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In press events around his September 15 diplomatic visit to Paris, President Muhammadu Buhari said that the struggle against Boko Haram and the self-proclaimed Islamic state is the same fight. He added that Boko Haram had expanded after its March declaration of allegiance to the Islamic State. According to Agence France-Presse, French President Francois Hollande agreed, saying “We know Boko Haram is linked to Daesh (the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State). To fight Boko Haram is to fight Daesh, and we can no longer single out terrorism according to regions. It is the same terrorism, inspired by the same ideology of death.”
According to Nigerian media, Hollande said that France will provide intelligence and equipment to the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) fighting against Boko Haram. The MNJTF is made up of Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Benin, and Cameroon. Niger, Chad, Benin and Cameroon are francophone and have close ties with France. There is a French military base in Chad’s capital of Ndjamena that has been the hub of its operations against jihadist radicalism in the Sahel. Hollande also promised significant developmental assistance, and the French presidency hinted at upcoming French private investment in the Nigerian economy.
Many Nigerians have seen Boko Haram as linked to the Islamic State and part of the “international war on terror.” Hollande has long subscribed to that view. Some Nigerians suggest that the “face” of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, is in fact in Syria. There are strong theological and ideological similarities between Boko Haram and the Islamic State. However, the former has long been focused on the destruction of the Nigerian political economy, rather than the Islamic State’s much broader agenda. Conventional wisdom is that Islamic State operatives are often hostile to black Africans. A few Nigerians have gone to Syria to join the Islamic State, allegedly including a son of a retired Supreme Court justice. But, the numbers have been very few. Unclassified evidence of collaboration and cooperation between Boko Haram and the Islamic State is thin. The Islamic State does appear to have helped Boko Haram upgrade its video propaganda.
Nevertheless, Boko Haram has changed over time. In the face of military pressure from the MNJTF and the possible defection of some of its fighters, it may be turning to the Islamic State. For its part, Islamic State propaganda refers to Boko Haram as one of its “provinces” thereby seeking to augment its own international prestige.