Assessing Crisis Group’s Report on the Boko Haram Insurgency


Boko Haram militants during a recent attack at an army detention facility in Maiduguri. Photo credit: BBC

The International Crisis Group recently published a report on the Boko Haram insurgency titled ‘Curbing Violence in Nigeria (II): The Boko Haram Insurgency (full report available HERE)’. It chronicles the insurgency in a detailed and historical manner and recommends measures for addressing it, to various stakeholders.

The main findings are summarised in the opening paragraph of the Executive Summary:


“Boko Haram’s four-year-old insurgency has pitted neighbour against neighbour, cost more than 4,000 lives, displaced close to half a million, destroyed hundreds of schools and government buildings and devastated an already ravaged economy in the North East, one of Nigeria’s poorest regions. It overstretches federal security services, with no end in sight, spills over to other parts of the north and risks reaching Niger and Cameroon, weak countries poorly equipped to combat a radical Islamist armed group tapping into real governance, corruption, impunity and underdevelopment grievances shared by most people in the region. Boko Haram is both a serious challenge and manifestation of more profound threats to Nigeria’s security. Unless the federal and state governments, and the region, develop and implement comprehensive plans to tackle not only insecurity but also the injustices that drive much of the troubles, Boko Haram, or groups like it, will continue to destabilise large parts of the country. Yet, the government’s response is largely military, and political will to do more than that appears entirely lacking.”


The recommendations are addressed to the Federal Government, the northern state governments and international donor partners. They are two-fold: those aimed at protecting lives, and those aimed at tackling the root causes of the insurgency.

What I like most about the report is its detailed and granular nature. It is based on extensive fieldwork in various parts of Nigeria, with information gathered from Boko Haram members, residents in the North-East, the epicenter of the insurgency, from federal and state government officials, from security officers and many other relevant stakeholders. This is obviously a marked departure from the predominantly lazy, speculative and recycled analyses sometimes by arm chair analysts who have never been to any part of northern Nigeria.

Some of the highlights of the report, or at least, sections I found very informative include (quoted verbatim):

The group ran (probably still runs) a micro-credit scheme for its supporters:

“(They received) funds from external Salafi contacts, including Osama bin Laden, that he (Yusuf) used to fund a micro- credit scheme for his followers and give welfare, food and shelter to refugees and unemployed youth.” (P.i)

The report interrogates claims of the group’s ssociation with local politicians in Borno and the North-East (these excerpts are rather lengthy but significant):

“The 200-strong splinter group led by Abubakar Shekau and Aminu Tashen-Ilimi accused Muhammad Yusuf of being too soft and went to the then governor of neighbouring Yobe state, Bukar Abba Ibrahim, and requested rural land on which to live an ascetic life away from modern immorality. Ibrahim allowed it to settle in Dapchi, in the Bursari local government area, with a large dam for fishing” (p.9)

“Unhappy with the state government and apparently to cater to his more radical lieutenants, his (Yusuf’s) preaching took a harder line. He criticised the ruling elite, denouncing corruption, impunity, and government failures to the general admiration of the local population.” (P.10)

While already popular, Yusuf rose to much greater prominence when he reportedly formed an alliance with (former Borno state governor) Ali Modu Sheriff, a politician and wealthy businessman from a prominent Maiduguri family. Sheriff and his associates have denied any alliance with Yusuf and accused the PDP of creating Boko Haram. In 1999 Sheriff won the Borno North senatorial seat and helped Mala Kachalla, a far older politician, become governor on the ticket of the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) that controlled both Borno and Yobe state. However, an ANPP politician said, they fell out when Kachalla backed out of an agreement to give way to Sheriff after one term…

…It is widely believed in the region and by many Boko Haram members that Sheriff then cut a deal with Yusuf, whose large youth following was a significant electoral bloc. Yusuf allegedly promised to help Sheriff, provided he would implement Sharia and give the sect some senior government appointments.Sheriff denies any agreement, though many politicians and observers say Yusuf gave massive support to his campaign, reportedly including fiery attacks that portrayed Kachalla as a bad Muslim uninterested in Sharia… Sheriff also has been accused of enlisting a group, named “ECOMOG” after the Nigeria-led West African peacekeeping force in Liberia, to intimidate and silence political opponents with impunity…

…The state government allegedly provided funds to Yusuf through Buji Foi, known locally as a Yusuf disciple whom Sheriff made religious affairs commissioner when he became governor.Yusuf used the money to organise an informal micro-credit scheme that gave his disciples capital to set up businesses…

…Cracks appeared in the purported Yusuf-Sheriff alliance, however, after the latter became governor in 2003. According to Boko Haram members, he reneged on his promise to implement Sharia fully in the state, limiting its courts to social matters and refusing to allow traditional criminal punishments such as flogging for theft and fornication, amputation and stoning to death for adultery. Yusuf began to direct ser- mons against Sheriff and his government, ultimately branding him an apostate. In 2007, Buji Foi resigned as religious affairs commissioner in protest.” (P.11-12)

Exploring the questionable engagement of non-Muslim politicians with the sect’s leaders:

“In December 2008, the Borno state government charged Yusuf with terrorism before the federal high court in Abuja. He was released on bail, allegedly following the intervention of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) members. Four influential Nige- rians, all Christians, reportedly signed the bail bond. This led to speculation that Yusuf had backing from northern Christian elites and conspiracy theories that he was being used to undermine northern Muslim leaders” (P.13)

The founder, Muhammad Yusuf’s increasing radicalisation placed him on a collision course with other Muslim clerics:

“Yusuf’s criticism of Western education brought him into disagreement with other clerics, including fellow Salafis; his former mentor, Sheikh Mahmud Jaafar Adam, was his foremost antagonist. Izala clerics, particularly Jaafar Adam and Adam Albany, devoted considerable time to criticising the group and warning the government about it.” (P.12)

Abubakar Shekau’s leadership made the sect more violent and less open to dialogue:

“Yusuf’s main lieutenants were Muhammad Lawan, Mamman Nur and Abubakar Shekau… Nur, said to be more knowledgeable, mature and level-headed, was seen as Yusuf’s deputy and eventual successor, but Shekau was chosen after Yusuf’s death because he was more radical and aggressive…With Shekau at the helm of its most significant faction Boko Haram has grown more ruthless, violent and destructive and less open to dialogue.” (P.19)

The sect is not a cohesive unit. It is highly fragmented into about 6 main factions. Some members are disenchanted by the frequent bloodletting and are pro-dialogue, yet such views are mercilessly crushed:

“Security officials say their successes are due to leaks from disenchanted members. Some are fed up with the bloodletting, want to settle down, but fear advocating negotiations could mean execution by decapitation. Shekau has repeatedly ruled out talks with the government, despite claims by some purported sect members that these were ongoing. Members who proposed dialogue were killed on Shekau’s orders, silencing other pro-dialogue individuals” (p.20-21)

“The killing and capture of top commanders significantly impacted the sect’s eleven- member Shura, leading to its expansion to 37. This made it difficult to reach unani- mous decisions, with consequent adverse consequences for operations. In the past four years it has split into many factions with varying aims, to the point that some believe it is too fragmented to present a common front for dialogue.” (P.21-22)

Boko Haram has ties with extremist Salafi groups around the world:

“Osama bin Laden’s interest in Nigeria dated from his 1992-1996 stay in Sudan, where he reportedly met Mohammed Ali, a Nigerian from Maiduguri studying at the Islamic University in Khartoum who became his disciple and trained in Afghanistan; according to Boko Haram sources, Bin Laden asked him to organise a cell in Nigeria with a 300 million naira budget (approximately $3 million in 2000). Ali returned home in 2002 and began funding religious activities of Salafi groups that were unaware of the plan. Mohammed Yusuf and his group allegedly were the major beneficiaries. With the 2003-2004 Kanamma uprising, in which Mohammed Ali was a major player, Izala groups distanced themselves from him as too radical.” (P.23)

There is a lot more in the report.

I find three main weaknesses in the recommendations section:

First, there is little to no emphasis on how to address the politicization of the insurgency, particularly the alleged involvement of non-Muslims in an ostensibly Islamist phenomenon. For instance, the well-documented involvement of non-Muslims in botched bomb attacks of churches, the arrest of Boko Haram’s medical doctor, Dr. Isaac Ikere, a World Health Organisation (WHO) consultant and that Yusuf was bailed by prominent non-Muslim politicians (although this was explored briefly in the main body of the report in pg. 13) and numerous similar incidents are all highly significant.

Second, the report did not recognise that the media (collectively) are important stakeholders in insecurity and violence in Nigeria. The mainstream media play a huge role in moulding public opinion in Nigeria. Media ownership reflects some of Nigeria’s regional and religious cleavages and the way incidents are reported with a certain slant contribute to the tensions in Nigeria.

Third, I would argue that any recommendation must include a counsel to the Federal Government to revamp its PR on this insurgency. The army’s poor communication strategy has significantly eroded the already thin public trust in the military and in other security agencies. They frequently under-report casualty figures and their human rights violation record in the North-East is legendary. They willingly misinform the public with exaggerated claims of victory. Last year the Joint Military Task Force (JTF) claimed they had killed Abubakar Shekau which turned out to be patently false. Then they callously claimed that the reports of the 20 school girls abducted in Konduga in Borno in February were false. Most recently, the JTF claimed to have rescued the 200 female students abducted in Chibok, Borno a few days ago, a claim that was widely disputed by the school principal. These tall tales are insensitive, are a contemptibly futile attempt at winning hearts and minds and have done incalculable damage to the security agencies’ reputation. The army needs to urgently review it’s public engagement strategy to regain the trust of Nigerians.

Notwithstanding these shortcomings, the Crisis Group report is meticulously written, easy to read and devoid of unnecessary jargon. It is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the Boko Haram insurgency.

8 thoughts on “Assessing Crisis Group’s Report on the Boko Haram Insurgency

  1. You claim to be a working towards a doctorate degree in your bio don’t you? Would you use those two articles as documents for a scholarly work? The Crisis Group is a WELL RECOGNIZED INTERNATIONAL GROUP it is paramount to their creditability that they maintain the highest standard of objectivity and professionalism. The two articles you posted are chalk full of inconsistencies and reek of subtle ethnic and religious bigotry.

    Vanguard in its “WHO, Boko Haram’s doctor arrested” released no names of any of the individuals involved. Did not name their sources (most likely because the story was fabricated), did not release the name the World Health Organization’s consultant, and did not release the name of the Amnesty International agents who were investigating. It also says and I quote: “a medical doctor (NAMES with-held)”. Was there more than one doctor?

    Where is the location of said medical facility? Nigeria has Freedom of Information Act why couldn’t the reporter query the federal government over the arrest? Why couldn’t Vanguard query the government to find out the name of Boko Haram’s legal representative (if they have one as the article claims)?

    News Rescue in its article Nigeria Muslims: Christians behind Many Alleged Boko Bombings the author claims that the people who “sprayed bullets on the Gombe Deeper Life Church worshipers” were alleged to be Igbo’s. Who made these accusations? How do they know that they were Igbo? Does it matter? Can the author of the article not query the government for official documentation and post it to the website as is done in the developed nations?

    It claims after that a Hassan Ojudu and a Samaila Yakubu were arrested with a vehicle loaded with explosive devices and ammunitions. Not only that but that these two individuals were Christians (of course). The only questions I have to ask are WHERE IS THE PROOFS?

    In one part of the article the writer even goes out of his way to specifically address Christians. Is that professional? Doesn’t that indicate authorship-bias? Can an American write an article and say: “Blacks should note” or “Protestants should note”?

    I could go on-and-on but I believe the people reading my post get my point. That you use this legitimate report released by the International Crisis Group as the pretext to push forward wild conspiracy theories. This is backed by your twitter log where you even insinuate that the murder of General Shuwa was as a result of his involvement in Nigeria’s Civil War (What of Gowon?). Not only that but that any discussion of Nigeria’s Civil War is dangerous. As if to say that one should not discuss their countries history.

    1. You are being clever by half. You can look up all these stories about attempted bomb attacks on churches by non-Muslims and the search results will come out clearly. In any case, I will help you with some of the links:

      1. ‘Seven Suspects Arrested Over Attempt to Bomb Church in Bauchi’ by Vanguard: read this carefully and check out the names of the suspects

      2. ‘Nine Suspected Chrisitian Bombers Apprehended’ by Dailytimes (this even contains pictures, which I have similarly posted on this blog before)

      I could go on and on, for the other incidents but I won’t do your job for you. You have Internet. Google these things, it’s easy!!

      As for your query on why Vanguard, Newsrescue and the other media couldn’t press for the names or details of other suspects. Why not take it up with Vanguard and Newsrescue website? You have read my profile it seems, so you know that I do not and have never worked for Vanguard. Take it up with Vanguard or take your media-ethics rants elsewhere.

      3. You should remove the speck or whatever is blocking your eyesight and go read my tweets carefully. Yes some people have alluded to General Shuwa’s murder as some sort of vengeance by his killers for his role in the Civil War, and I maintain that this as well as other constant references to the war to make sense of the violence in Nigeria is an extremely dangerous line of thinking right now, with all of Nigeria’s problems. Wars or thoughts of them shouldn’t even feature in our discussions, because we may not survive another one.

    2. They think they are wise. now you are asking for proof? when if Muslim name mentioned you won’t ask question before you start spewing lies.
      I just liked the answer of this German Muslim scholar when he was asked about terrorism and Islam : He said : Who started the first world war ? Muslims ? Who started the second world war ? Muslims ? Who killed about 20 millions of Aborigines in Australia ? Muslims ?? Who sent the nuclear bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ? Muslims ?? Who killed more than 100 millions of Indians in North America ? Muslims ?? Who killed more than 50 millions of Indians in south America ? Muslims ?? Who took about 180 millions of African people as slaves and 88% of them died and was thrown in Atlantic ocean ? Muslims ?? No , They weren’t Muslims!!! First of all, You have to define terrorism properly… If a non-Muslim does something is crime. But if a Muslim does the same..he is terrorist… So first remove this double standard…then come to the point!!! , . . . . .

    3. They think they are wise. now you are asking for proof? when if Muslim name mentioned you won’t ask question before you start spewing lies.
      I just liked the answer of this German Muslim scholar when he was asked about terrorism and Islam : He said : Who started the first world war ? Muslims ? Who started the second world war ? Muslims ? Who killed about 20 millions of Aborigines in Australia ? Muslims ?? Who sent the nuclear bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ? Muslims ?? Who killed more than 100 millions of Indians in North America ? Muslims ?? Who killed more than 50 millions of Indians in south America ? Muslims ?? Who took about 180 millions of African people as slaves and 88% of them died and was thrown in Atlantic ocean ? Muslims ?? No , They weren’t Muslims!!! First of all, You have to define terrorism properly… If a non-Muslim does something is crime. But if a Muslim does the same..he is terrorist… So first remove this double standard…then come to the point!!! , . . . . .

  2. To be honest, in as much as the International Crisis Group claims to have carried out a comprehensive research as regards the matter above…i will like to point out somethings they also have not seen. Also, i’m sure most people who claim to be following this matter have not seen it as well.
    The point is ” the systematic process of attacks”. They started like an ethnic dispute and advanced to door to door massacre of “infidels”. They now advanced to bombing of places of worship where “infidels” hold services to God. Furthermore, they migrated to education institutions to eradicate both the student learning and also what they are trying to learn(i.e. western education). They had a little retreat and realized that their mission is progressing as planned, then they decided to test the Nations military strength and preparedness (which unfortunately was weak). Afterwards, they threatened to strike at oil pipelines and Riggs, which a week later they attempted but not successful.Now they are shifting gears again. So you see, there is a pattern which they are following in their activities, and these pattern has been ignored by all just as their objective has been ignored as well.
    I rest my case for now.

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