At a recent count, no fewer than 161, 000 Nigerians are taking shelter in neighbouring Niger, Cameroun and Chad in the aftermath of intensified attacks by Boko Haram in the first quarter of 2015. Adrian Edwards, spokesman of the United Nations High Commisioner for Refugees, put the figure at 157,000 in mid- February. Another One million people have been internally displaced and are currently living in camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in different parts Nigeria’s North East. Statistics of other displaced persons who have relocated to other Northern states outside the North East and Southern Nigeria are not available but may number in hundreds of thousands.
Global surveys show Nigeria as the nation hardest-hit by religious terrorism in recent years, courtesy Boko Haram which has been waging a relentless war since 2002 for the Islamisation of Nigeria. The terrorist group whose Hausa name translates into “Western education is evil” escalated its attacks since 2011 and launched its yet deadliest attacks since 2014 when in April of that year it abducted over 200 yet-to-be-freed school girls. It has maintained the tempo of its deadly onslaught through kidnappings, abductions, suicide bombings and wanton destruction of lives and properties in North East Nigeria.
Only recently, it made incursions into Nigeria’s neighbouring nations of Niger, Chad and Cameroun. Emboldened by its “easy” conquest of North Eastern Nigerian communities, Boko Haram appears to have imbibed the territorial ambitions of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) whose exploits seem to have caught the entire world unawares. But Boko Haram’s incursions into the neighbouring nations may have become a double-edged sword and its nemesis. The nations, joined by Nigeria’s western neighbour, Benin, have teamed up to raise an 8,700-man force to route the unrepentant insurgents. Early reports show that the multi- nation force may effectively checkmate the terrorist group.
Though once disguised as a radical anti-poverty and anti- corruption movement, Boko Haram’s true identity as a religions terror organization seeking to impose its own form of Islam on the nation is no longer in doubt. From its initial seemingly incoherent mission statement, Nigerians and members of the international community now know that its goal is to impose its extreme and pervert version of Islamic law on the society. Thus, though its initial attacks were targeted mostly at Christians, government institutions, police and military formations, it has, like ISIS, extended its destructive campaigns to liberal and mainstream Moslems.
However, because of the political colorations of Nigeria’s socioeconomic realities and the tendency of politicians to patronize Boko Haram, its true religious intentions remained shady for a long time. It is indeed said that the group may have been inspired by sectional elite for political gain but these sponsors were out of touch with the terrorists’ extreme zealotry and lost the ability to control them. Sometimes, the line between religious and political terrorism is not easily discernible.
When shed of its ethnopolitical toga, however, Boko Haram manifests all the characteristics of a religious terrorist organization.
Experts identify three main features of such organizations to include:
— Use of religious scriptures to explain or justify their violent acts so as to gain recruits;
— Predominance of clerical figures and personalities that hold various leadership positions; and
— The use of apocalyptic images of destruction to justify their acts.
While Boko Haram maintains its menacing presence in North Eastern Nigeria and the neighbouring Chad-basin nations, the threat of global terrorism — essentially religious in nature – reverberates in every part of the world. The frequency and magnitude of attacks are on the increase. The global attack reports and the terrorism index show a rising trend in recent years.
Most of the deaths in recent years resulted from attacks by Islamic State (ISIS), AL Qaeda, Boko Haram and the Taliban. The Global Terrorism Index 2014 shows that deaths from terrorism increased by 61 per cent between 2012 and 2013. There was an increase of 44 per cent in the number of attacks over the same period. The index put the number of deaths in 2013 at 17,958 in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Nigeria with Iraq having the highest toll of 6,362. But with the scaling up of attacks by Boko Haram in the last couple of years, Nigeria may have beaten the Iraqi record when the figures for 2014 and first quarter of 2015 are accounted for.
Fierce attacks have also been recorded in parts of Euroupe, notably Paris and Copenhagen, in the first two months of 2015. The attack on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine by two terrorist brothers with allegiance to ISIS leader-left 17 people dead. The recent bizarre attack in Copenhagen also left two deaths in its trail. When added to ISIS’ beheading of Western journalists, aid workers and travelers as well as the killing of Coptic and Zaridi Christians in their self-styled Caliphate, the global threat of religious terrorism becomes clearly evident. According to former United States Secretary of State Warren Christopher, terrorist acts in the name of religion and ethnic identity have become “one of the most important security challenges we face in the wake of the Cold War.”
Religious terrorism is not altogether a new phenomenon. But its increasing sophistication, scope, frequency, globalization, financing and recruitment strategies have put the entire world on edge. All the major religious terrorist organizations employ the latest military and telecommunications technologies to advance their causes. ISIS is reported to be in possession of most modern military technologies including missile launchers and anti-aircraft guns. Through illegitimate trade in the crude oil of “conquered” territories, ransom-taking, alleged sales of human organs of its wilfully slaughtered captives and other callous means, the dreaded terror organization is said to rake in over one million United States dollars everyday. The Taliban, al-Queda and Boko Haram are similarly armed and funded. It has become a common saying in Nigeria that Boko Haram is better funded and armed than the Nigerian army. The tragic irony is that the terror organization which condemns Western education liberally deploys AK 47 riffes, bombs, armoured personnel carriers, motorised vehicles and other devices – all products of Western education- to advance its jaundiced cause.
The terrorist organizations employ cutting edge information and communications technology (ICT) to propagate their views, raise funds and recruit adherents through the posting of information on the internet and use of satellite communications devices. Some American and European parents have been shocked to discover that their adult or teenage children found their way to Iraq or Syria to join ISIS’ growing army of young foreigners. The terror group’s propaganda, aimed at young Americans and Europeans is a new threat to the West. Not only are they losing their youth to a senseless war, they run the risk of heightened internal terrorism launched on their own soil by their own people when these ISIS sympathisers and jihadists return- if they ever do, alive.
Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab- the two most active religious terror groups in Africa also employ various tactics including financial inducement to jobless youths and promise of “heavenly” rewards to lure young people who eventually join their ruthless army or become suicide bombers. Boko Haram is reported to have used teenage and younger girls as suicide bombers with threats of killing them if they failed to carry out such dastardly acts. Al-Shabaab which has been battling the Somali government in a bid to implement Sharia there has coerced young people into its ranks. From its Somali base, it has launched attacks against neighbouring Kenya and Uganda. It has also recently threatened to attack shopping malls in the United States, Canada and Europe to avenge the death of its leader killed in a United States operation in Somali.
Religious terror organizations have found suicide bombing and the promise of martyrdom particularly germane to their crusades for their propaganda value and effective mobilization. As an expert on the subject notes, “suicide terrorism, self-sacrifice, or martyrdom has throughout history been organized and perpetrated by groups with both political and religious motivations. The Christian tradition has a long history of heterodoxical and heretical groups which stressed self immolative acts and scholarship has linked this to some degree to modern political groups such as the Irish Republican Army. Suicide terrorism or martyrdom is efficient, inexpensive, easily organized, and extremely difficult to counter, delivering maximum damage for little cost. The shocking nature of a suicide attack also attracts public attention.
“Glorifying the culture of martyrdom benefits the terrorist organization and inspires more people to join the group. According to one commentator, retaliation against suicide attacks increases the group’s sense of victimization and commitment to adhere to doctrine and policy. This process serves to encourage martyrdom, and so suicide terrorism, self-sacrifice, or martyrdom represent ‘value for money. Robert Pape, a political scientist who specializes in suicide terrorism, has made a case for secular motivations and reasons as being the foundations of most suicide attacks, which are often labeled as ‘religious.”
Boko Haram also exploits this idea of martyrdom and has unleashed many suicide bombers on Nigeria since the infamous attack on August 26, 2011. That incident which left 23 dead and scores injured marked a new phase in the terror challenge. Though it had launched some attacks before then, its target had mostly been churches, police and army formations in apparent retaliation for the death of its founder, Mohammed Yusuf, who was allegedly killed in police custody in 2009.
The metamorphosis of Boko Haram since the death of its founder is a major challenge for Nigeria. A local, domestic terrorist group has now grown into something larger and much more dangerous. International security experts fear that Boko Haram could bond with extremist movements like al-Queda in the Islamic Maghreb. “The sect,” says one expert “may morph into a new terror network in the form of al-Queda in Nigeria.”
Also, “the expansion of al-Queda from the Maghreb into subSaharan Africa is a scary thought, one that concerns not only Nigeria, but all other countries that could be a target of al-Queda. Given the origins of the group, the solution will not come from government security forces. If the leadership of Boko Haram is eliminated, another will simply step up to take its place.”