Extremist Group Boko Haram in Nigeria: a Danger of Local or Global Level?

DOI: 10.20542/0131-2227-2015-1-17-27

A. Yashlavskii, Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences (IMEMO RAN), 23, Profsoyuznaya Str., Moscow, 117997, Russian Federation (dosier@mail.ru).

Abstract. Among issues of the US-Africa summit in August 2014 the problem of religious extremism in Africa was most important. In that context Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram plays a significant role. Kidnapping by Boko Haram militants of about 200 schoolgirls in April 2014 added oil to the fire. This action increased the fears of international community about possible linkage between Boko Haram and foreign Al Qaeda-like terrorist organizations. Initially, the group emerged as a local movement of devout Muslims in Northern Nigeria. But eventually it became a very radical militant Salafi-Jihadist group with ambitious goal to build an Islamic state in Nigeria. As is well-known, Nigerian population is divided not only into relatively rich South and poor North, but also into Christian and Muslim communities. As a result of sectarian clashes in Nigeria, thousands people lost their lives. The sectarian violence in this country is connected in part with the Islamist revolt of 1999 (“Sharia conflict”), after adoption of Sharia law in several Northern Nigerian states. Ethnic-religious violence in Nigeria is connected in particular with the British colonial heritage, but also with current serious social-economic problems (including the unemployment, corruption, cruelty of security services, unbalanced national economy etc.). From some point of view Nigeria may be considered even as a “failed state” because its federal government cannot control the whole territory of the country. While some southern regions are under control of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta militants, some areas in northern states are controlled by Islamists of Boko Haram and other radical groups. It's possible to say that Boko Haram has created its own “state within the state”. Boko Haram's ideology is anti-Western and anti-secular. It supports the revival of “pure” Islamic traditional values. Denying any inter-communion with the Western world, above all, the group claims against corrupted – from its point of view – Nigerian authorities and Muslim establishment (local version of the Islamist "Close Enemy"). An issue of the Boko Haram's engagement to global Jihadist movement is rather unclear. On one hand, ideologically, the group is very close to other Islamist groups (e.g. Al Qaeda and its branches in Maghreb, Somalia and Arabic Peninsula). But on the other hand, Boko Haram prefers to act against domestic (Nigerian) targets with very rare exclusions (for instance, an explosion of UN building in the capital-city Abuja). It must be clear that some attempts to find links between Boko Haram and Al Qaeda's network reflect the interest of Nigeria's authority to win international support for its struggle against local Islamist radicals. But it is impossible to ignore the information about logistical and operational links between Nigerian militants and such terrorist organizations as “Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb” or Somalian “Al Shaabab” (not to speak of common ideological agenda). It is necessary to point out that factional splits inside of Boko Haram (e.g. the emergence of the militant group “Ansaru”) make the picture more complex. Actually, the Boko Haram constitutes a danger primarily for Nigeria and potentially for neighboring countries. But considering the current evolution of the group, there is a great danger of further radicalization and internationalization of its activities both at local and regional (and maybe global) levels. 

Keywords: Nigeria, Islamism, terrorism, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, Jihadism, Salafism, West Africa, Ansaru, AQIM

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For citation:
Yashlavskii A. Extremist Group Boko Haram in Nigeria: a Danger of Local or Global Level?. World Eonomy and International Relations, 2015, no. 1, pp. 17-27. https://doi.org/10.20542/0131-2227-2015-1-17-27

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