from Africa in Transition

Boko Haram Pivots Toward Rural Areas in Nigeria

November 19, 2013

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Terrorism and Counterterrorism

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The jihadist insurgency called Boko Haram appears to have reduced its operations in urban areas. This follows the massive deployment of security forces in northeastern Nigeria in line with the Abuja government’s June proclamation of a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa. According to the media, life has almost returned to normal in some parts of Maiduguri. However, the Nigerian security services claimed in October that they thwarted a possible terrorist attack in Kano, Nigeria’s second largest city.

Despite this relative calm in urban areas, Boko Haram killings and kidnappings have not diminished. Recent analysis of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker indicates that they have in fact increased.

Fighting has instead shifted to rural areas. The media reports Boko Haram efforts to cut off access on the road between Kano and Maiduguri by targeting truck drivers, whom they behead using chain saws. There are also media reports of Boko Haram carrying out forced conversions to Islam in rural areas, with the alternative being death.

This pivot to the countryside follows a familiar pattern. When the Nigerian army crushed the “Nigerian Taleban” in 1993, operatives melted into the countryside. In 2009, when the security forces murdered Boko Haram leader Mohammed Yusuf and some 800 of his followers in Maiduguri, the movement went underground and regrouped under the current leader, Abubakar Shekau.

While the relationship between the “Nigerian Taleban” and “Boko Haram” is murky, both are violent jihadist movements that seek to impose a strict sharia regime on northern Nigeria and perhaps the rest of the country, as well.

So long as northern Nigeria remains alienated from the government in Abuja and profoundly impoverished, with the worst social statistics in the country, jihadist insurrections are likely to be reoccurring.

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