Violent Insurgency in Nigeria with Focus on Boko Haram

Academic Paper, 2019

27 Pages


Table of Contents


Origins of Boko Haram

Boko Haram’s Major Attacks and Responses to the Insurgency

Who Finances Violent Insurgency in Nigeria

Closing Remarks: The Future of Violent Insurgency



The Encyclopedia Britannica[1] (2018), delineates insurgency as a word which has historically been used to describe uprisings that never reached a stage of all-out or total revolution. Today, the word is attached to any such armed uprising, usually guerilla in nature and scope, with a target of upsetting a sitting government within a territory, state, or country. Furthermore, in English Customary law, insurgency was not recognized as belligerent in nature, in fact, today traditional International Law requires other states to defend a parent state against such insurgent uprisings, but does not allow a state to support or sponsor insurgents against a state. However, there have been cases in which states sponsored and aided insurgent groups, for example, during the Cold War Communist countries claimed to support insurgent groups that they believed were fighting justly for the liberation of their nations.1 Additionally, in 1949 as a result of humanitarian catastrophes, the Geneva Convention extended protection to all who were involved in armed conflict whether as belligerents, or as insurgents.1

Ford[2] defines modern insurgency according to the United States (US) Department of Defense (DOD) as, “an organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict” (Cited from the US DOD in Ford; see 2 (p. 86). An insurgency is rooted within a yearning by a group for socio-political change, and as already stated, they often deploy guerilla tactics in their attacks.2 An insurgent thus as described by Fulkerson[3], may be perceived as an individual who rebels against authorities or against an established order. Fulkerson further attempts to provide a legal definition of an insurgent as that person who is involved in an uprising, in this sense an insurgent differs from a rebel as a rebel may involve in an insurrection for a just cause, while an insurgent is always perceived as a villian.3

Many insurgent groups exist worldwide, in the 1400s for example, those Albanians who fought against the Ottoman Empire for their liberation, and freedom from the tyrant Sultan Amurath II were referred to as insurgents. The insurgency by these Albanians was very efficient that the Sultan created an elite military axis known as the Janissaries, by abducting young Catholic Albanians and incorporating them into his army.3 Similarly, as the Second World War (WW II) came to an end around 1945, brutality and abductions by the Soviet Union in Lithuania incited many Lithuanians to carry arms, and they successfully held off the Soviet Union, and have come to be known as insurgents.3

In more modern times, we have witnessed deadly attacks by al-Qaeda, the group led by Osama Bin-Laden shook the world with their attacks on the US on the 9th of November, 2001.[4] More closer to home however, North Africa continues to feel the impact of the 2011 uprisings, with various groups attempting to control certain territories, with Libya being the hardest hit.4 Similarly, al-Shabaab has been described as one of Africa’s most dangerous insurgencies, ranking only behind Boko Haram. While allied African Forces have been able to weaken the ability of al-Shabaab in Somalia, the group has resolved to carry-out their attacks beyond the Somalian boarders.4 For example, Cannon[5] asserts that between 2008 and 2015, al-Shabaab carried-out an estimated 272 assaults in Kenya. They have equally carried-out attacks in other countries although to a lesser extent, such as in Ethiopia where they carried out five attacks between 2008 and 2005.5

In Nigeria, aside Boko Haram there exists another insurgency known as the Niger Delta Militants, as Wodu[6] puts it, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta People (MEND) emerged in early 2006, they announced themselves through a series of kidnappings and abductions of personnel in the oil industry, and regularly inflicted maximum damage on oil facilities in the Niger Delta region. In 2009 late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua offered amnesty to the group prompting them to lay down their weapons and rejoin society.6 Indeed, there are rising concerns about the resurgence of the Niger Delta insurgency in Nigeria, however, now with a new name – the Niger Delta Avengers.[7]

As the Economist4 suggests, based on current figures Nigeria’s Boko Haram is now the world’s deadliest insurgency. Indeed, the country is currently faced with violent assaults from Boko Haram insurgents in the north-east of the country, and so far the casualties keeps growing. Boko Haram’s attacks are very deadly, in that they average 24 dead people for every single attack.7 The insurgents attack in similar fashion with al-Shabaab’s, as there attacks have spilled into neighboring countries, with Niger, Chad, and Cameroon suffering attacks in the hands of Boko Haram.4

In this paper, the author attempts to conduct an analysis of violent insurgency by focusing on Nigeria’s Boko Haram as a case study. While the first part of the paper has introduced the meaning of insurgency, the rest of the paper is structured as thus; the following section considers the origins of Boko Haram – their non-violent and violent days, and their general scope. The next section then looks at some of Boko Haram’s major attacks, and the general actions that the government and security agents have adopted to counter the violent insurgency. This part further looks at responses and reactions to the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls as well as more recently, the Dapchi schoolgirls. The subsequent section delves into the question of funding and sponsorship of Boko Haram, herein allegations of Boko Haram having internal as well as external sponsors is considered. The final part of the paper considers the future of insurgency in Nigeria, more specifically, the immediate future of terror.

Origins of Boko Haram

This part of the paper looks at the origin of Boko Haram’s insurgency, how the group evolved from being relatively low-key to eventually becoming violent, its ideology, and the sects’ modus operandi. Iyekekpolo[8] attempts to trace the evolution of Boko Haram, by explaining that “Boko Haram is the alias given to Jama’at Ahl us-Sunnah li’d-Da’wah wa’l-Jihad (the Group of the People of Sunnah for Preaching and Struggle)” (p. 2212), by those who do not adhere to the tenets of the group. The name ‘Boko Haram’ is derived from two seperate Hausa and Arabic words, ‘Boko’ in the Hausa language translates to mean ‘Western Education’, while ‘Haram’ is an Arabic word that translates to ‘forbidden’ or ‘sinful’.8 Thus when brought together Boko Haram translates to ‘Western Education’ is forbidden or sinful. Furthermore, Aghedo and Osumah[9] posit that Boko Haram is a militant sect which has a fanatical belief in the Mohammedan religion, and lays emphasis on Islamizing Nigeria irrespective of the country’s secularity. Boko Haram has also expressed a rejection of democracy and anything Western, and have also rejected Darwin’s evolution thesis.9 While the exact date of Boko Haram’s emergence remains a contested topic as Iyekekpolo8 maintains, there is consensus however, that Boko Haram operated undercover and quietly until in 2002 when they came to the limelight under the leadership of Mohammed Yusuf. Indeed, it has been suggested that in Boko Haram’s first seven years of existence, they conducted their affairs very quietly and peacefully. It was the death of Yusuf that paved the way for Abubakar Shekau, one of Boko Haram’s most tyrannical and violent leaders.8

Osumah[10] submits that Boko Haram had in fact existed since the 1960s, with Mohammed Yusuf believed to be its founder in Borno state, Nigeria. Borno remained their secretariat until 2004, when they decided to relocate to Yobe state in Nigeria, to a small town called Kannama – or Afghanistan, as members of the group called it. It should be noted however, that the group does not have ties to the Taliban of Afghanistan, it should also be noted that despite moving their base to Yobe, from all indications Borno till today remains there operational headquarters, and have now spread to most of Northern Nigeria.10 It has been suggested that the conflict over the application of Sharia Law in some Northern states under former Nigerian head of State Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo, further precipitated the violent rise of the insurgent sect Boko Haram.10

Iyekekpolo8 presents that the form of Boko Haram’s insurgency can be traced to the Jihad led by Uthman Dan-Fodio in 1804, when Dan-Fodio led a violent uprising against the ruling class because he believed that there ways were against the Islamic doctrine, and thus they deserved death. Dan-Fodio’s insurgency was so successful that it culminated in the creation of the Sokoto Caliphate, from which he ruled over all of Northern Nigeria.8 Additionally, Boko Haram is thought to draw inspiration also from the Maitatsine sect that emerged in Kano in the 1970s under Mohammed Marwa, the sect advocated for Nigeria to be liberated from Western values and traditions, however, their insurgency was ended by Nigerian forces in the 1980s.8 In similar fashion, “the Boko Haram sect has also advanced the message of reform and purification of the Nigerian political system against Western values and culture, which it argues are the causes of corruption and economic hardship. In its place, the sharia system has been violently advocated, especially under the leadership of Shekau” (p. 2213)8.

Adibe[11] suggests that it is generally affirmed that prior to 2009, Boko Haram’s operations were largely peaceful. Indeed, it is believed that it was a government clampdown that created martyrs for the group that inspired a violent response, after an estimated 800 individuals belonging to the group were killed. It was in this attack that Mohammed Yusuf was captured and held, until his subsequent demise in detention. In light of the killings of their leader and many of their members, Boko Haram has always made the argument that they are not the bad guys, that indeed their crusade is aimed at getting vengeance.[12] Loimeier13 held that during Yusuf’s days as leader of Boko Haram he enaged in open conflict with another Islamic scholar – Ja‘far Mahmud Adam, usually through preaching in pamphlets or recordings. Ja‘far just as Yusuf believed that the Islamic religion in Nigeria required purification and reform, however, there paths of divisiveness hinged on the best way for accomplishing that. 13 Ja‘far suggested that the best way to challenge Western culture and influence in Nigeria, was to consciously study in the Western way and carefully adopt their secular ways. He advocated for not just the adoption of Boko, but also called on the ulama to thrive in aikin gwemnati – government work.13 In addition, Loimeier[13] traces Boko Haram’s ideology to that of Dan-Fodio during his uprising against the Habe leaders of Hausaland, Dan-Fodio set on a course of reform, to get rid of anything that was against Islamic doctrine. In similar vein, during the early and peaceful years of Boko Haram, they focused on education in theology and Sharia law, something that became a prerequisite for engagement in political discourse.13 The ideology at its extreme envisions a total removal of the established secular order, and replacing it with a rule of Islamic clerics seasoned in the scholarship of the religion – known in Arabic as ulama. Dan-Fodio was successful in this regard with the creation of the Sokoto Caliphate, which today remains the seat of the Islamic leader in Nigeria.13 Boko Haram’s end goal today is to establish such a caliphate throughout Nigeria, a total reform that allows the Sharia law to flourish in the land.13

Amusan and Ejoke[14] hold that the rise of Boko Haram as a popular movement was indeed not until Mohammed Yusuf popularized the group, prior to Yusuf the group had leaders who only moderately preached about the spread of Islam. In 1995 Abubakar Lawan was the group’s leader, after many years, from 2002-09 Yusuf was able to rapidly increase the number of his followers, primarily made up of young individuals between the age of 17 and 30, coming from destitute families.14 Yusuf’s plan was subtle and full of deceit, indeed,

“The main objective under Yusuf's leadership was to resuscitate Islamic practices and turn Nigeria to an Islamic state in a gradual manner starting from Borno, north-eastern part of the country. Yusuf erected a building complex that housed a mosque and Islamic school where most disadvantaged members of the community enrolled their children. Unknown to most unsuspecting parents, the complex was a recruiting ground for future ‘Jihadist’ to fight in the state”14 (p. 52).

With the demise of Yusuf in the hands of security operatives, his goals were set to expand and extended by his followers. According to Amusan and Ejoke14, Yusuf’s followers set to expand the territory in which they spread their message and ideology, now they sort to move for the total Islamization of all of Nigeria. It was under Abubakar Shekau that Boko Haram fully became a violent insurgency, they carried-out frequent deadly attacks such as the use of suicide bombers to accomplish their goals.14 According to Aghedo and Osumah[15], they started with intermittent attacks on police stations, from June 2009 they began to make series of violent attacks thus bringing the spot light on themselves and their activities. Boko Haram’s primary bases of operation are situated particularly in the major cities of the north east of Nigeria, among other cities in the north. Such cities and states to have suffered in the hands of Boko Haram insurgency include; Maiduguri, Damaturu, Yobe, Bauchi, Kaduna, Katsina, Kano, Niger, and the Federal Capital territory Abuja.15

It has been suggested15 that Boko Haram’s modus operandi involves a process of confirming to the press via a release their responsibility for one attack or the other, they carry out attacks on both hard and soft targets. Such targets include market places, places of worship, recreational centers, strategically located security posts, and banks. They are known to use motorcycles, as they are more convenient for escape after attacks.15 Boko Haram are known for their inventiveness, they are said to own companies in places such as Kano, Kogi, and others, these companies are usually tasked with producing bombs and other explosives to be used in the conduct of Boko Haram’s operations. Boko Haram further, deploys underprivileged children – especially students of the Koran popularly known as Almajiri, as well as women. Women have been caught dispatching weapons such as AK47s, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and pistols, which are usually hidden underneath their long veils called hijab. For example, the Nation in 2013 reported that two women were arrested in Maiduguri attempting to get into the Bulabulin Monday market, carrying such weapons as mentioned above.15

As Warner and Matfess[16] demonstrated in there 2017 research, Boko Haram often deploys suicide bombers for most of their attacks, one reason there research suggests is that suicide bombing is well suited for Boko Harams operational base. Furthermore, suicide bombers are believed to be cost-effective in addition to the low human resource lost, and also the connections the group has and there environments, have readily provided to them the skills and tools required for the construction of IEDs.16 As highlighted by the CNN[17], it has been exposed that Boko Haram prefers to deploy women and children for most of their suicide bombings. It is estimated that since 2011, as at August 2017 Boko Haram had executed 434 suicide bomb attacks. It is believed that at least out of 338 suicide bomb attacks, 244 of the attacks were implemented by women.16,17 Only as at August, Boko Haram had already successfully deployed 80 confirmed female suicide bombers in 2017. It has been asserted that Boko Haram has used more young people and women to carry out suicide bombings, because of the global exposure it garners for them.17 Boko Haram’s suicide bombings operations are unprecedented in history, indeed, the insurgency is the foremost in history to use more women than men to execute suicide bombings, as well as “normalizing the use of children as suicide bombers.16 Additionally, out of 134 suicide attacks in which the age of the perpetrators could be confirmed, 60% of them were children and teenagers. In fact, the youngest of them was only Seven years of age. The group prefers to use more girls than boys to carry-out their attacks.


[1] The Editors of Encyclopedia, “Insurgency”. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., (2018).

[2] Ford, C. M., Of Shoes and Sites: Globalization and Insurgency. Military Review: May-June 2007.

[3] Fulkerson, N., “The War of Words: What is an Insurgent?” The American TPF: November, 2015.

[4] The Economist, “Africa’s Deadly Insurgencies: Ranking High on the Wrong Measures”. The Economist Newspaper Limited: July, 2014.

[5] [5] Cannon, B. J., “Why Al-Shabaab targets Kenya – and what the country can do about it”. The Conversation: November, 2017.

[6] Wodu, N. “The Coming of Age of the Urban Guerilla in Nigeria’s Troubled Oil Region”. The Nerve Africa: February, 2018.

[7] Chikwem, F. C., The Resurgence of the Niger Delta Militants and the Survival of the Nigerian State. The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs; 107: 1, (Taylor & Francis: 2018).

[8] Iyekekpolo, W. O., Boko Haram: Understanding the context. Third World Quarterly, 37:12; Taylor & Francis Group 2016.

[9] Aghedo, I., & Osumah, O., The Boko Haram Uprising: how should Nigeria respond? Third World Quarterly, 33:5; Taylor & Francis Group 2012.

[10] Osumah, O., Boko Haram Insurgency in Northern Nigeria and the vicious cycle of internal security. Small Wars and Insurgencies, 24:3; Taylor & Francis Group 2013.

[11] Adibe, J., “Explaining the Emergence of Boko Haram”. Brookings: May, 2014.

[12] Salaam, A. O., Boko Haram: beyond religious fanaticism. Journal of Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism, 7:2; Taylor & Francis Group 2012.

[13] Loimeier, R., Boko Haram: The Development of a Militant Religious Movement in Nigeria. Africa Spectrum, 47:2-3; German Institute of Global and Area Studies 2012.

[14] Amusan, L., Ejoke. U. P., The psychological trauma inflicted by Boko Haram insurgency in the North Eastern Nigeria. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 36; Elsevier 2017.

[15] Aghedo, I., Osumah, O., Insurgency in Nigeria: A Comparative Study of Niger Delta and Boko Haram Uprisings. Journal of Asian and African Studies, 50:2; Sage 2015. DOI: 10.1177/0021909614520726

[16] Warner, J., Matfess, H., “Exploding Stereotypes: The Unexpected Operational and Demographic Characteristics of Boko Haram’s Suicide Bombers”. Combating Terrorism Center: 2017.

[17] Kriel, R., “Boko Haram Favors women, children as suicide bombers, study reveals”. Cable News NetworK – Turner Broadcasting Inc. 2017.

Excerpt out of 27 pages


Violent Insurgency in Nigeria with Focus on Boko Haram
Politics, Peace and Conflict
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
violent, insurgency, nigeria, focus, boko, haram
Quote paper
Joffrey Doma (Author), 2019, Violent Insurgency in Nigeria with Focus on Boko Haram, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Violent Insurgency in Nigeria with Focus on Boko Haram

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free