Barely a year ago, searching the word Boko Haram on the internet would bring about results such as “Boko Haram bomb blast in Market”. Today the headlines are about “Re-building the North-East”. The Nigerian military has made  tremendous amount of progress in the fight against Boko Haram. Analysts tracking the numbers have recorded a noticeable reduction in the level of attacks when compared to 2015. The drop in Boko Haram attacks between February and March of this year, is evident of improved joint or collaborative effort among members of the international community.

The first quarter of 2016 showed signs that the Nigerian military was finally beginning to adjust and adapt their mode of operation to a more unconventional style. For example, around 10 February, reports indicated that gunmen had been aggressively patrolling various Local Government Areas in Borno state on motorcycles and bicycles. A week later, the Army introduced a Combat Motorcycle Battalion in Borno State.

Ansaru Leader’s Capture

In early April, the military scored a major breakthrough when it arrested the leader of Ansaru Khalid Albarnawi who had a $5 million bounty on his head. Ansaru is a splinter group of Boko Haram that was formed when some members of Boko Haram became increasingly dissatisfied with Boko Haram’s killing of fellow Muslims. Ansaru believes in targeting Western nationals and security personnel and were responsible for several kidnappings across Northern Nigeria. Ansaru leader Albarnawi is said to have been directly trained by and found alongside AQIM in Mauritania and Algeria. Albarnawi’s capture is a welcome development in the Nigerian security sector because AQIM’s renewed commitment to increase attacks across West Africa may have been made a reality in Nigeria with people like Albarnawi eager to carry-on and spread the ideology of the terrorist group.

Boko Haram Videos

There is no doubt that the Boko Haram insurgency is far from over.  In fact, Boko Haram reminded us of this when they released a video on 31st March 2016, its first video since November 2015. There had been a Boko Haram media silence between November 2015 and March 2016 which was possibly as a result of the Nigerian military’s capture of an individual who they described as Boko Haram’s chief camera operator in Borno State on 5 December 2015. With growing military pressure on Boko Haram in the Northeast, maintaining the tempo of media communication will be increasingly challenging for the group.

On 24th March 2016 there was a video of Shekau circulated, which showed poor production quality along with Shekau referencing Boko Haram as opposed to their pledge name of Islamic State West Africa. This has led analysts to conclude it was a dated video that was recorded prior to Boko Haram’s ISIS pledge. Another dated poor quality video was subsequently released, which media outlets erroneously described as Boko Haram surrendering. It was after these two dated media releases that the official ISWA video was released on the 31st March 2016.

In the recent official video, masked Boko Haram insurgents stated that they are still very much active in Nigeria and the border countries in the North east and that they were still under the leadership Shekau, ending with messages of support to ISIS.

Since Boko Haram pledged to ISIS, there have been some changes to their media operations the most evident being the high definition quality of the videos. Also, there’s a shift to a more international audience including more Arabic recitals and subtitles. Since the ISIS pledge, there has also been fewer appearances by Abubakar Shekau the leader of Boko Haram in Nigeria with only 2 audio messages from the leader in the past year. This reduction in appearances could be part of an overall ISIS strategy to give more credence to the international ISIS leadership and focus less on the local leadership and rhetoric of Shekau.

ISWAP screen shot

Picture: Screenshot of latest Islamic State West Africa video released on the 31st March 2016.

At a point in the video message the masked insurgents denounced the alliance of their “regional regimes” with Shiite militia. The Boko Haram insurgents did not specify which regional regime they were referring to, but members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria a Shiite group predominantly in Kaduna state, released a statement denying allegations that they were forming an alliance with Boko Haram. Boko Haram’s reference to a regional regime could indicate sleeper cells which are still operational in other regions of the country.

Tackling Violent Extremist Preaching

Now that progress is being made in eliminating the insurgency, attention is now shifting to finding long-term cultural solutions that can help the region recover, rebuild and ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself. The issue of copycat anti-government, intolerant and violent religious sects across Nigeria is a legitimate problem in which one Northern state governor has started looking into a possible solution. The Kaduna state governor has renewed focus on an existing 1984 religious regulation law and taken the necessary steps to begin strict enforcement of this law. In a written interview, the governor explained the necessity of implementing this law citing that security threats such as the Maitatsine uprising in the 80’s and the Boko Haram situation of today were born out of unregulated religious preaching.

Unregulated religious preaching in this context refers to those who preach messages of hate and violence against others who are not a part of their group. The governor explained that “the idea is to strengthen the 1984 laws so as to regulate and ensure that those given the opportunity to preach at least know what they are doing, that they have a level of responsibility to develop society rather than divide it”.

Consider the Women

Another strategy that the Nigerian government needs to take more seriously is the role of women in preventing the spread of insurgencies in the future. The role female Boko Haram members have played in encouraging the insurgency should be well researched and an effective strategy for the role of women in maintaining peace and stability within their communities, the region and the country as a whole, should be developed and implemented.