The Hidden Perpetrators of the Boko Haram Counterinsurgency

Written by on January 15, 2019

In December of 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari triumphantly declared that Boko Haram had been “technically” defeated. However, reports have recently surfaced revealing that the terrorist group has resumed its attacks.


As recently as yesterday, the 14th of January, reports claimed that Boko Haram insurgents carried out an attack on the villages of Damasak and Rann in Borno State. The target of this attack was a military base and a general hospital, but no casualties were recorded.


His Excellency has since accepted that there have been major setbacks in the counterinsurgency effort, but fails to acknowledge the excessive brutality characteristic of the counterinsurgency effort itself.


In nearly 10 years, some 1.8 million people have been internally displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency. Due to information constraints, it is unknown how many of these IDPs have actually been displaced by the Nigerian military.

Source: Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre

From raids to collective punishment, innocent civilians in the North often find themselves the prime target of military counterinsurgency operations. These operations feature systematic patterns of violence and abuse on par with war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.


In this sense, campaigns against Boko Haram are hardly different from campaigns by Boko Haram.


Prior to 2015, counterinsurgency strategy involved the communal punishment of entire villages suspected of harbouring Boko Haram militants. Innocent villagers who did not manage to flee into the bush were often killed or detained on suspicion of being Boko Haram members.


Unfortunately, four years later, the Nigerian armed forces’ tactics have not changed. Recent eyewitness reports reveal that arbitrary arrests, summary executions, rape and arson are key features of these military operations. Naturally, the Nigerian army has attempted to sweep this issue under the rug, claiming that such reports are fictitious slander designed to undermine the Nigerian military.

Soldiers conducting a raid at the entrance of the Daily Trust Newspaper’s premises in Abuja, January 6th.
Source: Daily Trust/Abubakar Adam Ibrahim

Collateral damage as a result of a well-informed counter-insurgency offensive is one thing. Targeting innocent civilians in order to maintain some semblance of control, on the other hand, is sloppy and irresponsible.


Although Boko Haram has lost significant pockets of territory, the battle against terrorism is not over yet. If we want to see a legitimate end to the insurgency in the North, the Nigerian army and government must stop shirking responsibility for these crimes.


Unfortunately, however, this issue is not that simple. Nigerian COIN strategy is a double edged sword. Although it has allegedly succeeded in cracking down on Boko Haram in some aspects, in others it continues to fail Nigerians by indiscriminately targeting innocents.


What we need to ask ourselves is whether the Nigerian armed forces’ brutal campaign is worth the results it has achieved. We need to ask ourselves if innocent lives are a price that we are willing to pay for an end to the Boko Haram insurgency.

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