Why has Boko Haram refused to leave Borno?


By: Philip Agbese

In the twilight of the Goodluck Jonathan presidency, not a few Nigerians had concluded that Boko Haram and its brand of terrorism had come to stay and that it will even spread to other parts of the country. That impression was reinforced by the trend whereby any news about the terrorist group was about its ascendancy, it was advancing to new area with each news report of depravity. For many at time, the expectation was for a group that may never be defeated again and potentially with the capacity to spread to other countries.

The foregoing accounted for the pessimism that initially greeted the military exploits that first degraded Boko Haram, later led to its fighters leaving villages they had occupied before the group’s defeat in Camp Zero of Sambisa Forest  which was its last organized base. The remnants of the group continue to launch attacks even as they took flight from the military – being terrorists, no one knows for a certainty how or where the attacks would be.

There has however been a return of pessimism that borders on despondency. People think in relative terms, so any attack that the Boko Haram successfully carries out is not interpreted against the background of the group’s overall campaign of terror but seen against the now. The fear that proceeds from this perception therefore becomes fuel for the fire that the terrorists want to set to the soul of the nation. It thus gets a new lease to advance its evil ideology.

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We must therefore begin to interrogate. The terror group was easily rolled back from all other parts of the country to which it had spread, even the neighbouring Cameroon, Chad, and Niger supressed this cancer. So, why has Boko Haram refused to leave Borno?
In a paper, The Life Cycle of Terrorist Organisations, Peter J Philips posited that  ;

“A theoretical explanation of the life cycle of terrorist organisations must encompass several critically important things: (1) the importance of grassroots support for the survival of the terrorist organisation; (2) the intensity of the terrorist organisation’s competition with the government for grassroots support; (3) the relative intensity of this competition for grassroots support in the early stages of conflict; and (4) the ‘natural’ life cycle of terrorist organisations—the historical fact that terrorist organisations in general have come and gone over time. Within such a theoretical framework, the terrorist organisation emerges only to eventually decline and fade away. This sequence of events may be compressed into a very short time or may occur gradually over a very long period. There is, theoretically, no limit on how long a particular terrorist organisation may exist.” 

On the factors that affects the lifespan of terror groups, Philips, in the literature review wrote “The factors that may be responsible for bringing about the end of a terrorist organisation have been studied. Cronin (2006, p.17) lists the following seven factors: (1) capture or killing of the leader; (2) failure to transition to the next generation; (3) achievement of the group’s aims; (4) transition to a legitimate political process; (5) undermining of popular support; (6) repression; and (7) transition from terrorism to other forms of violence.”

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We must therefore begin to look at Boko Haram’s refusal to leave Borno in a different light and beyond the successes of military operations. The people of the area in which Boko Haram operates remain key to disrupting the supply of fresh recruits for the terror group and they are also crucial to shopping current members to the military intelligence.

The military, one must say, along this premise should prioritize neutralizing leaders of the two factions of Boko Haram with contingency plans to  similarly take out anyone announced as a successor within hours of such pronouncements. Corresponding plan should be on to have taken out those potentially in line to succeed any neutralized leaders of the group.

Since Boko Haram will never achieve its goal of having a widespread implementation of strict sharia law across Nigeria, remnants of the group should consider – as part of possible negotiation with government, a transition into a legitimate pressure group that eschews violence. The other options like transitioning to other forms of violence would not work as it would meet with a response worse than the present insurgency has attracted.

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The federal government must on its part begin to intervene with policies that cuts off local population support for Boko Haram by people conflicted about giving up their relations that are affiliated with the group.

Collectively, we must explore more to pinpoint why Boko Haram is persisting in Borno then move to the stage of fashioning strategies that effectively help in speeding up its demise. This suggestion is premised on the knowledge that like a living organism even a terror group has a life cycle, a life span that could be accelerated to a desired end.

Agbese, a human rights activist writes from the United Kingdom.


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