By Keziah Green (2016-17)
Analysis of ‘In Nigeria, 86 people shot, burned to death in village, refugee camps’ (The Washington Post, 2016)
On the evening of 30 January 2016, the Nigerian village of Dalori fell victim to a series of attacks, seeing an estimated 86 people dead. The attack that lasted 4 hours began when a group of extremist militants entered the village and open-fired at residents, firebombed their huts and allegedly burnt children alive, before three female suicide bombers detonated their explosives amongst a group of civilians that had escaped to the neighbouring village of Gamori. Nigerian troops of soldiers arrived in Dalori at around 8:40pm but were unable to fight the militants until reinforcements arrived, causing them to retreat. The attacks have been attributed to the Islamist Jihadist terrorist organisation commonly known by their Hausa name Boko Haram.
Using an article published on The Washington Post online entitled ‘In Nigeria, 86 people shot, burned to death in village, refugee camps’ as the foundation of my argument, this essay looks to critically analyse the legitimacy, motives and underlying causes of the Boko Haram attacks that devastated the village of Dalori. I will do this by firstly focusing on the article itself, analysing the tone, content and quality of the news report, as well as how the media’s chosen reporting of terrorist incidents can impact on how the term ‘terrorism’ is defined. I will then go on to an in-depth analysis of the Boko Haram organisation, delving in to its motives, causes and legitmacy before looking at how terrorism is defined and where this incident fits within this chosen definition. Lastly, I will look at the counterterrorism techniques use by the Nigerian government, and the wider implications of the attack in terms of consequences and response, before reflecting on the article and whether it is an effective report of the incident.
As mentioned, the article upon which this essay is primarily based is was published on The Washington post online on the January 31 2016, only a day after the attacks were conducted. The article focuses on the report of a survivor that ‘hid in a tree as he watched Boko Haram fighters firebomb huts’ and listened to ‘screams of children burning to death’. The authors, Ismail Alfa and Haruna Umar, use mostly emotive language and theatrical reporting. For example, they describe there to be ‘scores of charred corpses and bodies with bullet wounds litter[ing] the streets’, a highly dramatized phrase that is intended to provoke emotion in the reader. The article also provides little factual information on the attacks or any relevant background information on the attackers. The authors never refer to the group as a ‘terrorist’ organisation, but does describe Boko Haram as Islamist extremists and refers to their series of attacks as a ‘six-year Islamist uprising’ against soft targets, since the ‘military drove them out of their towns and villages… last year’. I would argue that being that The Washington Post is a Western newspaper that reports on global news, there is less of an desire to report the act as a terrorist attack as it is unlikely that the readers would have been directly affected by it. The article does not acknowledge wider issues, and fails to explain the most important concepts of the attack, such as the motives of the Boko Haram group and causes of the attack in the Dalori village.
Boko Haram as the dissident group that is known today was developed in 2002under the leader Yusuf Mohammed, who, with the desire to live an ‘ascetic life away from modern immortality’, broke away from a group of moderate Muslim clerics and formed his own community in the Borno state, North East Nigeria. The group call itself by the Arabic name ‘Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnah Ladda’awati wal-Jihad’, which translates to mean ‘people committed to the propogation of the Sunnah and Jihad’ but is commonly referred to as their Hausa name Boko Haram, which literally means ‘Western education is a sin’ or known to the local people by the derogatory term ‘Nigerian Taliban’. This name reflects the deep rooted philosophy of the organisation as Orthodox Islamists that abhors the Western education, and the members’ belief that the spread of Western values in Nigeria is a direct threat to the values, traditions and customs of the Islamic people of Northern Nigeria. The group calls for the ‘destruction of modern political, social and economic institutions…(and instead) advocates for and educational system based on the Quran, a political system based on the application of Sharia law, and an economic system pivoting around trading and farming’.
Boko Haram initially began as a peaceful campaign, gaining support through preaching and attracting a large following of members that were disillusioned with society. It was not until 2009 where an anti-government revolt that saw leader Yusuf Mohammed dead became the precursor for the violence that has ever since followed. Traditionally the modus operandi was small-scale attacks and hit-and-run attacks on government officials. However, over time this has escalated into a much larger campaign with more sophisticated tactics that is aimed at gaining physical territory, such as the attack on the Dalori village. This rapid transformation of Boko Haram’s militancy has been conspired to be linked to wider connections to Islamist extremist groups. Following Yusuf’s death, many members of the group fled to other al-Qaeda, which resulted in the infusion of finances and training. The nexus between Boko Haram and regional Islamist groups has also been evidenced by Mohammed Yusuf who was incriminated with five charges, including receiving US$300,000 from al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan to recruit members who would attack Americans living in Nigeria. A strategic partnership between a local group such as Boko Haram and a transnational Islamic movement is one of mutual benefit. Boko Haram militants have benefited in the sense that they have received funding, been exposed to sophisticated weaponry and it has allowed them to adopt more operational strategies such as kidnapping that were before unknown to the Nigeria. This transformation can be seen in the change from the use of knives, machetes and bow and arrows in early attacks, to more sophisticated tactics of war such as the suicide bombs that were used in the Dalori attack. Furthermore, Boko Haram received funding from the Sunni Muslim extremist group AQIM (al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) to facilitate kidnapping training and allowed them access to its media outlet to launch a campaign of propaganda. In recent years, Boko Haram’s actions have been reminiscent of those used by ISIS. For example, in their campaign to seize territory, Boko Haram have declared to be a Caliphate of Islam, abducted girls, employed their flag over territory gained, and released videos of gruesome beheadings.
Although the article on the Dalori attacks never states the incident as a ‘terrorist attack’ or refer to Boko Haram as a ‘terrorist organisation’, it is vitally important to set the parameters of what is meant by the term terrorism in order to assess whether Boko Haram’s actions fit within this definition.
The difficulty in defining an act as a ‘terrorist attack’ lies in the contestability of the term – there being no universally accepted definition, which can have wider implications in the negative connotations the term draws up. For the purpose of this essay, I will use a definition of terrorism that I feel best incorporates the factors that make an act that of terrorism; ‘the political violence or the threat of violence by groups or individuals who deliberately target civilians or non-combatants to influence the behaviour of targeted publics and governments’. According to Cronin, in order for an act or group to be considered terrorist it must have 4 key elements: the pursuit of political goals, non-state nature of the perpetrators, the uses of violence against civilians, and the intention of spreading fear and influencing a wider audience. This classification system can be used and applied to Boko Haram to assess and analyse whether their actions are correctly referred to as terrorist. Boko Haram’s ideology is has a deep political root, their aim is to effect political change that interests the Muslim constituency by ‘Islamize[ing] Nigeria to ensure the rule of the majority Muslims in the country’  and a spokesperson for the group stated that the attacks they are launching ‘are meant to propagate the name of Allah’ and to ‘liberate [themselves] and [their religion] from the hands of infidels and the Nigerian government’. Their ideological commitment to bring about a political change is mirrored in the choice of targets used by the sect that hold political significance, such as universities, government buildings, and politicians. Additionally Lacey notes that ‘the status of the perpetrators as separate from the state is what distinguishes terrorism from other forms of politically-motivated violence’. Boko Haram’s anti-state ideology and history of attacks directed at agents of the state brings the group within the definition of terrorism, clearly asserting itself as a non-state actor. The violence that the group have perpetrated has been against soft civilians as early as 2003, with the civilian death toll now at over 6,000. For example, the attack on Dalori village was aimed at innocent civilians, chosen due to its close proximity to the city of Maiduguri, killing at least 86 people in the four-hour attack. Furthermore, Boko Haram fit the final decisive characteristic of terrorism with their intention to terrorise and influence a wider audience. For example, the sect uses violence that will have the most psychological impact, such as burning children alive in the Dalori attack.
A further common characteristic of a terrorist act, although left out of the definition just presented, is the illegitimate use force. In order to evaluate the legitimacy of the Dalori attack by Boko Haram, as well as the extensive list of other violent acts they have perpetrated, it is useful to use ‘Just War Theory’, that sets framework for which violence can be considered to be fair and just. From the perspective of the members of Boko Haram, any act of violence they perpetrate is legitimate due to their belief that it has been commanded to them by Allah. The Just War tradition has two phases: the just ad bellum and just in bello; the first referring to the conditions under which resorting to war is justifiable, and the latter holding a focus on the methods under which war should be conducted. In this sense, just cause allows for an entity can defend itself if it has been, or is currently under attack. Although this may have been case in the early stages of the groups existence, appearing to be seen as a response to the attack against them in 2009 that involved unfair executions, their claim that there is an imminent threat to Islam is largely imagined and thus rendering their subsequent actions – such as the Dalori attack – as illegitimate. A further decisive condition to just war is the discrimination between violence perpetrated between militant groups and innocent violence. In this sense, Boko Haram have not engaged in a legitimate war due to their use of suicide bombings, burning of homes and burning of children alive as they did in the Dalori attack
Boko Haram clearly meets the definition of terrorism outlined; however it is important to place the group within one of the sub-categories identified by Gus Martin in order to uncover the underlying motives of the sect. As already mentioned, Boko Haram members have a shared faith in a greater God, and are ultimately motivated in establishing an Islamic state in Nigeria. In this sense, the group falls under the ‘religious dissident terrorism’ category; referring to political violence that is motivated by the belief that ‘a deity has commanded violence for the greater glory of faith’. Although Boko Haram’s primary motive is religion – clearly identifying their aim to establish Sharia law across Nigeria, I would argue that the group are also motivated by the desire to destroy the existing order and create a new Islamic state. In this sense, Boko Haram would also fit within the ‘revolutionary dissident terrorism’ category which often sits hand-in-hand with religious terrorism, as the ‘vision for a new society [is often the] result of religious principles and ideological dogma’.
To uncover the underlying causes of Boko Haram’s intrinsically violent activities, it is important to use various perspectives and theories from different schools of thought in order to gain a deep and rounded understanding. One theory that looks at the historical roots of Nigeria that have facilitated Boko Haram’s insurgency is the failed/weak state theory. Nigeria was a colonial state until it gained independence from Britain in 1960. It is a state drawn up from the geographical expression of British power that has created a ‘multi-ethnic society, divided along racial, cultural, linguistic and religious cleavages’. The tension which now exists within Nigerian society can be traced back to 1914, when the amalgamation of the Islamic north, and Christian south created an imbalance in economic and cultural development within the country. Society in the north was shielded from Western influence, meaning a lack of universities and schools in comparison to the south where Christian missionaries were allowed free reign. This meant there were poorer education opportunities, higher unemployment rates and more poverty in the north. Furthermore, a government was imposed arbitrarily which caused dissatisfaction and disengagement with the state from citizens, specifically in the north. This created a divided society with a weak state. Ake comments ‘the society in which it [Nigeria] exists is typically segmented into small rival political communities, often with strong localized identities, competing to capture and exploit state power, or at least prevent it from oppressing them’. This can be seen in Boko Haram’s ideology, which views the Nigerian state as the enemy, and the group’s belief that their violent acts are justified because the Nigerian state is unfair to them.
Developing this argument further, human development theory provides a sociological perspective on Boko Haram’s violence. The theory argues that ‘bloodshed is attributed to the failure to meet the human needs of social actors’ and can be applied to the Nigerian government fails to acknowledge the socio-economic deprivation of the north, with Boko Haram seeking violence as a means to survive. Statistics have shown that the North still struggle economically in comparison to their southern counterpart. Boko Haram’s operational base is situated in the northeast, which has the highest recorded poverty rates in Nigeria at 64.8%, more than double that of the largely Christian southeast region at 31.2%. Additionally, the literacy rates of the north are much lower than the south, with 72% of Children between the ages 6-16 never having attended school in the Borno state, adding to the argument adopted by many scholars that the marginalisation of the urban poor has created an animosity towards the government and has allowed for the rise of extremism in the form of Boko Haram. Although this theory provides a sociological context for the causes of Boko Haram’s actions, it has been subject to criticism in that in spite of similar levels of poverty and deprivation in Nigeria, there has not been any other forms of violent groups in other poverty-stricken areas. One can conclude from this that although economic deprivation may be one cause of Boko Haram’s violence, it cannot be the only factor.
One of the main issues with the reporting of terrorist groups by the Western media is that very little is written on the successes of the terrorist actions, as to do so, I would argue, shows terrorist actions as ‘winning’, which would portray governments in a bad light. However, I have managed to find a few reports of their achievements. Although Boko Haram’s overarching aim of instituting sharia law has not been yet met, I would argue that there have been broad successes in the direction of achieving their aims, of which the attack on Dalori village has contributed. In recent years, the sect has made it onto the global agenda, allowing them more scope to spread their message and recruit members. The shocking events in the Dalori attacks, such as burning children alive, definitely brought the group the forefront of Western media attention. Furthermore, prior to the attack on Dalori village, Boko Haram had moved closer to achieving other specific aims. For example, one of the group’s aims is to discredit and delegitimise the Nigerian government. In 2010, Boko Haram successfully broke into a prison, releasing 100 Boko Haram members facing trial, as well as 750 other prisoners. This caused a backlash in Nigerian media, calling into question the legitimacy of the Government. Another success that is not widely published is the control that Boko Haram has over 21 local government areas in the North, meaning the sect has territory the size of Belgium, which now includes the area surrounding Dalori village after their attack in 2016. One further success of the group was the arrest of President Buhari’s bodyguard in July 2016, charged with having links to the organisation. This highlights the extent of the threat the Boko Haram places on the Nigerian government, having infiltrated the highest level of their government.
Albeit true that the sect has not reached their overall aim of creating an Islamic state, the fact that Boko Haram are still actively engaging in terrorist activities 7 years after conducting their first violent attack calls into question the success of the Nigerian government’s strategies to resist the insurgency. The government have taken a hard-line approach, conducting a the use of suppression campaigns that successfully removed Boko Haram from their territories in 2014 forcing them on the defensive. The governments’ initial response to Boko Haram in 2003 was armed conflict, and this form of violent suppressive counterinsurgency tactics have been the main approach to combating Boko Haram herein. The Joint Military Task Force (JFT) was established in order to keep a closer check on the sect who’s approach to the group has been ‘quasi-legal’, performing brutal attacks on the group, extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, forced evictions of Boko Haram members and house burning and delayed prosecutions. The most recent response to Boko Haram has been the use of a punitive campaign using drone strikes in the regions that the group control. This use of aggressive violence has been said to be counterproductive, giving rise to the ‘frustration-aggression thesis’ that argues that the use of violent force against Boko Haram is fuelling their violence, and the innocent civilians that fall victim to the counterinsurgent tactics are generating a level of sympathy for the sect’s cause against the ‘oppressive’ rule of the Nigerian government. However, the government have not just taken a military response to the violence of Boko Haram; there have been some efforts for a soft approach with counter-extremism and de-radicalisation strategies. There has been the introduction of the Department of State Services in 2011 with ‘rehabilitation, de-radicalisation and welfare dimensions’. This has clearly not been successful, with the highest concentration of the attacks having been performed between 2011-2015. Overall, the Nigerian government’s counterinsurgency tactics have been widely criticised for its aggressively corrupt tactics and lack of transparency, which is evidently at least partially true with the groups’ threat to both national and international security still ever-present.
After conducing this in-depth analysis of the Boko Haram organisation, it is now possible to review the article introduced at the beginning with a more rounded perspective and understanding of the motivations, causes and theories of the group. I would argue that the article simply provides a sensationalised account of the attack on the Dalori attack that fails to account for the complexities of the historical, social and political context from which the groups grievances are derived. I would argue that there are several implications that can be drawn from this study – a need for a more cohesive, less oppressive counterinsurgent strategy, a reformation of the economic conditions under which Boko Haram is able to thrive, and the implementation of tactics that would prevent attacks such as the one on the Dalori village.
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 “In Nigeria, 86 people shot, burned to death in village, refugee camps,” The Washington Post, accessed December 13 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/in-nigeria-86-people-shot-burned-to-death-in-village-refugee-camps/2016/01/31/4f9b5bc0-c849-11e5-a7b2-5a2f824b02c9_story.html?utm_term=.7e18253abf8f.
 The Washington Post., 2016.
 International Crisis Group. Curbing Violence in Nigeria (II): The Boko Haram Insurgency.(April 3, 2014). Retrieved from https://www.ecoi.net/file_upload/1226_1396951718_216-curbing-violence-in-nigeria-ii-the-boko-haram-insurgency.pdf. [Accessed 16 December 2016]
 Freedom Onuoha. “The Audacity of the Boko Haram: Background, Analysis and Emerging Trends.” Security Journal 25, no. 2. (2012): 138.
 Ezeani Onyebuchi and Chilaka Chigozie. “Islamic Fundamentalism and the Problem of Insecurity in Nigeria: The Boko Haram Phenomenon.” Journal of Humanities And Social Societies 15, no.3. (2013): 47
 Onuoha, 2012, p.134.
 Hakeem Onapajo, Ufo Uzodike, and Ayo Whetho. ‘‘Boko Haram Terrorism in Nigeria: The International Dimension.’’ South African Journal of International Affairs 19, no. 3 (2012): 344
 Daniel E. Agbiboa, ‘‘(Sp)oiling Domestic Terrorism? Boko Haram and State Response,’’ Peace Review 25, no. 3 (2013): 431–438
 Suranjan Weeraratne. “Theorizing the Expansion of the Boko Haram Insurgency in Nigeria.”Terrorism and Political Violence 25, no. 1 (2015): 3.
Freedom Onuoha. “The Islamist challenge: Nigeria’s Boko Haram crisis explained.” African Security Review 19, no. 2 (2010):58.
 Bruce Hoffman, ‘‘Al Qaeda’s Uncertain Future,’’ Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 36, no. 8 (2013): 635–653.
 William Hansen and Umma Aliyu Musa. ‘‘Fanon, the Wretched and Boko Haram,’’ Journal of Asian and African Studies 48, no. 3 (2013): 288.
 Weeraratne 2015, 15.
 Brigette Nacos, Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Understanding threats and responses in the post 9/11 world. (New York, NY: Pearson Longman, 2008),33.
 Audrey Kurth Cronin, “Behind the Curve: Globalization and International Terrorism”. International Security 27, no. 2 (2003): 35.
 Onuoha 2012: 147.
 Iro Aghedo and Oarhe Osumah, “The Boko Haram Uprising: how should Nigeria respond?” Third World Quarterly 22, no. 5 (2012): 855
 Peter Lacey, The Emergence of Boko Haram: an Analysis of Terrorist Characteristics (2012) Retrieved from http://ro.ecu.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1017&context=act [Accessed 18 Dec 2016]
 “Nigeria suffers highest number of civilian deaths in African war zones”, The Guardian, accessed 18 December 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/jan/23/boko-haram-nigeria-civilian-death-toll-highest-acled-african-war-zones
 The Washington Post, 2016.
 Gus Martin, Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives, and Issues( 5th Ed), (London: SAGE Publications, Inc.2016) 162.
 Ibid: 167
 Idid 168.
 The Washington Post, 2016.
 Gus Marin . 163
 Robert Jackson and Carl Roseberg, “Why Africa’s Weak States Persist: The Empirical and the Juridical in Statehood”, World Politics 35, no. 1 (1982): 19
 Claude Ake, Democracy and Development in Africa. (Spectrum Books Limited, 1996): 66
 Daniel Egiegba Agbiboa, “The Ongoing Campaign of Terror in Nigeria: Boko Haram versus the State”. Stability: International Journal of Security and Development 2, no. 3 (2013): 52
 Daniel Egiegba Agbiboa, “Why Boko Haram Exists: The Relative Deprivation Perspective”. African Conflict and Peacebuilding Review 3,no. 1 (2013) 44.
 Eghosa Osaghae. Crippled Giant: Nigeria Since Independence. (London: Hurst & Company, 1998): 89.
 “More than 700 inmates escape during attack on Nigerian prison”. The Guardian, accessed December 30 2016 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/sep/08/muslim-extremists-escape-nigeria-prison
 “Boko Haram”, Mapping Militant Organizations, accessed December 30 2016 http://web.stanford.edu/group/mappingmilitants/cgi-bin/groups/view/553?highlight=boko+haram
 “Nigerian President Muhummadu Buhari’s bodyguard arrested for having ties to Boko Haram.” Mail&Guardian Africa, accessed December 30 2016 http://mgafrica.com/article/2016-06-30-nigerian-presidents-bodyguard-arrested-for-having-ties-to-boko-haram
 Agbiboa, ‘Why Boko Haram Exists’ 2013: 324.
 Isaac Terwase Sampson. “The dilemmas of counter-bokoharmism: Debating state responses to Boko Haram terrorism in northern Nigeria” Security Journal 29, no.2 (2016): 122-146
 “Nigeria’s First Confirmed Drone Strike – Against Boko Haram”, Popular Science, accessed 20 Deccember 2016 http://www.popsci.com/watch-nigerias-first-confirmed-drone-strike
 Benhamin Maiangwa et al. “’Baptism by Fire’: Boko Haram and the Reign of Terror in Nigeria”. Africa Today 59: no. 2 (2010).
 Ibid. 58.
 Sampson 2016.