Indeed, more than 100 people were reported killed in the latest massacre carried out by Boko Haram militants in the Cameroonian town of Fotokol on February 4, 2015. On February 3, 2015, Chadian troops took over the Nigerian town of Gamboru Ngala, located along the Nigeria-Cameroon border, killing more than 200 members of Boko Haram. The militants were “completely wiped out,” a Chadian military source said. These clashes followed a month of intensive fighting for control of Baga, a town situated on the Nigerian shore of Lake Chad. On January 15, 2015, Amnesty International released satellite images showing that over 3,700 structures had been damaged or completely destroyed during Boko Haram attacks in the Northeastern towns of Baga and Doron Baga.
Over the past 18 months, Boko Haram has intensified its offensive with the goal of controlling territories along Lake Chad shared by Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger. This has turned the insurgency from a threat to Nigeria’s national security into a transnational one. On January 29, 2015, the African Union approved the deployment of a 7,500-strong multinational force to fight Boko Haram. Chad has taken the lead in running the military operation, having deployed 2,500 troops on the ground and having carried out several air strikes in recent weeks, which have seriously challenged Boko Haram’s capacity to hold its ground.
Despite this, Boko Haram remains Nigeria’s main security threat and will play a major role in undermining the country’s political stability for years to come. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, more than 20,000 people were killed in the period from May 2011 to January 2015, while the European Commission estimates about 1.5 million people have become Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) due to the actions of Boko Haram.
These numbers testify that Boko Haram’s tactics have been particularly effective in spreading terror across Nigeria’s northern states and beyond.
Boko Haram’s modus operandi
From an operational perspective, Boko Haram’s modi operandi have practically remained unchanged over time. Kidnappings, suicide attacks and car bombings still represent the three major tools used to hit both civilian and military targets.
Kidnappings are usually carried out in remote villages in the north of the country that are left unprotected by the Nigerian army. Militants storm villages in the early hours of the morning (approximately between 3:00 and 4:00 am), arriving in stolen pickup trucks and sometimes disguised in Nigerian military uniforms. They openly fire on men, destroy parts of villages and kidnap the survivors, mostly women and children. The kidnapping of 200 schoolgirls in Chibok in April 2014 was not an isolated case, although it attracted media attention due to the unprecedented number of abductions in a single operation.
More recently, about 80 people were kidnapped by Boko Haram on January 18, 2015, during cross-border raids in the Tourou district of northern Cameroon. Of them, around 50 were children aged 10 to 15. On December 14, 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped between 185 and 200 civilians and killed 33-35 others in a raid on the Gumsuri village, Borno state.
These abductions represent both a source of funding, through ransoms, and (wo)manpower for suicide bombing operations. Indeed, over the past several months, there has been an increase in the use of women and children in such operations.
Suicide attacks against civilian targets (e.g. churches, markets, schools) are usually carried out during peak hours. For instance, attacks against markets and churches are perpetrated on weekends when people gather to pray or shop. First an explosion is used to clear the way for eventual armed guards and to clear access for the second suicide bomber. On January 11, 2015, a 10 year old girl detonated an explosive vest at a chicken market in Maiduguri, killing 19 people and wounding 20 others. The incident occurred at about 12:30 pm. The same day, two female suicide bombers, of 23 and 15 year old, detonated their suicide vests at the Kasuwar Jagwal GSM market in Potiskum, Yobe state, killing at least 20 people and injuring 21 others. According to reports, the incident occurred at approximately 3 pm. A 23 year old girl detonated herself at the entrance of the market while volunteer security guards were screening people with a metal detector. The second explosion occurred right after.
Boko Haram has already forced the Nigerian government to postpone the presidential elections to March 28, 2015. In fact, apart from the lack of military personnel to oversee the election, the heavy fighting in Nigeria’s northern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa has delayed the delivery of millions of voting cards. BBC reported that only 43 million cards were delivered out of 69 million. The elections delay, along with other ongoing socio-economic issues, is likely to produce internal turmoil with street protests possibly turning violent. One should recall that in the aftermath of the 2011 presidential election, 800 people were killed and 65,000 others displaced as a consequence of civil unrest.
Boko Haram is acting as a multiplier of Nigeria’s gravest challenges. From the point of view of political stability, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has been put under heavy pressure for his inability to cope with Boko Haram, and this could play to the favor of the other candidate to the presidency, Muhammadu Buhari, who could benefit from a protest vote against Jonathan. However, in the case of Buhari’s election, question remains whether his government would confirm the annual payment granted to the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) in the 2009 amnesty agreement. If such a payment is not continued, Nigeria may risk re-opening a second front in the south, a scenario that the ill-equipped and overstretched Nigerian army cannot afford.
In addition, the future government may be pressured by neighbouring states to increase its defense budget, which is currently set at approximately 1% of GDP (i.e. USD 6 billion out of an annual GDP of more than USD 500 billion) (1, 2).
This comes at a time when Nigeria’s state budget is struggling with declining oil prices, which provides the 80% of the GDP. Over the past three months, Nigeria’s currency has lost 10% of its value, while central bank’s reserves have shrunk by 20% with respect to the previous year. In addition, The Wall Street Journal reported that civil servants have not receive their salaries for months, and this situation may become aggravated over time, hence paving the way for strikes and violent phenomena of civil unrest.
Given this situation, it is clear that the newly elected Nigerian government will not have an easy task in placing the country on the right track. Likewise, neighboring countries and the international community should work together to assure that the largest African economy does not slide toward a deeper and more dangerous chaos.