Countering the Boko Haram Group in Nigeria: The Relevance of Hybrid Doctrine
Adewunmi James Falode
The Boko Haram Group (BHG) is a fundamentalist religious sect established in the 1990s in northeastern Nigeria. It is a Sunni sect that espouses and preaches a perverted brand of Islam that believes in the use of extreme physical and psychological violence in the realization of its objectives. Since 2002, the BHG has waged a protracted conflict with Nigeria that has fundamentally threatened the corporal identity of the state. The authority, legitimacy and territorial integrity of Nigeria has never been so challenged since Nigeria gained independence from Britain in 1960. Although, Nigeria had faced some serious security challenges from non-state actors before (Niger Delta militant and Maitatsine religious sect), none has been able to, among other things, dragged in Nigeria’s neighbours into its domestic issues; internationalize a conflict that is wholly local and threaten the very structures the country put in place to guarantee its internal and external security. The BHG, though a religious sect, has political and social strategic objectives. The political objective, of course, is the creation of an Islamic caliphate starting from Nigeria then extending to West Africa and the sub-region. The social objective is the creation of an Islamic administrative system that will rival, in its simplicity and theodicy, every other forms of secular and religious system of governance.
The conflict between Nigeria and the BHG has gone through different phases. The fluidity and adaptability of the BHG in the different phases have made it difficult for Nigeria to evolve a coherent strategy to contain its activities. At inception in early 2000, the conflict started as a religious-cum-social disagreement. It then graduated to become a terrorism campaign and an insurgency between 2010 and 2015. The conflict has gone back to the terrorism phase by the first quarter of 2016.
In order to contain and curb the activities of the BHG, Nigeria, since 2002, has deployed different strategies. But then, the conflict, which is very fluid, can easily revert back to the insurgency phase. Thus, to defeat and contain the BHG, Nigeria must devise countermeasures that will effectively tackle the different phases. To put it, succinctly, Nigeria must put strategic measures in place to tackle the terrorism phase of the conflict and at the same time the measures must be proactive enough to check the conflict from becoming an insurgency and if it became one, counter it effectively.
Nigeria’s Strategy Against the BHG
Nigeria has been using what can be described as ‘kinetic strategy’ in its conflict with the BHG. This strategy focuses on the employment of hard military power through kinetic operations against the BHG. The tactics and strategies in kinetic operations are comparable to how conventional engagement is conducted between state actors in conflict. This involves the use of manoeuvres, massed movement of infantry and the observance of rules of engagement in war. This adherence to conventional military doctrines, strategies and tactics cost Nigeria dearly throughout the duration of the major phases of the conflict between 2010 and 2015. The country was only able to make headway against the BHG towards the tail end of 2015 and early 2016 when it decided to blend both conventional and unconventional countermeasures against the BHG. At the initial stage of the crisis between Nigeria and the Boko Haram, the State made use of its police force to check the activity of the group. The Group’s activities were seen as that of civil, social and religious disobedience to established norms within Nigeria. The Nigeria Police Force (NPF) made extensive use of roadblocks and mass arrest at the sites of attacks by the Group to curb and contain its activities. NPF’s inability to check the Group forced Nigeria to form the Joint Task Force (JTF) in 2003. The JTF is a combination of military and police personnel specifically tasked with checking and containing the burgeoning Boko Haram menace. By this period, the Group had started actively targeting and burning police stations in Yobe. In 2007, the JTF launched ‘Operation Flush’ to arrest and contain the activities of the Boko Haram in the northeast. By 2009, the JTF succeeded in killing the nominal founder of the Group, Yusuf. The death of Yusuf generated serious controversy both in the local and international media. It has led to accusation of extra-judicial killing by the State. This is because Yusuf was captured alive and held in police custody before he ‘mysteriously’ died. It has been argued that it was the unlawful killing of Yusuf that pushed the BHG to embrace the more combative approach in its dealing with Nigeria. This is a proposition that is yet to be proven. With the death of Yusuf, Abubakar Shekau then took over the leadership of the Group.
With the ascension of Abubakar Shekau, the conflict then entered a more virulent and dangerous phase. The BHG started the adoption of tactics and methods, such as suicide-bombings and counter-value attacks, more akin to global terrorism than guerrilla warfare. This forced Nigeria to establish the Special Military Joint Task Force (SMJTF) in 2011. The new Task Force was made-up of personnel from the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), Department of State Security (DSS), Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) and the Defence Intelligence Agencies (DIA). Moreover, the new phase that Shekau took the conflict forced two important changes on Nigeria. The first was that it pushed Nigeria to fully mobilize her armed forces to confront the security challenges created by the Boko Haram. Secondly, Nigeria was forced to evolve counterterrorism (CT) and counter-insurgency (COIN) strategies.
In May 2013, Nigeria declared a state of emergency in the three north-eastern states of Yobe, Adamawa and Borno to tackle the Boko Haram insurgency. The three states have not only become the main Contested Zones (CZs) of the war but also Boko Haram’s stronghold in Nigeria. During this period, Nigeria established the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) to complement the efforts of the military in containing the Boko Haram. The CJTF is composed mainly of vigilante groups, hunters, farmers and youths in the areas most affected by the activities of the Boko Haram. In addition, Nigeria created a new military formation, the 7 Division in Maiduguri with the strategic role to directly contain and rout the Group. To give legal backing and effective coordination to its CT measures, Nigeria fast-tracked the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2013. The Acts stipulates, among other provisions, death penalty for terrorists and insurgents and the destruction of suspected terrorist enclaves. Additionally, apart from the military counter measures used to curb and contain the Boko Haram, the Nigerian state also made use of non-military measures, such as the offer of strategic dialogue with the Group. However, the Boko Haram steadfastly and severally rebuffed this offer from the Nigerian state.
In December 2015, the new president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, declared that the Boko Haram has been ‘technically defeated’. In January 2016, the Muhammadu Buhari further clarified that Boko Haram ‘is now on fall-back’. Why this play on words? The answer is simply because by late 2015, Nigeria had retaken most of the territories in the CZs previously occupied by the Boko Haram. Prior to this period, BHG had established administrative and political centres in territories in both Borno and Yobe States. However, with the advances and gains in the early part of 2016, it has now become impossible for the Boko Haram to launch conventional attacks against federal troops in the CZs. The Group has fallen back into its stronghold of Sambisa forest in Maiduguri, a mountainous border region in the heartland of the insurgency. Hence, ‘technically defeated’ and ‘fall-back’. Nigeria was able to achieve this feat because of its engagement of troops from neighbouring countries such as Niger and Cameroon, and foreign mercenaries. The use of foreign troops and mercenaries in Nigerian conflicts is a recurring decimal.
In Early 2015, Nigeria employed white South African mercenaries known as STTEP (Specialized Tasks, Training, Equipment and Protection ) to help the country in its war against the Boko Haram. The mercenaries, veterans of bush warfare in South Africa, trained elite counterterrorism troops in Nigeria and conducted sortie against the Boko Haram. Using a policy of ‘relentless pursuit’, an unconventional military mobile warfare tactic created by STTEP to equal Boko Haram’s attack mode of hit-and-run, the State was able to evolve an effective counteroffensive against the Boko Haram. By the time the MNJTF (Multinational Joint Task Force) came to the aid of Nigeria in late 2015, the STTEP had succeeded in putting the Boko Haram on the back foot. It was not until troops from Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin, under the aegis of MNJTF, were introduced to the war in late 2015 that Nigeria’s counteroffensive against the BHG yielded positive results. Battle-hardened troops from Chad and Niger played crucial roles. In some instances, they had to enter into territories in the CZs to dislodge the insurgents.
It should not be assumed that with this territorial displacement, the State has won and the Nigeria-Boko Haram war is now over. Far from it. The Boko Haram has gone back to its asymmetric (terrorism) warfare phase, eschewing open and conventional confrontations with the military. Since January 2016, it has been hitting counter-value targets in the CZs. The Group now relies heavily on the use of underage suicide bombers in its bid to destabilize the Nigerian state. The Nigeria-Boko Haram war is not yet over. It has only entered into a ‘new phase’. The phase is not ‘new’ because the BHG is now using a new strategy and tactics in its conflict with the State. It is ‘new’ in a transitory sense. The BHG has gone back to being a terrorist outfit. It now relies heavily on the use of under-age children and grown-up women as suicide bombers.
In early 2016, showing a departure from its ineffective kinetic strategy against the BHG, the Nigerian military introduced what can be called asymmetric mobile tactics. The Nigerian army established a ‘combat motorbike battalion’ consisting of a rider and another riding shotgun. It should be remarked that this is simply an adaptation and improvement on the policy of ‘relentless pursuit’ created by STTEP. Troops from the new battalion were deployed in almost all the major conflict areas in the northeast. Since in this new phase of the war, the BHG normally attacks villages in small groups and retreat rapidly back to their hideouts in the hills before the battalion or division could get to the villages under attack, using the bike division, the Nigerian forces can respond faster to the threat, unannounced, and cut-off the retreating BHG members. This strategy has worked far more effectively than the kinetic response and has made it possible for Nigeria to be more fluid, dynamic and flexible in its response against the BHG. Nigeria now targets the BHG ‘proactively’. The Army’s operational headquarters was moved from Abuja to Maiduguri, the hotbed of the conflict in June 2015. The army now conducts strategically focused operations that targets, among other things, BHG logistic routes. This is not unlike what the coalition forces in Iraq are now doing by targeting ISIS logistics. This has the advantage of blocking the access of the jihadi groups to needed revenue from oil and choking-off access to materiel.
In the nonmilitary sphere, the new Buhari administration has set‑up a reconstruction and development program to carryout infrastructural and social development in the northeast. Camps have been created and funds have been set aside for the over 2 million internally displaced people (IDP) from the conflict in the northeast.
Recommendations for Countering the BHG
The important question then is how can Nigeria effectively check and counter the BHG. To achieve these objectives, Nigeria will have to adopt what I have called the Hybrid Doctrine (HD). The aim of the doctrine is to compel, deter and persuade the terrorists/insurgents to end the conflict on terms favourable to the state. It means the deployment of assets and resources in the Contested Zones, both in the battlefield and non-combat areas, to achieve synergistic effects. The key to the success of the HD is synchronicity. The military approach is deployed simultaneously with the political, social, cultural, religious and economic approach to provide a synergistic and effective solution to the conflict. For instance, this is what Columbia has done in its conflict with the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia) rebels. Columbia allowed the military to carry out its operations against the FARC in the jungle of South America and at the same time -synchronicity- engages the FARC in strategic dialogues designed to end the conflict. One should note that Columbia did not allow a pause in the military operations while the dialogue was ongoing. No. the two countermeasures were deployed synchronously to provide synergistic effect. This is the core of the HD.
It is important to stress that the aim of the HD is not the destruction of the BHG. This is militarily and strategically impossible. To destroy the Group will mean the annihilation of the whole of the northeast. The operational strategy of Nigeria against the Group should be containment and emasculation; not total destruction. The reason for this is not because the Nigerian forces will not be able to annihilate members of the Boko Haram in the long run. Rather for the simple fact that majority of the BHG members are northern talakawa (masses or the underprivileged) and mostly artisans. They are ordinary citizens of the Nigerian state. They are not a military adversary that can be easily identified and destroyed on the battlefield. These people can easily blend into the general population when the situation demands. This factor explains why it has been extremely difficult for the Nigerian forces to effectively deal with the Group in the CZ. Thus, destroying the group is not an option. The effective alternative is to render the group powerless and unattractive in the long run. This is the core of the HD. The war between the two is not strictly a war on terror, a guerilla campaign, or an insurgency. The war has the characteristics of the three. Here is a non-state actor taking a state actor to task; a non-state actor skillfully using conventional and unconventional tactics and strategies in its conflict with a state actor.
To effectively curb rather than destroy the Group, it is important for the HN to identify its center of gravity (COG). The COG is that crucial part of any military force that will make it impossible for it to function effectively in any engagements once this has been identified and immobilized. The BHG’s COG is the population in the CZ. This conclusion is based on a number of reasons. The first is that the bulk of the Boko Haram fighters are people, male, female and children from the CZ. Secondly, the Group normally requisitions its food supply and materiel from the communities and areas within the CZ. Thirdly, and more importantly, the Group’s HQ and operational bases are within the locale of the CZ. Thus, to effectively curb the activity of the Group, the HN will have to evolve targeted measures that will pry the COG (population) away from the grasp of the Group. This is where the relevance of HD comes to the fore. The HD has four important concepts at its core. These concepts have been called the 4D: Degrade, Defang, Depower and Detox. To degrade means to effectively neutralize the ability of the Boko Haram to challenge the HN Forces (HNF) in any theatre of operations in the CZs. This mode is achieved through land and air saturation. This HNF effort will be apposite in the dense Sambisa forest and mountainous regions around Adamawa and Borno. The continuous and intense shelling will not only soften the adversary but also make it impossible for it to present a coherent force strong enough to take the initiative from the HNF. To defang means to make it impossible for the Boko Haram to attack and recruit from the CZs in urban centres such as schools, markets, villages, and towns. This is achieved through the use of cordon operations, human intelligence gathering, house-to-house searches, intensive military patrols, and conscious effort to reorient the perception of the people in the CZs as to the illegality of the insurgents. The depower phase is critically to the overall COIN and CT strategy of the HN. In this mode, specific tactics, techniques, procedures and strategies (TTPS) are deployed to cut off the pool of foot soldiers and new recruits available to the Boko Haram. The CJTF will be critical to the success of this mode. It will constitute the bulk of the human intelligence (HUMINT) unit that is needed to gather raw and real-time information about the activity of the Boko Haram in the CZs. This information will then be submitted to a central intelligence unit of the HNF. This will constitute actionable intelligence that the HNF can then use to curb and contain the insurgents in both the combat and non-combat zones. In the detox phase, the HNF will battle for the hearts and minds of the population in the CZs. To achieve this, political TTPS will be deployed synchronously with social TTPS. Particular emphasis will be placed on the reorientation and reintegration of former BHG fighters back into the society. Emphasis will also be placed on the use of these former fighters as bait to lure others out of the camp of the BHG. This is what the Ugandan military and its American ally did in its fight against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) of Joseph Kony.
The TTPS to be carried out under the 4D designed to curb and contain the Boko Haram can be further divided into two phases. The first phase has the following sub-headings: political reform, popular mobilization, economic development and educational reform. The second is the security and military phase.
Political Reform: Legitimacy is the key operative word that the HN will strive for in this phase. The perceived lack of legitimacy in the first instance was what fueled the insurgency. The citizens in the CZ of Borno feel alienated from the authority of the HN. It is this vacuum that the Boko Haram exploited. The group established its own form of legitimacy through the introduction of sharia and its appurtenances. To be able to dominate the narratives, the Nigerian government must reestablish its authority in the CZ. To achieve this, the HN must be seen to have legitimacy. It can achieve this by providing security and some basic services. The provision of security is the key to the government’s legitimacy. The Nigerian forces must co-opt the CJTF (who are mostly artisans too and resident in the CZs) as part of its overall security apparatus in the northeast. The State must show interest in the welfare of those affected by the conflict thereby winning their trust in the process. The region should be saturated with security forces and aid workers providing relief to the affected citizens in the CZs. The presence of the Nigerian state must be felt. This is part of the depowering aspect of the 4D.
Popular Mobilization: Influential and respected Islamic clerics within the CZs must be identified and coopted by the HNF. These clerics will be provided with bullhorn and encouraged to accompany the HNF in their operations in the CZs. Their job will be to counter the nihilistic messages of the Boko Haram. The clerics will achieve this through the correct interpretations and citations of the relevant portions of the Koran. The aim of this strategy will be to disabuse the mindsets of the populace from the preaching of the Boko Haram. The more the HN can win the hearts of the population in the CZs through this approach, the easier it becomes for the HN to deny the BHG its regular supply of foot soldiers. This approach will also enable the HN government to reacquire the legitimacy it has lost with a portion of its population in the CZs. It will provide for the HN the needed support base from among the people in its war against the insurgents and it will also enable the government to redefine the narrative of the war in its favour. This is part of the depowering aspect of the 4D.
Educational Reform: This aspect of the HD is crucial to the TTPS of the HN in its conflict with the Boko Haram in the long-run. Since the age-bracket of most of the foot-soldiers and suicide-bombers of the Group fall within the 9 to 20 years range, the HN government must institute programs that make it compulsory for children and teenagers in the CZs to be sent to government established schools. To stem the flow of new recruits into the Group’s fold, a concerted and intensive political and social reorientation is needed. The education in the government-run schools will instill such virtues as patriotism, citizenship and civic responsibility in the minds of children and teenagers in the CZs. To make sure that reluctant parents comply with this compulsory education, a special tax should be levied on those who refused to allow their wards go to such schools. Knowing Nigerians penchant for tax aversion, this will lead to the mass enrolment of children in such schools. This has the advantage of giving proper social and political orientation to children who would otherwise have been brainwashed into joining the Group later in life. This is part of the detoxicating aspect of the 4D.
Economic Development: The North-Eastern part, which is the CZs of the war, is one of the most economically deprived regions in Nigeria. Some scholars have argued that relative economic deprivation has been a major factor fueling the insurgency. Specifically, it has been argued that economically disenfranchised youths in the North-East have been the mainstay of the insurgency. The logic to ending the insurgency in the long-term, according to this view, is for the HN government to carry out massive infrastructural and economic development of the region. While this researcher is of the view that the lack of economic development or opportunities could not be used to explain the origin or the protracted nature of the Nigeria-Boko Haram war, such an initiative on the part of the HNG will make the reestablishment of its legitimacy easier. By providing such infrastructure and making opportunities available for economic advancement in the CZs, the citizens’ loyalty to the Nigerian state will be more solidified. This will further deny the Boko Haram a platform for recruitment since the issue of economic deprivation of the citizens of the CZ would have been taken care of.
The security and military phase of the HD is equally important. The TTPS needed in this phase requires a unified action through inter-agency and inter-organizational coordination of the instruments of national power to support HNG’s political, economic, security and information components. All these will be geared towards the containment of the insurgents and reestablishing legitimacy and effective control in the CZ by the HNG. Security of the citizens must be ensured in the CZ. This is where the HNF or JTF and the CTJF will have to play crucial roles. Security operations must be conducted, not in isolation, but in support of a clearly articulated TTPS, coordinated with economic development and integrated with information-related capabilities. The synchronized and holistic use of these components will provide security for the population and improve the overall political situation at the local level. Since the role of the HNF is clearly defined, emphasis will now be placed on the structure and role that should be created for the CJTF in the overall TTPS of the HNG in its confrontations with the Boko Haram. The CJTF will be well suited for reconnaissance and HUMINT. Members of the CJTF, since they are closer to the people, must also be trained as a paramilitary force and act as the first line of defence against the BHG whenever they struck. During this phase too, Nigeria will rely on the use of drones for intelligence gathering and combats. Targeted assassination of key members of the Group will be carried out. The targeted killing is meant to destabilize the ability of the Group to launch attack against the State and at the same time sow the seed of insecurity. The recently created motorbike battalion is a good initiative. A section of this should also be created for the CJTF. These will complement the response of the MNJTF to any Boko Haram attack in the region. All these are part of the degrading and defanging aspects of the 4D
Nigeria’s conflict with the BHG is the greatest security challenge to confront the country since independence in 1960. The Nigerian armed forces, trained in conventional warfare, have found it difficult to effectively counter the activities of the Group. The BHG has used a range of TTPS to confront and confound the Nigerian security forces. Boko Haram has effectively employed both conventional and unconventional tactics and strategies in its confrontation with Nigeria. At different points in time, the conflict has assumed different guises. From being a social and religious crisis, it became a war on terror, an insurgency and it is now back to the terrorism phase. This means that the use of traditional CT and COIN in isolation will not be effective against the Group. The fluidity and dynamism of the conflict means it is crucial for Nigeria to be proactive in its efforts to counter the Group’s narratives. Hence, the use of the HD. When utilized correctly, the HD will effectively and proactively tackle the different phases of the conflict. The HD will be able to do this since it combines and deploys both counterterrorism and counterinsurgency measures.
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 Serrano and Pieri, “By the Numbers,” 202.
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 Adewunmi, “The Battle for the Minds”.
 Joseph Erunke, “Senate Okays Death Penalty for Terrorism,” Vanguard, 20 February, 2013.
 Ndahi Marama, “Boko Haram: Shekau Denies Ceasefire, Dialogue with FG,” Vanguard, 3 March, 2013; “Okonjo-Iweala: FG has Adopted Three-Pronged Approach to stop Boko Haram, THISDAY, 3 July, 2014.
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 “Nigerian Military Vows to Continue Assault against Boko Haram,” ThisDayLive, September 19, 2015. Accessed from thisdaylive.com/articles/Nigerian-military-vows-to-continue-assault-against-boko-haram/221456/.
 “Chadian Troops enter into Nigeria to Battle Boko Haram,” Vanguard, February 4, 2015. Accessed from www.vanguardngr.com/2015/02/chadian-troops-enter-nigeria-battle-boko-haram/.
 Nnenna Ibeh, “Boko Haram: Nigerian Military Moves Command Centre to Maiduguri,” Premium Times, June 8, 2015. Accessed from www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/184543-boko-haram-nigerian-army-moves-command-centre-to-maiduguri.html.
 Lucas Tomlinson and Jennifer Griffin, “US Military: Air Strikes Destroy 116 ISIS Fuel Trucks, Sharing Target Information With France,” Fox News, November 16, 2015. Accessed from www.foxnews.com/politics/2015/11/16/us-military-sharing-intelligence-with-france-on-isis-targets-in-syria.html.
 Daji Sani, “FG Commences Reconstruction of N’East,” ThisDay, March 28, 2016. Accessed from www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2016/03/28/fg-commences-reconstruction-of-neast.
 Andres Schipani, “Columbia to Ease Bombing Raids Against Farc Rebels,” Financial Times, July 26, 2015. Accessed from https://next.ft.com/content/1cfc7ccc-334b-11e5-bdbb-35e55cbae175 and Afeikhena Jerome, “Lessons from Columbia for Curtailing the Boko Haram Insurgency in Nigeria,” Prism, 5, No. 2, January 2015. Accessed from http://cco.ndu.edu/portals/96/Documents/Prism/Prism_5-2_Lessons_From_Columbia_2015031902.pdf.
 “Troops Arrest Four Boko Haram kingpins,” SAHARAREPORTERS, April 22, 2016. Accessed from www.saharareporters.com/2016/04/22/troops-arrest-four-boko-haram-kingpins and “Artisans Across Northeast Were Recruited to Boko Haram with the promise and offers of Loans,” Nigerian Watch, April 13, 2016. Accessed from www.nigerianwatch.com/news/9136-artisans-across-northeast-were-recruited-to-boko-haram-with-the-promise-and-offer-of-loans.
 Kevin Maurer, “Joseph Kony’s Former Bodyguards are now Helping U.S. Troops Hunt Him,” The Daily Beast, May 14, 2016. Accessed from www.dailybeast.com/articles/2016/05/14/joseph-kony-s-former-bodyguards-are-now-u-s-troops-hunt-him.html.