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President Muhammadu Buhari has repeatedly said that the Nigerian security services would destroy Boko Haram by December. Recently, he has walked back from that optimistic prediction. The reality is that Boko Haram of late has been resurgent. Associated Press (AP), reports that Boko Haram destroyed a Nigerian military base at the end of November and occupied the town of Gulak, in Adamawa state. The military fled, leaving local “self-defense fighters” to reoccupy Gulak, which they held until military re-reinforcements arrived. Separately, a military intelligence officer confirmed that 107 soldiers remain missing about a week after a battle in which Boko Haram also captured and drove away a government T-72 tank. In a third episode, the Xinhua news agency reported on November 30 that an unspecified number of girls were kidnapped from Bam village, in Yobe state. The raiders, presumed to be Boko Haram, sang Arabic choruses and killed at least seven persons. As in other Boko Haram female kidnappings, the perpetrators separated the adolescent and unmarried women from those that were married. The report is not clear as to whether only the younger women were taken away or all of the women.
Meanwhile, the United Nations (UN) Resident Coordinator in Cameroon, Najat Rochdi, is sounding the alarm that Boko Haram is expanding and that there is only “a small window of opportunity to stop it,” as reported by Reuters. He said Boko Haram’s strategy is to demonstrate its power by daily suicide bombings. He went on to say that Boko Haram is destroying Cameroon’s economy and “influencing the young.” On December 1, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed economic sanctions on Mohammed Nur and Mustapha Chad because of their involvement in Boko Haram suicide attacks. Nur is Nigerian, Chad is Chadian.
The Nigerian security forces, assisted by Chadians and South African mercenaries appeared to drive Boko Haram out of the territory it occupied, mostly in Borno State, in a February-March campaign. However, it is questionable whether the Boko Haram withdrawal was the result of military pressure or a change in tactics largely unrelated. There appear to have been remarkably few casualties from the fighting, raising questions about whether the Boko Haram withdrawal was largely voluntary. On the other hand, in the past, Boko Haram has withdrawn in the face of government strength, regrouped, and then resumed its operations at an enhanced tempo.
The increasing salience of “self-defense fighters,” as at Gulak, may indicate that fighting entities not under the control of the government are increasing in importance. That could facilitate the growth of warlords in the future. The reported recent round of Boko Haram kidnapping of girls is a reminder that more than a year after more than two hundred girls were kidnapped from Chibok, not one has been found, though a handful escaped at the time. Whether intended or not, Rochdi’s comment that Boko Haram was “influencing the young” in Cameroon implies at least some public support. The U.S. Treasury’s economic sanctions are unlikely to have practical consequences as there is no public evidence that Mohammded Nur, Mustapha Chad, or the Boko Haram movement has financial assets in the United States.