Terrorism in Nigeria: Who & What is Boko Haram

Dana E. Brede

The online Master of Science in Criminology program at Regis University prides itself on providing a versatile and in-depth educational experience for its students. I consider myself a life-learner and every day I try to absorb news and information and broaden my awareness and perspective of the myriad of issues that impact criminology. This post will touch on an issue that will leave a footprint in policy development and crime prevention on a global scale.

There are so many events going on both near and far, if we blink, we may miss something. Just some of the myriad of stories that have captivated our attention this past year may include: the Boston Marathon bombings, North Korean missile threats, the George Zimmerman trial, the papal inauguration of Pope Francis, the disappearance of Flight 370, the civil unrest in Syria and Ukraine, and, perhaps, a little closer to home, the flooding of “Biblical proportions” in our beloved Colorado last fall.

My fervent prayer is that this blog will resonate with you, give you pause, and compel you to consider more than what is right in front of you. I am referring to the deplorable and heinous abductions of the nearly 300 girls from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok (northern Nigeria). According to various news sources, Boko Haram, a notorious Islamist terrorist group, has claimed responsibility for the attack. Meanwhile, protests for President Goodluck Jonathon to act with more assertion have reaped little action. It should come as no surprise that the Nigerian government has clashed with Boko Haram for years and all efforts for negotiations for peace, thus far, have failed. Over the course of President Jonathon’s term in office, he has declared a state of emergency in multiple states throughout Nigeria in an effort to get troops on the ground to protect civilians from rebel forces.

To be clear, rebels, revolutionaries, guerrilla fighters and terrorists are NOT synonymous or interchangeable. One country’s rebels could be another state’s heroes and vice versa. Terrorists, on the other hand, have specific criteria that is considered by various governing entities before a group gets labeled as such.

In November 2013, the Department of State announced the designation of Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). These designations are an important and appropriate step, but only one tool in what must be a comprehensive approach by the Nigerian government to counter these groups. Through a combination of law enforcement, political and development efforts, as well as military engagement, the government is working to root out violent extremism while also addressing the legitimate concerns of the people of northern Nigeria.1

On April 14th, the group stormed the school and kidnapped the girls by overpowering the men and security guards who were there to protect them. It is alleged that the group made their way deep into the Sambisa Forest which is approximately eight times larger than Yellowstone. The leader of Boka Haram, Abubakar Shekau, vowed to sell the girls into slavery as child brides or sex slaves2. Despite the international demand for the girls to be swiftly returned, the fate of those young girls is unknown.

While there are many campaigns and protests taking place throughout the international community, the fact of the matter is these girls had been missing for weeks before international coverage of this event occurred. Regardless of Boko Haram’s past actions, the average Westerner has not taken notice of their actions and the level of violence and despicability they will go to—until very recently. I will hold the Nigerian government close in my prayers as I hope that they find the strength to fight for the futures of young women, young men and all who inhabit Nigeria. Boko Haram’s criminal activities may be far from our own communities but what occurred could be a lesson for all who serve and participate in the field of criminology.

Food for thought:

  • While comparing criminal (terroristic) behavior in Nigeria to the United States might very well be comparing apples to oranges, how does what occurred in Nigeria impact the analysis of criminal behavior and policy implications here in the United States? Do you feel there is a connection? Why or why not?

Discuss topical criminology events such as these in our MSCR 604 Contemporary Issues course that is constantly updated with relevant material. Contact an admissions counselor today to learn more about Regis’ masters degree in Criminology.


1N.A. (November 13, 2013) Terrorist Designations of Boko Haram and Ansaru. U.S. State Department. Retrieved on May 11, 2014 from http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2013/11/217509.htm

2N.A. (May 7, 2014). Boko Haram terrorists, kidnap victims believed hiding in vast and treacherous forest. Fox News. Retrieved on May 8th, 2014 from http://www.foxnews.com/world/2014/05/07/vast-nigerian-forest-thought-to-be-hiding-boko-haram-militants/