On February 17, 2017, three female suicide bombers killed at least 20 and wounded 22 others at a fish market in Maiduguri, Nigeria. There were no immediate claims of responsibility. (Sources: New York Times, Reuters)

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has led a vigorous military campaign against Nigeria’s lethal Islamist insurgency, Boko Haram. The President declared victory against the group in December 2015 but critics downplayed the announcement as premature, pointing to continued low-level terror attacks in the country’s northeast. In October 2016, Buhari’s government secured the release of 21 of the nearly 300 girls kidnapped by the terror group in Chibok, Nigeria, in 2014. On May 7, 2017, another 82 were freed in exchange for six Boko Haram captives. On December 9, 2016—one year after Buhari announced the group to be “technically defeated”—two suspected Boko Haram suicide bombers killed at least 30 people and wounded 67 others at a marketplace in Madagali, Adamawa State.

Boko Haram terror activities have continued throughout 2017 and into 2018. Most attacks have consisted of suicide bombings at busy marketplaces around the terror group’s dwindling stronghold in northeast Nigeria. (Sources: Australian Broadcasting Company, Guardian, Reuters, Chicago Tribune)

Overview

Nigeria is home to ISIS’s self-declared Islamic State West Africa Province (Iswap)—also known as the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram, which pledged allegiance to ISIS in March 2015. Since 2009, Boko Haram has carried out a regular string of attacks against Nigerian security forces and civilians, killing approximately 20,000 people and displacing 2.6 million others. (Sources: Deutsche Welles, CNN, Al Jazeera)

Nigeria has experienced several large-scale attacks carried out by Boko Haram. In the group’s first major attack, militants detonated a car bomb outside of the United Nations building in Abuja in 2011, killing 23 people. In January 2015—in the group’s deadliest attack to date—insurgents attacked ten villages in northeastern Nigeria, slaughtering more than 2,000 people. A few days later, the group allegedly remotely detonated explosives strapped to young girls in Maiduguri, the capital city of Borno State. The bombers were believed to belong to the group of 276 Chibok girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in April 2014. That kidnapping resulted in the #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign, which gained significant international support and publicity. The Nigerian government secured the release of 21 of those girls in October 2016 following negotiations with Boko Haram, facilitated by the Red Cross and Swiss government officials. Another 82 were freed in May 2017 in exchange for six Boko Haram captives and facilitated again by the Red Cross. (Sources: Reuters, Guardian, NBC, Bring Back Our Girls, Guardian, Al Jazeera, New York Times)

Polling data from a February 2015 study by the Pew Research Center confirms that Nigerians view religious extremism as the biggest national threat. The Nigerian government has passed tougher legislation against terrorism and is working with the international community in joint operations against the militant groups in and around Nigeria. (Sources: Pew Research, Deutsche Welle, Washington Post, Amnesty International)

Radicalization and Foreign Fighters

Since the 1960s, Nigeria has seen a rise of domestic and foreign-funded Islamist movements spreading austere narratives of fundamentalist Islam. In addition, jihadists from neighboring Cameroon and Niger have traveled to wage jihad inside Nigeria. Nominal numbers of Nigerian jihadists have left the country as foreign fighters to regions like the Middle East or South Asia.

Boko Haram

Boko Haram is an ISIS-aligned jihadist group based in Nigeria, also operating in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. The group promotes a Salafist jihadi version of Islam and deems western influence “haram” (forbidden). Boko Haram first attacked government targets in Nigeria in 2010 as part of its strategy for a regional caliphate. 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 is split between militants who follow longtime leader Abubakar Shekau and those who follow ISIS-appointed Abu Musab al-Barnawi. (Sources: BBC News, Premium Times, Newsweek, Economist)

Boko Haram is an ISIS-aligned jihadist group based in Nigeria, also operating in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger.

Recruitment is difficult for Boko Haram since approximately 50 percent of Nigerians are Christian. Christians are unlikely to be attracted to the group’s goal of resuscitating the Kanem-Bornu caliphate that once ruled over modern-day Nigeria, Chad, and Cameroon. Moreover, Boko Haram’s founder Mohammad Yusuf successfully proselytized within his northern Kanuri tribe, alienating Nigerian Muslims of differing ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. Today, Boko Haram’s reputation for mass violence has further alienated Nigerians. As a result, the group has resorted to the conscription of thousands of boys and girls, many of who are trained in boot camps in northeast Nigerian and neighboring Cameroon. The U.S. named Boko Haram a terrorist organization in 2014. (Sources: Al Jazeera, BBC News, Bloomberg News, Sufism in Northern Nigeria: Force for Counter-Radicalization, Wall Street Journal)

Ansaru

Ansaru is a Nigerian-based dissident offshoot of Boko Haram. Its full Arabic name, Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina Fi Biladis Sudan, loosely translates to “Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa.” The group is aligned with larger Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Nigerian authorities captured Ansaru’s leader, Khalid al-Barnawi, in early April 2016. That September, analyst Jacob Zenn said that Ansaru had been “quiet,” though it was “still active according to Nigerian army reports.”

Ansaru issued a statement officially declaring its existence in 2012. That same year, Ansaru abducted 63-year-old French national Francis Colump following an attack on a well-guarded compound in the northern town of Rimi, about 25km (15 miles) from Katsina city. Since then, Ansaru has executed numerous attacks throughout Nigeria. The U.S. designated the group a terrorist organization in 2014. (Sources: BBC News, CNN, Bloomberg News, BBC News)

Kala Kato

Kala Kato is considered a Quranist fundamentalist group, meaning that its members only follow the Quran and not the Hadith (a series of books describing the words and actions of the Islamic prophet Muhammad). According to reports, Kala Kato members have told followers that saying the Islamic prayer Nasilat—and the act of alms-giving, or zakat—is unnecessary. In this respect, Kala Kato is distinct from local Islamist groups as well as international organizations such as al-Qaeda. Members of Kala Kato reportedly proselytize in neighboring countries such as Niger. Kala Kato and Boko Haram have clashed in the past. (Sources: Niger Times, BBC News)

The Izala Movement

Izala is an anti-Sufi, Salafist organization in Nigeria whose members seek to strip Islam of foreign (i.e. Western) ideas and practices. It was established by Sheikh Ismaila Idris in 1978 in the central Nigerian city Jos, but finds its roots in the early 1960s as a movement centered on prominent preacher and scholar Sheikh Abu-bakar Gummi. Gummi was reportedly influenced by the Saudi Islamic doctrine Wahhabism and received material and ideological support from the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Nigeria on behalf of Izala. (Source: Sufism in Northern Nigeria: Force for Counter-Radicalization)

IMN (Islamic Movement in Nigeria)

Founded by Nigerian extremist Malam Ibrahim al-Zakzaky, the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) 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. The IMN runs training camps for recruits across northern Nigeria, according to Nigerian intelligence. (Sources: Sufism in Northern Nigeria: Force for Counter-Radicalization, Sahara Reporters,  Combating Terrorism Center at West Point)

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. IMB alleges that government forces attacked the group’s members, including three of Zakzaky’s sons—who died in the incident. (Source: Sahara Reporters)

MIR

IMN follower Abubakar Mujahid founded the MIR (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: Sufism in Northern Nigeria: Force for Counter-Radicalization)

Foreign Fighters

There is little evidence to suggest that Nigerians have left in any meaningful numbers as foreign fighters to the Middle East or any other region rife with Islamist militancy. However, the son of former Nigerian Chief Justice Muhammad Lawal Uwais allegedly left Nigeria in early 2015 with his two wives to join ISIS. (Source: 9IJA News)

On March 12, 2015, ISIS accepted Boko Haram’s pledge of allegiance. ISIS’s now-deceased spokesperson Abu Mohammad al-Adnani encouraged global foreign fighters to fight in West Africa if they could not enter Iraq or Syria. 

Major Extremist and Terrorist Incidents

Boko Haram and its dissident offshoot, Ansaru, have executed the majority of their attacks against both 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 is known for its “hit-and-run assaults,” during which militants drive through a town in cars or motorcycles and shoot into houses. Men of fighting age are killed, and the women and girls are kidnapped. (Sources: Washington Post, U.S. Department of State, Associated Press, Amnesty International)

Boko Haram attacks slowed in 2016 after President Buhari declared victory against the group in December 2015. By mid-2016, the International Crisis Group said that Boko Haram had been “weakened” and “put on the defensive.” In September 2016, security analyst Jacob Zenn said that Ansaru, Boko Haram’s dissident offshoot, had been “quiet,” though it was “still active according to Nigerian army reports.” (Sources: BBC News, International Crisis Group)

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 is split between militants that follow longtime leader Abubakar Shekau and those who follow ISIS-appointed Abu Musab al-Barnawi. (Sources: Premium Times, Newsweek, Economist)

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 drove each motorcycle separately, shooting at homes and fleeing residents. Amnesty International spoke to witnesses who said that the damage was “catastrophic.” (Sources: BBC News, CNN)

 

Domestic Counter-Extremism

Legislation

Nigeria’s Senate and House of Representatives strengthened their anti-terror laws with the passage of the Terrorism (Prevention) (Amendment) Act (the “Act”) on February 17, 2013. In an effort to improve inter-agency counter terrorism efforts, the Act granted coordinating bodies more power and delineated specific functions between institutions. The Act allowed law enforcement to detain and prosecute terror suspects. It also provided specific guidelines for judges to follow when setting punishment for terror crimes. The new legislation permitted, among other amendments, the death penalty for those found guilty of terrorism. The Act amended the country’s first counterterrorism law which was passed in February 2011. (Sources: Reuters, Explanatory Memorandum)

Nigeria’s counterterrorism law gives the Office of National Security Adviser (ONSA) responsibility for aligning counterterrorism efforts between security and enforcement agencies, including the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF). The AGF, in turn, ensures that Nigeria’s counterterrorism laws and policies are in accordance with international counterterrorism legal instruments. (Sources: Reuters, Vanguard Nigeria)

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 JTF Assist Division that attempt to provide supplementary policing to Nigeria’s military and security forces. (Sources: Voice of America, International Crisis Group)

Boko Haram Committee

In April 2013, the Jonathan administration established the Boko Haram Committee to engage in a dialogue with the terror group’s leadership. The committee’s objective was to end the violence by negotiating a framework for potential disarmament and compensation for group’s victims. The committee was met with criticism by some Nigerians who were unsure that the committee would succeed where previous governments had long failed. (Source: Voice of America)

In April 2013, the Jonathan administration established the Boko Haram Committee to engage in a dialogue with the terror group’s leadership.

In a November 2014 video, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau denied Nigerian government claims that a ceasefire agreement had been reached. Member of the Boko Haram Committee 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)

Nigeria’s counterterrorism efforts have been subject to scrutiny by the international community. An October 2013 Amnesty International report documented that nearly 1,000 people died in military custody in the first half of 2013. As a result, the U.S. State Department refused training requests from more than 200 Nigerian security officials and a Nigerian army battalion. Both groups were found in violation of the 2012 U.S. Leahy Amendment, an Act that blocks U.S. aid to foreign military units found to have committed abuses. 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: Amnesty International, Voice of America, New York Times, Henry Jackson Society)

Counterterrorism Measures under President Buhari

Since assuming office in May 2015, Buhari has carried out a vigorous military campaign against Boko Haram in accordance with his election pledges. He declared victory against the terror group in December 2015, though the announcement was followed by numerous small-scale Boko Haram terror attacks in the country’s north. In October 2016, the Buhari government secured the release of 21 of the nearly 300 Chibok school girls following negotiations with Boko Haram, facilitated by the Red Cross and members of the Swiss government. Another 82 were freed in May 2017 in exchange for six Boko Haram captives and facilitated again by the Red Cross. (Sources: CNN, Premium Times, Newsweek, This Day Live, Al Jazeera, Guardian)

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 (ONSA) in consultation with civil society organizations, the media, students, and the academic community—focuses on four key areas: strengthening Nigerian institutions to PVE; strengthening the rule of law and human rights; building community engagement and resilience; and 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. (Sources: Counter Terrorism Center, This Day Live)

International Counter-Extremism

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 cooperates with international institutions and foreign states to provide mutual assistance, such as extradition, to prevent international acts of terrorism. (Source: 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 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. State Department’s Antiterrorism Assistance program. (Source: U.S. Department of State)

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)

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 2014, 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 the northeast of Nigeria. (Sources: Voice of America, BBC News, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State)

We are part of it 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.Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari

Following a Boko Haram attack in Cameroon on July 22, 2014, the Nigerian government announced that it would join 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 from 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: 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 said, “We are part of it 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)

Public Opinion

Polling from the spring of 2014 revealed that Nigerians view religious extremism as the biggest threat to the country. According to findings published by the Pew Research Center:

  • 82 percent have an unfavorable view of Boko Haram;
  • 72 percent concerned about Islamic extremism;
  • 88 percent say crime is a very big problem;
  • 86 percent say corruption is a very big problem;
  • 81 percent say electricity shortages are a very big problem;
  • 74 percent say the country is going in the wrong direction;
  • 66 percent say government officials do not care about ordinary people;
  • 50 percent personally fear violence; and
  • 79 percent very or somewhat likely to vote in presidential election.

(Source: Pew Research Center)