The number of Boko Haram fighters, adherents, and supporters is unknown. Speculation ranges from 5,000 to 50,000 “supporters.” The movement continues to be able to recruit, despite sustaining the high levels of casualties claimed by government spokesmen. Its continued ability to kidnap women and to hold them would seem to imply an administrative infrastructure.
A recent Pew Research Center poll may offer a hint about how much popular support Boko Haram enjoys. The survey found that about 20 percent of Nigeria’s Muslims had a “favorable” view of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, 61 percent had an “unfavorable” view, and the remaining 19 percent are not accounted for. Improbably, 7 percent of Nigeria’s Christians had a favorable view. It is plausible that those with a “favorable” view of the Islamic State may also have a “favorable” view of Boko Haram. On the other hand, Boko Haram violence is close to home, while that of the Islamic State is far away. That could translate into fewer “favorables” for Boko Haram than for the Islamic State.
Muslims are usually estimated to be about half of Nigeria’s population of 182 million, or about 91 million. If only half of those Muslims that have a “favorable’ view of the Islamic State also have a “favorable" view of Boko Haram, that could be around nine million people. That would constitute a large pool from which Boko Haram could recruit. With this in mind, the Buhari government faces a major challenge to end Boko Haram recruitment. That will take time.