Briefing paper: Fleeing Boko Haram’s relentless terror
As the world’s attention has focused on Boko Haram’s kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls in the northeastern Nigerian town of Chibok, other aspects of the Islamist group’s terror have been largely overlooked.
Not least among them, its brutal violence has caused significant forced displacement in the north-east of the country and beyond.
Nigeria’s National Commission for Refugees (NCFR) recently made data available to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) showing that as many as 3.3 million people have been internally displaced in the country by violence, including at least 250,000 people who have fled armed conflict perpetrated by Boko Haram. IDMC’s Global Overview, published on 14 May, reported that Nigeria had the largest displaced population in Africa and the third largest in the world behind Syria and Colombia.
The mass abduction of the schoolgirls and unrelenting attacks on civilians have served to highlight the security and geopolitical threat Boko Haram poses to Nigeria and the wider region. The scale of the internal displacement it has provoked should also be cause for the most serious concern.
Nigeria has ratified the African Union Convention for the Assistance and Protection of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, also known as the Kampala Convention. It has also been developing a national policy on internal displacement, but the process has lost momentum at the final stage. Such a framework is crucial to guide the response to the displacement crisis Nigeria faces. It should be adopted and implemented as a matter of urgent priority.
What is Boko Haram, and what threat does it pose?
Boko Haram took up arms against Nigeria’s government in 2002, with the aim of establishing an independent Islamic state. It initially targeted government and religious facilities in the north-eastern states of Bauchi, Borno, Kano and Yobe, but it has since expanded its activities to other areas, carrying out increasingly frequent and sophisticated attacks against the civilian population.
The group’s use of suicide attacks, bombings and raids have spread to most northern states and south towards Abuja, and its targets have become almost exclusively civilians. It has looted villages, killed and kidnapped residents, used forced conscription and abducted women and girls.
Boko Haram also seems to be trying to establish a transnational presence or to acquire greater international visibility. Indications include the 2011 attack against the UN Compound in Abuja, cross-border kidnappings, alleged contacts with al-Qa-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and al-Shabaab, and its reported presence in Niger, Cameroon, and Mali.
It is likely that these developments have as much to do with group’s efforts to service its logistical needs and advance its domestic political aims, but it has had a significant impact on regional stability and human security. It has also been a factor in straining political relations between Nigeria and neighbouring Cameroon, Niger and Chad. Given the group’s growth in ambition,capability and reach, comparisons with the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda and Central Africa are not unwarranted.