Boko Haram: Reconsidering the Nigerian Approach To Terror, by David Dimas


by David Dimas,

Once again national tragedies have unfolded before all of us. For some Nigerians, it is no longer news whenever the insurgents strike because of the consistent manner in which they terrorize at will. The twin suicide bombings in Internally Displaced People’s (IDP) camps and attack by Boko Haram insurgents on Dalori village near Maiduguri, Borno State is, painfully, a gruesome reminder of the toxicity of extremism and the vulnerability of our communities.

Even though it is by no means the same scale and scope experienced in the past when attacks take place right on the heels of the other, the scale of sporadic killings and kidnapping by the blood-thirsty group requires more than just military response to prevent such acts of terrorism from becoming as common in Nigeria, as they are in other parts of the world. The fact that these nefarious attacks are often unpredictable in their nature, behooves on our military and all stakeholders to be more proactive after each incident so as to forestall or reduce the impact of future possible attacks. For example, if the insurgents attack a community with less proximity to communication, adequate measures should be taken to protect similar communities from subsequent attacks.

The recent arrest of a terrorist recruiter, who surprisingly is an undergraduate, further confirms that, indeed, homegrown terrorism has reached an epidemic level due to unchecked spread of terrorist ideology. As a result, Nigeria’s territorial integrity is currently under the threat of terrorist ideology and religious fundamentalists.

The 2015 general elections may have ushered in a new political logic spearheaded by the executive arm of Government, but similar to previous techniques, it appears the strategists are going after the structure of Boko Haram and not the fundamental ideology responsible for the birth and spread of the group’s dangerous cells. There is need to understand that separate strategies are required for anti-insurgency and counter-insurgency measures. Rather than the usual talk down approach where the incumbent administration spends time drawing a line between what they have done and what the other did not do, a bottom up approach such as collaborating with the communities should be adopted. This will help build a safer and more productive action to anti insurgency, in addition to the existing battle on counter insurgency.

The Boko Haram ideology did not spring from the ground neither was it wholly formed in 1999/2000 as it is sometimes portrayed. Much of what passes for Boko Haram’s ideological stand emanates from a misconceived notion that justifies violence as an expressive, oppressive and suppressive tool. Many years ago, as an undergraduate student in University of Maiduguri, I had walked past several open air propaganda gatherings where Salafi-Jihadism is encouraged and no attempt was made to bring such preachers to order. In my opinion, these views, among others, left most communities vulnerable on polarized theological grounds that supported the “US versus THEM” alignments. It also engendered in them the structure of a people who considered themselves as vanguard for the liberation of the oppressed in the society. As expected, this came with strategic and ideological views that have over the years impacted the lives of their friends, families and cronies who have lost or may lose loved ones in the war against terror. It is a collection of these prodigal views that has since become a sort of non-material glue binding this nefarious group together as it seeks to achieve its infamous goals.

Regardless of when the group was formed, the question looking forward is: ‘Which is more dangerous? The structure or the ideology! Perhaps, after many years of carrying out military operations aimed at crippling pernicious trends of terrorism in the country, it should have been clear to us that the biggest threat Boko Haram poses is not only in the destruction of our communities, buildings or schools, for they can be rebuilt. The biggest threat is the spread of its ideology and the attendant increase in the conscription of an army of terror unleashing extremists.

The precarious sight of people in IDP camps and the fragile security and economic situation in the northeast reflect the indisputable fact that Boko Haram does not represent religion as it claims, rather it has succeeded in killing and maiming innocent people in large numbers.

In order to comprehend the group’s ideology, it is necessary to dwell on a number of key strategies that they deploy in carrying out their heinous acts. Like most terrorist organizations such as ISIS, they have gone to considerable lengths to ensure they take over communities which they declare as caliphate and then install an ‘Amir’. This exposes the game plan that the next most likely theater for current and future attacks will be against communities in such proximities. Our Military was not proactive on this strategy until vast land was taken over by the extremist and many lives were lost in order to recover the communities. Most recent tactics have been infiltrating IDP camps through young girls who are used as suicide cargos.

Despite much talk in recent times about Boko Haram’s “total defeat”, nothing is heard of any multidimensional approach or strategy in relation to an awareness program that will stop the flow of Salafi-Jihadism ideology propaganda nor has there been any program to de-radicalize the youths that have been inspired ideologically. If engendered, such programs will address the various social, economic, political and other factors, including violent separatism and extremism, which engender conditions where terrorist groups such as Boko Haram are able to recruit and win support. The programs may further ensure that those that are yet to be inspired or radicalized by the sect are protected from extremist ideologies in areas currently within Boko Haram influence and those outside of it.

Most terrorist organizations often inspire their loyalists with uplifting messages and promises intended to create a religious revolution. In the case of Boko Haram, understanding the working narratives they tell to attract and radicalize sympathizers in order to counter such narratives should be the way to go. Exposure to condemnations of isolated acts of extreme jihadist violence by theologians highly respected in the Islamic community may also lead to recantations by some loyalist and total refusal to be recruited by many other sympathizers. This is a key area that needs to be addressed in the fight against terrorism and extremism.

Boko Haram has continued to spread its ideology of violence to young people. The orientation they put forward to them is that violence towards vulnerable communities is a distributed game of attrition welfare. While military actions have reduced the number of symmetric and asymmetric attacks to some extent, suicide bombings by lone wolves have persisted unabated. This shows how the group has adapted to changing environmental pressures at the strategic, ideological, and structural levels. This evolution is inherently more dangerous, as counterterrorism efforts today seem to focus only on military operation. Window dressing of the persisting cases of the situation by politicians and elder statesmen will only do more harm than good.

Building trust within the community will also help slow down the wide spread of the ideology and recruitment of young people. The Government should create new platforms that will bring ideas for combating extremism from the community itself. Ideas on how to prevent young people from developing sympathy for extremism would be more effective if it comes from illustrious people in the communities. This is necessary because the community is the most immediate and effective level to leverage and gain insight into the minds of the young potential jihadists and understand better how they view Boko Haram in ideological terms.

This multifaceted campaign of terror by the terrorist group may, however, continue to attempt to grow in the number of attacks in more locations, from a more diverse cadre of individuals spanning a wider ideological spectrum if we see military operation as the only solution to terrorism that has continually overwhelmed Northeastern region and is threatening the fragile peace in Nigeria.

David Dimas

Pastor, Inspirational Speaker, Blogger, IT Consultant.

Laurel, Maryland, U.S.A

[email protected]


Twitter handle: @dimas4real