THE INFIGHTING BETWEEN BOKO HARAM AND ISWAP TERRORIST GROUPS

Boko Haram, founded in 2002, is a Nigerian jihadist group notorious for its insurgency, brutal tactics and attacks on civilians in the Lake Chad Basin. Initially, the group sought to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria. ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province), on the other hand, emerged in 2016 as a splinter group from Boko Haram, pledging allegiance to ISIS. ISWAP operates primarily in northeastern Nigeria, focusing on expanding its territory and influence.

The historical ties between Boko Haram and ISWAP stem from ideological similarities and shared jihadist objectives. However, a rift occurred when ISWAP criticised Boko Haram’s indiscriminate targeting of Muslims and civilians, opting for a more strategic approach while Boko Haram initially aimed to purify Islam in Nigeria by rejecting Western influence and establishing Sharia law. Conversely, ISWAP emerged as a splinter group within Boko Haram, seeking closer ties with ISIS and a more aggressive approach towards establishing an Islamic state in West Africa. Ideologically, Boko Haram was more focused on local grievances, while ISWAP sought to align itself with the global jihadist movement.

Infighting Between Both Groups

Infighting within terrorist organizations is a common phenomenon driven by power struggles, ideological differences, and personal ambitions. It often weakens the group’s effectiveness and can lead to splinter factions or alliances with rival organizations. The infighting between Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorist groups has led to great losses-loss of lives, properties, and territories, on both ends over time. On 18th November 2023, around 70 terrorists were reportedly killed in a clash between the Boko haram and ISWAP groups at Tumbum Ali Island in Marte Local Government Area. In a similar occurrence, several Boko Haram and ISWAP fighters died in a clash in the Lake Chad Basin on 15th January 2024.

Implications For Borno State And Beyond

The recurrent infighting among the terrorist factions within Borno State exacerbates the already dire humanitarian situation, hindering efforts to provide aid and assistance to vulnerable populations. It also undermines governance structures and stability, hampering socio-economic development and further perpetuating cycles of violence. Although there has been a slight shift from direct attacks on civilians to inter-group battles, the violence still disrupts lives and livelihoods. Clashes displace communities, restrict movement, and hinder access to essential services. The fear and uncertainty created by the conflict further traumatizes a population already grappling with years of insurgency.

Google Earth image showing the Local Government Areas where clashes between Boko Haram and ISWAP have occurred over time.

Effects On The Security Landscape In Borno State And Neighbouring Regions

The infighting has created a volatile security landscape, with increased uncertainty and instability. Armed clashes between rival factions, including militant groups and state security forces, have become more frequent, leading to heightened tensions and a greater risk of civilian casualties. Furthermore, the state’s porous borders allow for the spillover of violence into neighbouring regions, exacerbating regional insecurity.

Regional And International Security Implications

The conflict in Borno State has broader regional and international security implications, as it provides fertile ground for extremist groups to thrive and expand their influence. The presence of Boko Haram and other militant factions poses a significant threat not only to Nigeria but also to neighbouring countries in the Lake Chad Basin region. Furthermore, the proliferation of weapons and the displacement of populations may exacerbate existing security challenges and contribute to regional instability.

Government Security Response

The Nigerian military has launched offensives against both Boko Haram and ISWAP, aiming to weaken and dismantle their operations. International partners have also provided military assistance and intelligence sharing. However, these efforts have yielded mixed results.

Conclusion

While the infighting has arguably weakened both groups, it hasn’t eradicated the threat they pose. Clashes continue, and the underlying causes of the conflict remain unaddressed.  After years of infighting and power struggles between Boko Haram and ISWAP, the security landscape in Borno State remains highly volatile. While both groups share ideological similarities, their rivalry has led to violent clashes and shifting alliances, further complicating the security situation in the region. Despite occasional ceasefires and peace talks, the underlying tensions persist, posing significant challenges to efforts aimed at restoring stability and peace.

Addressing the fractured insurgency requires a multifaceted approach that combines military operations with comprehensive socioeconomic interventions. This includes efforts to address the root causes of extremism, such as poverty, unemployment, and marginalization, while also strengthening governance and the rule of law.

It is also worth noting that reconciliation efforts face numerous challenges, including deep-seated grievances, distrust between opposing factions, and the presence of spoilers seeking to derail peace processes. However, successful reconciliation can lead to stability and the reintegration of former insurgents into society. Conversely, failure to reconcile may result in further fragmentation of the conflict, with splinter groups continuing to pursue their goals through violence.

Additionally, regional cooperation and intelligence-sharing are essential for effectively combating cross-border threats and preventing the spread of violent extremism. International support, both in terms of resources and capacity-building, is crucial for implementing sustainable solutions and preventing further escalation of the conflict.

 

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