The Terror of West Africa: Boko Haram and Their Untouchable Reign

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By, Saffron Sener | News Editor

March 9th, 2016

The word “terrorist” is immediately associated with groups such as the Taliban and ISIS. However, this world is home to innumerable violent radicalist organizations一one of the most barbarous, yet most unknown, is Boko Haram of Nigeria. Recognized mostly in the Western world for their kidnapping 274 Nigerian schoolgirls in 2014, they are a group feared by a great portion of West Africa; their brutal ways have been ravaging the area for almost a decade.

Boko Haram, though stereotyped as a rag-tag band of impoverished extremists, is actually a blend of students, traders, merchants, wealthy businessmen, and many more from a variety of social classes. The original members of Boko Haram were the children of 1990s elite and attendees of the University of Maiduguri in the Nigerian Borno state. Though an established school, it was famed for having an obsession with money. This infatuation routinely manifested itself; through students fighting for sought-after titles indicating the amount of money they were spending, to showering of cash on entertainers and female classmates, to many other money-concentrated situations.

Though this innate image of the university, many students found themselves feeling disgusted with this preoccupation of money. As a result, some began to flock to a youth club at a local mosque, the Salafi group. Those who joined this party were not of low social stature; they were sons of state officials and distinguished businessmen. Salafi was appealing in that it both provided relief from the money-obsessed ways of their school life as well as preached that the problems of Borno stemmed from this fixation.

This is when Mohammed Yusuf comes into play. Working as an itinerant, traveling from place to place and attaining followers for his extreme ideas, Yusuf had been a popular radicalist speaker since the mid-1990s. In the early 2000s, he became the leader of the Salafi group. He utilized this medium to further his owner ideals; he preached to its members that Muslims who engaged in democracy should be killed, that corruption stemmed from the education system established by Britain, and a slurry of other doctrines based in both hatred and utter dedication to one’s faith.

The early years of the 2000s saw the construction of Boko Haram. Yusuf and his ability to attract follows allowed the Salafi group’s influence to spread deep into rural border regions as well as urban epicenters. Backwoods areas internalized the traditional values to the extreme; women began wearing full coverings, schools were abandoned, and books burnings became commonplace.

By 2008, Boko Haram had risen to essentially a separate country within the Borno state. From providing welfare to supporting a police force and a community council to arranging marriages, the movement seemed a normal part of Nigerian life.

However, this all changed after Mohammed Yusuf was executed for his ties to a corrupted state official. His lieutenants fell out of public sight. Coming under the power of Abubakar Shekau, or Yusuf’s right hand man, the soon-to-be terrorist organization had one main focus: revenge for the death of their founder.

The uprising of Boko Haram began in 2009 with attacks on the police force. Killed in their homes, Boko Haram did not hesitate to murder any who crossed them; politicians, officers, and local leaders were also targeted. Associating the entire government and all of its branches with the small local force that executed their leader, they were non-discriminatory in their murders. Anyone who betrayed them soon became a victim.

As time went on, the group amped up the statue of their missions; in August 2011, a suicide mission by Boko Haram ended in the bombing of a United Nations building and the killing of at least 21 people. At around the same time, similar suicide-bombing campaigns were enacted in Nigerian areas such as Maiduguri, Jos, Kaduna, and Kano. Taking place in public locations, the attacks caused the deaths of thousands. Those murdered by Boko Haram are innumerable. Additionally, over a million people and counting have been displaced. In 2015, to the horror of many, Boko Haram actually dominated 70% of the Borno state. The country has had great difficulty in challenging this stronghold.

For a long time, the militaries of Nigeria and other afflicted countries did little to fight the spread of Boko Haram. Dominating entire villages and towns through force and intimidation (declaring that citizens must “join or die”), Boko Haram gained unimaginable control over vast regions during the period between 2009-2015.

However, Boko Haram just recently suffered a great loss in terms of their acquired territory. Taking place in the country of Cameroon, the country announced on February 26 that the nation’s army, in alliance with Nigerian forces, successfully led an attack on the Islamist militant organization. A total of ninety-two Boko Haram members were killed in the battle, of which ultimately freed approximately 850 villagers. This particular attack was one that is under a large, multi-national umbrella of operations taking place to dethrone the terrorist group.

The past year has been marred by Boko Haram-led suicide and offensive attacks across north-eastern Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Within Cameroon alone, they have killed around a thousand people in this past year only. Reasons such as this explain why militaries throughout the world refer to Boko Haram as one of the most violent extremist movements in the world. In merely six years, they have been estimated to have killed over 15,000 people. As noted by junior Shea Donnelly, “Boko Haram is no different than any other terrorist group searching for insufficient excuses for their ‘cause.’ Killing people isn’t righteous, and kidnapping is not justified. Humanity needs to band together to stop groups like Boko Haram from ruining more lives.”

One of the most famous operations of Boko Haram was their kidnapping of 274 Nigerian schoolgirls in August 2014. Causing international shock and anger, this particular event sparked counter campaigns such as the “Bring Back Our Girls” movement. Though some have been released, over two hundred girls are still suffering in captivity; many were forced to marry Boko Haram members, which would symbolically tie them to the terrorists. Recently, negotiations have been in the works; the most current is a request by the terrorist group to exchange the remaining girls for sixteen Boko Haram prisoners of war. Nothing has been agreed on, though.

These girls have been tortured, raped, and put under the most unimaginable suffering possible. Unfortunately, when past female Boko Haram prisoners were released, they were met with shunning from former friends and family members; traditional values deem them “dirty” and “impure.” This incorrect ideal is one that has become the focus for change by many humanitarian organizations, including Amnesty International and the UN. In the words of junior Grisham Peck, “It is so horrible that even in the twenty-first century we are still having problems with kidnappings, and that we can’t protect our youth.”

One of the most bloodthirsty terrorist groups in the modern age, Boko Haram thrives on the fear and faith of others. It is imperative that a sufficient resistance force be formed, for they must not be able to spread their hate-filled agenda any further. Boko Haram’s fall is necessary.

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1 Comment on The Terror of West Africa: Boko Haram and Their Untouchable Reign

  1. This piece offers readers some shocking news both because Boko Haram is a relatively ‘underground’ and because violence on a massive level is horrible to hear about. The only critiques I hold are on the syntax, as some sentences fall prey to the oh-so-common dangling participle.
    “Killed in their homes, Boko Haram did not hesitate to murder any who crossed them; politicians, officers, and local leaders were also targeted.”

    [Reply]

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