Despite all efforts from the Nigerian government, and support by surrounding states, Boko Haram in northern Nigeria is far from defeated. This was proven once more on June 17, when at least 31 people were killed in explosions in the Damboa local government area (LGA) of Borno state.
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Sub-Saharan Africa has suffered greatly under the increase of Islamist militant attacks. The number of incidents rose from 317 in 2013 to 1,549 for the period April 2017 to April 2018, according to Control Risks’ report Changing patterns in the terrorist threat to business. In West Africa, where 36% of the incidents were reported, Nigeria suffered most (220 incidents), followed by Mali (194) and Cameroon (96). While not all incidents can be attributed to Boko Haram, the continued strengths of the extremists group is now starting to turn the public opinion against President Muhammadu Buhari.
Buhari is likely to announce further efforts to combat Boko Haram in the coming months as he seeks to fulfill his 2015 election pledge to end the insurgency—But success is unlikely. Military efforts to prevent further Boko Haram attacks in the coming months are hugely challenged by the sheer size of the territory in which the group operates and its continued ability to launch attacks.
Ongoing corruption issues will further undermine efforts to defeat the group. Significant resources have been diverted towards military efforts. Nigeria’s state governors in December 2017 approved the withdrawal of $1 billion from the excess crude account to combat Boko Haram through the purchase of equipment, training of military personnel and provision of logistical support. However, there have been several cases of officials siphoning off funds and resources meant for the region.
Connections to IS
Over the past two years, the government and military have continued to claim that Boko Haram was all but defeated. However, the insurgency is now in its ninth year, and attacks continue on an almost daily basis. The use of suicide bombers as a mode of attack—as in the June 17 incident—is quite common by the faction of Boko Haram led by Abubakar Shekau, which is largely confined to Borno state and pursues a more indiscriminate campaign of violence.
The so-called Islamic State (IS) in August 2016 described Abu Musab al-Barnawi as its “governor” for West Africa, apparently contesting Shekau’s leadership of Boko Haram. Al-Barnawi’s faction has a regional focus, targeting the tri-border area around Lake Chad, and does not believe attacks on Muslim civilians are justified, winning it support in communities. His faction is more likely to target expatriates and security forces than local civilians. In contrast with Shekau, al-Barnawi has apparently publicly punished fighters who have taken advantage of their position to extort money from communities.
Although Al-Barnawi’s faction has been relatively inactive in recent months, this does not signal a decline in the group’s capability or intent, or the success of military operations. Al-Barnawi’s tactics of attempting to win local community support will further complicate government efforts to defeat the group over the coming years as Boko Haram becomes more entrenched within local communities.
Gillian Parker is an analyst covering Nigeria for Control Risks, the global specialist risk consulting firm.