The Boko Haram Insurgence in Nigeria: Perspective from Within is an important contribution to scholarship on violent religious extremism in Nigeria by the sociologist Edlyne Eze Anugwom. In this book, the author draws upon fieldwork he conducted in Maiduguri and Gwoza in Borno State, the epicenter of Boko Haram. Drawing on interviews and discussions he had with key actors in the conflict, he provides an extensive analysis of the sect's origins, growth, and activities. Anugwom further explores the religio-political andhistorical factors that drove the group’s insurgence from 2009 onward. The book not only provides rich and fascinating insight into the organization and ideology of Boko Haram, but also into the Nigerian state’s response to the insurgency, the internal splits within the sect, and their connection with global jihadist groups.
Anugwom argues that Boko Haram represents an innovative approach to Islamic fundamentalism in Nigeria that later metamorphosed into a terrorist group. He identifies the leadership failure of the Nigeria state and its agencies in managing the perceived threat of the sect at the initial stage, which contributed to its rise. The author uses a range of theoretical models to explain and interpret Boko Haram’s radicalization, including Relative Deprivation Theory, Robert K. Merton’s theory of Anomie, Randy Borum’s four steps of radicalization, and Quintan Wiktorowicz’s concept of cognitive opening.
In addition, Anugwom explores the influence of global Islamic fundamentalists on the insurgents. He points out that Boko Haram is influenced by an Islamic global jihadist ideology that seeks to establish a religio-political system that will piously govern believers in accordance with the Quran and the hadith. Aside from the global link, Anugwom further argues that the organization is also influenced by local Islamic histories. He points to the radical activities of Dan Fodiyo, a pioneering Islamic Leader and jihadist of the nineteen century Islamic revolution in West Africa, the Maitatsine movement of the 1980s, and the Izala movement in Northern Nigeria as traditions that have shaped Boko Haram’s ideology. Linking Boko Haram to the Izala movement has always been contentious in the scholarship on Islamic sects in Nigeria. Anugwom however points what seems to distinguish Boko Haram from the Izala movement is that the latter adopts a more literal interpretation of the Quran than Boko Haram and does not see violence as the best way to enact their ideologies.
The structure, funding, and socio-economic imperative of the sect are well examined in this book. Although Boko Haram has no clearly defined leadership hierarchy, Anugwom observes that they operate under the “Shura council,” with cells operating as federating units. The Shura council defines Islamic standard of leadership and its structure. Boko Haram Shura council was headed by Abubakar Shekau until his death in May 2021, who was the successor of Mohammed Yusuf, the founder of the sect. The local cells are headed by cell leaders. Though Shekau maintained little direct contact with the cell leaders, he relied on a few cell leaders and trusted lieutenants to ensure the activeness of the cells. Anugwom alleges that the activities of the sect are funded by their members and by ransoms paid for kidnapped victims, but also – and more controversially – by donations from some government officials. The latter sources have not been proven, however, and are denied by the actors involved.
Like most scholars on Boko Haram, Anugwom contends that the extrajudicial killing of Mohammed Yusuf, the founder of Boko Haram, in 2009 marks the beginning of the escalation of the insurgence. He points out that Yusuf’s successor, Abubakar Shekau, saw his death as a war against the sect and subsequently embarked on a revengeful mission against the government and other perceived enemies. For Shekau and other leaders, Yusuf’s killing motivated their commitment to overthrow the government, whom they perceived to be corrupt, and to establish a caliphate ruled by the basic tenants of the sharia and devoid of western influence.
Anugwom also provides insight into the internal leadership crises within Boko Haram that led to its split, and further explores the connection with global jihadists like ISIS and Al Qaeda. He argues that Boko Haram has gained support from global jihadists for training, arms, and other logistics, yet that in spite of this connection, Boko Haram’s main target remains the Nigerian government, and thus its ambition is primarily local.
Although Anugwom acknowledges the government’s efforts in tackling the menace, he argues that most of the approaches used by the government—both military and non-military interventions—have inadequacies that the insurgents rely upon to perfect their strategies. However, the author concludes that Boko Haram should not be merely considered a terrorist group; more steps should be taken to address the substantive issues raised in the insurgence.
Despite the difficulties and risks associated with conducting field research on the Boko Haram insurgence, Anugwom has overcome these hurdles and delivered some of the most grounded empirical research on the subject matter. Anugwom’s findings have provided unique insight and information that challenges some orthodox narratives regarding the sect. Thus, this book is an invaluable addition to academic research on the Boko Haram insurgence in Nigeria. The book is not only a reference document for academic researchers and students, but also a valuable resource for policymakers and anyone else interested in the topic.
Bonaventure Chia is a PhD student in the School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science at the University of Leeds.
Date Of Review:
March 31, 2022
Edlyne Eze Anugwomis Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Nigeria Nsukka, Nigeria.
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