On November 28, the terrorist group Boko Haram attacked a mosque in Kano, a city in northern Nigeria, killing more than 100 people according to reports. The attack during Friday prayers is yet another reminder of Boko Haram’s violent insurgency. While Boko Haram has been active in Nigeria for years, the group catapulted to international notoriety last spring after Abubakar Shekau appeared in a video where he claimed responsibility for the abduction of 276 schoolgirls from the village of Chibok in the Nigerian state of Borno.
The mass kidnappings were quickly met with international condemnation and many people participated in a social media campaign (using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls) advocating for the girls’ rescue; nevertheless, most remain captive six months later. In late October, the Nigerian government claimed that Boko Haram had agreed to a cease-fire and the girls would be safely returned. However, Shekau promptly released a video denying a cease-fire agreement, adding that the schoolgirls had converted to Islam and have been married off.
Following the capture of multiple towns in Nigeria’s northeast, Boko Haram declared the establishment of its own caliphate and, shortly afterward, publicly aligned itself with the Islamic State. Although there is little direct evidence the two groups have developed a working relationship, IS has been striving to expand its influence throughout Africa, establishing a “colony” in eastern Libya.
Despite the Nigerian government’s declarations and promises to go after Boko Haram, the group still terrorizes the populations in the north and operates with impunity. Boko Haram’s insurgency has claimed the lives of 3,000 people this year alone. While speaking at the Regional Summit on Security in Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan said Boko Haram has killed 12,000 people and forcibly displaced approximately six million (more than in the Syrian civil war) since 2009. Further complicating the situation, Boko Haram operates throughout the tri-border area in northern Nigeria, recruiting and finding safe haven in Cameroon and Niger. Boko Haram has committed a string of deadly attacks in the Cameroon’s remote north. Although not directly connected to Boko Haram, recent dual suicide bombings targeting army barracks and a French-owned uranium ore mine in Niger further showcase deteriorating regional stability within the Sahel region.
With a population of over 177 million, Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and a major oil-exporter in the region. Boko Haram poses a significant threat not only to domestic security, but also to regional security, when considering the widespread instability and the ability of Boko Haram (along with other terrorist groups) to exploit weakened security in countries like Burkina Faso, Mali, southern Algeria, Libya, Niger, Chad, and northern Cameroon.
The U.S. has a stake in supporting peace and security in northern Nigeria, but to counter Boko Haram, the Nigerian government needs to provide leadership for the people, address the military’s internal challenges, and build trust with local communities. A safe, secure, and prosperous north is in the interest of both Nigeria and the United States.
Patrick Kelly is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.