The Boko Haram Insurgency: Evolution, Defeat, and Future Challenges


For nearly eight years, the insurgent-group known as Boko Haram has caused immense human suffering and worsened an already fragile security situation in the Lake Chad region. International concerns have been raised because of the group's synchronisation with international jihadist terror-networks and the internal displacement caused by its wanton behaviour. The group’s entrance onto the global stage has resulted in the discussion of different countermeasures within the framework of both NATO and the EU. As a NATO country, Denmark too became engaged in counterterror and counterinsurgency operations in Nigeria. Even though the Danish engagement was relatively modest, amounting to one transport plane and ground personnel, this implied that Denmark as a country was an active party in operations directed to destroy Boko Haram and its ability to operate. The engagement also implied a clear political decision by Denmark that military means were the best (or only) option at hand to counter Boko Haram. Naturally, this calls for reflection and analysis on the efficiency of the general international military strategy against the group in order to illuminate the advantages and drawbacks of choosing a military approach.
Boko Haram has become notorious for its extreme violence. In 2014, the Global Terrorism Index designated it as “the most deadly terrorist group in the world.”1 The group has killed an estimated 15,000 people, kidnapped tens of thousands, displaced 2.3 million, and destroyed entire communities.2 After seven years of bloody war, terrorism and insecurity, many societies must now be reconciled.3 In addition, an extensive reconstruction is required as schools, churches, mosques, roads and other infrastructure and property have been destroyed in the course of the conflict. More than one million internally displaced people must be convinced to return home to places where the possibility for securing food, clean water, employment, education, electricity, medicine or healthcare is even worse than before the crisis. Borno State, the epicentre of the crisis, was already one of the most underdeveloped areas in Nigeria.4 In addition, the crisis has possibly facilitated an impending famine in the region. The NGO Doctors Without Borders and the UN Security Council have called the situation in the Lake Chad region the most overlooked humanitarian crisis and have warned of how conditions of starvation and malnutrition continue to deteriorate.5
On 23 December 2016, the defeat of Boko Haram was officially announced, when Nigeria’s president, Muhammad Buhari, stated that the last Boko Haram camp had been cleared from the Sambisa Forest.6 However, this proclamation now seems premature. As soon as three days later, two female suicide bombers targeted a cattle market in the Borno State capital, Maiduguri. Not even a month later, in January 2017, the Nigerian air force mistakenly bombed a camp for Internally Displaced People (IDP), killing as many as 256 persons, because they mistook the camp for a gathering of Boko Haram militants. A couple of days after, a Boko Haram attack involving as many as 100 fighters on the same IDP camp was repelled.7 Borno State, especially, is still plagued by suicide bombings. The UN reports operational difficulties due to Boko Haram attacks and the army still encounters fierce resistance in the Sambisa Forest.8 All this suggests that Boko Haram might have been forced on the defensive but is far from defeated.
It is not the first time the group has been declared as defeated. After the 2009 crackdown, the group was believed to have been extinguished, and in December 2015 Buhari stated that the group would be defeated by January 2016. These premature statements by the state and security apparatus have been accompanied by dubious related claims, such as the death of one of Boko Haram's top commanders, Abubakar Shekau, who has been announced dead numerous times only to reappear later.9 Such claims have intensified distrust of security forces and officials, and added to the confusion surrounding the group.
Nigeria, Northeast Nigeria and Lake Chad situated on the African continent.10
Approximate extent of Boko Haram's territory and sphere of influence during the height of their territorial capacity in late 2014 / early 2015. The territory was divided into four spheres of influence: North, West, South West and South East of Maiduguri. Red dots are cities of importance or cities mentioned in the article as occupied by Boko Haram. Purple dots are cities of importance or cities mentioned in the article, which were highly contested but never occupied by Boko Haram. Created by author from a Google Map using a number of news references for mapping occupied cities and comparing with similar maps.11
Describing Boko Haram as a "group", and using the name 'Boko Haram' to designate them, opens up numerous challenges. Firstly, the "group" is hardly a coherent constellation of actors and events, and secondly they have rarely used the name 'Boko Haram' to designate themselves but have used various other names, which concurrently project their self-understanding, strategy and development. The name Boko Haram, as it is used in this article, therefore designates both a phenomenon and a group. When looking at the history of Boko Haram, the group and affiliated groups have been known by the names: Ahlul sunna wal’jama’ah hija, Nigerian Taliban, Yusufiyya, Jama’atul Ahlus-Sunnah Lidda’ Awati Wal Jihad, Yusufiya Islamic Movement, amāʿatu Anṣāril Muslimīna fī Bilādis Sūdā, Harakat al Muhajirin, al-Wilāyat al-Islāmiyya Gharb Afrīqiyyah, and others. All these names have designated groups identifying themselves with or being identified as Boko Haram. Furthermore, criminal elements and opportunists have utilised the name for their own gains.12 Although these elements are not the Boko Haram group, they are definitely part of the phenomenon or crisis.
Boko Haram has consequently been described in the literature as "a collection of associated movements whose components are amorphous and shifting in terms of agendas, tactics, and leadership as well as in relationship to each other". An "amoebic movement continuously reshaping and remodelling itself” that "should not be viewed as a single, homogenous movement… The dynamics of collective and individual mobilization need to be distinguished."13 One could argue that describing otherwise largely unstructured and mutating entities as coherent constellations is often an expression of the political, military, and one might add, epistemological necessity of having a “spider at the centre of the web.”14
However, we should also be careful about deconstructing the group to a point, where it becomes unrecognisable as an entity. The author presented the above argument to hunters in Gombi in Northern Adamawa fighting Boko Haram and then asked them whether they saw Boko Haram as a group. They were somewhat confused about this very academic approach to what in their eyes is a very real phenomenon. They stated that when fighting Boko Haram, they fight skirmishes in the bush and what they experience is people fighting as a group. When watching videos of Boko Haram attacks, it is similarly clear that some level of organisation is behind their operations. Furthermore, Boko Haram displays organisational coherence through symbols such as names, flags and notable people like commanders and martyrs displayed in propaganda. Leaders like Mohammed Yusuf, Abubakar Shekau, Khalid al-Barnawi, Adam Kambar, Mamman Nur and Musab al-Barnawi are all expressions of some degree of organisational coherence. However, many of these commanders have headed factions or cells within the overall Boko Haram organisation. Depending on the time, the group has been organised differently and has changing allies and affiliates. During its existence, it has been organised around a Shura council with different cells in different cities.15 Therefore, Boko Haram has had changing organisational cores, but their mutual relations, communication and chain of command has been loose and fragmented. This means that when analysing Boko Haram, it is not certain that events occurring in one place can tell us something about events happening elsewhere within the sphere of influence of the same organisation. Localised conditions such as leadership, group dynamics, relation to local population, pressure from security forces, available resources, the constellations of a specific group within the group, and other factors can shape local circumstances to be very different within the same general organisation. In addition, the actions and words of one faction need not necessarily represent the group as a whole or be in accordance with other factions.


The present paper and its sources

In this paper, Boko Haram will be designated as an insurgent-group, which is seen as a constellation of more or less coherent affiliated actors, who are a manifestation of an insurgency. O’Neill defines an insurgency as:
A struggle between non-ruling groups and ruling authorities in which the non-ruling group consciously uses political resources (e.g., organisational expertise, propaganda, and demonstrations) and violence to destroy, reformulate, or sustain the basis of legitimacy of one or more aspects of politics.16
For O'Neill, an insurgency is therefore a condition (the struggle) a society can be in, where the legitimacy of the central state power is being challenged by political and violent means. Additionally, more groups can be an expression of one insurgency. Following this consideration ‘Boko Haram' could be said to both designate an insurgent-group and the broader phenomenon of a particular insurgency in Nigeria, where the central state's authority and legitimacy is being challenged. If referring to Boko Haram as a phenomenon, the phrase 'the Boko Haram crisis' will be used. By drawing on literature on insurgency, the paper aims primarily to understand Boko Haram from a strategic perspective in relation to what has dictated its successes and failures.
The article offers a brief look at the events and developments that have shaped the evolution of Boko Haram from its germination as a Salafi inspired religious community to a conventionalised insurgency capable of seizing and holding territory and to the processes facilitating its setbacks and possible defeat. The main focus of the article is on the strategic development of Boko Haram in relation to what processes shaped the group's evolution and modes of operation. It will further be explored why and how they established territory and why this failed. Here special attention will be given to how the group balanced their strategic aims with their levels of violence especially against civilians. Overall, the following four main considerations will be made:
1) Boko Haram's 2009 revolutionary resentment made their strategy diffuse, incoherent and opportunistic.
2) Security forces' counterinsurgency campaign has been a major factor in sustaining the group's offensive, due to negative popular support.
3) The group's territorial aspiration was more likely to have resulted from circumstances dictating actions rather than an expression of a long-term strategy.
4) Their success is due to their resilience, adaptability and ruthlessness. However, their ruthlessness is also one of the main reasons for their failures.
In conclusion, future challenges are outlined in terms of what consequences a defeat of Boko Haram will have and whether the term defeat is even applicable.
The paper will be divided into five parts reflecting the evolution of Boko Haram:
1) The period from about 2000-2003, when the group was established as a religious community around the preacher, Mohammed Yusuf, to the June/July 2009 uprising.
2) The re-emergence of the group in 2010, its initial reliance on revenge attacks and terrorism, and its gradual transformation to a militarised insurgency with external links to al-Qaeda towards 2012. This is seen in relation to the Nigerian security forces' brutal counterinsurgency campaign following the state of emergency in 2013.
3) The group's 2014 transformation to a conventionalised insurgent-group capable of seizing and holding territory.
4) The group's setbacks in 2015, its new alliances with the Islamic State and the security forces' continued successes in 2016.
5) How the group's capacity to adapt and transform makes it resilient, and how this can be expected to shape its developments in 2017 and beyond.
It is important to recognise that "virtually everything about [the Boko Haram crisis] is contested” and much of the available literature and information “are fragmented, politicised and contested”.17 Data and narratives from affected areas are often unreliable, contradictory and difficult to substantiate, and are often uncritically reproduced in both media and scholarly literature. As in many other conflicts various actors use different conspiracies to create meaning out of the chaos and misery. In Nigeria, where conflict, underdevelopment and violence are already a reality in a state, whose very foundation and politics are highly contested, conspiracies are not simply to be dismissed but often happen to be founded in both half and whole truths. As Andrew Walker has observed, the contested political and social reality of Nigeria has created 'a condition of a continual crisis of epistemology', and many conspiracy theories should be seen as attempts to locate Boko Haram in Nigeria's patrimonial networks and power structures.18
Although there is a great value in, and need for, utilising local sources, one should be careful about what is meant by "local". Being from Nigeria means many things, and a scholar or journalist operating from Abuja, Lagos, or even Kano, does not necessarily have access to substantiated information from affected areas, or does not necessarily understand or relate to local conditions (this goes without implying that the present author does either). These points are also worth considering in relation to the group's links with external actors and movement across borders, where analysts with access to intelligence briefings, often from non-Nigerian sources, have an advantage.
Scholars from in and outside Nigeria, as well as online news, primarily from Nigerian, European and North American news agencies, base the present findings on articles and reports on Boko Haram. Additionally, reports from human rights and aid agencies have been used as sources. Furthermore, some insight into the situation and some understanding of local conditions was gained during explorative fieldwork, conducted from November 2015 to January 2016 in Central and Northeast Nigeria.
In order to balance sources, I have tried to cite mutually independent claims, awarding greater attention to claims from recognised international analytical institutes, such as Stratfor, RUSI, the Jamestown Foundation, Jane's Intelligence Review and others, along with reports from human rights and aid agencies, such as Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International and UNICEF. In addition, I rely on local sources that have valuable access to knowledge about key developments and situations, and whom I had the chance to meet during fieldwork, such as Freedom Onuoha, William Hansen, Mohammed Kyari and others, and a highly recommendable online newspaper, Premium Times. The fieldwork also gave me valuable experiences in terms of somewhat comprehending local conditions and substantiating claims, as well as access to different stakeholders that have analysed, experienced or lived with the Boko Haram crisis on a daily basis. However, it should not be underestimated, how ambiguity or conspiracy relayed in Adamawa State is not necessarily easier to substantiate than that found in an academic or newspaper article. I therefore treat claims about occurrences and events gathered from Nigeria with the same caution as articles and the like.


1) From religious community to insurgent group

The group that were to become known as Boko Haram was founded around a preacher named Mohammed Yusuf, who rose to prominence out of a revitalised debate on the role of Islam in Northern Nigeria in the early 2000's. According to the literature, he took leadership of a Salafi group in the city of Maiduguri, where he established a religious community centre (Markaz) with a mosque, micro-finance schemes, and farms.19 The group allegedly had the name Ahlul sunna wal’jama’ah hija (Followers of the Teachings of the Prophet and his Community), but it eventually became colloquially known as Boko Haram. Initially a nickname made up by locals, it was picked up by national and international media and has become a common designator for the group.20
Mohammed Yusuf was known for vigorously preaching against what he saw as the corrosive effects of Western influence on northern Nigerian Islamic communities and culture.21 He used the word boko to denote this effect, which is an old Hausa word – Hausa being the most spoken language in northern Nigeria – equating Western influence from colonial times with something fraudulent and deceitful.22 This is exemplified in the literature by Yusuf pointing at the corrupt Muslim political leadership, “… referring to their western educations, their lavish homes, behemoth automobiles, and their practice of stealing millions of naira with impunity, and saying, "To idan dai wannan ne boko, to boko haramun ne" (if this is education, then education is [Islamically forbidden])."23 The influence of boko is still seen by some locals as the cause of poverty, corruption, lack of social cohesion, and underdevelopment. This provided the foundation for deeming education Haram (forbidden according to Islamic law).
From the very beginning, Yusuf's group was under the attention of local police and security forces, which led to minor incidents, clashes, and arrests.24 In the years 2003-2004, a group known as the Nigerian Taliban, consisting of people associated with Yusuf, tried to establish a semi-secessionist community in the village of Kanama. They were allegedly dissatisfied with Yusuf's slow approach to building a community and focus on preaching (Da'wah) over violent confrontation.25 The group clashed with security forces, and its members were either killed or dispersed. The increased attention compelled Yusuf to go into exile in Saudi Arabia, from where he returned and continued to develop his Markaz and wider community.26 When the police shot and wounded several of the group's members during a funeral procession in June 2009, a furious Yusuf demanded that the responsible officers be prosecuted. When nothing happened, he told his followers to prepare for war.27 The following month saw clashes between protesters and security forces in several northern Nigerian states. The security forces called in reinforcements, and in the following operation an estimated 800 people, mostly innocent bystanders, were killed. HRW documented how security forces in some cases had gone door-to-door and extrajudicially executed people. Furthermore, Yusuf was arrested, tortured, and executed, something that amplified his followers' "pre-existing animosities toward the government".28 These events have been described as brutal overreactions, which fuelled the resentments and the self-perception of legitimacy for the group to transform into a violent insurgency.29
This transition fits the pattern of state-insurgency dynamics as outlined by Rekkedal: First, the conditions for grievances that can cause resentment have to be present, whether economic, social, or in the form of state harassment, mismanagement or unfair treatment etc. Then, if the government fails to enter into a constructive dialogue or address the grievances, further alienation and frustrations may result. If the government decides to use coercion to stop or silence people, this can exacerbate the sense of injustice.30 Boko Haram's transition echoes a revolutionary resentment akin to Slavoj Žižek’s revitalised version of the French Revolutionary Maximillian Robespierre’s concept of ‘divine violence’: a spontaneous, violent restoration of justice emulating a divine order, which, like "biblical locusts … strikes out of nowhere, a means without end."31 Rather than a planned, systematic effort to overthrow an opponent or challenge a system, the Boko Haram insurgency seemed like an immediate call for the restoration of justice, which did not have any foreseeable chance of being fulfilled. This unplanned and unstructured outburst of violence was directed against a state with a long history – dating back from colonialism – of using brute force to control a vast territory comprised of a multitude of ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups while being a weak central state power.32
This combination of revolutionary resentment and brutality of security forces fundamentally shaped the group's modus operandi through a “logic of retaliation”33. In speeches, they have consistently referred to Yusuf's killing. In Shekau's first video appearance on 1 July 2010, he proclaimed: "I have the intention to retaliate."34 Security officials, clerics and politicians have been killed for betraying or speaking against the group. Attacks on Christian schools have been framed as revenge attacks for the closing of Islamic schools and attacks on Christian communities have been justified as revenge attacks for attacks on Muslim communities. Kidnappings and attacks have been conducted in retaliation of arrested Boko Haram family members, brutal killings of security personnel have been done in retaliation of alleged violations, and the group apparently even threatened to kill South Africans in retaliation of xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in South Africa.35

2) Terrorism and the dialectics of violence

After the violent clampdown, the state perceived the group as extinct.36 However, in September 2010 Boko Haram conducted a spectacular jailbreak in the state of Bauchi under a new name, Jama’atul Ahlus-Sunnah Lidda’ Awati wal Jihad (People Committed to the Teachings of the Prophet and Jihad, JAS), now under the leadership of Shekau.37 The group conducted a campaign of assassinations targeting politicians, police officers, and religious and village leaders, in what can be characterised as acts of retaliation against people by whom the group felt betrayed.38 A few months later on Christmas Eve 2010, several bombs went off in the central Nigerian town of Jos and in Maiduguri,39 which showed that the group had larger ambitions than retaliation and that they were willing to use extreme violence to achieve them.
In 2011, the group expanded its targets with two ambitious operations in the Nigerian capital of Abuja, the first against the Police Headquarters in June and the second against the UN Headquarters in August. The group thereby demonstrated a level of sophistication, which to some analysts suggested external support possibly gained through establishing links to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).40 The two vehicle-borne Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) used were thought by analysts to surpass the group's capacities, and none of the group's operations had hitherto suggested the capacity to hit targets as relatively well defended and removed from Boko Haram's north-eastern areas of operation. So far, nothing suggests that they had international aspirations. The targeting of the UN Headquarters remains the group's only international target to date, excluding foreigners kidnapped for ransom.41
That Boko Haram had or could develop connections to AQIM had been suspected since AQIM’s then leader in early 2010 offered assistance to Boko Haram.42 Nevertheless, Boko Haram's developing ruthlessness showed itself to be an obstacle to making or preserving allies. After a coordinated attack on the city of Kano in January 2012, where both Muslims and Christians were targeted,43 a group calling itself amāʿatu Anṣāril Muslimīna fī Bilādis Sūdā (Defenders of Muslims in the Black Lands, Ansaru) announced that it had broken away from Boko Haram, as they were unsatisfied with the group's attacks on Muslims.44 When Boko Haram in September 2013 massacred several predominantly Muslim pupils in the city of Gujba, AQIM also cut the bonds to the group and even released a fatwa (ruling) against the group.45
In May 2013, the Nigerian State declared a state of emergency in four Northeast-Nigerian states and initiated a grand military operation against Boko Haram.46 Boko Haram was put under significant pressure and driven from its urban centres of operation.47 Through personal networks and a terrorism campaign of intimidation of local communities, the group managed to gain a foothold in rural Borno and the surrounding region. The group’s brutal methods affected its popular support negatively, but at the same time, a parallel campaign of violence arbitrated by Nigerian security forces, which included arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial executions, and widespread excesses and violations allowed the group to maintain a local support base or resulted in locals not trusting or supporting security forces.48 According to some observers, security forces accounted for ¾ of all violent deaths in Boko Haram affected areas in 2013.49 As such, the insurgency-terrorism inflicted by Boko Haram was reciprocated with state-terrorism, creating a toxic dialectic of violence against the civilian population.
Security Forces have been known to randomly round up hundreds of men and boys following Boko Haram raids and in areas with an active Boko Haram presence – sometimes to extract bribes from relatives – and, as documented by HRW, the “vast majority of arrests carried out by the military appear to be entirely arbitrary, often based solely on the dubious word of a paid informant.”50 As further documented by HRW, a number of detention centres were created, where numerous abuses and atrocities took place, such as at the Giwa barracks.51 Security forces' violence has led many civilians to feel that they were caught between two evils or that the Nigerian army itself constituted something akin to an occupying force. Many soldiers deployed have been from the south, with a poor understanding of local languages, customs and traditions, which has only exacerbated local contempt for security forces.52 An anonymous security official in Yola echoed this perception in relaying how, when entering cities, security forces would occupy the houses of wealthy people expelled by Boko Haram and extort favours from locals (food, money and sex). Demanding bribes at checkpoints was still very common when the author visited Nigeria, as was it for some soldiers to negotiate their way out of paying for food and drinks in local food places and markets in areas where the local people were highly dependent on an influx of money. However, this was also an expression of a larger symptom of soldiers not being given adequate food, water and other resources, compelling them to in a sense 'live off the land'.
Nigerian soldiers inspecting CJTF members in the first half of 201353
A further factor in the 2013 escalation of civilian casualties is documented to have been the security forces' use of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF): a loosely organised vigilante force comprised of locals. They were given wide authority to carry out arrests, interrogations and pass sentences, with very little training to match these responsibilities. This, together with the suspension of an already fragile system of rights and laws, resulted in a culture of impunity with arbitrary arrests, killings, and abuse of power.54 However, according to some analysts, the CJTF also contributed positively to the fight against Boko Haram by providing motivated fighters with good knowledge of local communities, languages and people, who could help security forces do surveillance and provide local intelligence.55 This was seen in Boko Haram’s response to the CJTF, as towns with CJTF members were subjected to particularly violent treatment to deter people from joining.56
Boko Haram-perpetrated violence also increased in this period marked by an increased militarisation manifested in the use of heavy weaponry, such as anti-aircraft guns, armoured vehicles, and conventionalised attacks on military targets. Some of the weapons were acquired through the vibrant arms trade in the area and possibly because of the increased availability of weapons following the 2011 destabilisation of Libya.57 However, most weapons were acquired from looting police stations and army bases, and from commandeering weapons from fleeing soldiers. As the author learned from talking to soldiers and people affiliated with the campaign, Nigerian security forces and soldiers have throughout been provided with inadequate weapons, pay, training, benefits, pension, security for family members, access to medical facilities, and operational assets. Combined with bad leadership, this has resulted in an unwillingness to fight as well as instances of outright mutiny.58 Endemic corruption and mismanagement in the Nigerian security establishment has to a large extent created this situation, even leading to instances where personnel have been suspected of providing Boko Haram with intelligence and weapons.59 Officials have likely had an interest in prolonging the conflict to divert resources to their areas for embezzlement (e.g. ‘Dasukigate’60), amounting to over $2 billion and involving more than 300 individuals. Put together, these factors have exacerbated the evolution and potential of Boko Haram, and, as one researcher points out, made the “track record of the Nigerian military in countering Boko Haram … a miserable one."61
As most theories on insurgencies recognise, an insurgent group relies on popular support for its existence and operational capacity, as expressed in the famous Maoist saying that the population is to insurgents what water is to fish. This correspondingly applies to a counter-insurgency effort.62 As David Kilcullen argues, there is a simple reason why you need to protect non-combatants in a counterinsurgency: "they [the insurgents] rely on local populations, and … while guerrillas are fluid, populations are fixed." The centre of gravity in a counterinsurgency is therefore the population.63 Successfully to defeat an insurgent-group, the literature agrees that the counter-insurgency effort needs to emphasise building trust and providing security and development to locals, while removing incentives for joining or supporting the insurgents. This seems, together with corruption and mismanagement, to have been a main shortcoming in the campaign against Boko Haram, especially concerning the events of 2013/2014.

3) Territorial aspirations

Boko Haram’s first large-scale military operation in December 2013 seems to have been directed at disrupting the security forces' air capacity, when hundreds of Boko Haram fighters attacked the air base in Maiduguri and destroyed several planes.64 In July-August 2014, the group launched a range of coordinated large-scale military operations with the clear aim of seizing and holding territory. First in July, when Damboa was attacked and seized, and in August when Gwoza was declared as the main seat of their territory. Later in August Gamboru/Ngala came under Boko Haram’s control, which meant that they had effectively encircled Maiduguri. The group, which five years before had confronted the Nigerian security forces with machetes, bows, arrows and stolen weapons,65 was now routing the security forces, as town after town saw the black jihadi flag raised above it.
It is still unclear why Boko Haram started to seize and hold territory, and what facilitated this process. However, it seems important to note that this process began in the beginning of 2013. According to sources, Boko Haram controlled the Local Government Areas (LGA) of Abadam, Mobbar, Kukawa, Guzamala, Gubio, Marte, Ngala and Kala Balge by January 2013.66 These LGAs roughly comprise large parts of Boko Haram’s later territory north of Maiduguri, and would turn out to be some of the most persistent areas of Boko Haram control.67 In April 2013, Boko Haram had allegedly added the LGAs of Magumeri, Kaga, Nganzai and Monguno as well as parts of Bama and Konduga to their areas of control.68 This meant that by the time of the 2013 State of Emergency, Boko Haram had a profound presence in the territory north of Maiduguri. By the end of 2013, Boko Haram allegedly fully controlled the hills around Gwoza, which to a large extent was aided by successful infiltration of and collaboration with local communities.69 In addition, in 2013 Boko Haram initiated a campaign of kidnaping men to fill their military ranks and women for logistics and domestic work such as cooking, cleaning and general maintenance of camp life, culminating in the April 2014 kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok.70 According to Freedom Onuoha, the kidnappings should be seen as the first sign of state aspirations, as they needed more fighters to take territory and as women were used for reproduction.71 Furthermore, many women and girls have been subjected to sexual violence and forced marriages, which in addition to the reproductive aspect could be seen as a means to provide incentives for male fighters to join or remain in the group.72 These factors may suggest a long-term strategy.
It is debatable, however, whether the territorial transition was a result of a long-term strategy. Boko Haram exercised control of territories in the beginning of 2013, but a significant territorial presence was not witnessed until the state of emergency was declared and Boko Haram was driven from its urban centres. This seems to testify to an urban-centred strategy that was disrupted, prompting the group to change its course and modes of operation. This means that the territorial transition was initially more a product of circumstances than strategy. It can, therefore, further be suggested that the 2014 territorial campaign was a product of the group's continuous success and growth despite the state of emergency, which seems only to have been effective in urban centres. The bigger the group grew in numbers, the more resources the group needed and claimed through looting and smuggling. The better weapons they requisitioned by commandeering Nigerian security forces' hardware and through external links and allies, the more difficult it became to function clandestinely, and the sounder it became to create a situation, where fighters, logistics, supplies, etc. could be organised in strongholds of occupied areas rather than held in hidden caches. Finally, housing tens of thousands of militants makes it more difficult to hide, and in the end, the group was perhaps forced to take a stand. The attack on the air force base could testify to this, as the Nigerian state's air capacity has been and still is one of its main advantages against the insurgents (although its actual implementation and efficacy are disputed). In this sense Boko Haram's territorial ambitions was a product of necessity, i.e. circumstances and successes dictating or capacities affecting and shaping ideas.
Some again see Boko Haram's territorial campaign as an expression of a plan to encircle Maiduguri,73 which could additionally be seen as a strategy to seal off the area (primarily in Borno State, Northern Adamawa and possibly parts of Niger and Cameroon) with the intention of establishing control over it. In addition it could be argued that the delays between each campaign (south-west began on 4 July, south-east on 5 August and north on 24 August) was a result of a need to redirect the main battle force, or a conscious strategy to confuse and stretch the capacity of security forces, by creating numerous centres of attention. Furthermore, Boko Haram destroyed bridges and occupied main roads, thereby effectively sealing their territory and cutting off Maiduguri.74 However, if Maiduguri was intended as a capital, the proclamation of Gwoza as the new state's capital appears premature. In addition, if one could talk about a conscious strategy of seizing and holding territory, it still comes down to what one believes it takes to mobilise, organise, manoeuvre people and resources, and conduct the kind of operations that Boko Haram did.
Another debate supporting the idea of a conscious territorial strategy is that Boko Haram aimed at establishing a caliphate in Northeast Nigeria. On 24 August 2014 Shekau, according to some, proclaimed that Boko Haram had established "the caliphate". Daveed Gartenstein-Ross later argued that he did not use the word ‘caliphate’ but 'state'.75 It can also be questioned whether Boko Haram could successfully establish a caliphate without naming a Caliph or using another kind of theological justification? Ukoha Ukiwo pointed out in an interview that the idea about a caliphate only emerged after the Islamic State had declared theirs. Kyari Mohammed equally argued in an interview that the caliphate-narrative emerged as a post-IS reflection.76 When Boko Haram aligned themselves with IS, it was also as a province (Gharb) of the caliphate and not as a caliphate in itself. They thus became a part of something beyond the region: part of the ummah (the global community of Muslims as defined by IS). 77
Shekau standing in front of fighters giving a speech in 201578
Considerations on how insurgent groups generally behave can give some suggestions as to why Boko Haram developed in the way they did. Nori Katagiri argues that although "weak actors have a natural inclination toward guerrilla war", most have historically waged conventionalised warfare because of their propensity to imitate high-capacity actors and because of the symbols of power and modernity that conventional weapons accord.79 Boko Haram has frequently flaunted their military capacities in videos and pictures. When Shekau speaks, he often stands in front of brand-new Toyota Hiluxes with heavily armed insurgents standing around him. This could be seen as an imitation of the power associated with modernity but also as an imitation of outside actors conveying a message of capabilities, intentions and successes.
Conducting signal actions to appeal to outside actors is argued by Brynjar Lia to be a mainstay of contemporary jihadi organisations who establish territory. Jihadists often establish fragile state-like entities, which they quickly undermine by being internally and externally aggressive. These Lia calls ‘jihadi proto-states’ (JPS). Most of them are Emirates, as Emirates theologically can only assert authority over a local territory, whereas a caliphate is directed at the entire ummah (global community of Muslims).80 Al Qaeda affiliates have typically established Emirates, whereas IS affiliates establish provinces of the caliphate.81 JPS are characterised by performing ‘signal actions’ in their territories to promote themselves, such as establishing sharia and promoting righteousness, call for jihad against the enemies of God and referring to pan-Islamic projects and identities. This is often because one of the JPS's primary objectives is to appeal to external actors. This often happens at the expense of local populations, which decreases the popularity of the group.82
Lia's JPS concept seems adequately to describe Boko Haram's territory: a weak entity undermining its own basis of popular support with internal aggressiveness, and provoking local, regional and international actors with external aggressiveness. Added to this are the attempts of performing 'signal actions' through the sporadic implementation of Islamic laws and practices, raising their black flag, renaming cities, and an extensive campaign of church burning. According to hunters from Numan interviewed by the author, burning the churches was often one of the first things Boko Haram did, together with looting banks and pharmacies, when occupying cities. According to the hunters, churches are easy to destroy, and could be done as a part of the general victory celebration. Usually all the wood benches, chairs and other materials would be gathered in the middle of the church, then drenched in gasoline and set on fire. The heat from the fire in itself was enough to make the roof of the church collapse and render the building unusable.
Burned-out church. Unknown location.83
Interview with a Hunter leader (Sarkin) in Numan84
Although there are sporadic accounts of governance-like activities, such as policing markets, settling disputes, banning cigarettes, and forcing men to grow beards and women to wear veils, there does not seem to have been any systematic top-down attempts to govern the territory.85 People in former occupied territory visited by the author in Northern Adamawa, such as the town of Mubi, similarly relayed how their occupiers had encouraged them to open markets and go on with their daily lives while they simultaneously burned, looted and exploited towns and villages. In the village of Michika the power plant was destroyed, the hospital looted, along with all pharmacies, and executed people were dumped in the boreholes contaminating the water supply. The city was left without water, electricity, medical equipment and medicine.
Herfried Münkler further argues that many actors in contemporary conflicts “use military force essentially for self-preservation, without seriously looking for military solutions to the war."86 They become what William Reno, among others, has labelled ‘warlord rebels’: criminal para-state entities emerging in context of weak centralised power, sustaining themselves by controlling the local population through intimidation.87 The primary aim of warlords is to sustain themselves through generating resources from the areas under their control: natural resources, tax collection, or whatever is at their disposal. This requires a minimum level of governance and organisation of the territory, which is what separates them from mere bandits who only commit crime without any form of governance.88 Although there are speculations about oil deposits in the Lake Chad basin fuelling the conflict, there are no actors in the area capable of extracting the oil89, nor are there many additional resources. Boko Haram was therefore left with the population itself as its target for conquest, and what the population owned (banks, pharmacies, goods, livestock, food etc.) as its primary source of income through looting and smuggling.
Anke Hoeffler argues that wars in Africa historically "were typically not fought over land but people, the scarce resource in Africa."90 As Paul Jackson argues, African wars predominantly follow pre-colonial patterns, meaning that theories of evolutions in warfare are often misplaced when it comes to Africa. Therefore, rather than seeing African modes of warfare as a novelty, one should recognise their rootedness in tradition and history from precolonial and colonial times.91 Following this line of thought, one could look at the considerations of Murray Last, who argues that there is a tradition of state withdrawal in Muslim Nigeria. This has been enacted when the social contract with the local authority was broken, compelling people to withdraw from the influence of local authorities to establish farmland or new puritanical communities elsewhere. Today, however, with the increased influence of states, there is nowhere to withdraw to, and physical withdrawal has been replaced by mental disengagement: to turn one's attention away from the state and engage in nonstate institutions, e.g. Koranic schools.92 In Boko Haram's case, it could be suggested that both disengagement and withdrawal could not be done without confronting the state and eventually carving out their own territory. The Nigerian Taliban's violent end in Kanama, the harassment of Yusuf's community and Boko Haram's eventual expulsion from urban centres seems to testify to this. This again plays into the ‘circumstances dictating strategy’ narrative.


4) Setbacks: from technical to actual defeat?

2015 began with Boko Haram's largest massacre to date. The town of Baga on the shores of Lake Chad is a garrison town for the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF) consisting of soldiers from Niger, Chad, Cameroon, and Nigeria. When Boko Haram came to the town in January 2015, its residents assisted the soldiers in trying to repel the attack. After routing the soldiers, Boko Haram took a gruesome revenge on the residents – as many as 2,000 people were massacred.93 Subsequently the group released two videos. One of the videos featured the group's leader Shekau, who taunted the Nigerian army while he braggingly showed captured weaponry and took responsibility for killing the town’s’ "infidels". In the other video a hitherto unknown person was seen portraying the massacre as self-defence, inviting all Muslims to move to the conquered territory, and ending the video by burning a Nigerian flag.94
The massacre in Baga could be viewed as a reaction to the significant defeats the group had suffered in the prior weeks. The Nigerian army and supporting forces from the MJTF were gaining momentum with help from local hunters with a tradition for fighting cattle rustlers and road bandits, who had organised self-defence groups, and a private military firm named Specialized Task, Training, Equipment and Protection, which had been contracted by the state.95 The plethora of actors involved in the campaign against Boko Haram and their individual roles and positive and negative contributions are beyond the scope of the present paper’s analysis. Nevertheless, their significance to Boko Haram's setbacks deserves mentioning.
Concurrently with experiencing setbacks, the group swore allegiance to a (at the time) new player on the global jihadi scene: The Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL, later Islamic State, IS). IS had proclaimed a territorial caliphate from the city of Mosul in June 2014. In March 2015, Boko Haram was praised in the IS magazine Dabiq, where they were referred to by the name al-Wilāyat al-Islāmiyya Gharb Afrīqiyyah (Islamic State's West African Province, ISWAP).96 After swearing allegiance, Boko Haram experienced a temporary success.97 In addition, the alliance was manifested in the group's propaganda videos. However, Boko Haram never managed to exploit the initial success and regain the offensive, losing significant parts of their territory throughout 2015.
Another important factor in the success against Boko Haram was the election of Nigeria's sitting president Mohammad Buhari. He started to deal with many of the problems, which had prevented an effective response to the crisis. He installed new officers and moved the military command to the centre of the crisis, Maiduguri. The new chief of army staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, was shown making push-ups with the soldiers at the front line – a huge contrast to former desktop officers, who had directed the military operations from offices far away from the frontlines.98 Additionally Buhari immediately sought to address the problems of corruption and mismanagement in the Nigerian defence establishment. The strategy seemed to have effect, and in December 2015, he declared a deadline: By January 2016, Boko Haram would be defeated.99 Although this did not happen, he boldly stated to the press on 24 December 2015, "technically, we have won the war".100
A year later Buhari declared that Boko Haram was now definitively defeated as the remaining elements of the insurgent-group were fleeing in total disarray, according to the army, and an unnamed Boko Haram commander was allegedly arrested in Lagos in South-East Nigeria,101 far away from the group's traditional areas of operations. Through 2016, the group suffered defeat upon defeat, and it is beyond doubt that the group has been significantly weakened. Thousands of civilians have been liberated from former Boko Haram territory. Main roads in Borno State – which has been closed for years – have been reopened, and IDPs have been able to return to their home cities and towns. Does this mean that Boko Haram is defeated?
In this regard, it is still unanswered where the remaining Chibok-girls are. Of the 276 kidnapped girls, 196 remain missing.102 Thousands of other men, women, and children have been kidnapped by the group, and liberated again, without being given much attention.103 During the latest Nigerian army operations, it has been reported that more than 1,900 people have been liberated with no references to the Chibok-girls being made.104 Another issue is the location of the Boko Haram leadership. There have been no reports of top commanders being arrested or killed. In addition, as noted in the beginning, the name Boko Haram does not designate a coherent constellation of groups and actors. This calls for reflection about what or whom one is referring to when talking about defeating Boko Haram as a group. In August 2016, the group released a video where the unknown person from the second video released after the Baga massacre was seen stating that Shekau was dead and that the unknown person had assumed leadership of ISWAP. The unknown person turned out to be Musab al-Barnawi, son of the founder of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf. Later a clearly agitated Shekau released a video, where he made it clear that he was not dead, but that he was leader of the group, which he designated using Boko Haram's former name, JAS. It has been suggested that the split was caused by a disagreement about how to implement directives from IS, and it is argued that IS could have facilitated the change in leadership.105 However, it is unknown how the relationship between the two groups has developed. Ansaru gradually realigned with the main Boko Haram faction under Shekau, especially after the French intervention in Mali in 2013 disrupted their links with AQIM.106 A result of the 2016 split is very likely that, when applying the name Boko Haram, we are now designating at least two groups, which complicates the question of whether the group has been defeated.


5) 2017 and beyond?

On 16 January 2017, Boko Haram again showed their continued capacity for violence, when three suicide bombers detonated themselves at the University of Maiduguri, killing one professor and wounding 17 students. Among the attackers was a 12-year-old girl.107 The presence of young girls and women in Boko Haram suicide attacks, although rare in conflicts in general, has become a hallmark for the group. According to the research Institute Stratfor, Boko Haram is the group that has utilised most women as suicide bombers in history. In addition, the group has relied on coercion to mobilise women for suicide attacks.108 As argued by Felicia Woron: “It is not the group’s use of females that is particularly shocking … but its use of coercion: Historically, suicide bombing has been known to be voluntary.”109 As Elizabeth Pearson argues, women are not, as their male counterparts, given any public glory when carrying out operations: We do not know their names, they do not appear in propaganda videos, indicating that they are used as a form of human artillery.110 Additionally the group has utilised a hitherto unseen proportion of children as suicide bombers. Many things suggest that the children have not necessarily been aware of what they have been doing, and in some cases have been strapped with remotely controlled bombs.111
Such suicide attacks are a striking example of the group's adaptability and resilience. Buhari's electoral victory in May 2015 was followed by a massive campaign of suicide attacks in June and July. Only two days after Buhari had stated that the group was 'technically defeated', it carried out a wave of simultaneous suicide attacks, which killed over 50 and wounded over 100 people.112 Suicide attacks have been effectively used by the group to put pressure on security forces, undermine and challenge the legitimacy and authority of the state, intimidate and exhaust the local population, to show initiative when on the defensive and maintain a presence in urban centres. As the attacks in 2017 illustrate, it is still a capacity the group can muster. It is also a reminder that even if the group is defeated militarily, it will not necessarily mean a complete end to the violence. As various stakeholders also pointed out when interviewed in late 2015, the group will likely retract to the local communities from where they came and form underground terror cells.
Ruthlessness and adaptability have simultaneously been Boko Haram's biggest strength and weakness. Their willingness to exploit taboos and break social norms, use indiscriminate violence and adopt a wide range of tactics to outmanoeuvre security forces, checkpoints, and local vigilantes manning markets etc., has been a key to successes in their operations. Nevertheless, it has also been a main factor alienating them from the local population.
In the near future, it is possible that Boko Haram will disappear into the region in the vast populated areas or blend in with the civilian population. It is unknown on what grounds the security forces base their assumption: that they have cleared the group's last base. As geographers from Gombe State University explained to the author, the Sambisa Forest stretches across a large territory and into the surrounding countries. Furthermore, throughout its existence the group has exploited the porous borders, vast savannahs, and the mountain terrain along the Cameroonian border, known as the Mandara Mountains, as hideouts and logistical points to carry out attacks. Since 2015, the group has carried out a range of attacks in neighbouring countries, possibly to deter these countries from participating in the MJTF and because they have been forced to expand their operations to secure smuggling connections, food supplies, recruits and logistics.
Boko Haram has further likely been able to take advantage of networks of affiliates throughout the region. Northeast Nigeria is part of the old Kanem-Bornu Empire that stretched across Chad, parts of Niger, Cameroon, and Libya. The ethnic majority in these areas is the Kanuri, who are said to have made up the majority of Boko Haram members.113 Boko Haram has likely been able to exploit such linguistic, cultural, religious, and kinship relationships to create networks across the region. In addition high-ranking members such as Mamman Nur, who is from Cameroon, or Khalid al-Barnawi, who allegedly smuggled cigarettes and cocaine with AQIM commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar, have had existing networks across the region and continent. Between the 2009 crackdown and the 2010 resurfacing of Boko Haram, Nur went to Somalia to train with al-Shabab and Khalid al-Barnawi to Algeria to train with AQIM. Shekau has, together with other members, allegedly used Mali as a sanctuary.114 It is uncertain how many of these connections are still intact as well as what new connections Boko Haram has established throughout the African continent. Some sources state that the group has contacts to cells in the Senegal as well as to Séléka rebels in the Central African Republic.115 Others state that it has recently reached out to the Allied Defence Force in the Democratic Republic of Congo.116 Thus, it is feared that the group could re-mobilise or seek to plug-in to other conflicts in the region. In the near future, the ability to establish regional collaboration to dismantle the terror or insurgency networks will be decisive in terms of developing sustainable security solutions in the region.
Throughout Boko Haram's existence, it has been more or less unclear what its main objective is. This has made it very difficult to initiate negotiations with the group, in contrast to the Niger Delta Militants. They had very specific objectives, which basically came down to wanting a piece of the cake in light of the endemic exploitation of local oil resources and consequent destruction of the natural environment traditionally sustaining the communities.117 They were therefore possible to co-opt with money and job opportunities. Boko Haram's sporadic remarks about ‘fighting to establish sharia in Nigeria and the rest of the world’118 do not provide a clear foundation for negotiations. In addition, it is unclear if Boko Haram members can be reintegrated into society. Sources describe how women released from Boko Haram captivity are received with mistrust, fear, and discrimination. People fear that they have been brainwashed to follow Boko Haram's militant ideology.119 It is very likely that people who have joined the group voluntarily will be received with similar mistrust. As argued by Kyari Mohammed, Boko Haram members cannot surrender, as they have good reasons to fear being killed by security forces, and they cannot return home to their communities, as everyone knows what they have done. They are therefore left with no other option than to fight to the end, as there is no incentive to surrender.120


A new chapter?

Even if Boko Haram can be militarily defeated, the root causes of its emergence are still in place. The explosive mixture of underdevelopment, poverty, religious frustrations, and violations by security forces equally created an insurgency called the Maitatsine in the 1980s, which can be seen as a precursor to the Boko Haram crisis.121 Lately a movement called the Islamic Movement of Nigeria clashed with security forces under circumstances, which to a frightening degree are reminiscent of the events that catalysed Boko Haram into existence.122 The Nigerian state and security establishment still have to show the lessons learned from dealing with a violent, radical insurgent group, and the challenges facing especially the North-eastern region seem to be greater than ever. However, the challenge Boko Haram has represented to the state may paradoxically be a potential driver for positive change. Because the systemic causes of poverty, corruption and mismanagement that have fuelled and exacerbated the conflict have, as argued by Johannes Harnischfeger, "made it clear that the rotten political system in the North [is] no longer sustainable".123
Although Buhari's anti-corruption measures seemed to have a tangible effect within the security forces, with high-ranking officers being arrested or replaced with corruption charges, and a visible turnaround in the campaign against Boko Haram, two years of Buhari’ precidency has not yet resulted in any overall systemic changes to the negative impacts of corruption on the Nigerian economy. The oil sector is still plagued by corruption, and Buhari's presidency has not changed Nigeria's ranking on the International Transparency Corruption Index. Furthermore, Buhari fell ill in March 2017 and has largely been away from office since, leaving many Nigerians and outside observers confused and nervous about what is going to happen (a situation similar to the one Nigerians experienced in 2009 under the then president Yadur, which resulted in Nigeria's former president Goodluck Jonathan coming into office). Oil prices have dropped heavily, affecting the Nigerian economy and casting doubt over how the country will deal with its many crises. How will it affect the fight against Boko Haram and how will it affect the relief effort for the North East region? Furthermore, will Nigeria in the end be able to deliver the “Marshall Plan” intended for the region?124
In conclusion, it is worth noting that the evolution of Boko Haram has shaped it as a highly flexible, adaptable, and resilient group. Its revolutionary turn to violence in 2009 launched the group on a trajectory characterised by a logic of retaliation, which made it highly opportunistic, flexible, and indiscriminate in its possible allegiances, methods, and operations. Although the ideological and intellectual background of the group should not be understated and has continuously informed its modes of targets and operations, Boko Haram has been willing to adopt a 'means over ends' approach to adaptation and survival. However, this has created negative outcomes for the group, as its ruthlessness undermined their popular support. This has furthermore damaged their relationship with potential allies. Even IS has allegedly condemned Boko Haram's use of child suicide bombers.125
The successes of Boko Haram have also been supported by the unproductive counterinsurgency campaign of the Nigerian security forces, as well as the rampant corruption and mismanagement in the defence establishment. Added to this, but not treated in the paper, is the extensive local financial support Boko Haram most likely obtained initially from politicians and people of influence.126 This support was significantly reduced or halted, however, as the group became more violent and uncontrollable. Although the impact of and actual relation to al-Qaeda and IS disputed and unclear, such external support is usually considered important for insurgents to succeed. As O'Neill argues: "unless governments are utterly incompetent, devoid of political will, and lacking resources, insurgent organisations normally must obtain outside assistance if they are to succeed."127
Boko Haram in its current form can definitely not be said to have succeeded. But that the group evolved to a point, where they, albeit for a short time, actually managed to seize and hold territory with relatively limited means in a country priding itself of its military tradition, international military engagement and of being the biggest economy in Africa calls for further attention. Although some factors suggest that this was a conscious strategy, most point to a strategy evolving out of circumstances. Their growth in resources, capacities and people points to a need for strongholds, as well as a need to sustain a growing military organisation with food, weapons and incentives for fighters to stay in or join the group (whether monetary, status-related, familial or sexual), making them a warlord-like organisation. In addition, maintaining their external links could have provided an incentive to take territory, as this could be used to send signals of commitment, status and capacities to external actors; both through the military campaign and through symbolic actions. The relative prisms of the Nigerian state in the territory could also have shaped their territorial ambition, as it was impossible for the group to withdraw and establish itself anywhere without being confronted by the security apparatus.
However, Boko Haram's ruthless adaptability has allowed it to utilise a wide range of strategic and tactical assets, which has supported its survivability, and given it a great impact with limited means. Through the effect of terrorism, it has maintained a presence and exercised an influence over large parts of north and central Nigeria, placed an immense pressure on security forces, discredited the Nigerian state and provoked harsh security measures causing resentment in local populations. Their willingness to exploit cultural taboos, change tactics and methods of operations and their ability to move over borders and in local communities makes it likely that the group will continue to be able to spread violence and terror in the region in 2017. The whereabouts of the Chibok-girls, high-ranking commanders like Shekau, Musab al-Barnawi, and Nur, knowledge about the workings of the different factions, and regional networks still leave questions to be answered and dealt with, before the Boko Haram crisis can effectively be concluded. Even then, the massive humanitarian catastrophe created by the crisis, which to some extent has also exacerbated the unaddressed root causes of the crisis, most likely mean that the beginning of the end to Boko Haram is also the beginning of the beginning to other challenges of instability.


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48 Olojo, A. (2013). Nigeria's Troubled North: Interrogating the Drivers of Public Support for Boko Haram (ICCT Research Paper). The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague (ICCT), p. 11; Amnesty International: Stars on their shoulders. Blood on their hands. War crimes committed by the Nigerian military., 2015
49 Allen, N.: Charting Boko Haram’s Rapid Decline., September 22, 2016
50 Amnesty International: Nigeria: Boko Haram and Nigerian military committing crimes under international law in north-east Nigeria: Amnesty International written statement to the 28th session of the UN Human Rights Council (2 – 27 March 2015)., February 20, 2015
51 Nigeria Giwa barracks 'a place of death' says Amnesty., 11 May, 2016
52 Mohammed, K.: The message and methods of Boko Haram. In Montclos, M. A. P. d. (Ed.), Islamism, politics, security and the state in Nigeria. African Studies Centre, Leiden, pp. 9-33, 2014: p. 28; Human Rights Watch: Spiralling Violence – Boko Haram attacks and security forces abuses in Nigeria., 2012: p. 10; Montclos, M. A. P. d. BOKO HARAM AND POLITICS: FROM INSURGENCY TO TERRORISM. In: Montclos, M. A. P. d. (Ed.), Islamism, politics, security and the state in Nigeria. African Studies Centre, Leiden, 135-157, 2014: p. 151
53 Picture taken by an unknown CJTF member. Obtained by the author during fieldwork by an anonymous source. Faces have been blurred.
54 Amnesty International: Stars on their shoulders. Blood on their hands. War crimes committed by the Nigerian military., 2015; Mbah, P., & Nwangwu, C. The Counter-Insurgence Operations of the Joint Task Force and Human Rights Abuses in Northern Nigeria, 2011─ 2013. Journal of Educational and Social Research, 4(5), 2014: p. 57
55 Comolli, V.: Boko Haram: Nigeria's Islamist insurgency. Oxford University Press, 2015: p. 123; Walker, A.: What is Boko Haram? US Institute of Peace (Vol. 17), 2012: p. 6 & 9; Walker, A.: 'Eat the Heart of the Infidel': The Harrowing of Nigeria and the Rise of Boko Haram. Hurst Publishers, 2016: 180; Onuoha, F. C.: Terrorism in Nigeria: The Case of Boko Haram. Lecture delivered at the Program on Terrorism and Security Studies, George C. Marshall European Centre for Security Studies, Germany, 2014: p. 8; Smith, M.: Boko Haram: Inside Nigeria's Unholy War. IB Tauris, 2015: p. 163; Higazi, A.: Mobilisation into and against Boko Haram in North-East Nigeria. In: Collective Mobilisations in Africa/Mobilisations collectives en Afrique. Brill, pp. 305-358, 2015: p. 344
56 Cook, D.: Boko Haram: A New Islamic State in Nigeria (Doctoral dissertation, Rice University). 2014: p. 16
57 Higazi, A. Mobilization into and against Boko Haram in North-East Nigeria. In: K. Tall, M. E. Pommerolle, & M. Cahen (Edp.).: Collective Mobilisation in Africa: Contestations, Resistance, Revolt. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 305–358, 2015: p. 339; Burgess, C. B.: Boko Haram's Strategy Deconstructed: A Case Study Comparison Between Boko Haram and the Algerian National Liberation Front. A thesis presented to the Faculty of the U.P. Army Command and General Staff College, 2015. Retrieved from p. 83; Abdulkadir Badsha Mukhtar: Nigeria: Ghaddafi's Fall Fuelled Boko Haram – Obasanjo., September 14, 2012; ABE GREENWALD: UNSECURED LIBYAN WEAPONS WENT TO BOKO HARAM., May 8, 2014. That Boko Haram should have obtained weapons from Libya was difficult to substantiate during fieldwork. Hunters and soldiers could not positively say that they had seen the insurgents use weapons not already available in the area. One Red Cross worker claimed to have seen Boko Haram use aid agency vehicle, which he meant had to be from outside Nigeria, possibly Libya. But that was the only such story the author heard about. Pictures of weapons, ammunition and vehicles captured from Boko Haram, which the author presented to an army officer in the Danish Defence, did not show any clear signs of weapons or other things, which in his opinion is not already widely available throughout the African Continent.
58 Solomon, H.: Counter-terrorism in Nigeria: responding to Boko Haram. The RUSI Journal, 157(4), pp. 6-11, 2012: pp. 8-9; Human Rights Watch: Spiralling Violence – Boko Haram attacks is and security forces abuses in Nigeria., 2012: p. 25; Nigerian government attacks Jonathan over Boko Haram weapons claim., February 1, 2016; Audu, O., Tukur, P., & Ibeh, N.: Boko Haram: Mutiny as Nigerian soldiers shoot at commanding officer’s vehicle., March 14, 2014
59 Bodansky, Y.: The Islamic State in West Africa – Boko Haram Up-Date II. 2015. Retrieved from p. 2; Faul, M.: Nigerian Military: Some Officers Selling Arms to Boko Haram., September 4, 2016
60 Dasukigate: EFCC arrests Buhari’s associate, APC chieftain, Jafaru Isa., January 7, 2016; Ahmad, M.: Dasukigate: Why I won’t return NSA’s N53m Anenih gave me – Tanko Yakasai., January 6, 2016; Alli, Y.: $2.1bn arms scandal: Ladoja got N100m from Anenih, Accord Party confesses., January 9, 2016; Blanchard, L. P.: Nigeria's Boko Haram: Frequently Asked Questions. Current Politics and Economics of Africa, 7(2), 143, 2014: p. 10
61 Montclos, M.A. P. d.: BOKO HARAM AND POLITICS: FROM INSURGENCY TO TERRORISM. In Montclos, M. A. P. d. (Ed.): Islamism, politics, security and the state in Nigeria. African Studies Centre, Leiden, pp.135-157, 2014: p. 151
62 O’Neill, B. Insurgency & Terrorism. Brassey’s, Virginia, 1990: p. 13; Trinquier R.: Modern warfare: a French view of counterinsurgency. Greenwood Publishing Group; 2006: p. xii; Mackinlay, J.: The insurgent archipelago: from Mao to bin Laden. Columbia University Press, 2009: p. 4; Sloan, E. C.: Modern military strategy: an introduction. Routledge, 2012: p. 68
63 Kilcullen, D.: Counterinsurgency. Oxford University Press, 2010: p. 7
64 Comolli, V.: Boko Haram: Nigeria's Islamist insurgency: Oxford University Press, 2015: p. 128
65 Wole Soyinka: Wole Soyinka on Nigeria's Anti-Christian Terror Sect Boko Haram., January 16, 2012
66 Aminu Abubakar: Violence grinds healthcare to a halt in Nigeria's Borno State.; Boko Haram blow up bridge linking Nigeria and Cameroon to deter military pursuers., February 15, 2014
67 Ndahi Marama: Boko Haram not occupying any local govt in Borno — GOV SHETTIMA. vanguard, February 9, 2016; Maina Maina. Boko Haram still controls Abadam, Mobbar in Borno – IDPs., January 22, 2016
68 Tension as Boko Haram paralyses activities in 10 LGAs in Borno., April 20, 2013
69; Walker, A.: 'Eat the Heart of the Infidel': The Harrowing of Nigeria and the Rise of Boko Haram. Hurst Publishers, 2016: pp. 157-158
70 Matfess, H.: Boko Haram is enslaving women, making them join the war., August 2, 2016; Hinshaw, D. & Parkinson, J.: The 10,000 Kidnapped Boys of Boko Haram., August 12, 2016; Bolashodun, O.: Boko Haram: 45,000 People Have Been Kidnapped - Repp., 2015; Shearlaw, M.: Did the #bringbackourgirls campaign make a difference in Nigeria?, April 14, 2015
71 Interview: Freedom Onuoha, 15/12/15, Nigerian Defence College, Abuja
72 Human Rights Watch: Those terrible weeks in their camps – Boko Haram Violence against Women and Girls in Northeast Nigeria., 2014: Chap. II
73 Boko Haram seizes strategic Nigerian town., September 2, 2014
74 Grossman, L. Boko Haram gains ground., July 22, 2014;,Boko Haram seizes villages, towns in Nigeria., August 26, 2014; Nigeria Security Tracker: July 2014., August 8, 2014; Ibeh, N.: Nigerian troops dislodge Boko Haram, retake Bama after days of fighting., March 16, 2015
75 Cook, D.: BOKO HARAM: A New ISLAMIC STATE IN NIGERIA (Doctoral dissertation, RICE UNIVERSITY). 2014: p. 15; Voll, J. O.: Boko Haram: Religion and Violence in the 21st Century. Religions, 6(4), pp. 1182-1202, 2015: p. 1196; Daveed Gartenstein-Ross: ‘Boko Haram Did Not Declare a Caliphate’., September 4, 2014
76 “the new narrative about the caliphate is a post ISIL… That is when the caliphate narrative emerged." Interview with Ukoha Ukiwo, Abuja, 13.11.2015
"At the time they declare the caliphate, it was shortly after ISIS had declared the caliphate, they thought: Oh, my god, we should have done this long time ago. So for me it was just like an attempt to key into international developments." Interview with Kyari Mohammed, Yola, 19.11.2015
77 In issue 8 of Dabiq in an article entitled 'Sharia alone will rule Africa' (Bodansky, Y.: The Islamic State in West Africa – Boko Haram Up-Date. Retrieved from, 2015: p. 3). See also Michael S. Smith II: 'DABIQ ISSUE 8: SHAR’IAH ALONE WILL RULE AFRICA'., March 31, 2015
78 Picture taken from
79 Katagiri N.: Suicidal Armies: Why Do Rebels Fight Like an Army and Keep Losing? Comparative Strategy. 32(4), pp. 354-77, 2013: 354, 358
80 Lia, B.: En undersøgelse af islamistiske statsdannelsesforsøg. In: Splittelsen i Global Jihad - Kampen mellem IS og al-Qaeda. DIIS, Danish Institute for International Studies, Copenhagen, Denmark, pp. 30-43, 2016: pp. 31-32
81 Crone, M. IS’ indtog i Nordafrika og Sahel. In: Splittelsen i Global Jihad - Kampen mellem IS og al-Qaeda. DIIS, Danish Institute for International Studies, 2016, pp. 84-99, 2016: p. 85
82 Lia, B.: En undersøgelse af islamistiske statsdannelsesforsøg. In: Splittelsen i Global Jihad - Kampen mellem IS og al-Qaeda. DIIS, Danish Institute for International Studies, Copenhagen, Denmark, pp. 30-43, 2016: pp. 39-40
83 Picture taken by hunters from Numan. The author took a picture of the picture.
84 Picture by author, January 2016.
85 Amnesty International: 'Our job is to shoot, slaughter and kill' – Boko Haram's reign of terror in North-East Nigeria., 2015: pp. 15-17; Thurston, A.: The disease is unbelief’: Boko Haram’s religious and political worldview. The Brookings Project on US Relations with the Islamic World - Analysis Paper., 2016: p. 21
86 Münkler, H.: The new wars. Polity, 2005: p. 12
87 Reno, W.: Warfare in Independent Africa (Vol. 5). Cambridge University Press, 2011: pp. 5-15
88 Beswick D & Jackson P: Conflict, security and development: an introduction. Routledge, 2015: p 41
89 North’s oil find: The conspiracies, the challenges. peoplesdailyng; Personal notes; Boko Haram dims hope of oil exploration in Lake Chad., September 28, 2014
90 Hoeffler, Anke: The Economics of Violent Conflict and War in Africa. In: Célestin Monga & Justin Yifu Lin (ed.): The Oxford Handbook of Africa and Economics, Volume 1: Context and Concepts. Oxford University Press, pp. 706-729, 2015: p. 711
91 Paul Jackson: Are Africa's Wars Part of a Fourth Generation of Warfare? Contemporary Security Policy, 28(2), 2007, pp. 267-285; Paul Jackson: Is Africa Seeing Fourth Generation Warfare, or is the Model Flawed? Small Wars & Insurgencies, 18(2), 2007, pp. 145-160.
92 Last, M. Nation-breaking and not-belonging in Nigeria: withdrawal, resistance, riot? Paper presented at the European Conference on African Studies, Leipzig, 2009: pp. 4-7. See also Hansen, W. B.: Boko Haram: religious radicalism and insurrection in northern Nigeria. Journal of Asian and African Studies, pp. 1-19, 2015: p. 2 & 7
93 Thomas Fessy: Boko Haram attack: What happened in Baga?, February 2, 2015; Rademeyer J. & Whitehead, E.: FACTSHEET: What happened in Baga?, January 20, 2015
94 Lomas, C.: Boko Haram 'leader Abubakar Shekau' claims Baga attack in new video. On Demand News, January 21, 2015. Video retrieved from: (; Audu, O.: Real reason we took Baga – Boko Haram., January 28, 2015
95 Ismail, M.: Boko Haram: Inside Story Of Hunters, Vigilante And Military Offensive Against Insurgents., November 23, 2014. During fieldwork the author interviewed hunters Gombi and Numan, who described how they translated their experiences as hunters and local security providers – especially in relation to tracking down and pacifying cattle rustlers and road bandits who are usually heavily armed – into fighting against Boko Haram militants. Ogunlesi, T.: Nigeria’s Election: Brought to you by hired Guns., March 27, 2015; Nielsen, L. B.: Private Military Companies in Africa – the case of STTEP in Nigeria. Journal of World Development Studies, Gombe State University, Nigeria, Vol 2 (No 2), pp. 50-79, 2016. Revised edition for publication on
96 Bodansky, Y.: The Islamic State in West Africa – Boko Haram Up-Date. 2015. Retrieved from p. 2
97 Philip Obaji Jr.: With Help From ISIS a More Deadly Boko Haram Makes a Comeback., May 26, 2015
98 New Chief Of Army Staff Spends Sallah With Soldiers In Yobe., ?; Interview with security officer in Yola, 18.11.2015
99 Cold-Ravnkilde, P., & Plambech, P.: Boko Haram: From local grievance to violent insurgency. Danish Institute of International Studies, 2015. Retrieved from pp. 34-35; Zenn, J.: Nigeria: Boko Haram is not 'Defeated' but Buhari's Strategy is Working., January 5, 2016; We have defeated Boko Haram, December deadline met, Nigeria says., December 23, 2015
100 Nigeria Boko Haram: Militants 'technically defeated' – Buhari., December 24, 2015
101 Boko Haram Commander Arrested In Lagos As Nigerian Troops Liberate Sambisa Forest., December 26, 2016.
102 Conor Gaffey. Nigeria’s Chibok Girls: How Many Have Escaped Boko Haram?, November 7, 2016
103 Alfred, C.: Boko Haram's Largest School Kidnapping Has Gone Unnoticed., January 4, 2016; Boko Haram kidnap 500 women, children from 'liberated' Nigerian town, residents say.
104 Army searching for Chibok girls seized by Boko Haram., December 28, 2016.
105 Gartenstein-Ross, D. & Zenn, J.: Boko Haram’s Doomed Marriage to the Islamic State., 2016
106 Zenn, J.: Cooperation or competition: Boko Haram and Ansaru after the Mali intervention. CTC Sentinel, 6(3), pp. 1-8, 2013
107 12yo girl among suicide bombers in Nigerian university attack., January 16, 2017
108 An Unprecedented use of Female Suicide Bombers., October 23, 2015
109 Woron, F.: Gender and Violence: Boko Haram’s Coercion of Female Suicide Bombers The., October 4, 2016
110 Elizabeth Pearson: Boko Haram and Nigeria’s Female Bombers. Nigerian Security 35(5), 21 September, 2015
111 Duvillier, L.: Beyond Chibok. UNICEF,, April, 2016; Onuoha, F. C. Boko Haram’s use of Female Suicide Bombing in Nigeria. Al-Jazeera Center for Studies, 2015: p. 7
112 Roggio, B. & Weiss, C.: Female suicide bombers continue to strike in West Africa., December 4, 2015; Nigeria suicide bombers attack Maiduguri and Madagali., December 28, 2015
113 Onuoha, F. C.: Terrorism in Nigeria: The Case of Boko Haram. Lecture delivered at the Program on Terrorism and Security Studies, George C. Marshall European Centre for Security Studies, Germany, 2014: p. 6
114 Zenn, J.: Nigerian al-Qaedaism. Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, 2014, 16, 99-117: p. 112; Zenn, J.: Nigerians in Gao: was Boko Haram really active in Northern Mali? – By Jacob Zenn., January 20, 2014
115 Comolli, V.: Boko Haram: Nigeria's islamist insurgency. Oxford University Press, 2015: 95
116 Barlow, E.: The Rise, Fall, and Rise Again of Boko Haram. Harvard International Review, February 1, 2017. Retrieved from
117 Gambo, A. N.: Conflicts in the Niger Delta and National Security in Nigeria. Mono Expressions, 2012: pp. 53-58
118 Walker, A.: 'Eat the Heart of the Infidel': The Harrowing of Nigeria and the Rise of Boko Haram. Hurst Publishers, 2016: p. 200; Zenn, J.: Cooperation or competition: Boko Haram and Ansaru after the Mali intervention. CTC Sentinel, 6(3), 2013, pp. 1-8: p. 8
119 UNICEF: Bad Blood., 2016
120 Interview with, Kyari Mohammed, Yola, 19.11.2015
121 Aghedo, I.: Old wine in a new bottle: ideological and operational linkages between Maitatsine and Boko Haram revolts in Nigeria. African Security, 7(4), pp. 229-250, 2014
122 Nielsen, L. B.: Kan Nigeria få et nyt Boko Haram?, August 16, 2016
123 Harnischfeger, J.: Boko Haram and its Muslim Critics: Observations from Yobe State. In Montclos, M. A. P. d. (Ed.): Islamism, politics, security and the state in Nigeria. African Studies Centre, Leiden, pp. 33-62, 2014: p. 41
124 DIONNE SEARCEY and TONY IYARE: President Buhari’s Prolonged Absences Put Nigeria on Edge., MAY 8, 2017; Daniel Pelz: Nigeria Is Buhari winning the fight against Boko Haram?, 14.04.2017; Nigeria: Analysts Hail Buhari's War On Corruption, Insecurity, Caution On Economy. Daily Trust,, 29 May 2017. Ashafa Murnai: ANALYSIS: Two years on, Northern supporters await Buhari’s magic., May 30, 2017
125 Gaffey, C.: Boko Haram Splinters With ISIS Over Child Suicide Bombers: U.P. General., June 22, 2016
126 Forest, J. J.: Confronting the terrorism of Boko Haram in Nigeria. Joint Special Operations University, Tampa Point, 2012. Retrieved from pp. 71-72; Mustapha, A. R.: Understanding Boko Haram. In: Sects & Social Disorder: Muslim Identities & Conflict in Northern Nigeria, James Currey, pp. 147-198, 2015: p. 160; Uadiale, M.: Implication of the Political and Economic Factors in the Rise of Boko Haram Insurgence in Nigeria. International Journal of Advanced Legal Studies and Governance, 3(3), pp. 81-100, 2012: pp. 87-88
127 O’Neill, B. Insurgency & Terrorism. Brassey’s, Virginia, 1990: p. 111