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As the 2015 general elections in Nigeria neared, the security situation in the country’s northeastern region became a political pawn to boost the respective party platforms. The candidates praised and criticised the national response to the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram, which has grown to a transnational threat with a reputation for brutal militancy.
Its orchestration of several major incidents – including the kidnapping of nearly 300 girls from their school in Chibok in Borno State – has sparked national, regional and international responses. The character of these counter-operations, however, has relied overwhelmingly on a military approach unable to defeat a resilient Boko Haram. Nigeria’s forceful approach reflects rash decision-making founded neither on a considered strategy nor a thorough understanding of the target group.
Drawing on the wide-ranging body of existing literature, this report examines the evolution of Boko Haram from its inception to its modern iteration, deconstructing its supposed cohesive ideology and chain of command. Rather than a single unit, Boko Haram is best considered as falling along a spectrum, with an ideology as fluid and flexible as its relationships with similar jihadist groups, including Ansaru – a breakaway faction with perhaps a close relationship to the core. The report examines how the ideological narratives championed by the key leaders of Boko Haram have shaped the group’s present-day structure and tactics and a military approach alone is insufficient to defeat the group. With a newly-elected government, Nigeria has the opportunity to address the Boko Haram threat effectively, but true success will rely on a solid understanding and appreciation of this elusive and resilient opponent.
About the Authors
Raffaello Pantucci is Director of International Security Studies and a Senior Research Fellow at RUSI.
Dr Sasha Jesperson is a Research Analyst with the National Security and Resilience Studies programme at RUSI.