Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad (2002- ), the People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad, is better known by its Hausa nickname, Boko Haram. “Haram” means forbidden, “Boko” means fake – or Western education. Boko Haram wants to overthrow the Nigerian government and set up Muslim rule.
In 2014 it became world infamous when it kidnapped over 200 schoolgirls in Chibok, a town in the north-eastern state of Borno. It threatens to sell them as brides for $12 apiece. That is a war crime according to the United Nations – and an outrage that went viral worldwide on the Internet under the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.
Boko Haram probably took the girls to the vast Sambisa forest or the caves of the Gwosa mountains – or maybe even across the border into Cameroon.
Most high schools in Borno had been closed for fear of an attack. The Chibok boarding school had opened briefly for university entrance exams.
Negotiation is probably the only way to get them back safely in short order – but that would make future kidnappings more likely.
Boko Haram kills not just policemen and soldiers but townspeople it sees as siding with them. On May 5th, for example, it laid waste to Gamboru Ngala, killing over 300, a tenth of the town, leaving shops and houses burning and bodies lying in the street. In Yobe last July it lined up about 40 schoolboys in their dorms and shot them dead. Last month in Abuja, the capital, it set off a bomb at a bus station, killing at least 70. It attacks churches, schools and restaurants. They have killed 4,000 in five years.
Government forces are little better: they have raped, tortured, imprisoned, killed and massacred with seemingly little regard for innocence or rule of law.
Sectarian violence: Even apart from the government, Boko Haram and the like-minded Ansaru, thousands more have died in violence between Christian and Muslims.
The violence is the worst the country has seen since the civil war in the 1960s.
And now add the US to the mix, which has offered help, fresh from its failed fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan and its drone war in Pakistan. The US already has a drone base and 100 men in neighbouring Niger. It is already in the region looking for Joseph Kony (#Kony2102).
In the 1800s northern Nigeria was ruled by the Sokoto caliphate, part of a chain of Muslim states along the south-western edge of the Sahara founded by the Fulani jihad. It spread Islam to the masses. Muslim schools were an important part of the jihad.
Opposition to Western education in the north goes back to 1903 when the British took control. Boko Haram started in 2002 as a mosque and a Muslim school. It did not turn violent till 2009.
Boko Haram is against Muslims taking part in Western society – not just receiving a Western education, but even wearing Western clothes or voting. It sees the Nigerian state as run by non-believers, even when it has a Muslim president. Nigeria is 49% Muslim and 49% Christian.