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Can the ISWAP (Islamic State Western Africa Province) alias Boko Haram be Eradicated?

In 2015, major political changes took place in Nigeria; changes in the strategically level influencing Nigeria itself and the region. In my opinion, the most important one is the 2015 general elections (Presidential, Senatorial and House of Representatives). General Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressive Congress (APC) emerged as the winner of the Presidential elections and was sworn in on May 29, 2015. The president-elect of Nigeria pledged to crush the deadly six-year insurgency by the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram: “I assure you that Boko Haram will soon know the strength of our collective will and commitment to rid this nation of terror and bring back peace,” Buhari said. “We shall spare no effort until we defeat terrorism. In tackling the insurgency, we have a tough and urgent job to do.”[1]

The second important event is the internationalization of the conflict. The continuous threat of the region’s stability due to the advance of Boko Haram who defeated the Nigerian army, in parallel, threatens neighboring countries such as Chad, Cameroon and Niger, by internationalizing the conflict and the need of multinational contigent to face the threat.

Thirdly, I would put the allegiance to Isis. Boko Haram’s (where Western education is forbidden) leader Abubakar Shekau pledged allegiance to Isis on March 2015.[2] But the diffuse organization had appeared to continuously operate under its official name “Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad” which translates into “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”. On April 27, in a complementary move, the group changed its name to ISWAP (Islamic State’s West Africa Province), the move appears to give the Islamic State a foothold outside of the Middle East and North Africa for the first time, as the terrorist organization tries to create a global caliphate.

The fourth event is the creation of the “Multinational Joint Task Force” (MNJTF), 8,700 soldiers to fight Boko Haram.[3] Nigeria’s poor record in battling the insurgents indicates that the country may well have to rely on the multinational force put together to fight Boko Haram. But what are the chances that this strong regional force will root out an insurgency responsible for the death of tens of thousands in recent years? The MNJTF is to be mandated to conduct operations aimed at preventing the expansion of Boko Haram, as well as other terrorist groups and eliminating their presence. It aims at facilitating the conduct of joint/simultaneous/coordinated patrols and other types of operations at the borders of the affected countries.  It is also authorized to exercise a right of hot pursuit on Nigerian soil. These factors are crucial for the success of the military contigent, and show the weakness of Nigerian army.[4]

In this document I’ll argue that Boko Haram will not be defeated and eradicated by increased use of military power and means. My thesis argues that the best chances for President Buhari to re-implement Abuja’s authority in the North-East region of Nigeria, lies in the reconstructing of the foundations in socio-economic and educative processes.

Steps taken by President Buhari

In the context of the war against Boko Haram, President Buhari made some important decisions which shocked the nation.

The first move was to replace/fire his top military commanders in an effort to clean up the Nigerian army’s crooked image and ineffectiveness in its operations to contain Boko Haram. Buhari fired Nigeria’s Chief of Defence, and the heads of Army, Navy, Air Force and the National Security Advisor.[5]I do believe that behind that decision stands his desire for  U.S. assistance to Nigeria in fighting Boko Haram which  has been hampered in part by the fact that several key people in the chain of command have been denounced for human rights abuses, whether proven guilty or not. It’s a result of ‘Leahy Law’ or ‘Leahy Amendment’ dealing with U.S. human rights law that prohibits the U.S. Department of State and Department of Defense from providing military assistance to foreign military units that violate human rights with impunity.[6]

President Buhari also ordered the new army commanders to move their command center for Nigeria’s military operation against Boko Haram to Maiduguri, the largest city in the country’s northeast. It doesn’t mean the entire HQ will relocate; only those elements that are operationally required for the success of the specified task. The main idea behind that move is to put the military chain of command closer to the action arena and boosts Buhari’s image as someone who is tough on the insurgents.[7]

The budget issue: knowing the importance and the sensitive budgets affairs, President Buhari made decisions on several levels. On the local level he promised $100 million for the “smooth take-off” of the MNJTF. On the international level he appealed to world leaders at the G7 summit in Germany for more help in combating extremism.[8]

President Buhari, after being elected, did the same as his predecessors: tendency to run to the U.S to see its president and secure “support and assistance”.[9] President Buhari’s shopping list was simple and directly linked to his cardinal programmes: he wanted President Obama to sell to him the military materiel he had denied Jonathan Goodluck. President Buhari was shocked when it came to the crucial issue of his trip of procuring military equipment. President Obama and his men told President Buhari that the Leahy Amendment forbids America from selling arms to the military of foreign countries which violate human rights of its people. However, President Obama, after their meeting, announced that the Nigerian leader had a “very clear agenda” for defeating extremism, and the U.S. committed $5 million to the fight against Boko Haram since President Buhari came to power. We all agree that it’s a drop in the ocean. It’s believed that if President Buhari will tackle corruption and improve ethic issues in the army, Nigeria, as a strategic ally of the U.S., will benefit from its support on all levels (armament, instruction, etc.).

Another decision made by President Buhari concerns the commanding aspect of the MNJTF. He rejected calls for rotating command between the partners, arguing it could hamper the counter-insurgency effort, and appointed Major General Iliya Abbah, a Nigerian, on July 30, 2015 as force commander. The new Headquarters of the MNJTF will be based in N’Djamena – Chad.[10]

Within Nigeria, due to the U.S.s refusal for arm supplying, President Buhari decided to upgrade DICON (Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria). President Buhari said on 7.8.2015 that Nigeria planned to ramp up the domestic production of weapons for its armed forces, in an effort to cut the country’s dependence on imported arms. He directed the Federal Ministry of Defence establish a modest Military Industrial Complex for the production of domestic weapons, needed to meet some of the requirements of the Nigerian Armed Forces.[11]  The President said: “We must evolve viable mechanisms for near-self-sufficiency in military equipment and logistics production complemented only by very advanced foreign technologies,”[12]

To end the discussion on military issues that President Buhari dealt with since his election it’s important to note and remember the deadline he gave to his army commanders to finish with the Boko Harm problem. On August 13, in a brief swearing-in ceremony at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, President Buhari charged the new services chiefs to synergize with other nation’s security apparatus and hunt down Boko Haram insurgents within the next three months. “While commending the efforts of the armed forces so far, you need to brace up and continue to team up with other stakeholders to come up with a well-coordinated joint effort which will bring a desired end to these insurgencies within three months.”[13]

Until now, I analyzed the military aspects and new moves taken by President Buhari in order to eradicate Boko Haram. Some believe that they may influence positively on the efficiency of Nigerian army and the Multinational contigent while fighting Boko Haram and other terrorist groups in the area.

But, as I argued in the beginning, in my opinion, all these steps, and perhaps others, are part of the solution and they will not eradicate Boko Haram from northeast Nigeria. For the short term, the use of power to contain Boko Haran is the right solution, but for the long term, I have my doubts. In other words, the phenomenon of Boko Haram is socially enshrined in Islam; therefore the war against it should be a combination of military operations against the initiators and perpetrators of terrorism alongside the rehabilitation and education of the population in the northeast area.

The phenomenon of Boko Haram started in early 2000 as a protestation group, not radical and far enough from being involved in terrorism. At the beginning, the group under his charismatic leader Muhammad Yusuf, protested against the wide corruption, against the fact that Nigeria’s resources are not distributed equally, where the north is totally ignored by the federal authorities, and they protested against the poor and slow implementation of the Sharia in the Muslim states of Nigeria (as of 2012, 12 states adopted the Islamic law). The uprising started when they violently clashed with authorities. Authorities from a task force known as Operation Flush II in Maiduguri confronted Yusuf’s followers in 2009, wounding at least 17 Boko Haram members.[14] Yusuf angrily denounced the security forces and called on his followers to rise up against them. From that point the group shifted to terrorism.[15] The turning point for the group in which it became an ultra-radical group is Yusuf’s assassination and when Abubakar Shekau proclaimed him as a leader and promised revenge on Yusuf’s killing and called for Jihad against Abuja’s authorities and on all its collaborators.[16] In other words, Boko Haram is not only Islamic jihad and terrorism; it is a concept with a strong hold among the Muslims population of the northeast Nigeria. They really believe that the central government has abandoned them and they prefer the Christians in the south, which is rich in natural resources. The population sees how promises are dissolved and how the local officials (police and government agencies) take care of themselves and their intimates. Problems of unemployment, lack of infrastructure, water, electricity, health care services, and public transportation are factors which show utter lack of public confidence in the government and render the situation unbearable. These problems favor the growth of Boko Haram, the group is supported by the community that provides it the manpower, shelter, and means of support, despite the fact that often because of religious extremism, the Muslim population becomes the target for terrorism as they are considered by the extremist not sufficiently devoted to Islam. Villages and towns across the Christian ethnic minority regions of Nigeria’s northeast have been repeatedly and systematically attacked by Boko Haram, resulting in more than 20,000 deaths and the displacement of a staggering 1 million people, according to some accounts. Combined, those attacks and the refugee crisis have engendered all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing.[17]

President Buhari is confronting Nigeria’s multiple problems, starting with an economy that has been hit by the falling price of oil, a government paralyzed by corruption, and a security sector beset by one insurgency and threatened by another. The keys for a successful battle against Boko Haram are in reconstructing the northeast of Nigeria. To achieve this, Buhari will need to focus on 5 issues that reflect economic matters:

1) Security – Instability in the north-eastern states deepened the economic division between the north and the oil-rich south.

2) Oil represents 90 % of Nigerian exports and 70 % of government revenues. Needless to say, the recent dramatic drop in oil prices has had a devastating effect on Nigeria’s economy.

The fall in oil prices has forced the government to cut spending and triggered a sell-off in Nigerian bonds and stock markets. President Buhari will need to address the ongoing problem of theft hampering companies operating in the region.

3) Another damaging effect of falling oil prices has been the weakening of the naira, Nigeria’s currency, to its lowest level for 16 years (1$=218N).

4) Despite its status as an Africa economic powerhouse, poverty is still widespread. According to the United Nations’ most recent multi-dimensional poverty index, over 67% of Nigerians live below the poverty line. Grappling rising unemployment will be a crucial goal for President Buhari, who has promised to invest in mining and agriculture to boost employment outside of the oil industry.

5) One of the biggest stains which the Goodluck Jonathan regime left were allegations of corruption, and in particular a lack of transparency on oil revenues. The malaise of corruption is a threat to the survival of the Nigerian economy.

It seems that President Buhari understands the economic situation and the security problems. While visiting the U.S., he raised $2.1 billion credit from the World Bank to rebuild the North-East zone. The president said that apart from rebuilding the North-East in terms of infrastructure, priority would be given to the resettlement of internally displaced persons, who now number over 1 million.[18] The World Bank will spend the $2.1 billion through its IDA (International Development Agency), which gives low interest rate loans to governments. The first 10 years will be interest free, while an additional 30 years will be at a lower than capital market rate.[19]

In order to rebuild the northeast, a roadmap needs to be designed. Thus, a motion passed in the House of Representatives considered urging the President to establish a North-East Development Commission to rebuild the Boko Haram-devastated region. The House, through the motion said: “The Federal Government of Nigeria should map out a development agenda for the North East zone comprising six states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe that would be implemented in phases […] This agenda must have specific targets, funding and deliverables that are guided by reconstruction (of homes, villages, towns and infrastructure), repatriation (of people to their homes and villages) and rehabilitation (of people, communities and livelihoods) and economic and social development […] rebuilding of all schools destroyed by the Boko Haram terrorists and to facilitate scholarships up to university level […] In addition, hospitals, markets, border posts, bridges and other infrastructure destroyed by the insurgents should be rebuilt and new ones constructed […] reviving agriculture […].[20]

The question is how Nigeria, which receives millions in aid annually, struggles to translate this into real development? The World Bank and the Nigerian government have to make sure the same does not happen with the new grant. The most effective way to achieve this is to target specific projects that will have a multiplying effect on the economy of the region. In the northeast, the crucial areas are housing, healthcare, education, and women and youth empowerment. Rebuilding the north-east will be a long and arduous process, but if adequate attention is paid to these sectors, the result could be a model of post-conflict development for the other parts of Nigeria and the African continent which faces the same challenges.


To eradicate Boko Haram, the Nigerian government has to develop a comprehensible operational strategy and decision-making process. Today, reality in which in the name of religion, Islam, one side tries to impose its will on the other and dictate its policy – must be stopped. Responsible leadership should not allow terror to dictate its moves. However, in order to eradicate Boko Haram which is supported by the Muslim population is a complex mission. Boko Haram, by its expansion, brutality and religious agenda, is a real existential threat to fragile Nigeria and the stability and integrity of the region. Therefore, integrated military operations to contain the group are the right steps to take, but not enough. They should be combined with civilian actions, to be taken by the Nigerian government in order to reconstruct the North-East of Nigeria. The steps to be taken are in parallel to the fight against Boko Haram, they are not complementary. The government has to launch a “Marshall Plan” for that area, including huge investment in infrastructure reconstructing, economic measures to improve the quality of life , water and electricity supplies, as well as  the setting-up of the education system, health care services and many social activities derived from a mixture of tribes and beliefs.  Only transparent actions will enable the federal government to regain public confidence. Thus their different institutions should be present on the ground, available and operational in efficient manners will full transparency and equality.

It seems that giving the military a deadline of 3 months to eradicate Boko Haram is exaggerated. Nobody will be surprised if in mid-November terrorist actions perpetrated by Boko Haram will occur, and the Nigerian army as the multinational contingent will be sinking in the Boko Haram swamp.

[1] David Smith and agencies, Nigerian election winner vows to crush Boko Haram insurgency, The Guardian(2.4.2015) 

[2]Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in an audio message published online on March 4, 2015. The eight-minute speech, in which Shekau was not shown, was published on a Twitter account used by Boko Haram and subtitled in English, French and Arabic.    

[3] The Africa Union authorization of the MNJTF was requested by member states of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) – Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria – as well as by a non-member state, Benin, after a 20 January ministerial meeting in Niamey, Niger. The planning conference to develop the MNJTF’s concept of operations took place in Yaoundé, Cameroon, last week from 5 to 7 February2015.For more details refer to the African-led counter-terrorism measures against Boko Haram document published by the European Parliament on March 2015. 

[4] Lori-Anne Théroux-Bénoni, The fight against Boko Haram tangled up in Nigerian and regional politics, ISS (Institute for Security Studies) 10 February 2015. 

[5] Adam Nossiter, Nigeria Military Leaders, Faulted in Fighting Militants, Are Fired, The new York Times, 13, 2015.; The new chiefs are:  Major-General Abayomi Gabriel Olonishakin – Chief of Defence Staff; Major-General T.Y. Buratai – Chief of Army Staff; Rear Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas – Chief of Naval Staff; Air Vice Marshal Sadique Abubakar – Chief of Air Staff; Air Vice Marshal Monday Riku Morgan – Chief of Defence Intelligence; Major-General Babagana Monguno (rtd.) – National Security Adviser. Massive shake up in Nigerian Army , as Buratai appoints new GOC, Vanguard – See more at:

[6] For further information refer to: 22 U.S. Code § 2378d – Limitation on assistance to security forces at: 

[7] During the last years, the military commandment has drawn criticism in Nigeria media for directing the fight against Boko Haram from the relative security of Abuja .see: DHQ: Military Working on Relocation of Command Centre to Maiduguri, This Day,2.6.2015. 

[8] Morgan Winsor, G7 Summit 2015: Buhari Requests Help For Boko Haram In Nigeria, Economy in ‘Wish List’ For Group Of Seven Leaders, International Business Times, (6.8.2015).

[9] Since 1999, every president that has led Nigeria made a trip to the US. In fact, Obasanjo visited and received two US presidents – Bill Clinton and George W Bush. See more at:

[10] The MNJTF will replace an existing ad hoc coalition of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, which has claimed a series of successes against Boko Haram since February 2015.

[11] Channels Television, President Buhari Initiates Move for Domestic Weapons Production, 7.8.2015. 

[12] Nigeria’s President Buhari announces weapons production plan, Reuters, 7.8.2015. 

[13] Levinus Nwabughiogu, Buhari to service chiefs: Hunt down Boko Haram in 3 months, Vanguard (13.8.2015). 

[14] On the events refer to WikiLeaks : Nigeria: Borno State Residents not yet recovered from Boko Haram Violence, 4.11.2009 see at:

[15]For further information refer to my article Who are you, Boko Haram? Published by the Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) on 12.12.2012. 

[16] Ibid,

[17] Kirk Ross, Essay: Boko Haram’s Campaign of Ethnic Cleansing, 11.2.2015. 

[18]Ibanga Isine, Boko Haram: Nigeria borrows $2.1 bn from World Bank to rebuild North-East, Premium Times 21.7.2015. 

[19] Ibid,

[20] Reps urge Buhari to establish North-East Devt Commission, Nigerian Daily News, 13.8.2015.