What You Need to Know About Boko Haram

More deadly than ISIS, Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram made headlines last week after a horrifying raid in the northern Nigerian village of Dalori that left 86 dead and many more injured.

We don’t hear about Boko Haram as frequently as ISIS because many of their attacks don’t make major headlines. In fact, the last time you heard ‘Boko Haram’ may have been after their widely-covered kidnapping of 276 Nigerian schoolgirls nearly two years ago. (Remember the #BringBackOurGirls campaign?)

But just two weeks ago they bombed a market in Cameroon, killing 25, and on January 5 they killed 7 in Borno. And since the February 1st attack they have taken another 4 lives in a raid in the village of Mairi. These devastating incidents are happening week after week.

We may not pay as much attention to Boko Haram because we may not think they pose as great of a threat to our nation as ISIS. However, Boko Haram recently pledged their allegiance to ISIS

Here are 5 basic things you should know about Boko Haram and the current situation in Nigeria: 

Who is Boko Haram and where did they come from?

Boko Haram is an Islamist extremist group based in northern Nigeria. 'Boko haram' translates to 'Western education is forbidden', meaning the group promotes a type of Islam that forbids Muslims from associating with Western culture. In 2002, Muslim cleric Mohammed Yusuf formed Boko Haram by setting up a mosque and school in Maiduguri, which soon became recruiting grounds for jihadis. Boko Haram now aims to overthrow the Nigerian government and create an Islamic state. 

When did the attacks begin?

The attacks began with the July 2009 Boko Haram uprising, when the Nigerian military confronted Yusuf's followers and were met with violent opposition. Their operational mosque was destroyed and hundreds of members were killed, including the leader Yusuf. They appointed a new leader not long after and have continued to terrorize the country up until now. 

How many people have been affected by these attacks?

In the past six years Boko Haram has killed over 20,000 people. The Global Terrorism Index says that Boko Haram killed 6,644 people in terror attacks in the year 2014 alone--more than any other terrorist group. From 2013 to 2014, the death toll from terrorism-related attacks in Nigeria rose by 300 percent. According to the Global Terrorism Index, that's the largest increase in terrorist deaths ever recorded for any country.

Aside from the thousands killed and injured, many others have been forced to flee their homes in the north to escape the danger. My aunt and her family narrowly escaped an attack a few years ago and have since relocated to the south of Nigeria. However, my uncle had to move back to the north to continue working, despite the dangerous conditions. 

What is the current political/economic situation in Nigeria and how does it affect the terrorist situation?

Nigeria is Africa's largest country, with nearly 350 ethnic groups and 250 languages. Such a diverse, populous nation has resulted in longstanding conflicts between different groups. The north is predominantly Muslim while the south is mostly Christian, and this divide has caused a lot of unrest over the years. Aside from the religious divide, there is an economic divide: 72% of people in the north live in poverty, compared to 27% in the south (and an estimated 70% of the total population lives on less than $1.25 a day). Combine all of that with a failed government and you get the roots of an organization grown out of a frustration with corruption and inequality. Many who joined the group believe an Islamist governance could bring an end to the country's corruption and inequality. 

Nigerian analyst Chris Ngwodo explains, “But the group itself is an effect and not a cause; it is a symptom of decades of failed government and elite delinquency finally ripening into social chaos.”

Governor's mansion in Nigeria

Nigerian slum

What is being done to stop them?

The Nigerian military has been fighting against Boko Haram, but corruption in the military has weakened their defense. According to an Ebony article, the former Defense Minister has been accused of laundering more than half the military budget, and some soldiers have refused to fight against the terrorists because they reportedly don't have the right equipment and haven't been paid. 

After the kidnapping of the schoolgirls, the former President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south, was criticized for not taking enough action to fix the situation. The new president Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim from the North, has promised to crush Boko Haram since his election last year, but the attacks continue. 

The US has also sent troops to West Africa to help fight against the group.

Dr. Fait Muedini, expert on political Islamist movements, believes that it will take more than the military to defeat Boko Haram. “In order to truly counter groups such as Boko Haram, there will need to be education about Islam, as well as government work on providing equal rights, employment, education rights, etc.”


Hopefully this gives you a better understanding of the origins and interests of Boko Haram. For more information, check here!