On critically analyse and examine in detail

On the 27th of December 2015, 50 people were killed in the North-Eastern
state of Maiduguri In Nigeria by two women wielding rocket propelled grenades
and suicide vests to. It is estimated that at least 30 people were killed and more than 90 were wounded in overnight
explosions and shootouts1. These attacks were claimed by Boko Haram, an
extremist group originating in the Northern region of Nigeria who from 2008 have
been responsible for a series of coordinated attacks on civilians.


This essay intends to use the Guardian article:
“Boko Haram assault on
Maiduguri leaves scores dead In Nigeria” as a platform to
critically analyse and examine in detail the Boko Haram assault on Maiduguri
with sustained emphasis on the group and its identity as a terrorist
organisation. The aforementioned will be achieved by giving a brief overview of
the article. An in-depth analysis of the Boko Haram sect will follow and consist
of an exploration of the group’s modus operandi, motives, causes, legitimacy and its achievements.  Furthermore, it is my intent to argue that
Boko Haram is a religious terrorist group. As such, I will examine whether
religion plays as central a role as is often portrayed by the media and
Nigerian government and other international bodies. This will be followed by a
detailed discussion of the term terrorism, the role the media plays in defining
the term and how that influences the classification of Boko Haram under certain
subsections of terrorism. Subsequently, government responses to the attacks
carried out by Boko Haram will be explored with emphasis placed on what has
been done and what can be improved upon. Lastly, I will make further reference
to the article in question and examine its tone, content and quality to
determine how effective the article was in describing the incident.



The article in question, written a
day following the event, starts by reporting on the killing of 50 people in the
city of Maiduguri by Boko Haram. It is very descriptive in its tone and focuses
on the casualties inflicted by Boko Haram referring to them as “religious extremists.”2 The author also provides little
or no information on the group, paying more attention to the victims and the
casualties involved. Thus, the article employs an emotive writing style. Furthermore,
the article does not delve into wider issues and fails to elucidate on the
exact nature of the attack and the motives of the perpetrators.


Depending on how one interprets
the group, Boko Haram can be viewed as a terrorist
organization, freedom fighters, religious fundamentalist or religious fanatics.3 My Intention is to assess
them as a terrorist organisation. As such, it is pertinent to consider the tactics and methods used by the
sect to achieve its motives. Their recruitment process per Blanquart, involves
the targeting of disillusioned youths, university graduates without jobs and
street children known locally as Almajiris.4  Their modus operandi revolves around the use
of suicide vests and bombs which they usually detonate in public spaces to
effect maximum damage. Onuoha seconds this argument by stating that the group
carry out targeted killings, kidnappings and the use of improvised explosive
devices (IEDs) which are carried out almost exclusively in public spaces and targeted
at civilians and politicians alike.5
The description above fits the attacks carried out in Maiduguri as reported in
the article. 

Identifying the methods of
violence utilized by the group distinguishes them from Moses Duruji’s suggestion. Their use of violence to influence the government places
them firmly in the category of a terrorist organisation, rather than a group of
radicalised youths – venting
frustrations at the government ineptitude on the Nigerian people.6  However, the labelling of Boko Haram or any
group carrying out political violence as a terrorist group is extremely
difficult. This is because the term is highly contested and there exists no
universally accepted definition of the term. 
Cronin argues that “terrorism is intended to be a
matter of perception and is seen differently by different observers”.7 With this in mind, I
intend to outline parameters in this essay which I believe constitute


Terrorism refers to the deliberate use of
violence by a group or individuals for the advancement of social, political and
religious goals or for the purpose of spreading fear and influencing the
government or civilians. James Lutz contends that for a group to be considered
terrorist in nature, it must constitute the following: “The use of organized violence and
threats designed to generate fear in a target audience that extends beyond the
immediate victims and is designed to create power in situations where power was
previously lacking.”8 Boko Haram certainly fit all the parameters
offered by both myself and Lutz. Their use of suicide bombs, as was seen in the
attacks in Maiduguri, were targeted primarily at civilians or ‘soft targets’, but were also carried out in
defiance of the government they seek to abolish. The age-old platitude that ‘one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter’9 cannot be applied to Boko Haram as they
inflict casualties not on oppressive regimes but on civilians. Even though they
perceive their victims as infidels or Kufar,
and justify their acts as the will of Allah, the use of weapons and tactics
designed to inflict mass casualty on civilians is indefensible, irrespective of
the cause that is being championed.10 With that in mind it is
impossible from this author’s point to view to label Boko
Haram as anything but a terrorist organization.

Onuoha offers a different perspective towards
the definitions of terrorism. He argues that a group becomes a terrorist group
when the state labels as such.11 This state orientated and
narrow definition doesn’t consider the fact that states
themselves, can be perpetrators of acts of terror. As such, it is perhaps more significant to analyse the Nigerian
government’s definition and determine as to whether the
government considers Boko Haram as a terrorist group. The Nigerian government
defines terrorism as:

 “Any deliberate act done with
malice or forethought which may result in serious harm or damage to the country
and is intended to unduly compel the government to perform or abstain from
performing an act… Constitutes the use of violence
to seriously intimidate a population, or destabilise the fundamental political,
constitutional, economic or social structures of the country.”12


This definition is a condensed version of the
acts stipulated in the Terrorism prevention act which constitutes terrorism.
Whilst the act is too voluminous to quote in this essay, the definition goes
even further to include non-violent acts, knowing of a terrorist act and not
reporting it and others. This, therefore, offers a very wide definition of the
term, making it difficult to effectively determine which groups are terrorist
and which aren’t.  Whilst
the Nigerian government has officially recognized the group as a terrorist
organization, Isaac Sampson presupposes that any attempts made by the Nigerian
government to classify Boko Haram violence as terrorism creates a “definitional quagmire”13 under Nigeria’s
legal regime due to such a broad definition. The implications of this will be
discussed further when examining government responses to Boko Haram.


Having established that Boko Haram is a
terrorist organization, it is important to specify which category they fall
under. Onuoha argues
that “The
main philosophy of the sect is grounded in their interpretation of orthodox
Islam”.14 Further buttressing this
point is the fact that Mallam Sanni Umaru, the acting leader of Boko Haram
since 2009 after the death of Muhammad Yusuf, referred to the group as an
Islamic revolution15  He further states that Boko Haram is “opposed to
all forms of western education”16 and strives for “Islamic
sovereignty over Nigeria”.17

Haram harbour a hybrid of religious and political aspirations and pose a threat
to the Nigerian government. As such, they can be grouped as either dissident or
religious terrorists. However, the fact that their actions are motivated first
and foremost by their interpretation of religious doctrine suggests that they
are a religious terrorist group.  This
certainly coincides with Gus Martin’s
interpretation of religious terrorism. Martin states that: “Religious terrorism is motivated
by the absolute belief that an otherworldly power has sanctioned the use of
violence for the achievement of glory of the faith”.18


Through an analysis of Boko Haram’s place on the terrorism spectrum, the overarching motive of the group becomes
identifiable as a complete overthrow of the Nigerian government and the
imposition of Islamic sharia law. Freedom Onuoha, a commentator on Nigerian
political affairs, argues that the group’s motive is the removal of social vices which have corrupted the
Nigerian people.19 He further argues that
they believe the onus lies on them to create a model Islamic society free from political
corruption and moral corruption.20
 This is encapsulated in a statement
issued by Boko Haram in 2011 which read: “We are carrying out these attacks in order to propagate the name of Allah and to
liberate ourselves and our religion from the hands of infidels and the Nigerian

This essay contends, however, that
Boko Haram’s motives are much more layered
than they appear to be. The suggestion that Boko Haram’s main motive is the imposition of sharia law is indeed tenable.
Nevertheless, there are sustained suggestions that the group acts in lieu with
certain high ranking Northern politicians. A prime example is that of Ali Modu
Sheriff, former governor of Borno state (where Boko Haram was formed and
developed), who was accused of not only funding but aiding and abetting Boko
Haram activities. These allegations were levelled against him by the attorney
general and chief justice of Borno state and as such can be said to be coming
from a credible source.22
Whist Sherriff completely denied the allegations, it raises uncomfortable
questions about Boko Haram and its relationship with the state. Furthermore, it
brings to light the possibility that Boko Haram could be used as a private apparatus
to assassinate political rivals. Whilst the assertion that Boko Haram is in bed
with Northern politicians hasn’t been
officially verified, it adds another political dimension to the motives of the

The causes of Boko Haram’s Islamic insurgency are equally as contested as their motives. Scholars
offer a myriad of reasons as to why Boko Haram went from a non-violent
religious group to one of violence and insurgency in the space of a few years. Ogunlesi
identifies the killing of Muhammad Yusuf in 2009 by Nigerian forces as a
watershed moment with regards to the scale, proportion and methods of the Boko
Haram sect.23 Raymond Okoro on the
other hand, argues that violence perpetuated by Boko Haram in the North region
of Nigeria is due to deep-rooted socio economic depravity in the region.24
He puts forward the notion that the lack of basic amenities, poor distribution of
wealth and the continued embezzlement of Nigerian wealth by state and federal
politicians is the main reason for Boko Haram taking up arms and carrying the
sort of violence which took place in Maiduguri. 
Perhaps a more telling argument is offered by Wisdom Oghosa who contends
that the main cause for Boko Haram insurgency lies in pre-existing political
conditions unique to the Northern region of Nigeria.25
His argument is therefore that Boko Haram were able to take root due to
political opportunity –  or in other
words a lack of political stability in the area. The insipid nature of governance
created an environment for political and religious forms of terrorism to grow. He
argues that the key to understanding Boko Haram and other terrorist
insurgencies in Northern Nigeria lies in an understanding of the Nigerian
Political climate.26
His argument is certainly valid as it supports the failed state theory which
suggests that when a state loses monopoly over coercive violence there is often
a breakdown of authority and subsequently serves a s a breeding ground for act
of terrorism.27


Whilst all these arguments offer
legitimate causes for the rise of Boko Haram as a terrorist organization, the
fact remains that without Muhammad Yusuf, Boko Haram may never have gone down
the path of religious terrorism. Onuoha, seconds this line of argument. He
contends that the emergence of Yusuf served as a major factor with regards to
the transition of Boko Haram into a group with religious extremist ideals.28
Yusuf, who took leadership of the group in 2003, sought complete disassociation
with any form of western influence. Described as a charismatic individual, he
sought to radicalize his followers and instil in them a deep antipathy for
secularization in Nigeria. Isa argues that by dissociating his followers from
society and by radicalizing them, Yusuf hoped this will ultimately lead to a
violent uprising against the Nigerian government.29
 Thus it is clear that through the
gradual alienation of the sect from society by Yusuf, Boko Haram gradually became
more radicalized. Despite his untimely death, the violent legacy of Yusuf
clearly still lives on, if anything it has served to further galvanize the
group in its efforts as can be seen in the attacks in Maiduguri.

The factors explored above offer
up a varied analysis of the causes of Boko Haram’s religious extremism. However, it remains unclear as to how central a
role religion plays in Boko Haram’s political violence. This Is because most of the causes of Boko Haram
extremism put forward by political commentators rarely have religion at its
base. Most causes, if observed critically, can be traced back to either
socio-economic, political or psychological roots. Dan Isaacs for example,
argues that the huge disparity in wealth between the oil rich Christian south
and the poorer Muslim North led to increased scepticism especially among youth about
the nature of western government in Nigeria as it served no benefit whatsoever
to them.30 Isaacs’ article was written in 2003, around the time Muhammad Yusuf took over
Boko Haram. Therefore, it is evident that Muhammad Yusuf would have found it
easy to recruit disgruntled Muslim youths, coaxing them with the promise of a
change of government and an introduction of sharia law. This example helps to
further augment the argument that religion while important, is not the most
central factor in relation to Boko Haram’s evolution into a terrorist organization. It is evident that socio-political
factors not religion, contributed more to the sect’s development. Aghedo argues that the northern region has the highest
level of unemployment especially among youths in Nigeria. He further
corroborates the argument made above by postulating that the low level of human
development in the area provides a fertile breeding ground for Boko Haram and
other such groups31
However, it is important to note that Boko Haram has over the years morphed
into a quasi-religious sect, using the disgruntlement in the northern region to
propagate the use of sharia law for the whole country.


Having analysed the causes,
methods and motives of Boko Haram, it is germane to the overall analysis of
Boko Haram to include a probe into the sect’s achievements or lack thereof. Gauging the success of a terrorist
organisation is a difficult if not morbid task. Exploring the death toll accrued
through the exploits of terrorist groups for example is a rather crude way of
accounting for a terrorist’s success.
Exacerbating this further, is the fact that due to the nature of terrorist
activities, media outlets of both Nigeria and western countries rarely write on
the ‘successes’ of terrorist groups.  A
considered approach will be to explore what constitutes success in the eyes of
the terrorists whilst also looking at to what extent they have made headway in
achieving their goal which in Boko Haram’s case, is the implementation of sharia law in the whole country.  

Whilst the group has failed to implement
sharia law across Nigeria, their increasing use of violence and the failure if
the Nigerian government to properly handle the sect has led to attention from
international bodies, thus allowing them to further recruit members and spread
their motives. An apt example of this is the kidnapping of 50 girls from the village
of Chibok. Whilst this did not get them any closer to implementing sharia law,
they received international attention from this act and on social media were
the hashtag “Bring back our girls” trended for months, with internationally renowned figures such as
Michelle Obama joining in on the movement.32

Onuoha argues that the fact that Boko Haram
have resorted to the use of violence in the name of Islam signals its “growing strategic and operational maturity
and the possibility of a tactical nexus with other jihadist groups in the
future”. 33 Attacks such as the Maiduguri incident give
testament to Onuoha’s argument as the use of rocket
propelled grenades and coordinated suicide bombings suggest that they are
getting some form of training or sponsorship from abroad.

However, there is no concrete evidence of
established operational links with groups such as Al Qaeda or the Taliban.34  Furthermore the extreme nature of the sects
demands, coupled with the fact that Boko Haram have perpetuated attacks
primarily on Muslims, means that the group has gotten very little support from
Muslims in northern Nigeria.35  Thus for every follower gained, Boko Haram
make a thousand more enemies. One of the main reasons why the Taliban has
thrived to this day despite America’s
constant attacks is due to their ability to portray the Americans as the enemy
and galvanize support from Afghani locals to fight a ‘Holy war’ against them. Boko Haram do not
have that capacity as they have failed to garner support from locals as their goal
of sharia rule across Nigeria is not popular among the Nigerian Muslim population.36


As previously discussed, even though Boko
Haram fits under Nigeria’s definitional parameters of the
term terrorism, the Nigerian government has struggled with the classification
of extremist groups like Boko Haram.

The significance of this is telling, as the
Nigerian government has struggled to formulate a viable counterterrorist
strategy and have over the years, been bogged down by an inability to formulate
a response to the growing threat posed by Boko Haram.  Laquer argues that the Nigerian state finds it
difficult to classify violent extremist groups such as Boko Haram and as such
struggle with methods to counter the sect.37  The Nigerian government have primarily used a
mix of police and military force to counter the sect. The use of military and
police forces to counter Boko Haram was widely used from 2003 up until 2011
when the government created the Joint Task force, a unit created specifically
to counter Boko Haram insurgency. The task force has however been accused of indiscriminate
violence and the use of excessive force by Borno state indigenes who are the
primary victims of Boko Haram violence.38
In a damning report, Senator Bakka Ibrahim accused the joint
task force of killing more civilians since its inception in 2011 than Boko
Haram have done.39

no means do I claim to possess any form of superior knowledge to the Nigerian
government. However, their counter-terrorism strategy is clearly defective and needs
to be improved.  Botha argues that rather than
strengthen the state apparatus in response to growing terrorist threats, governments
should look to the underlying causes of extremist insurgency.40
This a strategy which I believe should be championed by the Nigerian government.
Rather than use excessive force to flush out the extremists at the cost of
innocent civilian lives, a more nuanced approach needs to be considered.
Sampson proposes that an increase in political participation, increased social
amenities, and a general effort to improve the welfare of the poorer Nigerian
North is the appropriate response to boko Haram insurgency.41
I concur with Sampson’s reasoning
but also realise that there is a need for military action as it is unreasonable
to suggest that the government should cease from trying to capture a group who
has killed thousands. This essay argues therefore, that while the use of
violence is necessary to counteract the threat posed by Boko Haram,
educational, economic and welfare schemes should be introduced to prevent the
sect from further spreading in the long term.

Having conducted an in-depth
analysis of the group and theorized on its motives, causes, tactics and
achievements, it is apt to determine whether all the factors discussed above
render their acts as legitimate. An important tool to use when determining the
legitimacy of a terrorist group is the just war theory, which comprises two
dimensions- Jus Ad Bellum which
refers to “the
conditions under which a party may go to war”42  and Jus In Bello which “controls the behaviour of any parties involved in war.”43

argues that the just war theory considers motives of war and physical
aggression to be as legitimate if it
is “a last resort, being declared by a
proper authority, possessing right intention, imminent threat, having a
reasonable chance of success, and the end being proportional to the means used”.44 As analysed above, Boko Haram’s motives are grounded in their
interpretation of orthodox Islam, which in a nut-shell is the imposition of
sharia law in Nigeria.  they use as a
basis to perpetuate violence “in the name of Allah.” Given that Nigeria is a multi- religious state and allows for both
Muslims and Christians, it is improbable to view Boko Harm’s acts as anything but
illegitimate as the religious- tolerance of the Nigerian state implies that
there is no immediate threat to Islam. Furthermore, the end which they seek
(imposition of sharia law) is not proportional to the means used. The
kidnapping of 250 girls for example in no way constitutes a legitimate means to
achieving sharia law as the girls aren’t policy makers and can
do nothing with regards to achieving that aim.

However, Malosowe contends “that
it is easy to condemn acts of terrorism as illegitimate from the perspective of
the condemner but is a different story altogether from the perspective of the
condemned”45 Malosowe argues further, that “the concept
of innocence is widely different to terrorist groups than that outlined in the
Just war theory”.46 Therefore,
from the perspective of Boko Haram, both civilians and the government are sinners
and as such acts of violence carried out against them are perfectly legitimate.


The lack of insight into boko Haram in the guardian article suggests as
to just how little is understood about the sect. Their motives, causes and how
the government should respond remain contested by scholars, politicians and
government officials alike. This essay has merely attempted to fill the gaps
regarding the what’s and whys of the  sect. One thing
remains clear however, until answers are provided attacks such as those carried
out in Maiduguri aren’t going to dissipate anytime soon.