1 June 2015

What’s Happening With Boko Haram?

May 28, 2015

An armoured tank is seen abandoned along a road in Bazza town, after the Nigerian military recaptured it from Boko Haram, in Adamawa state, May 10, 2015. (Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters) 

Nigeria inaugurates its new president, Muhammadu Buhari, on May 29. It is the first time a Nigerian head of state has defeated an incumbent at the ballot box. Buhari’s successful campaign was largely based on the need to restore security and to counter corruption. Now, as he takes office, the radical Islamist insurrection labeled Boko Haram is the country’s most immediate security threat. 

According to the Nigeria Security Tracker (NST), during the week of May 16 Boko Haram was likely responsible for killings in Damaturu in Yobe state, Madagali and Gombi in Adamawa state, and Chibok in Borno (the town where the “Chibok School Girls” were kidnapped). The death toll due to Boko Haram attacks that week was sixty, though almost certainly understated. Boko Haram also kidnapped six women. Meanwhile, the Nigerian army claims it destroyed ten Boko Haram camps in the Sambisa Forest, killing an estimated twenty insurgents. 

Despite the military offensive of February and March, involving the Nigerian army, Chadian and Nigerien militaries, and South African mercenaries that drove Boko Haram out of cities and towns, the insurgency appears undefeated. 

But, the NST indicates that things have changed. For the first time since the NST was launched four years ago, there have been four months of consecutive declines in monthly cumulative deaths this spring. (These include deaths attributed to Boko Haram, to fighting between the security services and Boko Haram, to the security services alone, and to sectarian violence.) Even so, since March of last year, cumulative deaths have only dipped below one thousand for three months. In contrast, from May 2011 to February 2014, there were only two months that deaths exceeded one thousand. Though bloodshed has declined, it still remains high. 

The NST data comes from open sources, mostly the Nigerian media. So, the decline might reflect changes in the focus of media reporting. Or, security service tactics against Boko Haram may be more covert. Nevertheless, it is hard not to conclude that the violence is declining. 

Meanwhile, the “face” of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, has been silent since March 14. Boko Haram has released no high profile statements. Some observers had thought that the practical consequence of Boko Haram swearing “allegiance” to the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria might be access to more sophisticated media. However, there is no sign of it. 

It remains to be seen whether Boko Haram will attempt a high-profile attack on inauguration day. 

Opinions expressed on CFR blogs are solely those of the author or commenter, not of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

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