from Africa in Transition

Boko Haram and Nigeria’s Culture of Violence

December 26, 2012

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Terrorism and Counterterrorism

Wars and Conflict

Development published today an expert brief Asch Harwood and I co-authored on violence in Nigeria. It is based on the Nigeria Security Tracker (NST) that also went live today. Based on NST data, we conclude that Boko Haram, the radical Islamic insurgency against the Nigerian political economy, is expanding its area of operations. In 2011, Boko Haram violence was largely confined to Nigeria’s northeast. By the end of 2012, the NST had documented Boko Haram related incidents across all of northern Nigeria. We also conclude that Boko Haram’s methods have evolved. The NST documents numerous suicide bombings. Use of suicide bombers was unknown in West Africa, where suicide is culturally anathema, until two such high-profile incidents took place in Abuja during the summer of 2011. The NST also lends credibility to claims by human rights organizations that the Nigerian security services have been responsible for many deaths, at times as many as Boko Haram.

We conclude that while Boko Haram has gained support by propagating a radical Islamist ideology, it is northern alienation, poverty, and bad governance that are the fundamental causes of northern Nigeria’s instability and violence. Nigeria will need to make monumental changes to its political economy in order to address its myriad internal conflicts. That is a tall order for any government. The unanswered question is whether the Nigerian political system has the will to even start the journey.

Tomorrow, I will blog on the NST, describing its methodology.