Boko Haram Terrorists Only Become More Violent as the Government Cracks Down


Five months since the imposition of the state of emergency in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe states on May 14, it is clear that the dedication of ever growing numbers of troops to the region has increased, not decreased, the levels of violence. September was the bloodiest month that the Council on Foreign Relations has yet recorded on the Nigeria Security Tracker (please refer to this tracker for all sourcing and click the link for interactive).

Nationwide, 841 people were killed. Of those, 552 died in Borno state.

If we broaden the lens and look at the entire period of the state of emergency, the picture is even grimmer: 2,226 people have been killed in politically motivated violence in Nigeria in the past five months. Of that total, 1,006 have involved Boko Haram. That’s 45%.

Rather than decreasing Boko Haram’s lethality, the state of emergency forced it to change tactics, something it has proven adept at doing.

The five months prior to the state of emergency — December 2012 to April 2013 — had an average of 77 incidents per month, and an average of 450 deaths per month. The five months under the state of emergency, May to September, had an average of 40 incidents per month, with an average of 518 casualties per month.

As security tightens, it appears that violence is being concentrated into fewer attacks that result in higher casualty rates. For example, of the 10 bloodiest incidents since May 2011, four have occurred under the state of emergency. A fifth was the destruction of the fishing town of Baga, which was a catalyst for declaring the state of emergency.

It is important to bear in mind that the tracker data is indicative rather than definitive, but the trends are clear.

The security-centric approach that President Goodluck Jonathan is using to suppress the insurrection in the north is not working. Neither Boko Haram nor other violent actors in northern Nigeria are going away. The harder the security services push for their eradication, the more they appear to slip through the cracks and re-emerge as something slightly different, but just as deadly.

This strengthens the argument that it is not merely a small group of hardcore Islamists intent on jihad who are perpetrating the violence. Instead, the chaos in the region is broader-based, a grassroots rejection of the established political economy.

The culture of violence in Nigeria appears to be escalating, especially in the north. The violence is being perpetrated not just by Boko Haram, but by a plethora of actors related and unrelated to Boko Haram. The Ombatse cult in Nasarawa state is one example. They claim to be trying to restore Nigeria to its pre-colonial perfection. In September, they were responsible for at least 50 deaths and the displacement of tens of thousands after they burned down multiple villages. But, they do not appear to be related to the jihadists.

Some of the many individuals and groups acting out in the north are also possibly tied to the recruitment by politicians of gangs to harass their rivals and pressure potential voters in the lead up to the 2015 elections.

Radical Islamism is not the only root of Nigeria’s violence, and unleashing military might against the jihadists is unlikely to solve the problem.

This article was originally published on the Council on Foreign Relations blog "Africa in Transition" and was written by Emily Mellgard, research associate for the Africa Studies Program.