As the Nigerian government hosts an international security summit in Abuja this week to discuss the Islamist sect Boko Haram, a new Chatham House research paper examines one of the most poorly understood security crises Nigeria has ever faced.  

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As the Nigerian government hosts an international security summit in Abuja this week to discuss the Islamist sect Boko Haram, a new Chatham House research paper examines one of the most poorly understood security crises Nigeria has ever faced.

Nigeria’s Interminable Insurgency? Addressing the Boko Haram Crisis
by Marc-Antoine Pérouse de Montclos highlights the urgent need to revisit the priorities of Nigerian armed forces tasked with combatting the sect.

Ahead of Nigeria’s general elections in 2015 it will become more difficult to distinguish between ideologically or grievance-driven Boko Haram attacks, politically manipulated attacks and violent political militias that may or may not claim to be Boko Haram affiliates.

The movement has been evolving over more than a decade as opportunities to check its descent into extremist violence were missed. Responses to Boko Haram have suffered for the dearth of credible information about the movement and the triumph of vested interests in Nigeria’s opaque political environment.

The lack of facts, competing political interests, state institutional weaknesses, multiplying local grievances and under-resourced yet enmeshed armed forces – at whose hands civilians have also suffered- have provided Boko Haram with the motivation and opportunity to grow and further entrench itself in its northeastern stronghold.  

Boko Haram grew out of confrontation with the Nigerian state and is host to a multiplicity of domestic actors and interests. Any external actors seeking a more active engagement in the crisis risk becoming entangled in what is ultimately a Nigerian crisis.

Nigeria’s international partners are best placed to support negotiations between the government and the movement, the development of witness protection programmes, the provision of humanitarian relief and shelter for displaced civilians, as well as providing institutional support towards inter-agency cooperation.

In 2014, the movement seems to have entered a new transitional phase. The inability of Nigeria’s armed forces to obstruct its onslaught together with a greater international profile have lent Boko Haram a confidence and ambition that appear to have prompted increasingly strategic behaviour, alongside continued indiscriminate and widespread attacks against civilian and state targets.

Since the military repression of the Boko Haram uprising in July 2009, massacres, extra-judicial killings and arrests without trial have widened the gap between communities and the armed forces. The only sustainable way to combat Boko Haram is to protect civilians. Without a reordering of priorities and visible efforts to regain the trust of communities, Nigeria’s military will be caught fighting an interminable insurgency.