A Historical Background of Boko Haram

A Historical Background of Boko Haram

Before the British came into Nigeria to colonize and subsequently annex Nigeria, the Bornu Empire ruled the territory where Boko Haram is currently based. It was a sovereign sultanate run according to the principles of the Constitution of Medina, with majority of its population Kanuri Muslim. The Bornu Sultanate emerged after the overthrow of the Kanem-Bornu Empire ruled by the Saifawa dynasty for over 2000 years. The Bornu Sultanate of the Kanuri is different from the Sokoto Caliphate of the Hausa/Fulani established in 1802 by the military conquest of Usman dan Fodio.

In 1903, Both the Bornu Sultanate and Sokoto Caliphate came under control of the British. However, as a result of the activities of early Christian missionaries who made use of the Western education as a tool for evangelism, it was seen with suspicion by the local population. Growing dissatisfaction gave birth to many fundamentalists among the Kanuri and other peoples of North-East Nigeria.

One of the most famous and prominent of such fundamentalists was Mohammed Marwa, also known as Maitatsine, who was at the height of his notoriety during the 1970s and 1980s.The Nigerian authorities sent him into exile; he was not of the belief that Mohammed was the Prophet and stimulated riots in the country which resulted in the deaths of thousands of people.

Some analysts view Boko Haram as an extension of the Maitatsine riots. In 1995, Boko Haram was said to be operating under the name Shabaab, Muslim Youth Organization with Mallam Lawal as the leader.

Mohammed Yusuf took over leadership of the group after Lawal left to further his education. Yusuf‟s leadership allegedly opened the group to political influence and popularity. Yusuf officially established the group in 2002 in the city of Maiduguri with the purpose of establishing a Sharia government in Borno State under senator Ali Modu Sheriff before he later became a governor.

He established a religious complex which included a mosque and a school where many poor families from across Nigeria especially the Northern part of Nigeria and from neighbouring countries enrolled their children. The centre had ulterior political motives and soon it was also working as a recruiting centre for future Jihadis to fight the state.

The group includes members who come from neighbouring countries like Chad and Niger and speak only Arabic. In 2004 the building was relocated to Yusuf’s home state of Yobe in the village Kanamma near the Niger border.

Human Rights Watch researcher Eric Guttschuss in its interview with IRIN News that Yusuf successfully attracted followers from the unemployed youth “by speaking out against police and political corruption. Abdulkarim Mohammed, a researcher on Boko Haram, added that violent uprisings in Nigeria are ultimately due to “the fallout of frustration with corruption and the attendant social malaise of poverty and unemployment.”

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The group carried out its operations more or less peacefully during the first seven years of its existence that changed in 2009 when the Nigerian government started an investigation into Boko Haram’s terrorist acts following reports that its members were arming themselves.

However, prior to that, the government had reportedly repeatedly ignored warnings about the increasingly militant character of the organization, including that of a Nigerian military officer. When the Nigerian government came into action, several members of the group were arrested in Bauchi, resulting in deadly clashes with Nigerian security forces which brought about to the deaths of an estimated 700 people.

During the fighting with the security forces, Boko Haram fighters reportedly “used fuel-laden motorcycles” and “bows with poison arrows” to attack a police station. The group’s founder and former head Mohammed Yusuf was killed during this time while in police custody.

After Mohammed Yusuf’s was killed, a new leader emerged whose identity was unknown at the time. After the killing of Mohammed Yusuf, the group launched its first terrorist attack in Borno in January 2011. It resulted in the killing of four people. Afterwards, the violence has only escalated in terms of both frequency and intensity.

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In January 2012, Abubakar Shekau, a former deputy to Mohammed Yusuf, appeared in a video posted on YouTube. According to Reuters, Shekau became the leader of the group after Yusuf’s death in 2009. Authorities had previously believed that Shekau was killed during the violence in 2009. By early 2012, the group was responsible for claiming the lives of over 900 people in Nigeria.

In June 2012, the group claimed responsibility for the suicide bombings of three churches in the Northern Nigerian state of Kaduna killing more than 50 people. The medley of approaches adopted by the government towards putting an end to the activities of the group appears not to have fully worked but there are some encouraging signs.


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