There is a tradition of Islamic radicalism in northern Nigeria, but this has mainly been non-worldly, advocating a purer way of Islamic life. This changed at the turn of the millennium with the emergence of the so-called “Taleban” groups, which were not only more coherent in their worldview, arguing for the establishment of an Islamic government in Nigeria, but were willing to use violence to further their objectives. These groups were crushed by the Nigerian state in 2004, but Boko Haram, which had been established in 2002, continued to exist, as initially it was seen by the government as an unthreatening religious organisation. However, when it turned violent, its original leader, Mohammed Yusuf, was arrested and killed in 2009.
At the time this was seen as putting an end to the organisation, but this was not the case. Boko Haram has re-emerged from the ashes of the death of its original leader as an avant-garde organisation embracing the strategy of hyperviolent, spectacular and deadly terrorist attacks. The question is how this could happen. The marginalisation of the north and the inequality between the north and south of Nigeria and how this may have alienated some of the inhabitants of the north is one factor that must be taken into consideration.
However, this article attempts to place Boko Haram into a broader context by exploring not only the historical factors leading to its emergence, but also issues concerning internal collusion between Boko Haram activists and wellconnected Nigerian “Big Men”, as well as the question of external support for the organisation through emerging African jihadist networks.