Nigeria: Extremism and Terrorism

On May 7, 2023, a violence tracking organization released a report stating that Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) were responsible for the death of 272 civilians in the first quarter of 2023. The organization, Nigeria Mourn, also revealed that bandits have overtaken terror groups as the primary violent threat within Nigeria, accounting for 360 deaths in the same time frame. Despite the staggering casualties, on May 5, the Nigerian army rescued 131 civilians in northeast Nigeria. Along with those rescued, a reported 510 Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorists and their family members surrender to Nigeria troops at different locations. (Sources: Sahara Reporters, Vanguard)

On March 27, 2023, Nigerian authorities claimed that Boko Haram has grown weaker due to a government sponsored rehabilitation program for former violent extremists. Around 600 former fighters graduated from the Deradicalization, Rehabilitation, and Reintegration (DRR) camp in northern Gambe state and will be reintegrated into society. The success of rehabilitation camps is critical since a total of 51,828 Boko Haram fighters and their families have surrendered to Nigerian forces by March 2023. Despite the government’s claims of a weakened Boko Haram, in early March 2023, the insurgent group reportedly intensified attacks along the Nigerian-Cameroonian border, displacing at least 3,000 refugees at Minawao, a camp on Cameroon’s northern border with Nigeria. (Sources: Africa News, Voice of America, Voice of America)

In recent years, Nigeria has not only contended with ongoing extremist attacks, but Abuja is also tackling an increase in intercommunal violence between the majority Muslim Fulani herdsmen and the mostly Christian Hausa farming community. On January 19, suspected Fulani herders opened fire on an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Makurdi, central Nigeria, killing 11 and injuring 8. Violence has escalated as some Fulani herdsmen have joined armed bandits in the north—a group that Abuja has designated as a terrorist organization as of November 2022. (Sources: Vanguard, Voice of America, Agence France Press, Catholic News Agency)

Despite the security risks, presidential elections in Nigeria were held on February 25, 2023, with Bola Tinubu being declared the winner. The elections were held on time despite Abdullahi Abdu Zuru, chair of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Board of Electoral Institute, warning in January 2023 that the February presidential elections could be postponed or cancelled because of ongoing security problems, precipitating a constitutional crisis. Militants ambushed the INEC headquarters three times in December 2022, and attacks continued into January 2023 as police repelled a January 15 attack on the INEC office in Enugu state. INEC also recorded 50 attacks on its offices between 2019 and 2022. (Sources: Al Jazeera, Reuters, Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, Reuters)

Violent conflict is not limited to Boko Haram and the Nigerian army. Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) continue to attack one another to assert greater control throughout the Lake Chad region. On January 11, 2023, a confrontation between Boko Haram and ISWAP left approximately 100 ISWAP fighters dead in Borno’s Lake Chad region. Boko Haram then seized control of ISWAP’s operational bases in the Abadam Local Council area. (Sources: Sahara Reporter, Guardian)

According to the U.S. Department of State, Boko Haram and its offshoots are responsible for the displacement of 2.5 million Nigerians, with approximately 200,000 seeking refuge in neighboring countries. Islamic extremism was a concern for 72 percent of the Nigerians polled in a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2014 and has been a top priority for Nigerian politicians. After Muhammadu Buhari was elected president of Nigeria in March 2015, he stated: “we shall spare no effort until we defeat terrorism.” During his first few months in office, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari led a vigorous military campaign against Boko Haram and declared victory against the group in December 2015. Despite Buhari’s continued assurances that Boko Haram has been “technically defeated,” the group continues to carry out attacks and has maintained control over territory in northeastern Nigeria. (Sources: U.S. Department of State, Pew Research Center, New York Times, International Crisis Group, Economist, Africanews)

Since 2009, Boko Haram has carried out a regular string of attacks against Nigerian security forces and civilians. The group has killed more than 30,000 people in its effort to establish an Islamic caliphate. In August 2011, Boko Haram carried out its first attack against the West, killing 23 people in a suicide car bombing outside of the United Nations headquarters in Abuja. Boko Haram gained international notoriety after kidnapping 276 Chibok schoolgirls in April 2014. The kidnapping sparked the #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign, which was endorsed by high-profile individuals such as Pope Francis and then-U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama. With support from the International Committee of the Red Cross, Buhari’s government has secured the release 107 of the kidnapped Chibok girls. In January 2015—in Boko Haram’s deadliest attack to date—insurgents slaughtered more than 2,000 people in northeastern Nigeria. A few days later, the group allegedly remotely detonated explosives strapped to young girls in Maiduguri, the capital city of Borno state. (Sources: Japan Times, U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Bring Back Our Girls, Guardian, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CNN, NBC)

In 2016, after ISIS recognized Abu Musab al-Barnawi as the leader of the group, Boko Haram split into two factions. Militants loyal to longtime Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau have continued to carry out suicide bombings at crowded marketplaces in northeast Nigeria. Under al-Barnawi’s leadership, the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) has launched a series of attacks against Nigerian security forces and other government targets. The Nigerian government has continued to strengthen its legislation against terrorism and is working with regional and international allies against militant groups in and around Nigeria. (Sources: Institute for Security Studies, Amnesty International)

Boko Haram

Boko Haram is a Nigeria-based terror group that seeks to rid the country of Western and secular institutions and to resuscitate the Kanem-Bornu caliphate that once ruled over modern-day Nigeria, Chad, and Cameroon. The group was founded by a Salafist cleric named Mohammed Yusuf in 2002. Yusuf opened the Ibn Taymiyyah Masjid mosque in Maiduguri and developed a significant following among disaffected youth in the area. Many of these followers went on to become Boko Haram militants. (Sources: Brookings, Al Jazeera, Oxford Research Encyclopedias, BBC News)

In 2009, Yusuf was killed by Nigerian security forces and Abubakar Shekau became the leader of Boko Haram. Shekau was killed after detonating an explosive in a standoff between Boko Haram and ISWAP forces in Borno on May 18, 2021.Under Shekau’s leadership, Boko Haram grew more militant and developed a reputation for mass violence. In addition to targeting Christians, who represent approximately 50 percent of the Nigerian population, Boko Haram routinely targets Muslim civilians outside of the organization (who are, by virtue of that fact, considered infidels). Boko Haram’s ideology and tactics have alienated Nigerians making it hard for Boko Haram to recruit new members. As a result, the group has resorted to the conscription of thousands of boys and girls, many of whom are trained in boot camps in northeast Nigerian and neighboring Cameroon. (Sources: Combating Terrorism Center, Brookings, Pew Research Center, Institute for Security Studies, Al Jazeera, Strategic Studies Institute, Wall Street Journal, Reuters)

In 2012, a number of Boko Haram members who opposed Shekau’s willingness to target Muslim civilians defected to form a splinter group called Ansaru. The group’s full Arabic name, Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan, loosely translates to “Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa.” Ansaru is aligned with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and has executed a number of notable attacks against foreign targets. The United States designated the group a terrorist organization in 2013. Nigerian authorities captured Ansaru’s leader, Khalid al-Barnawi, in early April 2016 and since then a number of Ansaru members have reportedly reintegrated with Shekau’s Boko Haram. (Sources: BBC News, Combating Terrorism Center, Bloomberg News, BBC News, U.S. Department of State, BBC News, African Arguments, African Arguments)​

Additionally, the group has more frequently resorted to the abduction of school children as a means of recruitment and ransom to fund their operations. According to UNICEF, in the period of 2013 until 2018, Boko Haram abducted more than 1,000 children in northeastern Nigeria. Notably, the jihadist group kidnapped over 276 Chibok girls in 2014, and as of January 2021, while some girls were rescued or freed following negotiations, around 112 of the girls have yet to be accounted for. Although the group steadily kidnapped children and women in the years that followed, it was not until December 11, 2020, that the extremist group once again carried out a mass abduction, kidnapping over 300 schoolboys in Kankara. However, on December 17, the schoolboys were released and handed over to the government, with the government claiming they negotiated with bandits rather than Boko Haram. (Sources: UNICEF, BBC News, ABC News, Voice of America, Washington Post, Associated Press)

Furthermore, Boko Haram has not limited their abductions to Nigeria. According to the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, over 5,741 violations against children—within Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger—have been carried out by Boko Haram between January 2017 and December 2019. Reportedly, 3,601 children were recruited in that time frame with 1,385 children coerced into combat and a variety of support roles including sexual slavery. Although an exact figure was not released, the report also claimed Boko Haram mostly used girls as carriers of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as “human bombs.” (Source: Children and Armed Conflict)

On May 18, 2021, Shekau released an audio message blaming ISWAP betrayers who sought to “deceive” his followers. Shekau says he did not rebel against ISIS and blames the rift with ISWAP on others who sought to sow division and refused to relay messages to ISIS’s leadership. That day, ISWAP fighters surrounded Shekau in Nigeria’s Borno state. Shekau reportedly detonated a bomb to evade capture. On June 7, ISWAP released an audio recording of al-Barnawi confirming Shekau’s death in May. According to the recording, ISIS had ordered ISWAP to execute Shekau. Al-Barnawi says ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quraishi directly ordered the attack on Shekau. (Sources: HumAngle, Telegraph, Reuters, Africa News, Reuters, Guardian, Reuters)

On June 27, 2021, a group of fighters from Boko Haram pledged allegiance to ISWAP. In a video produced by ISIS’s official media arm, several hundred men were seen defecting to the rival camp following Shekau’s death. One militant claimed, “we will unite together to fight the (unbelievers).” However, it is not clear if all Boko Haram fighters will transfer their loyalties, or if Boko Haram will be absorbed into ISWAP. Given that the video did not feature senior Boko Haram leaders, some regional experts believe the content was propaganda and that the two groups remain divided. (Source: Reuters)

Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP)

In March 2015, Boko Haram former leader Abubakar Shekau announced the Nigerian terror group’s allegiance to ISIS. Shortly after, ISIS’s now-deceased spokesperson Abu Mohammad al-Adnani released an audio message directing individuals who could not enter Iraq or Syria to travel to West Africa. There is little evidence to suggest that Adani’s message attracted a significant number of foreign fighters to Nigeria. On the contrary, an estimated 6,000 individuals, including the son of the former Nigerian Chief Justice Muhammad Lawal Uwais, reportedly left Nigeria and other African countries to fight with ISIS in Iraq and Syria. (Sources: Institute for Security Studies, Reuters, The Punch, Daily Trust)

Boko Haram split into two groups when ISIS appointed Abu Musab al-Barnawi as the head of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) in August 2016. Although Shekau did not win the endorsement of ISIS, he refused to relinquish his authority and continued to lead a group of followers under the banner of Boko Haram. Shekau maintained his allegiance to ISIS and, in March 2017, began including ISIS logos in official Boko Haram videos. (Sources: CNN, Institute for Security Studies)

Since the split, the attacks carried out by each faction are difficult to differentiate. One difference, however, is that ISWAP controls territory in the Lake Chad Basin area in northern Borno state whereas Shekau’s faction controls land in central and southern Borno state, including Boko Haram’s historical territorial stronghold of the Sambisa Forest. (Source: Combating Terrorism Center)

With ISIS losing territory in the Middle East, Nigeria has recently seen an influx of foreign fighters joining the ranks of Boko Haram and ISWAP via Iraq and Syria. According to a CNN report, approximately 1,500 foreign fighters have joined Boko Haram and around 3,500 have joined ISWAP. (Sources: The Punch, CNN)

Currently, there are over 3,500 to 5,000 fighters who belong to ISWAP who regularly carry out attacks in Borno state. ISWAP has been effective in recruiting members and building support as they have learned to blend into the community at large and have assured locals that they will not be harmed in ISWAP-controlled territories as long as they do not cooperate with the Nigerian military. Additionally, the group provides financial incentives to future fighters and young entrepreneurs in the region. By offering loans to businesses in the region, ISWAP reinforces the loyalty of their supporters while also receiving foods and goods services from the merchants. Furthermore, given that armed bandits have become more common in northeastern Nigeria over the past few years, some locals rely on ISWAP to protect them against that threat. (Source: Foreign Policy)

On February 23, 2020, the United Nations Security Council listed ISWAP on the ISIL (Da’esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions List. (Source: United Nations Security Council)

Following the death of death of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in May 2021, on June 27, 2021, a group of fighters from Boko Haram pledged allegiance to ISWAP. In a video produced by ISIS’s official media arm, several hundred men were seen defecting to the rival camp. One militant claimed, “we will unite together to fight the (unbelievers).” However, it is not clear if all Boko Haram fighters will transfer their loyalties, or if Boko Haram will be absorbed into ISWAP. Given that the video did not feature senior Boko Haram leaders, some regional experts believe the content was propaganda and that the two groups remain divided. (Sources: Reuters, Institute for Security Studies, Al Jazeera, New York Times, Global News, ABC News)

On October 15, 2021, Nigeria’s military confirmed that ISWAP leader, Abu Musab al-Barnawi, was killed. The military did not provide details of the location of or circumstances leading to al-Barnawi’s death. (Source: Associated Press)

Kala Kato

Kala Kato is an Islamic fundamentalist movement with a following in Nigeria. It is considered a Quranist movement: Kala Kato followers rely exclusively on the Quran and reject the religious authority of the Hadith (a series of books describing the words and actions of the Islamic prophet Muhammad). The movement’s reasoning for dismissing the Hadith is reflected in the name “Kala Kato,” which translates to “a mere man said it.” Kala Kato considers those who follow the Hadith to be infidels, which has caused tension between Kala Kato and other Muslim sects. This tension has been exacerbated by the fact that Kala Kato has challenged conventional Muslim practices such as reciting the Islamic prayer Nasilat and the act of alms-giving, or zakat. (Sources: Nigerian Research Network, Jamestown Foundation, Niger Times)

Kala Kato followers have been known to publicly preach their views and promote militancy. The movement rejects western education and followers have reportedly tried to persuade Nigerian parents to pull their children out of school to study the Quran. According to a Nigerian security official, followers have successfully proselytized moderate Muslims in Nigeria and in neighboring countries such as Niger. (Sources: Nigerian Research Network, BBC News,  Northwestern University)


Izala is an anti-Sufi, Salafist organization that was founded by Sheikh Ismaila Idris in 1978 in the central Nigerian city Jos.  The name “Izala” is short for Jama’atul Izalatul Bid’ah Wa’ikhamatul Sunnah, which translates to “society for the removal of innovation and reinstatement of tradition.” Izala has established Islamic schools and mosques for purposes of recruitment and indoctrination and has reportedly managed to garner a significant following in and around Nigeria.  (Sources: University of Bayreuth, Oxford University Press)

The organization finds its roots in the early 1960s as a movement centered on Sheikh Abu-bakar Gummi, a prominent preacher and scholar influenced by the Saudi Islamic doctrine Wahhabism. Izala has maintained a connection to the Wahhabi movement and has reportedly received significant financial support from the Saudi Arabian government via its embassy in Nigeria. (Sources: Strategic Studies Institute, Washington Post)

Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN)

Founded by Nigerian extremist Malam Ibrahim al-Zakzaky, the Islamic Movement in Nigeria is a Shiite organization reported to be financially and ideologically supported by Iran. According to a 2013 report from the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point, the IMN is considered “Iran’s proxy” by some Iranian officials and has adopted the Iranian government’s anti-American, anti-western, and anti-Israeli political views. In July 2014, more than 30 IMN members were killed in clashes with government forces including during the IMN’s yearly Quds procession—an event held to demonstrate IMN’s solidarity with the Palestinian cause. IMN has reportedly emulated many of Hezbollah’s recruitment practices. The group allegedly runs a radio station, newspaper, and more than 300 schools. According to Nigerian intelligence, IMN hosts training camps for new recruits across northern Nigeria. Ever since the detainment of al-Zakzaky in 2015 following charges of murder, IMN followers have regularly held protests across the country. Although al-Zakzaky was ordered to be released by a federal high court in 2016, the army simply ignored the order. Their protests reportedly turn violent due to national hostility and police overreaction toward the Shiite marchers. In one confrontation in December 2018, Nigerian soldiers opened fire on unarmed demonstrators, which the military later justified as their right to defense. On July 29, 2019, the federal court allowed the government to designate the IMN as a terrorist organization. (Sources: Strategic Studies Institute, Sahara Reporters, Combating Terrorism Center, Sahara Reporters, Middle East Institute, Council on Foreign Relations, Radio Farda, New York Times)

Movement for the Islamic Revival (MIR)

IMN follower Abubakar Mujahid founded the Movement for the Islamic Revival (or Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jama’ah, Ja’amutu Tajidmul Islami) in the late 1990s in Kano, Nigeria. The group is known to exploit street violence and organize mass protests. Abubakar Mujahid and IMN founder Malam Ibrahim al-Zakzaky are reported to be an influential grass roots force capable of convening street demonstrations of up to half of a million people in Kano. Both Zakzaky and Mujahid are reported to have revered al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. (Source: Strategic Studies Institute)

Bandits in the North

On November 26, 2022, Nigeria designated armed groups in northern areas as terrorist organizations. The groups, which have carried out hundreds of abductions and killings in northern areas, have significantly strained Nigeria’s security services. The decision allows authorities to charge suspected bandits for terrorism-related offenses. The bandits are mostly from the mostly Muslim Fulani ethnic group and have traditionally worked as nomadic cattle herders. The Fulanis have also been caught up in a decades-long conflict with the mostly Christian Hausa farming communities. In remote communities, the bandits at times outnumbered and outgun security forces, making it difficult to entirely neutralize the bandits and prevent them from returning. The gunmen, who often operate in groups of more than 100, hide out in abandoned forest reserves, with some of the groups even joining forces with Boko Haram rebels. Boko Haram-bandit collaboration has been documented since 2014, when Abubakar Shekau released a “Message to Fulanis” video in which he expressed “gratitude” to fighters in Katsina state and other locations. Given that Boko Haram had been interested in expanding its base beyond northeastern Nigeria, support from the Fulanis provided an opportunity for Boko Haram to further their operations across the country. (Sources: Voice of America, Institute for Security Studies)

On January 19, 2023, suspected Fulani herders opened fire on an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Makurdi, central Nigeria. The attack killed nine and injured eight others, most of whom were reportedly Catholic. The governor of Benue state condemned the attack and claimed the Fulani herdsmen were responsible. Previously, Benue governor Sam Ortom has blamed the Fulani community for the violence in his state. (Source: Agence France Press)

Boko Haram and its dissident offshoot, Ansaru, have executed the majority of their attacks against civilian and military targets in northern Nigeria. These attacks have included kidnappings, beheadings, shootings, and bombings. Neighboring Cameroon, Chad, and Niger have also been targeted, though to a lesser degree. Boko Haram militants are known for carrying out “hit-and-run” assaults, during which houses are destroyed, men of fighting age are killed, and women and children are kidnapped. (Sources: Washington Post, U.S. Department of State, Associated Press, Amnesty International)

Boko Haram launched its deadliest attack to date on January 3, 2015, when insurgents opened fire on multiple northern Nigerian towns, killing more than 2,000 civilians. The multi-day assault began when militants entered targeted towns with cars and armored vehicles filled with motorcycles which were then unloaded. The jihadists shot indiscriminately at fleeing residents and destroyed more than 3,700 buildings. Amnesty International spoke to witnesses who characterized the damage as “catastrophic.” (Sources: BBC News, CNN, Amnesty International)

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari declared victory against Boko Haram in December 2015, though the announcement was followed by successive suicide bombings perpetrated by the terror group in the country’s northeast. As of August 2016, Boko Haram split into two groups when ISIS appointed Abu Musab al-Barnawi as the head of ISWAP in August 2016. Although Shekau did not win the endorsement of ISIS, he refused to relinquish his authority and has continued to lead a group of followers under the banner of Boko Haram. (Sources: Premium Times, Newsweek, Economist, Institute for Security Studies)

2023 Presidential Elections

Presidential elections in Nigeria were held on February 25, 2023, with Bola Tinubu being declared the winner. Despite election day going to plan, increased attacks on election officials prior to February brought into question whether the elections would be postponed. On December 12, 2022, militants bombed the headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Imo state, killing a policeman in an ensuing gunfight. It was the third attack on INEC’s offices in Imo that month. INEC recorded 50 attacks on its offices between 2019 and 2022. On January 9, 2023, Abdullahi Abdu Zuru, chair of INEC’s Board of Electoral Institute, warned the February presidential elections could be postponed or cancelled because of ongoing security problems, precipitating a constitutional crisis. On January 18, 2023, INEC chair Mahmood Yakubu promised elections would be held on schedule. (Sources: Al Jazeera, Reuters, Al Jazeera, Reuters)


Boko Haram has carried out a number of mass abductions since the launch of its insurgency in northern Nigeria. On April 14, 2014, the jihadist group kidnapped over 276 schoolgirls from their school dormitory in Chibok, Borno state. Around 57 of the schoolgirls managed to escape, but the other 219 were transported to the group’s base in Sambisa forest. The schoolgirls were reportedly forced to convert to Islam and married off to Boko Haram soldiers. Their abduction launched an international campaign for their release, with Boko Haram’s leader Shekau maintaining they would only be released in exchange for imprisoned Boko Haram members. As of January 2021, some girls have been rescued or freed following negotiations, but around 112 of the girls have yet to be accounted for. (Sources: Voice of America, Combating Terrorism Center)

On December 11, 2020, hundreds of gunmen opened fire and surrounded a school in Kankara, northwest Nigeria, abducting more than 300 schoolboys in the process. On December 15, Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the ambush and mass kidnapping. Given that the attack was carried out in Kankara—hundreds of miles from the insurgent group’s stronghold in the Lake Chad Basin—political analysts suspect that the group is expanding its operations across West Africa and has potentially formed alliances with other militant groups in the Sahel. On December 17, a Boko Haram-branded video was released that showed dozens of boys from Kankara begging the government to call off the army’s search for the schoolboys, dissolve vigilante groups, and close schools. Later that day, Katsina State Governor, Aminu Bello Masari, announced that the schoolboys—over 344 total—were released and handed over to the government in neighboring Zamfara State. Masari claimed the government had not paid ransom for the release, and that the negotiations took place with a group of bandits rather than Boko Haram. (Sources: Washington Post, Reuters, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press)

Although it is uncertain if armed bandits are colluding with Boko Haram, independent rebel groups have adopted Boko Haram’s tactics in carrying out mass abductions. On March 12, 2021, gunmen kidnapped 39 students from the Federal College of Forestry Mechanisation in Mando, northwestern Nigeria. Two days later, the assailants circulated video clips of the students calling on the government to cooperate with the captors. On February 26, unidentified gunmen ambushed the Jangebe Government Girls’ Secondary School in Zamfara, northwest Nigeria. The gunmen kidnapped more than 300 schoolgirls. The rescue operation was conducted by the Zamfara State Police Command in collaboration with the military. On March 2, the 279 schoolgirls—contrary to earlier reports of 300—were released. However, the details of their rescue remain unclear, with the Nigerian government maintaining that no ransom was paid to their captors. The mass abduction comes one week after unidentified attackers ambushed a boarding school in north-central Nigeria on February 17. The assailants kidnapped 42 people, including 27 students. Negotiations for their release between the Nigerian government and the armed group began on February 19. The hostages were released on February 27, with the Nigerian government offering no details on the release. On May 30, 2021, armed bandits abducted up to 150 students from an Islamic school in Niger State, north central Nigeria. Although search efforts have been intensified by security agencies in the state, the students have yet to be rescued. Regional analysts believe the recent kidnappings were carried out by armed bandits rather than jihadists based in the northeast. However, abductions for ransom have become an increasingly lucrative enterprise for both groups. (Sources: Wall Street Journal, Al Jazeera, Al Jazeera, New York Times, CNN, CNN, Deutsche Welle, Africa News, CNN)

With the end of mass abductions nowhere in sight, on July 5, 2021, a large group of armed men ambushed a school near Kaduna city, northwestern Nigeria. The kidnappers abducted 140 children, but 26 are later rescued by Nigerian forces. On July 4, 2021, gunmen ambushed the National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Centre in Zaria, taking at least eight people hostage. Additionally, on June 18, gunmen raided a school in Kebbi state, northwestern Nigeria, abducting more than 80 students. Troops, with support from the Nigerian Air Force, are at the head of recovering the students. On October 12, the students were released by their captors. Kidnappings continued through September 2021, with gunmen abducting 73 students in another school attack in Zamfara, northwestern Nigeria on September 1, 2021. However, following a military crackdown in the region, the children were released by their captors on September 13. Since December 2020, gunmen have frequently carried out abductions at schools and universities for ransom, abducting around 1,000 students, with 200 students still missing. The current wave of kidnappings is financially motivated, with kidnappers demanding ransoms totaling $24.33 million since the start of the year. (Source: BBC News, Voice of America, Reuters, Times, Reuters, Nigerian Tribune, Reuters)


On February 17, 2013, Nigeria’s Senate and House of Representatives strengthened their anti-terror laws with the passage of an amendment to the 2011 Terrorism (Prevention) Act (the “Act”). In an effort to improve inter-agency counter terrorism efforts, the Act grants coordinating bodies with more power and delineates the specific counterterrorism functions of involved institutions. The Act allows law enforcement to detain and prosecute terror suspects. It also provides specific guidelines for judges to follow when setting punishment for terror crimes. Among other modifications, the amendment permits the death penalty for those found guilty of committing, attempting to commit, or facilitating acts of terror. In the period between 2017 and 2020, the Nigerian government commenced the prosecution of over 1,328 suspects. Reportedly, 366 suspects were convicted and given sentences ranging from three to 60 years, and 882 suspects were released for de-radicalization, rehabilitation, and reintegration. (Sources: Nigerian Securities and Exchange Commission, Reuters, Nigerian Securities and Exchange Commission, United Nations)

Nigeria’s Terrorism (Prevention) Act gives the Office of the National Security Adviser (“ONSA”) the responsibility of coordinating counterterrorism efforts between security and enforcement agencies, including the Nigerian Police Force (NPF), the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC), the Ministry of Justice, and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF). The AGF is tasked with ensuring that Nigeria’s counterterrorism laws and policies are in accordance with international counterterrorism legal instruments. Created in 2003 by the Nigerian government, the NSCDC is a paramilitary tasked with working alongside the police to protest lives and property. (Sources: U.S. Department of State, Reuters, Vanguard, Vanguard, Defense Post)

The international community has expressed concern over allegations that Nigeria’s security forces have committed human rights violations. According to the U.S. Department of State, “in its response to Boko Haram and ISIS-WA attacks… Nigerian security service personnel perpetrated extrajudicial killings and engaged in torture, sexual exploitation and abuse, arbitrary detention, mistreatment of detainees…and destruction of property.” An October 2013 Amnesty International report that nearly 1,000 people died in military custody in the first half of 2013. The international community also expressed concern when Nigerian authorities were unable to rescue the nearly 300 Chibok girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in April 2014. (Sources: U.S. Department of State, Amnesty International, Henry Jackson Society)

States of Emergency

In May 2013, Nigeria declared a state of emergency in three northeastern states where Boko Haram was wreaking havoc: Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa. The state of emergency was renewed in November 2013 and again in May 2014. Under the first state of emergency, then-President Goodluck Jonathan created an interagency joint task force (JTF) with both military and police units to push back on extremists. These forces were reorganized into the Seventh Division, which reports to the chief of army staff. In some places, there are vigilantes known as the Civilian JFT Assist Division that attempt to provide supplementary policing to Nigeria’s military and security forces. (Sources: Voice of America, International Crisis Group, Council on Foreign Relations)

Boko Haram Committee

In April 2013, the Jonathan administration established the Presidential Taskforce on Negotiations with Boko Haram, or the Boko Haram Committee, to engage in a dialogue with the terror group’s leadership. The committee’s objectives included (a) negotiating a framework for Boko Haram disarmament and (b) providing compensation for victims of Boko Haram violence. Some Nigerians were skeptical of the committee’s ability to succeed where previous governments had long failed. (Sources: Voice of America, International Centre for Counter-Terrorism)

In a November 2014 video, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau denied Nigerian government claims that a ceasefire agreement had been reached. Boko Haram Committee member and diplomat Bolaji Akinyemi stated: “We can accept this latest [Boko Haram] video at face value that this group is not willing to talk… maybe the solution is a military one.”  (Source: BBC News)

The Boko Haram Committee disbanded following the March 2015 electoral defeat of former President Goodluck Jonathan to Muhammadu Buhari. Although Buhari promised to negotiate with “credible” leaders of Boko Haram for the release of the Chibok girls, the terrorist group heightened their number of attacks in the country—killing more than 600 people two months into Buhari’s term. (Sources: Council on Foreign Relations, Reuters, This Day)

Counterterrorism Measures under President Buhari

Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari was elected in May 2015 and, in accordance with his election pledge, declared victory against Boko Haram in December 2015. Although Boko Haram appeared to wane in the months following Buhari’s declaration, the terror group quickly regained momentum and has continued to carry out attacks in the country’s north. In October 2016, the Buhari government managed to secure the release of 21 of the nearly 300 kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls and in May 2017, another 82 were freed in exchange for six Boko Haram captives. These negations were facilitated by the Red Cross and members of the Swiss government. (Sources: Premium Times, International Crisis Group, Economist, CNN, Al Jazeera, Guardian, New York Times)

National Action Plan

In November 2017, the Nigerian government launched a national action plan for preventing violent extremism (PVE). The framework—developed by the government’s Office of the National Security Adviser in consultation with civil society organizations, the media, students, and the academic community—focuses on four key areas: (i) strengthening Nigerian institutions to PVE; (ii) strengthening the rule of law and human rights; (iii) building community engagement and resilience; and (iv) integrating strategic communication to PVE. President Buhari introduced the framework to government personnel at the state house in Abuja, requesting that it be implemented by civil society organizations, state, and local governments. This came after the United Nations called on member states to develop respective national action plans for PVE in December 2015. As of October 2020, the 2017 National Action Plan was being implemented and led to over 366 convictions of terror suspects, with prison sentences ranging from three to 60 years. Additionally, at least 882 suspects were released into deradicalization, rehabilitation, and re-integration programs. (Sources: Counter Terrorism Center, This Day Live, United Nations)

In April 2018, Nigeria partnered with the European Union, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) to launch the EU-Nigeria-UNODC-CTED Partnership Project III: Support for Criminal Justice Responses to Terrorism and Violent Extremism. The project, which was launched to support the 2017 National Action Plan and is expected to last until March 2021, will focus on further strengthening the capacity of Nigeria to investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate terrorism offenses, as well as develop capacity building and policy assistance to counter violent extremism. Additionally, the program will prioritize attention to terrorism challenges in northeast Nigeria, where Boko Haram maintains a strong presence. (Source: UNODC)

Counterterrorism Operations and Non-State Actors

According to a report by the Associated Press, in October of 2019, thousands of Nigerian hunters in Borno state have banded together to counter Boko Haram’s insurgency. Nigeria’s government originally discouraged the offensive five years ago, but Borno state’s governor, Babagana Zulum, approved this mission. The non-state actors are mostly hunters by vocation, having an intimate knowledge of the terrain and the shooting skills necessary to actively repel the insurgency. More than 5,000 hunters are mobilizing from Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad, to eradicate Boko Haram. (Source: Associated Press)

On October 8, 2020, Zulum appealed to Nigerian military authorities to alter counterterrorism strategies in the decade long fight against Boko Haram. Zulum encouraged the military to conduct clearance operations in Boko Haram’s hideouts in the Sambisa Forest and Lake Chad region rather than just respond to insurgent attacks. Following Zulum’s appeals, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, announces the Nigerian Army will launch “Operation Fireball” against the insurgent hotspots of Sambisa Forest, Mandara Forest, and the Lake Chad region. According to Buratai, troops will switch over to what he calls a “war mode” that will be the final push in eliminating insurgents from the country. (Sources: All Africa, Daily Post)

On September 2, 2021, the Nigerian armed forces announced that 5,980 Boko Haram fighters surrendered in recent weeks. Of the surrendered fighters, 565 were turned over to the government of northeastern Borno for “further management after thorough profiling.” That day, Nigerian officials visiting Cameroon asked for the return of more than 1,000 former Boko Haram militants to Nigeria. Droves of Boko Haram fighters have surrendered in Cameroon since Shekau’s death in May. The ex-militants from Chad, Cameroon, and Nigeria are currently staying at disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) centers in Cameroon but are expected to return to Nigeria by November. By May 2022, 13,260 Boko Haram fighters surrendered to the federal government, and as of March 2023, a total of 51,828 Boko Haram fighters and their families have acquiesced defeat to Nigerian forces. On March 27, 2023, Nigerian authorities claimed that Boko Haram has grown weaker due to a government sponsored rehabilitation program for former violent extremists. Around 600 former fighters have already graduated from the Deradicalization, Rehabilitation, and Reintegration (DRR) camp in northern Gambe state and will be reintegrated into society. (Sources: Voice of America, Reuters, Africa News, Voice of America)

In the second half of 2022, Boko Haram saw dwindling troop strength and organization as the Nigerian military and the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) amped up counterterrorism operations in the Lake Chad region. On August 6, 2022, the Nigerian Air Force carried out a series of bombings in Katsina State that killed eight militants including Boko Haram leader Abdulkarim Faca-Faca who reportedly led attacks in Safana, Danmusa, Batsari, and other parts of Zamfara State. A few days earlier on August 3, the Nigerian military carried out airstrikes in the Mandara Mountains of northwestern Borno. The airstrike killed 28 Boko Haram militants, including their commander Alhaji Modu, a.k.a. Bem Bem, who reportedly coordinated Boko Haram attacks that were carried out in Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon. (Sources: BBC News, The Guardian, Premium Times Nigeria, The Guardian, The Guardian)

Formed in 2013, the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) is a loose umbrella of pro-government militias formed in Maiduguri to fight Islamist insurgents in cooperation with Nigeria’s military. The CJTF includes more than 26,000 members in Borno and Yobe states. Of those, approximately 1,800 received a monthly salary of $50 as of 2016 while the remaining members were volunteers. CJTF members have stood guard at shops and mosques, frisking potential suicide bombers. This has resulted in the deaths of 600 members in CJTF’s first few years of operation. The CJTF has also faced accusations of physical abuse and theft of resources. The CTJF also stands accused of enlisting child soldiers, some as young as 11 years old. In 2016, the U.N. Secretary-General cited the CJTF for recruitment of children in that office’s Annual Report for Children and Armed Conflict. In September 2017, the CJTF signed an action plan agreeing to institute measures to end and prevent child conscription. In October 2018, the CJTF released 833 children from its ranks. By October 2021, the CJTF had released more than 2,000 children and the United Nations delisted the CJTF from the U.N. Secretary-General’s report on Children and Armed Conflict as one of the armed groups recruiting and using children. (Sources: Economist, UNICEF, UNICEF)

The 2011 Terrorism (Prevention) Act and the 2013 Terrorism (Amendment) Act give the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), along with the Minister of Justice, responsibility for ensuring Nigerian regulations abide by international policies and U.N. Conventions on Terrorism. The AGF responds to extradition requests and cooperates with international institutions and foreign states to prevent international acts of terrorism. Nigeria is part of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. (Sources: U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State)

U.S.-Nigerian Cooperation

Nigerian-U.S. counterterrorism cooperation ramped up in 2013 with the U.S.-Nigeria Binational Commission (BNC) Regional Security Working Group. The Nigerian government hosted the gathering in its capital Abuja. The working group defined challenges of mutual concern for the U.S. and Nigeria and outlined potential responses. Nigeria has been an active participant in regional events hosted by the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) and co-hosted a GCTF workshop on the “Criminal Justice Sector and Rule of Law” in 2013. The government of Nigeria formally requested assistance to develop an intelligence apparatus, the Joint Terrorist Branch (JTAB), to act as the interagency coordinating body for counterterrorism efforts. Nigeria has participated in U.S. counterterrorism capacity building programs under the U.S. Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance program. (Source: U.S. Department of State)

The United States has, at times, been prohibited from assisting Nigeria under the Leahy Amendment. The Leahy Amendment is an Act that blocks U.S. aid to foreign military units found to have committed human rights abuses. In 2012, the U.S. State Department denied training requests from more than 200 Nigerian security officials and a Nigerian army battalion under the Leahy Amendment. (Sources: Voice of America, Henry Jackson Society)

In August 2017, the Trump administration approved a nearly $600 million sale of high-tech attack planes to Nigeria to help defeat Boko Haram and other militants, despite concerns about human rights abuses by Nigerian security forces. The sale had been put on hold by the Obama administration after a Nigerian fighter jet in January 2017 bombed a displaced-persons camp, killing at least 230 people. (Source: Associated Press)

U.K.-Nigerian Cooperation

On August 29, 2018, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May met with President Buhari in Abuja, the country’s capital. During the meeting, May pledged to provide military training and equipment to Nigeria in support of its fight against Boko Haram. The United Kingdom also promised to (a) invest approximately $16 million in educational institutions for children living in conflict zones; (b) launch a crisis response program to improve Nigeria’s ability to respond to terror attacks; and (c) help hinder Boko Haram recruitment through promoting counter-narratives. (Sources: Independent, Quartz Africa, Sky News)

Regional Cooperation

In January 2013, Nigeria committed ground troops and logistical support to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Nigeria is also a member of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership and the Inter-Governmental Action Group Against Money Laundering (GIABA) in West Africa. In 2013, Nigeria helped to establish the Global Fund for Community Engagement and Resilience (GCERF), a public-private partnership in Switzerland created to counter extremist messaging and recruitment. Nigerian counter-extremism efforts reportedly have been hampered by security forces’ harsh treatment of civilians, distrust between the security forces and communities, and the lack of economic opportunity in northeast Nigeria. (Sources: Voice of America, BBC News, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State)

Following a Boko Haram attack in Cameroon on July 22, 2014, the Nigerian government announced that it would coordinate with Cameroon, Chad, and Niger to create a force to fight extremists. The plan for a Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) was approved by the African Union on March 3, 2015. Since then, the MNJTF has operated in the Lake Chad region and has slowly gained ground on Boko Haram. The formation of the MNJTF followed a May 2014 intelligence sharing agreement between Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger—in response to the Chibok girls kidnapping—in which the five countries agreed to improve border security. It is believed that Boko Haram separated the girls, sending them to various camps in some of those countries. (Sources: BBC News, BBC News, Institute for Strategic Studies, CNN, Telegraph)

In March 2016, President Buhari announced that Nigeria had joined Saudi Arabia’s Islamic Military Alliance: a counterterrorism coalition comprising 39 Muslim countries. Buhari explained: “We are part of [the alliance] because we’ve got terrorists in Nigeria that everybody knows which claim that they are Islamic. So, if there’s an Islamic coalition to fight terrorism, Nigeria will be part of it because we are casualties of Islamic terrorism.” (Sources: Pulse Nigeria, Agence France-Presse)

On April 2, 2020, the governments of Niger, Nigeria, and Chad announced a joint bombing and clearance operation to rid the Lake Chad region of Boko Haram and ISWAP. Operation Boma’s Wrath was an eight-day military operation spearheaded by Chad in coordination with Niger and Nigeria. The operation is a response to a Boko Haram attack on a Chadian military base that killed over 98 soldiers and injured dozens of others on March 23. According to the Chadian military, the local population was asked to leave the area which has now been declared a war zone. Despite the Chadian Army’s claim that more than 1,000 Boko Haram militants were eliminated in Operation Boma’s Wrath, on April 10, Chadian President Idriss Deby stated that his country’s troops would no longer participate in military operations outside the country’s borders. According to Deby, Chad shouldered the majority of the burden of the regional campaign against Boko Haram. Given Deby’s frustration over the region’s inconsistent military support, he threatened to withdraw all forces out of bases in Niger and Nigeria by April 22. (Sources: The Punch, Voice of America, Telegraph, Al Jazeera, Council on Foreign Relations)

On April 3, 2020, the military forces, under the Multi-National Joint Task Force—a military effort by Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria against jihadists that threaten all four countries—bombed a camp in the Tumbun Fulani area in Borno state that was a hideout for Boko Haram and ISWAP forces. The government did not confirm the number of casualties, but claimed that scores of terrorists were killed and that many structures in the camp were destroyed.  (Sources: The Punch, International Crisis Group)   

Various polling results from 2014 through 2018 revealed that Nigerians view religious extremism as the biggest threat to the country. According to findings published by the Pew Research Center:

  • 93 percent have an unfavorable view of Boko Haram;
  • 72 percent are concerned about Islamic extremism;
  • 88 percent say crime is a very big problem;
  • 88 percent say corruption is a very big problem;
  • 89 percent say electricity shortages are a very big problem;
  • 74 percent say the country is going in the wrong direction;
  • 59 percent say government officials do not care about the opinions of ordinary people;
  • 50 percent personally fear violence;
  • 79 percent were very or somewhat likely to vote in the presidential election;
  • 72 percent believe most politicians are corrupt; and
  • 60 percent are unsatisfied with how democracy works.

(Sources: Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center)

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