What Makes Boko Haram Run?
Council on Foreign Relations
abstract
Boko Haram, a radical jihadi movement that seeks to destroy the secular Nigerian state and its market-based economy, is no closer to its stated goal of establishing God’s kingdom on earth, but it has hardly been eradicated from the country’s impoverished northeast. From 2011 to 2015, the militant group captured territory as large as the state of Maryland. Nigerian security services have since dislodged it from almost all of that area, but the government still does not fully control the northeast, despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s December 2015 statement that the Nigerian security services had “technically” defeated Boko Haram. Moreover, Boko Haram appears to be shifting from a preoccupation with the Nigerian state to wider regional ambitions, which may reflect growing ties to the self-proclaimed Islamic State’s redoubt in Libya.

Since 2009, Boko Haram has been responsible for at least twenty thousand deaths, far exceeding those attributed to the Islamic State. In 2015, the think tank Institute for Economics and Peace designated it the world’s deadliest terrorist movement. What’s more, in its war against Boko Haram, the Nigerian security services have caused an additional eight thousand deaths. The conflict has also internally displaced more than two million people, and several hundred thousand Nigerians have fled to neighboring countries as refugees. Little food has been planted or harvested in the war zone, and food prices in some areas have soared. Few of the internally displaced have been able to go home for good, contrary to frequent optimistic statements from officials. It is hard to see how Nigeria can meet the northeast’s humanitarian needs without assistance from its partners, especially the United Kingdom, the United States, and the United Nations.