The new challenge of international security: Boko Haram terrorism

The new challenge of international security: Boko Haram terrorism

Reyhan Güner
Two months to the day has passed since Boko Haram abducted nearly 300 school girls from their boarding school in Chiboku. This is not the first school-targeting incident of Boko Haram. As is also understood from their name, which translates to “Western education is forbidden,” Boko Haram militants targeted schools, dormitories with students inside, as well as Western institutions including the U.N. office in the capital Abuja several times. Yet, the reaction from the international community has been limited to only condemnations, even in an incident when militants belonging to the group brutally killed 29 school boys in Yobe, northeastern Nigeria.

The abduction of school girls could be deemed a turning point for the international community to raise their voice. Particularly the “Bring Back Our Girls campaign” that was supported by well-known figures, from Michelle Obama to Malala Yousafzai, brought international attention to the abducted Nigerian girls. Apparently, Boko Haram was not expecting such a considerable reaction, as none of the organizations bloody attacks transcended condemnations or criticism. Therefore, being unaware of the increasing public and political attention, Boko Haram impulsively declared that they would not give the kidnapped girls back; instead, they were planning to sell them. Yet, when they awoke to increasing attention from international actors, they transformed their strategy into a political bargaining that proposed the release of the kidnapped girls in exchange for the detained Boko Haram militants. The demand has yet to be accepted by the Nigerian government.

So, what is the attitude of international actors toward Boko Haram, which is becoming more globalized every single day?

The U.S. was the very first one to realize the threat posed by Boko Haram. On March 2005, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) released a report titled Mapping Sub-Saharan Africa’s Future after a one-day-meeting. In the report, CIA officials highlighted religious conflicts in Nigeria and envisaged that the country would experience an “outright collapse,” which would eventually drag the region into chaos. Therefore, a probable religious conflict in Nigeria became part of the U.S.’s security agenda, pushing the country to be more cautious over Boko Haram.

Despite some accusing the U.S. of being indifferent to Boko Haram, the group was listed as a terrorist organization by Washington on June 2012. After the abduction of the schoolgirls, the U.S. also sent 80 military personnel to Nigeria’s border with Chad, presuming that the girls had been detained in a forestland along the border.

Immediately afterwards, Israel sent an investigation team to Nigeria in order to examine the case of the kidnapped girls. While the U.N. listed Boko Haram as an al-Qaeda linked terrorist group on May 22, Turkey listed the group as a terrorist organization on June 10.

What makes Boko Haram significant is actually what makes Nigeria strategic for its region. As a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Nigeria is the 8th largest petroleum country exporting around 2.5 million barrels per day. Nigeria is the 5th largest country providing petroleum to the U.S. Hence, instability in Nigeria through Boko Haram is a threat to the U.S.’s energy security and pushes Washington to initiate its energy supplier’s security.

The distribution of religious groups in Nigeria is also threatening. Constituting the 43.6 percent of the population, Muslims are living in the northern Nigeria with rich petroleum reserves, while Christians – who constitute 50.1 percent of the population – are living in eastern Nigeria with fertile farmlands. Therefore, an outright division of the country means petroleum reserves stay in the Muslim-populated area that Boko Haram desires to control. This poses a threat both for the U.S. and international security. Therefore, it is likely that we will see new steps taken against Boko Haram in the coming days.

*Reyhan Güner, Researcher at USAK (International Strategic Research Organization)