Small Wars Journal

The War for Nigeria

The War for Nigeria: A Bloody Insurgency Tears at the Fabric of Africa’s Most Populous Nation. By James Verini, National Geographic.

… There are various creation stories for Boko Haram. The most common I heard in Nigeria is this: In the early 2000s in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, Mohammed Ali, a preacher fed up with poverty and disorder, embarked on a hegira, a Muhammadan withdrawal from society. He and his followers created a commune and practiced sharia. After a dispute with authorities, the Nigerian Taliban, as they’d become known, attacked a police station. The army laid siege, and Ali was killed.

Survivors regrouped around a promising contemporary of Ali’s, Mohammed Yusuf. Yusuf built a bigger commune, described in a report as a “state within a state, with a cabinet, its own religious police, and a large farm.” He called his group Jamaa Ahl al Sunna li al Dawa wa al Jihad, or People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad. Possibly deriding Yusuf ’s religiosity, someone called it Boko Haram. Yusuf was carrying out forced conversions to Islam, according to reports, and likely ordered the murder of a rival. Nonetheless he gained sympathizers around Nigeria, not all of them Muslim. “Boko Haram is a resistance movement against misrule rather than a purely Islamic group,” one bishop said. Yusuf, a Maiduguri reporter told me, “was so charismatic. He could talk to people very gently, very simply,” but “when he preached, he acted. Overacted.”…

Read on.