by Avi Davis
Over the weekend , the Islamic insurgency in Northern Nigeria, known as Boko Haram, struck once again – this time on a major military center. Just before dawn on Saturday in the fishing town of Baga, on the shores of Lake Chad, insurgents drove up in pickup trucks and fired assault rifles at fleeing soldiers and civilians. By noon, Boko Haram had taken over one of the last army bases still standing in the northeast of Africa’s most-populous country. The small town of Baga had been chosen by the Nigerian military as a command post to direct the army’s response to the Boko Haram insurgency in the country’s north-east. Its capture without a shot fired in resistance is deeply telling of the lack of preparedness and strategy within the Nigerian army.
To date around 1.5 million people have fled a swath of Boko Haram-held territory in northern Nigeria which is about the size of Belgium. That makes Boko Haram a considerable player in the region – as much, if not more so than ISIS in Syria and Northern Iraq.
A few years ago, Boko Haram was an obscure fringe group whose members were largely languishing in jail or pursued by police into the forests of northern Nigeria. But in April 2014, it rebounded and won global attention for its abduction of 276 schoolgirls. To date it has captured at least 500 women whom it has turned into sex slaves or distributed as wives to fighters.
Islamic states in Nigeria with Sharia Law
The plight of the 276 young girls abducted in the Spring of 2014 may have pulled at the heart strings of the world, but it has somehow served to veil the significant threat that Boko Haram presents not just to Nigeria but to the West in general.
The entirety of sub Saharan Africa is under assault today by a radical Islamic movement that threatens to turn a huge swath of the Earth’s surface into an Islamic Caliphate poised as a dagger at the throat of the West. Islam had already made significant in roads into Nigeria as indicated by the map above. But the states so marked were never going to transform into militant anti Western insurgency until Boko Haram’s resurgence.
This resurgence is very much tied to the successes of al Qaeda in the Magreb ( AQIM) which operates chiefly in Algeria. In recent years due to its long-standing involvement with smuggling, protection rackets, and money laundering across the borders of Mauratania, Mali, Niger, Libya and Chad, to Algeria’s south, it has expanded its reach and influence. However, recent Splinter group may have sought refuge in the Tuareg regions of northern Mali and Niger following crackdowns by Algerian government forces in the north and south of the country since 2003. French secret services report that the group has received funding from Qatar.
Boko Haram receives its funding mainly from bank robberies and kidnapping ransoms, emulating the model established by AQIM. Any funding they may have received in the past from al-Qaeda affiliates is insignificant compared to the estimated $1 million ransom for each wealthy Nigerian kidnapped. Cash is moved around by couriers, making it impossible to track, and communication is conducted face-to-face. Their mode of operation, which is thought to include paying local youths to track army movements, is such that little funding is required to carry out attacks. Equipment captured from fleeing soldiers keeps the group constantly well-supplied. In February 2012, recently arrested officials revealed that while the organization initially relied on donations from members, its links with AQIM opened it up to funding from groups in Saudi Arabia and the UK. The group also extorts local governments. A spokesman of Boko Haram claimed, in 2012, that Kano state governor Ibrahim Shekarau and Bauchi state governor Isa Yuguda had paid them monthly. In the past, Nigerian officials have been criticized for being unable to trace much of the funding that Boko Haram has received.
But far more important is the political link Boko Haram provides to al Qaeda and the world wide Caliphate movement. The two groups can be considered to be affiliated organizations, having causes and goals in common. They share ambitions in Nigeria, as well as in greater Africa and globally. Leaders of both organizations have publicly pledged mutual support. Abubakar bin Muhammad Shekau, head of Boko Haram, has linked the jihad being fought by Boko Haram with the global jihad and threatened attacks not only in Nigeria but also against “outposts of Western culture.” Boko Haram’s name of course translates as “No Western Education.” Intentions towards the West could not be clearer.
Nigeria is the largest and richest country in the Sub Sahara and its capital, Lagos, the entrepôt for a vast African hinterland which provides a gateway for oil export to the West. Nigeria actually factors as a significant player in the world oil markets being the 12th largest producer of petroleum in the world and the 8th largest exporter, and has the 10th largest proven reserves. The country oil exploration and production plays a decisive role in the Nigerian economy, accounting for 40% of GDP and 80% of Government earnings.
The attack on Baga was a telling indicator of where Nigeria’s war with Boko Haram stands, and how enfeebled the government of President Goodluck Jonathan appears only weeks before a February 14th election. Mr. Jonathan is seeking a new term and a fresh mandate to combat the insurgency, however his corrupt military is too divided and too prone to its own human rights abuses to offer an effective response to Boko Haram’s daring raids.
Lagos, Nigeria on the Gulf of Guinea
We would be foolish not to see Boko Haram, in association with AQIM( al Qaeda in the Magreb) as a threat, not just to Nigeria, but to a wider world. Because Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer and most populous state, instability there has significant global implications. We have learned the tragic mistake of not taking home grown Jihadist movements seriously – al Qaeda in the 1990s and ISIS in the 2000s. The West, and most particularly France and the United States, who have vital strategic interests in the Gulf of Guinea to protect, are well advised to do everything they can to force the Nigerian government to cede control of the campaign to defeat this insurgency to their own special forces before the problem runs beyond even their scope of containment.