Good programme called The Conversation by the BBC which highlights the work that Dr Fatima Akilu of Nigeria has done with Boko Haram members. Akilu is a psychologist, and was formerly the Director of Behavioural Analysis and Strategic Communication in the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA). Dr Akilu used to work as a psychologist for the UK’s National Health Service until she was hired by Nigeria’s National Security Adviser to assist in Nigeria’s battle with Boko Haram. She counsels and deradicalises former Boko Haram members and women who were married to members of the group or kidnapped by them.
Two people claiming to be sons of the late Boko Haram founder and leader Mohammed Yusuf have written a history of the sect. You can read a full English translation of the history on the website of Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi.
Although the text appears largely to be an anti-Shekau polemic, it contains interesting details about the early days and evolution of the sect. It confirms that prior to his leadership of Boko Haram, Yusuf (Sr) was affiliated with the Muslim Izala group and also the Islamic Movement of Nigeria led by led by Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky.
- An eye raising revelation is the great sophistication that Boko Haram had even before they became violent. The history reveals that it was a multi-layered group with several departments with different administrative responsibilities. These included:
- Investigation Committee: which monitored the work of other departments;
- Da’wa Committee: which toured, proselytised, and gave sermons;
- Hisbah Committee: which was responsible for setting and implementing the sect’s rules;
- Economic Committee: concerned with the sect’s financing, donations, and agricultural output;
- Security: which was responsible of protecting the sect from outside elements, monitoring the sermons of sect members, and protecting the sect from infiltration; and
- Charity Commission: which helped the elderly, widows and orphans.
- The sect had a lot of contempt for other Muslim clerics such as Sheikh Ja’afar Mahmud Adam. However they denied being responsible for his murder in 2007, and instead blamed it on another radical group within the sect led by one Mohammed Ali.
- They also excuse Yusuf Sr from responsibility for the “Nigerian Taliban” group that clashed with Nigerian authorities in Kannamma, north-eastern Nigeria between 2003 and 2004. They claim this group was also led by the same Mohammed Ali.
Overall, this is a valuable addition to the information on Boko Haram. It reveals it to be (pre-insurgency) to have been a highly structured organisation.
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Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant-General Tukur Yusuf Buratai had a BBC Hardtalk interview this week with the BBC’s Stephen Sackur. Sackur gave Buratai a very serious Jerexy Paxman style grilling on varied issues such as alleged human rights issues by the Nigerian army, corruption, the Nigerian army’s ongoing fight against Boko Haram, and allegations that Buratai owns properties in Dubai.
It was quite an uncomfortable interview and it got sticky and awkward for Buaratai and several points.
A very interesting review of the process and negotiations that led to the release of over 100 Chibok schoolgirls over the past year.
A Nigerian lawyer named Zannah Mustapha acted as an intermediary between Boko Haram and the Nigerian government. Mustapha is trusted by Boko Haram. He has negotiated two prisoner releases with Boko Haram (the 21 girls that were released in October 2016 and the 82 that were released in early May 2017).
Apparently only 20 girls were supposed to be released in October 2016, but Boko Haram added a 21st as a “gift” to Mustapha in honour of their high regard for him. During both the 2016 and 2017 prisoner exchanges, Boko Haram made an elaborate show of reading out the names of all those released, and ostentatiously asked each one prior to their release “Throughout the time you were with us, did anyone rape you or touch you?” All of the girls denied being raped. One girl who was carrying a baby said that she had married and was pregnant at the time she was kidnapped, and that the father of her baby was her husband.
If this is true, then Boko Haram treated the girls with uncharacteristic restraint as other women abducted by Boko Haram have described being gang raped and forced into “marriages” with Boko Haram members.
One of the 82 girls released this week had an amputated limb (apparently sustained during a Nigerian air force strike against Boko Haram). When the released girls met Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja after their release, this wounded girl was sitting in a wheelchair. You can see the image of that meeting here.
Another interesting angle is that some of the Chibok girls actually refused to be released as part of the prisoner exchange that saw 82 girls released in exchange for 5 Boko Haram commanders that were in Nigerian military custody.
The inside story on the recent American sale of military aircraft to Nigeria for Nigeria’s ongoing war against Boko Haram. It seems that the sale is a gesture of goodwill (approved by the Obama administration, but being implemented by his successor Donald Trump). It seems to be “expensive toys” that probably should not be prioritised at this stage of the Boko Haram conflict.
Join us for a discussion with Nnamdi Obasi and Hans De Marie Heungoup of the International Crisis Group, authors of two recent ICG publications on the state of security and humanitarian responses to conflict in the Lake Chad basin. Watchmen of Lake Chad: Vigilante Groups Fighting Boko Haram traces the origins and evolution of vigilante groups in Nigeria and Cameroon and examines their role in the fight against the Boko Haram insurgency. The Humanitarian Fallout from Cameroon’s Struggle Against Boko Haram considers the plight of refugees and IDPs in Cameroon. The research will serve as the basis for a broader discussion on the challenges confronting the region as the fight against Boko Haram continues.
Challenges of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) vigilante group:
- CJTF membership is a status symbol. It empowers and gives authority to young men.
- What to do with them after their service against Boko Haram. Will the CJTF be demobilised?
- CJTF have a “sense of entitlement” and want the government to reward them by granting them scholarships to continue their education (many of them are young) or to employ them by incorporating them into state institutions.
- CJTF’s existence is not abnormal in the Nigerian context. There are vigilante groups all over Nigeria: many of them ethnically based.
- Anti Boko Haram vigilante groups exist in Nigeria and Cameroon. The Nigerian vigilantes (most of whom are aged 18-24) are younger than their Cameroon counterparts (most of whom are over 25 years old).
The Military and Civilians:
- The military and CJTF have been accused of human rights abuses. Civilians claim they are caught in the middle between Boko Haram and the military. After Boko Haram attacks, soldiers descend on and raid, communities that have been attacked and indiscriminately arrest all young men on suspicion of being Boko Haram members.
- This created a “push and pull” effect that both acted as a recruiting tool for Boko Haram, and pushed young men to join the CJTF as a means of making it clear that they have no allegiance to Boko Haram.
- Military launched “Operation Safe Corridor” which offers amnesty and rehabilitation for repentant Boko Haram members who surrender. The programme is deeply unpopular with civilians who have suffered Boko Haram atrocities. Such civilians demand punitive justice against Boko Haram members and argue that addressing their grievances should be prioritised above rehabilitating Boko Haram members. They feel that people who commit atrocities should not be treated so gently.
Boko Haram Evolution:
- Boko Haram offered socio-economic incentives to recruits such as money (up to 6 months salary), gifts of motorbikes, and offering wives. This latter category incentivised the kidnapping of women to give as “bride prizes” to Boko Haram members.
- Some others join Boko Haram for ideological reasons (Jihad, support for Salafi ideology).
- Boko Haram has factionalised into two groups: (a) one group in southern Borno State (close to the Cameroon border) led by Abubakar Shekau; and (b) a second faction in northern Borno State led by Abu-Musab Al-Barnawai (son of Boko Haram’s original leader Mohammed Yusuf).
- According to the Borno State governor Kashim Shettima, Boko Haram destroyed 30% of residential houses, and 700 municipal buildings (police stations, courts, council buildings etc) in Borno State.
In January of this year the Nigerian army announced that is was going to create two new divisions. The two new divisions are 6 division which will be in the south-south region with its headquarters at Port Harcourt, and 8 division which will be based in the north-east (in northern Borno).
The army has already appointed a pioneer General Officer Commanding (GOC) for the 6 division; Major-General Kasimu Abdulkarim. 6 division will have responsibility for 2 Brigade in Akwa Ibom State, 16 Brigade in Bayelsa State, and 63 Brigade in Delta State. Before this appointment, Major-General Kasimu Abdulkarim had been the GOC of the 2 division in Ibadan.
6 division’s responsibility will be primarily to tackle the security and insurgency challenges in the Niger Delta region. According to Abdulkarim, 6 division “will help to curtail activities of militants, banditry, inter-communal clashes, illegal bunkering, kidnapping, robberies, Niger Delta Avengers and pipeline vandalism prevalent in the area”.
Below is an article I wrote in the New York Times about the changing nature of Boko Haram’s threat and the likely next stage in the group’s evolution.
A few excerpts:
the group now seems to spend as much time engaged in banditry as it does fighting “Western education.” When officials from Nigeria’s Office of the National Security Adviser interviewed Boko Haram prisoners, they were told that most of the group’s soldiers “have never read the Quran.”
Also the group seems to be changing tactics:
Today, Boko Haram is no longer occupying large parts of Nigeria. Instead, it has morphed into a group of well-organized bandits. The military’s successes changed Boko Haram’s threat, but didn’t eliminate it.