Beyond Terrorism and State Polity: Assessing the Significance of Salafi Jihad Ideology in the Rise of Boko Haram.

Author:Nachande, Caroline Kaluba

The following, with minor recent alterations, was originally a dissertation submitted in part fulfilment for the degree of Masters in International Relations and National Security (MIRNS) at the School of Media, Culture and Creative Arts at Curtin University in May 2015, supervised by Dr Yasuo Takao.


This research is essentially about the significance of Salafi Jihad ideology in the rise of Boko Haram. The key question is thus if Salafi Jihad ideology really does matter to account for the rise of Boko Haram. This research claims that the rise of Boko Haram is deep-rooted in Nigeria's historical experiences, narratives, critical events and ideologies. These experiences are reflected in Boko Harams' beliefs and vision similar to the one that guided the inception of Fulani Jihad in 1804. The research also acknowledges the fact that Boko Haram emerged in the absence of protective factors including, strong government institutions to promote political cohesion to discourage ethnic alignment, and social developmental mechanisms to promote robust economic development. Therefore, to answer the research question, and support the claim, the study critically examines historical narratives, experiences and critical events including the rise of the Fulani Jihad and the British colonisation. The study further discusses the conception and resurgence of Salafi Jihad ideology. The research then documents and analyses the rise of Boko Haram, threats the group poses to national security, geopolitical implications, and lastly outlines comprehensive counterterrorism measure.


Barna (2014, 5-23) notes that Mohammed Yusufu a malam (Islamic scholar) founded Boko Haram. He led a left wing of radical youth scholars in the 1990s that protested against Nigerian government corruption. Barna further explains that protests against the Nigerian government gave root to Yusufu's intention of creating an Islamic State that would be fair and just according to his interpretation of the Islamic law. Adesoji (2010, 100) agrees with Barna. He adds that the name Boko Haram is a combination of Hausa word Boko which means "book" and the Arabic word haram which translates to something forbidden, ungodly or sinful. Precisely, Boko Haram translates to "the book is forbidden", or the symbolic "Western Education is sinful". Aghedo (2014, 237) agrees with both Barna and Adesoji. He further adds that the meaning of Boko Haram had been consistent with Yusufu's position until after his death. However, the acting leader of Boko Haram mallam Sanni Umaru rectified its translation as "Western Civilisation is forbidden", which to a certain degree means the same thing.

Mauro (2014, 1-9) translates Boko Haram's official name Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad as "People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teaching and Jihad". He argues that this meaning reflects a selective use of the Islamic verse which states "anyone who is not governed by what Allah has revealed is among the transgressors" Mauro (2014, 1-9). Aghedo (2014, 235) also adds that Boko Haram existed as a peaceful movement since 1995 under different names including Yobe Taliban, Yusufi yyah and Ahlusunna wal'jama'ah hijra, Sahaba.

He further explains that following the arrest and killing of the founding leader Mohammed Yusufu in 2009 by the Nigerian government forces, the new leader Abubakar Shekau declared Jihad on the Nigerian government. It was then that Boko Haram began to internalise a set of ideologies and grievances, filtered in a coherent, meaningful way to appeal to the larger audience. The group also started promoting its aspiration of reviving an Islamic state in the borders where the Sokoto Caliphate existed (including parts of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and northern Nigeria).

Zenn (2014, 20-23) discusses Boko Haram's carnage since its rise. Zenn notes that in 2010 alone, the group murdered more than 4,000 Christians including government officials, Muslim leaders, and civilians in north-eastern Nigeria. In 2011, the group carried out 136 attacks killing 559 people and in 2012 killed about a thousand people. He further notes that Yusufu absorbed Al Qaeda's Salafi Jihad ideology, a Saudi Arabian medieval version of Salafism (Salafi Jihad), and the new leader Shekau operationalised Yusufu's thinking into Jihad insurgency. It is at this point that Aghedo, Zenn and Cook converge. Cook (2011, 3) clarifies that Boko Haram is a Salafi Jihad group that has transformed from being a localised terrorist group to a major player in West African Jihadism. Zenn is surely right to argue that the kidnapping of 200 girls from a girl's school in Chibok, a remote village in northern Nigeria in 2014 was a symbolic national security crisis.

Even more concerning is Boko Haram's feminisation of terrorism in most recent suicide attacks. On January 10, an innocent 10-year-old girl was strapped with a suicide vest that was remotely detonated outside the market in Borno killing ten people including the girl (Blair 2015). With the current increase in frequency and scope of terrorist attacks by Boko Haram, it is reasonable to assert that Boko Haram has grown even more dangerous. Moreover, the Nigerian government's counterterrorism policies have proved to be ineffective. However, the challenge of combating Boko Haram should not be underestimated. The Nigerian government occasionally deploys military task forces to combat Boko Haram. Regrettably, these forces have not only shown a lack of effective military coordination, but weak area denial capability, thus allowing the group to consolidate its state-like military capabilities.

Objectives and Significance

The research objectives pursued in order to answer the research question are to (1) critically examine the significance the rise of the Fulani Jihad in 1804 and the establishment of the Sokoto Caliphate in 1808 on the rise of religious extremists in Nigeria; (2) assess the impact of the British colonisation on religious, social and political structures in Nigeria; (3) examine the significance of Salafi Jihad ideology resurgence in the 1970s in the Middle East on the emergence of religious extremism in Nigeria; (4) provide a comparative analysis of circumstances in which the Fulani Jihad, the Maitatsine and Boko Haram emerged; (5) analyse threats Boko Haram poses to national security, geopolitical peace and security, and implications on global security; and (6) highlight effective, balanced counterterrorism measures that could enhance military capabilities to disrupt channels of arms proliferation, illicit trafficking, and cash flows from affiliate global terrorist groups and dispel an ideology that informs Boko Haram.

It is envisaged that this research will make a theoretical contribution to existing literature by providing a comprehensive historical analysis of religious conflicts in Nigeria. Also, explains how Salafi Jihad ideology was conceived to become a guiding principle for religious extremists in Nigeria. This research will not attempt to provide immediate short-term solutions to countering Boko Haram. However, it outlines practical holistic and coordinated counterterrorism measures that could enhance military capabilities to dismantle Boko Harams' strategic depth. It further outlines long-term measures that could dispel the ideology that guides Boko Haram.


This research being a sensitive topic, it requires cautious analysis of an ideology that informs Boko Haram to avoid creating hyperbole parallels with the Islamic school of thought and practice that promotes peace. Therefore, this research is developed under theory-guided process-tracing (TGPT). This methodology explains the outcomes of interest by going back in time and identifying critical events, processes and discussions that link the hypothesised causes with the outcomes. George and McKeown (1985) define TGPT as a method of within-case analysis to evaluate causal processes. Sociologist Ronald Aminzade (1993, 108) notes that theory-guided process-tracing allows the researcher to provide theoretically explicit narratives that carefully trace and compare the sequence of events constituting the process of interest. For this purpose, political opportunity theory is used as an explanatory theory to answer the research question. Hence, the study relies on analysis of theoretical and empirical literature on Boko Haram, sourced from journals, books, scholarly commentaries, and relevant materials from government and Think Tanks' websites.

Introduction of Islam to Nigeria

It is essential to begin by clarifying that Salafi Jihad ideology is a religious ideology. However, what makes it distinct from Islam is its central feature of ideological understanding and its conception of human nature; whereas the key feature of religious understanding is its concept of the divine (Adams 1989, 86-87). Muslims hold that Islam is a complete way of life. It is a guiding principle of morals, marriage, dress, prayer, personal finances and family life (Oba 2002, 819). Islam in Arabic means submission or surrender of an individual's will to Allah; for only through submission, one can find peace in life (Ball et al. 2009, 299). Nonetheless, within this divine concept, ideologies exist. From this perspective, it is reasonable to assert that religion does not only spread its precepts but ideologies that radically evolve into advancing political aspirations (Sodiq 1992, 86). Therefore, to understand the rise of Boko Haram we first need to know the history of Islam in Nigeria. It is, therefore, vital to trace and examine how historical religio-political narratives and experiences set a model for future political Islam in Nigeria and enabled the infiltration of Salafi Jihad ideology in the post-independent Nigeria (Onuoha and Temilola 2015, 3).

The exact year of when Islam was first introduced to present day Nigeria is not known. However, available literature indicates that...

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