Boko Haram, which translates to “Western education is forbidden,” is a terrorist organization many compare to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The group’s presence became known to Western audiences through its kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls in 2014. Founded in the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno in 2002, Boko Haram’s roots can be traced to the establishment of a religious school targeting the children of impoverished Muslim families; the aforementioned school was used to recruit jihadis. The organization’s sphere of influence resides in northern Nigera, which hosts a large Muslim population made up of the Hausa and Fulani ethnic groups. Advocating for a strict interpretation and application of Sharia Law, Boko Haram seeks the establishment of an Islamic state in Nigeria.
Knowledge of Nigeria’s colonial roots is essential in understanding the nation’s present-day strife. Prior to the arrival of the British, northern Nigeria was defined by unification between the Fulani and Hausa ethnic groups in terms of religion, politics, and language. This conformity compared starkly with the eclectic array of ethnic groups, religions, political organizations, and languages one could find in the south. Suspicion of colonial missionaries developed into xenophobia against Western culture and education in the north. Following Nigeria’s independence in 1960, southern Nigeria found itself as the focus of British evangelical efforts and infrastructure developments. Subsequent corrupt and military regimes fomented further resentment in the north.
Fast forwarding to the present, one can see how easy it is for Boko Haram to recruit members with promises of change, food, and pay after such a history of disenfranchisement and unemployment. Boko Haram’s subsequent anti-government activities have escalated to armed conflict in Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Benin. Despite being Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation, Nigeria is unable to combat Boko Haram alone. Nigeria’s neighbors have promised to contribute to a total of 8,700 troops for the development of a regional force to combat Boko Haram. The multinational force, which includes police and humanitarian officials in addition to soldiers, is to be headquartered in Chad’s capital, N’Djamena. In addition, the U.N. has promised logistical support, but the requests for necessary funds will require approval from the U.N. Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has urgently requested for U.S. assistance by drawing parallels between U.S. participation and intervention in operations against ISIL in Iraq. There are currently no plans to send U.S. troops to Nigeria.
At present, international attention is focused on the Middle East.