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  • Introduction to the Special Issue:Understanding Boko Haram's Past, Present, and Trajectory
  • Michael Nwankpa (bio)


Since Boko Haram turned violent in 2009, it has remained active despite the massive response from the Nigerian military and the multinational joint task force. Nigeria has invested a lot in the military fight and received significant international military assistance to stop the terrorist insurgency. Military intervention remains prevalent as well as a substantial nonviolent approach, including a range of political solutions, diplomacy, and conciliatory measures. However, Boko Haram, a Salafi Jihadist group seeking to establish a Sharia state in Nigeria, has shown the capacity to survive and adapt. This special issue critically evaluates the factors that have sustained the group and provides an understanding as to the impacts and limitations of the counterinsurgency approaches. The key contribution of the special issue is its bold attempt to provide insight into the evolution of the group and determine effective counter-approaches.

Since Boko Haram was proscribed in 2013 under the 2011 Anti-Terrorism Act, the Nigerian government has maintained a hard power approach. This is justified to some extent considering Boko Haram's coordinated attacks on strategic and symbolic targets, including security forces and government buildings, and indiscriminate attacks on civilians. Boko Haram, under Abubakar Shekau, has since undergone several mutations and fractionalizations, yielding varying and conflicting [End Page 1] narratives and the emergence of several factions, such as Jamāʿatu Anṣāril Muslimīnafī Bilādis-Sūdān (popularly called Ansaru, 2012) and the Islamic State of West African Province (ISWAP, 2016). This special issue seeks to connect some of the disparate narratives on Boko Haram by reviewing the extant literature and providing new data and insights into its past motivations and activities in light of its present manifestations. Moreover, it attempts to provide a prognosis of future directions of the insurgency and the implications of the counterinsurgency.

For instance, Ansaru and ISWAP were formed out of frustration with the Shekau-led Boko Haram attack on the Muslim public and the need to reconstruct the group's image and gain back popular support. Yet, attacks on the public continue, proving the discord between Boko Haram factions. However, the factions remain unified in their common hatred and attacks on the state. Unfortunately, the internal schisms have not weakened the groups' capacity to cause devastating damage, evident in its resurgent attacks in northeast Nigeria and into the Lake Chad Basin countries.

Many of the studies on Boko Haram try to explain the motivation and causal factors for the terrorist insurgency (Walker 2012; Johnson and Mohammed 2011). Other studies shine light on its connections to regional and transnational terrorist organizations, particularly al-Qaedaaffiliated networks (Gourley 2012; Connell 2012; Zenn 2019). These studies often try to analyze Boko Haram as a domestic terrorist organization (focused on Nigerian interest) (Perous de Montclos 2014) or as a foreign terrorist organization (with focus on foreign targets or having the potential to attack foreign interests) (Karmon 2014). The global-local dimension of Boko Haram is also seen in the light of a global resurgence of Islamic revivalism (Adesoji 2010; Kassim 2015) and/or a particular northern Nigeria Islamic reform movement (Loimeier 2012). Some studies have investigated the interreligious perspective as well, particularly the idea that Boko Haram is a conflict between Muslims and Christians and, by extension, anti-Western (Onapajo and Usman 2015). The counterterrorism policies and practices of the Nigerian government toward the Boko Haram insurgents have also received significant attention (Solomon 2012; Sampson 2016), with many of the studies offering policy recommendations and solutions that the government can adopt.

Nonetheless, Boko Haram remains stoic in the face of extensive counterterrorism operations from the Nigerian military and a regional coalition force comprising armies of the Republic of Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria. The Nigerian government's excessive hard power counterterrorism response has no doubt escalated and sustained the group. Interestingly, the soft power approaches are no less instrumental [End Page 2] to sustaining Boko Haram (Nwankpa 2015). The fixation on Boko Haram's theological motivation and external linkage (Kassim 2015; Zenn 2017; Kassim and Nwankpa 2018) fail to acknowledge the multiple causative factors and the fact that a group...


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