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Boko Haram

Governments or Organizations that Identify Boko Haram as a Terrorist Group

Boko Haram (BH) refers to a violent Islamic entity in Nigeria that has been involved in deadly attacks targeting the state and civilians. The organization propagates the state victimization narrative as a means of eliciting sympathizers and recruits (Agbiboa, 2013). Its abduction of about 300 schoolgirls in April of 2014 received widespread international attention. The high death toll attributed to BH coupled with its linkages to other terrorist outfits such as Al-Qaeda and Islamic State has seen BH being ranked as one of the deadliest terrorist groups across the globe. So far, BH has killed about 15,000 (Onuoha, 2010). Estimates by the United Nations show that BH’s activities have resulted in the displacement of about 2.8 million people (Solomon, 2012). Additionally, the group has been active beyond Nigeria in Chad, Niger, and Cameroon; thus, it has been attracting attention of various countries and organizations concerned with addressing threats posed by the group. This paper discusses various aspects of BH, including its designation as a terrorist group, purposes, sources of support, and the role that terrorism plays in achieving its purpose. The structure of the group, force multipliers, terrorist incidents, and counter-terrorist operations targeting the group are also analyzed.

BH has been officially designated as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) by the United States. The Department of State identified BH as a terrorist group in 2013 (Nweke, 2014). This designation came after numerous extremely lethal attacks initiated by the organization against international and domestic targets in Nigeria. Moreover, its leaders, including Adan Kambar Abubakar, Khalid al-Barnawi, and Abubakar Sgekau have been designated as international terrorists (Agbiboa, 2013). By listing BH as a terrorist organization, the US sought to sever the organization’s ties with the US financial institutions and permit banks to freeze assets of individuals linked to it (Onuoha, 2012). Moreover, the designation of BH had the aim of supporting Nigeria’s counterterrorism efforts. Besides the US, other countries such as the UK, Canada, and Australia identify BH as a terrorist entity. Australia designated BH as a terrorist outfit on June 26, 2014, whereas Canada designated it as terrorist entity on December 24, 2013 (Nweke, 2014). Motivations underpinning the designation by these countries relate to countering of its financing. Additionally, Nigeria and other countries in the region, including Niger, Chad, and Cameroon, identify BH as a terrorist entity.

Moreover, the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) consider BH as a terrorist entity. The UN listed BH as terrorist institution on May 22, 2014, whereas the EU listed it on May 28, 2014 (Gilbert, 2014). The designation by the UN and the EU sought to show their commitment to supporting Nigeria fight terrorism, while at the same time ensuring that human rights and the rule of law are upheld. The EU added BH to the list of entities, groups, or people whose economic resources and funds can be frozen (Aghedo & Osumah, 2012). It is evident that identifying BH as a terrorist entity by various governments and organizations are mainly motivated by the need to impede its financing and show support to Nigeria’s efforts geared towards combating terrorism.

Purposes of BH

BH has been profiled as a radical Sunni Islamic organization that originally refers to itself as Jama’ atu Ahlis Sunnar LIdda’ awati Wal-Jihad, which means people who are devoted to propagating jihad and teachings of the Prophet (Gilbert, 2014). The name “Boko Haram” is often rejected by the group and is a moniker that locals used due to its strong perception that Western education is corrupt. Mohammed Yusuf, the founder of BH, was an educated Salafist as well as a follower of Ibn Taymiyya, a fourteenth century Muslim scholar who taught Islamic fundamentalism (Onapajo & Uzodike, 2012). BH has the primary objective of ensuring that Nigeria is an Islamic state and establishing Sharia courts. Since BH targets churches, various authors agree that the group has been trying to instigate a conflict between Christians and Muslims and possibly push Nigeria towards a civil war motivated by religious extremism. The secondary objective of BH is the creation of the Pan-Islamic state beyond the borders of Nigeria. Onuoha (2010) reveals that the organization is typified by high levels of decentralization and that not all its fighters adhere to the Salafi doctrine because the majority of them are uneducated poor youth. Although the group was initially non-violent and preached a doctrine of withdrawal from the perceived corrupt Nigerian nation, its confrontations with security forces concerning local disputes was instrumental in making BH more violent and radical.

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Some observers claim that although the group has links with global terrorist organizations such as the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the bulk of the grievances raised by the group are attributed to local governance failures in the Borno State, wide economic inequality in Nigeria, and religious tensions existing between Muslims and Nigerians. Moreover, some analysts suggest that recently BH has fragmented into various factions with some offshoots focusing on the establishment of stronger ties with global terrorist entities like Al-Qaeda as way of increasing regional influence whereas some factions are more focused domestically to convert Nigeria into an Islamic state (Agbiboa, 2013; Solomon, 2012). Still, some observers maintain that BH is not driven by any purpose. These observers maintain that the current crop of BH fighters do not adhere to the principles of Mohammed Yusuf. They argue that BH is just a brand name and comprises of a few nihilist Islamic elements in Northern Nigeria. For instance, Nweke (2014) describes the organization as convergence of criminal opportunists, resentful political leaders, and their henchmen. In general, it is evident that the bulk of BH’s activities focus on domestic jihad, wherein the primary emphasis is on turning Nigeria into an Islamic state.


BH draws support from other global terrorist groups. One of the international terrorist entities that support BH is Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Onuoha (2010) shows that BH gets support from the AQIM in the form of funding, albeit insignificant to the overall funding of the organization. The AQIM also offers training support by allowing BH fighters to utilize its training camps. Another terrorist organization that supports BH is Al Shabaab (Onapajo & Uzodike, 2012). These two terrorist entities share explosive materials as well as money. Additionally, BH and the Movement for Unit and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) support the operations of each other. According to Onuoha (2012), BH also receives support from Saudi organizations. In fact, it is supposed that Mohammed Yusuf sought shelter there in 2004 from Nigerian security forces.

Role of Terrorism in Achieving its Objectives

BH has planned and executed numerous attacks targeting Nigeria and other surrounding countries. Some of the violent tactics employed by the entity include suicide bombing, bombings that are detonated remotely, and armed assaults targeting government interests, law enforcement, military, and civilians (Agbiboa, 2013). Terrorist attacks executed by the group have been increasing in lethality, reach, and frequency ever since 2010 to an extent that they occur nearly on a daily basis in Northeast Nigeria with Niger, Chad, and Cameroon documenting increasing frequency. Initially, BH targeted federal and state agencies such as police stations; however, it has started attacking churches, villages, churches, and schools (Solomon, 2012). The organization justifies these attacks as means of eliminating Western elements in order to create an Islamic state. The organization has openly stated that it waging war against Christians, thus affirming its commitment to continuing attacking and killing Christians in order to further its agenda of having an Islamic Nigerian state (Aghedo & Osumah, 2012). Overall, it is evident that BH relies significantly on terrorism as a tool for propagating its agenda and objectives. Although established as a non-violent organization, the organization adopted its vicious terrorist methods following a violent encounter with the government forces in 2009.

The Structure of the Group, Funding, Recruitment Strategies, and Membership Profile

Following the violent purge by the Nigerian police in 2009, BH went underground with little information in public domain concerning its organizational or leadership structure. Communications from the group are issued by two spokespersons using aliases, including Abu Qaqa and Abu Zaid who take part in phone interviews and issue statements to the media (Agbiboa, 2013). Abu Bakar Shekau has been leading the organization since 2010. Even though BH has a hierarchical organizational structure with one leader at the top, its structure also comprises of a clandestine cell system that employs the network structure. Each cell has about 300-500 fighters (Agbiboa, 2013). Leaders of these cells take orders from Shekau and in turn convey these orders to soldiers. Leaders of cells lack direct contact with the leader of the organization. Some analysts report that BH is typified by a decentralized leadership structure albeit being unified by a universal ideology together with their discontent with local grievances.

BH gets its funding from diverse sources. The first source of funding is from extortion, kidnapping ransoms, and robbery (Gilbert, 2014). For instance, in 2013 the group’s gunmen kidnapped a French family on holiday in Cameroon that was released after two months following the payout of $ 3.5 million. Moreover, whenever a wealthy foreigner or Nigerian is kidnapped, the organization demands a ransom of $ 1 million (Solomon, 2012). BH uses carriers for moving money and avoids using the banking system, which increases the difficulty of tracking its funds. The group tracks movements of the army by paying the local youth; thus, it requires little resources to execute its attacks. A bulk of its equipment was acquired from fleeing soldiers. Moreover, BH also extorts local governments (Aghedo & Osumah, 2012). The group claims that it receives monthly payment from a state governor.

The second source of funding for BH comes in the form of donations received from Islamist sympathizers. Following the founding of the group, it was funded by local corrupt politicians in order to disrepute their rivals (Agbiboa, 2013). Additionally, local donors supporting the imposition of the Islamic law donated money to get rid of Western influences in Nigeria. Recently, the terrorist group has expanded the scope of its funding to include foreign donors, as well as engaging in other ventures like falsified charity organizations. It has been established that BH receives financing from groups found in the UK and Saudi Arabia (Aghedo & Osumah, 2012). By using an extremely decentralized network for distribution, the group is able to conceal its funding sources. It uses the hawala system to transfer funds, which further makes it difficult to track its financing sources.

BH also funds its activities through drug trafficking. Media reports indicate that the group is engaged in trafficking cocaine. Moreover, BH gets its funding through ties with other international terrorist groups. For instance, in 2012 its spokesman acknowledged cooperating with Al Qaeda in promoting the Islamic cause (Gilbert, 2014). Media reports also indicate that BH soldiers have trained together with the affiliate groups of Al Qaeda. Moreover, the group shares material and training support with the AQIM. The UN reported that some BH soldiers fought together with Al Qaeda affiliates in Mali to gain expertise in terrorism prior to getting back to Nigeria.

With respect to recruitment strategies, the founder of the group has set up a religious school and complex that appealed to poor Muslim families coming from Nigeria and adjacent nations. This center has the main objective of forming an Islamic state and becoming a recruitment avenue for jihadis (Aghedo & Osumah, 2012). BH fosters its recruitment drive by propagating the narrative of state and police corruption in order to attract unemployed young people. Onuoha (2010) points out that BH exploits public discontent with corruption in the government, associating it with the influence of the West in governance.

The membership profile of BH has been described as lacking uniformity (Aghedo & Osumah, 2012). Apart from core militants who seem to adhere to the radical Sunni extremist ideology, the membership of the organization seems to be broad and comprises of diverse followers, mainly of the youth in the northeast region of Nigeria as well as the border areas of northern Cameroon and southeast Niger (Nweke, 2014). Analysts maintain that members of the group are mainly young, poor, and uneducated. Moreover, membership of the group comprises of people who are discontent with disparities in terms of the application of laws, underdevelopment in the region, unemployment, lack of investment, and abusive security forces operating in the region. It is estimated that the membership of the group is about 6,000 hardcore militants (Onuoha, 2012).

Important Force Multipliers

Terrorist groups use force multipliers to increase the damaging nature of their attacks. Force multipliers stand for a factor that increases the striking power of a terrorist attack without necessarily increasing the number of militants (Oehme III, 2008). Terrorist groups often look for a tactic that will lead to a catastrophic damage with minimal loss to the organization. Some of the force multipliers that terrorists use include technologically-enhanced weapons, media coverage, religious fanaticism, or transnational support (Oehme III, 2008). For BH, transnational support is one of its force multipliers. Transnational support is characterized by terrorist groups having the same beliefs, ideologies, and interests cooperating with respect to financing, planning, and execution of attacks (Oehme III, 2008). BH has linkages with other terrorist groups sharing the same goal of establishing the Islamic caliphate such as Al Shabaab and they share resources. Cooperation with other terrorist entities increases the influence of BH (Aghedo & Osumah, 2012). Although state support is a force multiplier for some terrorist entities, BH does not enjoy the support of any state. The second force multiplier that BH uses is the media, which it uses to enhance its political influence. BH has media presence in YouTube. Moreover, Onuoha (2010) illustrates BH’s fascination with the media coverage in the degree in which its activities are violent. An example is the kidnaping of school girls in 2014 and the recent burning of children (Gilbert, 2014). Vast media coverage offers an avenue through which BH conveys its agenda. Thus, the most important force multipliers for BH are media coverage and transnational support.

Current (Past 12 Months) Terrorist Incidents and Other Political and Social Operations

During the past 12 months, BH has executed numerous attacks. Terrorist incidents launched by the group are so frequent that they are documented nearly on a daily basis. On April 6, 2015, the group’s militants dressed as preachers and launched an attack that killed more than 24 people and wounded many others in a mosque in the Borno State (Nweke, 2014). The militants gathered people under the pretense of seeking to preach Islam, after which they launched an attack. On June 15, 2016, the group engaged in suicide bombings, killing 100 people in N’Djamena, the capital city of Chad. These are just some of the terrorist attacks undertaken by the group. Additionally, BH has issued threats to the governments of Chad, Niger, and Cameroon (Nweke, 2014).

Specific Counter-terrorist Operations Being Employed to Limit the Group

A number of counterterrorist operations have been adopted to help constrain activities of BH. Nigeria has been engaging in active counterterrorism against the group. The counterterrorism strategy adopted by Nigeria is counter military action characterized by heavy-handed military approach in dealing with militant objects of the terrorist entity. Since 2009, BH has clashed with the armed forces of Nigeria, which led to hundreds of deaths of BH militants, including their leader (Mohammed Yusuf) (Oyewole, 2015). However, with Nigeria using counter military action, the strength of BH has grown significantly, being typified by expansion to neighboring countries, including Cameroon, Chad, and Niger.

The utilization of extreme violence by BH has motivated the adoption of counter-terrorism collaboration between Nigeria and other countries, including France, the UK, the US, and other Africa nations. For instance, the US has partnered in numerous counterterrorism support programs with Nigeria. An example is the Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) program implemented by the State Department. This operation has the main aim of enhancing the capability of the Nigerian law enforcement in preventing, detecting, and investigating terrorism threats. This operation is also aimed at securing the borders of Nigeria and managing terrorism incident response (Oyewole, 2015). The ATA program entails collaboration with the Nigerian Police Force, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Immigration Service, and Customs Service. The US also offers other counterterrorism support to Nigeria such as countering violent extremism (CVE) programs that seek to limit BH’s recruitment and the Counterterrorism Finance (CTF) program that offers training to limit the ability of BH to raise, transfer, and store funds. The United States has also embarked on offering training to Nigerian Army soldiers and officers focusing on counterterrorism operations (Nweke, 2014). Counterterrorism support to Nigeria is mainly offered through the State Department. The partnership with the US focuses on counterterrorism practices and policies. These initiatives seek to offer a holistic comprehension of BH and countering of its terrorist activities.

Significance of the Group for Future US Domestic and Foreign Policy Activities

The US views Nigeria as a strategic nation on the continent of Africa; as a result, the foreign policy experts have emphasized the significance of the US-Nigeria relationship and addressing of threats emanating from and within Nigeria. This means that the US will have to prioritize offering assistance to Nigeria to help the country address terrorism threats emanating from the organization (Oyewole, 2015). The State Department has expressed concerns that the emergence of BH as a terrorist group can be attributed to persistent poor governance, the increasing impoverishment of Northern Nigeria, and the alienation of Muslims in the North (Oyewole, 2015). To this end, it is crucial for the foreign policy of the US towards Nigeria to not only focus on offering military support, but also help Nigeria address the issue from a holistic perspective such as addressing human rights issues and addressing problems in governance.


Many governments identify BH as a terrorist group, including the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia. Besides, the EU and the UN view BH as a terrorist organization as well. The main purpose of BH is to ensure that Nigeria is an Islamic state guided by the Sharia law. Other objectives of the group include establishing Islamic states beyond Nigeria’s borders. The group receives support from other international terrorist groups such as the AQIM, the MUJAO, and Al Shabaab. BH receives funding from various sources, including extortion, kidnapping ransoms, robbery, donations from Islamist sympathizers, and drug trafficking. The force multipliers that help the group include transnational support and media coverage. The current counterterrorism actions against the group include military action by Nigeria and cross-country collaborative efforts involving Nigeria, the US, the UK, and France.