Conference Call Wrap-Up: Boko Haram: Africa's ISIS?

January 23, 2015

Yesterday, the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) hosted a conference call on the activities and ambitions of West African terrorist organization Boko Haram. Human Rights Watch's Mausi Segun and Dr. Ricardo René Larémont of the Atlantic Council's Africa Center offered their perspectives on the crisis. Ms. Segun joined the conversation from Abuja, Nigeria, while Dr. Larémont called in from SUNY Binghamton, where he is a professor of political science and sociology.

In addition to the full audio of the event, FPI believes the following quotes will be helpful for policymakers, lawmakers, and the general public to understand the complex situation in Nigeria and the surrounding nations affected by Boko Haram.

The Nigerian Government's Capacity to Respond to Boko Haram

“The leaders of these countries [Nigeria’s neighbors] have recognized that this is no longer just a local problem for the Nigerian government or for the Nigerian military to deal with because clearly the Nigerian military has proven itself unable to deal effectively and decisively with Boko Haram’s attacks. The civilian population has borne the brunt of these attacks with hundreds of thousands of people displaced. As we know it today, the National Emergency Management Agency of the Nigerian government has said that over 900,000 people have been displaced internally.” – Ms. Mausi Segun

“The price of petroleum has dropped from one hundred dollars per barrel to fifty dollars per barrel. Petroleum being Nigeria’s principal export, we are now examining what is essentially a fifty percent reduction of the Nigerian government’s financial capacity. This now makes the question of what the government can do, whether in the north or in the south in or in the center, central to our discussion… In six months, the government’s income has been cut by half.” – Dr. Ricardo René Larémont

“The African Union is taking a decision on its own to intervene, and they are seeking to provide support to reenergize the existing Multi-National Joint Task Force which was set up under the auspices of the Lake Chad Basin Commission. This commission consists of member countries Cameroon, Nigeria, Chad, and Niger, but a fifth country is joining now, Benin Republic, to provide joint troops and headquarters for this joint force which would operate outside of Nigeria… as we speak now, Boko Haram is in some control of the base of the Multi-National Task Force in Nigeria, although the Nigerian Security Forces are making spirited attempts to retake the base.” – Ms. Mausi Segun

America's Response to Boko Haram

"The U.S. has been in the forefront to press on the Nigerian government to deal with the abusive conduct of its security forces in responding to the Boko Haram incidents. The forces have been implicated in abuses of rights, violations of rights, of suspected members of Boko Haram and against the civilian population at large." – Ms. Mausi Segun

"The [Nigerian] government, to my mind, has tried to help the military by accepting some of these [American] offers of assistance, but a lot of this has not trickled down to the men who are carrying out the fight in the northeast. This is a huge problem. There is no amount of assistance or support, whether in terms of training, whether in terms of supply of military hardware and other equipment to the military, that can change the fate of this conflict if the soldiers on the ground do not have the will to fight." – Ms. Mausi Segun

"In terms of the positive role that America can play at this moment in time, I think it would be to remind President Jonathan or if he were not to be reelected, to remind his alternative, Muhammadu Buhari, that he is the president of the entire Nigeria....We have to remind him that the unity of Nigeria is essential not only to Nigeria but also to international security, I think that is the best role that the American government and the American electorate can play." – Dr. Ricardo René Larémont

Comparing Boko Haram to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)

"ISIS is different [from Boko Haram]. ISIS clearly has identified a constituency, which are the Sunni peoples of western Iraq and northern and eastern Syria and they’re telling the people in those areas, 'we represent you against the…apostate regimes in Syria and in Iraq'. That makes that something fundamentally different, from what I think we’re seeing in Nigeria. Because ISIS is saying 'we are an alternative to the Iraqi and Syrian regimes,' I’m not seeing that Boko Haram is saying 'we are a viable governmental alternative to the government in Abuja.'" – Dr. Ricardo René Larémont

"Boko Haram’s focus and the goal of Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, is focused on Nigeria, that’s what he has claimed. But it does appear that it’s a movement that is largely made and focused on the Kanuri speaking people, some of them fall across the border into Cameroon, into parts of Chad and Niger, but then Abubakar Shekau is not seeking to establish a caliphate consisting of just Kanuri people. He wants some part of northeast Nigeria, basically Borno state. I think Boko Haram would be satisfied, as its been working very hard, to win control of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state."  – Ms. Mausi Segun

"I don’t see it [Boko Haram] having the same level of sophistication and organization as ISIS, having said that, it’s not really the rag-tag group that a number of people think that it is. It’s [Boko Haram] short a level of intelligence in the way it has strategized against the Nigerian military, that has been made to look like a fumbling mess. Boko Haram doesn’t have ambitions really to be bigger than what it is right now, except for the part of taking Maiduguri, which it considers its spiritual home." – Ms. Mausi Segun

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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