernizing due, in part, to oil. As Nigeria expands within the global economy, Boko Haram’s terror is especially troubling.
Who is Boko Haram?
Founded in 2002, Boko Haram is a fundamentalist Islamic sect that repudiates all aspects of Western society. Their name means “Western education is forbidden.” Their core mission is to create an Islamic state and institute sharia law in Nigeria.
In 2009, they launched military operations. In that year, The Boko Haram Uprising began in Bauchi and quickly spread to other northern Nigerian territories. Northern Nigeria is home to the Hausa-Fulani, a predominately Islam ethnic group.
Following the uprising, Boko Haram leader Mohammed Yusuf died while in police custody. The circumstances surrounding his death are murky. Nigerian authorities claimed he died while trying to escape, while Boko Haram says he was murdered extrajudicially. After Yusef’s death, a brief internal power struggle resulted in Abubakar Shekau becoming the recognized leader of the terrorist group.
2011 was a bold and bloody year for Boko Haram. On August 26, 2011, an affiliated suicide bomber detonated explosives outside of the United Nations headquarters in the Nigerian capitol of Abuja. 23 people were killed, with another 75 injured. In November, the group killed over 100 people in a series of attacks across the northern region. Armed with IEDs, the group attacked Christian churches, markets, and security agencies. In 2012, another series of attacks caused over 200 deaths.
In 2013, after much controversy, the United States officially declared them a terrorist group. Ever since, Boko Haram’s resources have continued to expand, with even more deadly attacks, murders, and kidnappings taking place with increased sophistication. On June 3rd-4th, 2014, approximately 500 people were killed in a series of Boko Haram raids.
Recently, a vicious siege in Baga led to the deaths of at least 2,000 people. With no global outcry, its expected that Boko Haram’s violence will continue to go unnoticed.
Boko Haram and Nigerian society
Boko Haram is largely a response to transformational Nigerian society. Rapidly modernizing due to oil, Nigeria is becoming a prime global power player. A federal republic, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa with over 177 million citizens. A hub of diversity with over 250 ethnic groups, the country is mostly split between the Hausa-Fulani in the North (29%), Igbo in the South (18%), and Yoruba (21%) in parts of the Southwest.
Hausa-Fulani are predominately Muslim. Despite being the most populous group, they hold the least economic power amongst the three dominant ethnic factions. Whereas the Igbo Christian South is the heart of industrialization and global trade, the Hausa-Fulani Muslims are geopolitically segregated from the economic heart of the nation. The dire socioeconomic conditions in the North present an ideal breeding ground for Boko Haram, hence why their strongholds are almost exclusively in northern areas.
Ties to ISIS
“Intelligence agencies are concerned that what were once symbolic links between Isis and Boko Haram have now developed into a practical relationship with the Islamic State offering advice on strategy and tactics.” ― Cahal Milmo, Tom Witherow. The Independent.
Over the years, Boko Haram’s resources have expanded given ties to other fundamentalistic sects. Noted connections and interactions with ISIS are documented. The depth of these relationships is left to guesswork, but intelligence agencies have confirmed that these groups provide strategic advice to Boko Haram.
— Josef K (@ypolat2) January 18, 2015
Women are always vulnerable in ethno-religious conflict. However, Nigerian women have mounted a remarkable resistance against Boko Haram. Since at least May of 2014, armed Nigerian women, repelled droves of Boko Haram insurgents. The bonds between Nigerian women across ethnic and religious lines continue to strengthen. Following the Chibok kidnapping, Christian pastor Esther Ibanga joined with Muslim leaders in calling for the safe return of the 273 abducted schoolgirls. To date, women have been organizing to ensure their safety.
There’s more than meets the eye…
Boko Haram is a complicated militaristic force within a nation on the verge of global economic credibility. Their inclusion in the global space creates worry, anxiety, and overall panic due to their track record of gender-based violence, violent spontaneity, sheer brute force, and growing militaristic finesse. The lack of public outrage has allowed them to maneuver virtually unnoticed. As they continue to gain territory in remote northern Nigeria regions, their influence in these areas could potentially impede overall socioeconomic growth of Nigeria, neighboring countries, and ultimately, the African continent as a whole.
- “Boko Haram Closes in on its Dream of an African Caliphate―and Isis Gives its Blessing, and Advice on Stategy.” Cahal Milmo, Tom Witherow. The Independent.
- “Boko Haram Fast Facts.” CNN.
- “CIA World Fact Book, Nigeria.” Central Intelligence Agency.
- “‘It’s Not About You being a Muslim and Me being a Christian,’ Says One Nigerian Activist.” Joyce Hackel. PRI’s The World.