BIPP: Facing rising Islamic terrorism in Nigeria: A hard pill to swallow

JP Stark and Yiwei Wang, BIPP Interns

When most people think of terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda or ISIS, they think of the Middle East. This is no longer the case, as the past decade has seen the dissemination of Islamist militant groups across Africa. Already fragile states have been propelled into further turmoil as these groups have taken advantage of weak governance. Nigeria is a key state to analyze in understanding how and why terrorism spreads rampantly in Africa.


Nigeria is the economic powerhouse of Africa, boasting its fastest-growing and most extensive economy as well as the largest population. However, the wealth is unevenly distributed across the nation, promoting violence and poverty. The majority of the population and wealth resides in the southern portion of the nation, while the northern part of the state is home to the vast majority of the Muslim population. The northern region has been relatively ignored by the government while its people are impoverished and marginalized. It is within this neglected region that the infamous group Boko Haram materialized and gained a significant amount of territory in the northeast corner of the state.


Slow response from the incumbent government and lack of attention from the international community aggravated the level of violence in the country. In 2009, Boko Haram launched an array of violent attacks, ranging from the slaughtering of entire villages to the kidnapping of young children for use in suicide bombings. In 2014, the international community finally noticed after Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from a government school in the town of Chibok. During this time the group expanded its territory, enforcing strict Sharia Law and declaring the region an Islamic Caliphate. Between 2009 and 2016, the group killed almost 25,000 people. The organization reached a higher level of terrorism in 2015 when the group became affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), further increasing its strength and numbers. The United States, the United Kingdom, and France formed a task force with the militaries of five other nations in the region, including Nigeria. The task force appeared to be successful; it drastically reduced the territory of the group within a short time span and emancipated many villages from oppressive Sharia law.


Undefeated, Boko Haram shifted its influence to the Lake Chad region that shares borders with Nigeria, Niger, and Chad. While a lack of government presence invites terrorist activity, the area is ripe for Islamic terrorism due to rampant poverty, a majority Muslim population, violent ethnic conflicts, and a growing food crisis, enabling Boko Haram to reign, pillage, and terrorize local communities. As the attacks of Boko Haram grew more violent and less discriminant, the group fractured; the Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA), a second group that was created from this fracture, is officially affiliated with the Islamic State. The group provided water supplies and security to locals in exchange for male recruits and supplies.


Islamic terrorism is not limited by geography. Rampant in the strip of Sahel, terrorism is on the rise in Mali, Libya, and Somalia with no sign of abatement. Islamic groups target ungoverned spaces and oppress the locals in return for their “support.” The United States and its NATO allies – specifically France – have substantially broadened their presence in the region, utilizing drone strikes and special forces to eliminate terrorist groups. However, increased military presence is not an enduring solution. Affected Africa will remain chaotic as long as the conditions that harbor terrorists remain. High levels of poverty and fragile democratic systems do not lay a foundation for success. While development holds inherent problems, the fostering of growth, wealth, and stability in the region are essential to combat terrorism.


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