FPI Conference Call: Boko Haram: Africa's ISIS?

On January 22nd, The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) hosted a conference call on the activities and ambitions of West African militant terrorist organization Boko Haram.  Human Rights Watch's Mausi Segun and The Atlantic Council's Dr. Ricardo Rene Laremont offered their perspectives on the crisis.  Ms. Segun joined the conversation from Abuja, Nigeria, while Dr. Laremont 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 quotes below 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.

Speakers:

Mausi Segun
Human Rights Watch
Abuja, Nigeria

Dr. Ricardo Rene Laremont
Atlantic Council
Washington, DC

Moderator:

Caitlin C. Poling
Foreign Policy Initiative
Washington, DC
 

Speaker Biographies

Mausi Segun is the Nigeria Researcher for Human Rights Watch.  Since joining Human Rights Watch in September 2013, she has conducted field investigations to several parts of northern Nigeria, authored extended press releases and dispatches on the cycles of violence in north central Nigeria, the humanitarian crises, the abduction of girls and women and the violations committed by both sides in the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast.  She has written pieces and opinions for the New York Times, The Independent UK, Sunday Independent SA, and Salon and has been quoted in the Huffington Post, Washington Post and other major news media.  Before Human Rights Watch, she worked with Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission where, as southwest zonal coordinator, she worked tirelessly to document and promote human rights in six southwest states.  Prior to joining the Commission, she worked as a senior legal officer with the federal ministry of justice.  She has written countless papers on various rights and governance issues.  Mausi has a bachelor of law degree from Obafemi Awolowo University Nigeria, and a Masters in Human Rights Law from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

Dr. Ricardo René Larémont is a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Africa Center, where his work focuses on North Africa and the Sahel.  Larémont is currently Professor of Political Science and Sociology at SUNY Binghamton, where he has served on the faculty since 1997.  Larémont is a leading expert on political Islam, Islamic law, conflict resolution, democratization, and civil/military relations on the African continent.  He has written widely, and his principal books include: Revolution, Revolt, and Reform in North Africa (Routledge: 2013); Al-rabia al-arabi: al-intifada w'al islah w'al-thawra (with Youssef Sawani) (Al-Maaref, 2013); Islamic Law and Politics in Northern Nigeria (Africa World Press: 2011); Borders, Nationalism, and the African State (Lynne Rienner: 2005); The Causes of War and the Consequences of Peacekeeping in Africa (Heinemann: 2002); and, Islam and the Politics of Resistance in Algeria, 1783-1992 (Africa World Press: 2000).  His research has been supported by the Carnegie Corporation, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the United States Institute of Peace, the Office of Naval Research, and the United States Department of Education with themes focusing upon political Islam, Islamic law, conflict resolution, democratization, and civil/military relations.  Larémont obtained a bachelor's degree cum laude from New York University School of Arts and Sciences, a juris doctor from the New York University School of Law, and a doctorate from Yale University.  He is also a member of the editorial board of the peer-reviewed Journal of the Middle East and Africa, the flagship publication of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA).

Caitlin C. Poling serves as the director of government relations at the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI). Prior to joining FPI, she worked in the House of Representatives, most recently serving as a legislative assistant to Congressman Mike Pompeo (R-KS), focusing on foreign affairs, human rights, homeland security, and immigration.  In this capacity, she led initiatives with the International Religious Freedom Caucus for the rights of persecuted religious minorities in Hungary and Nigeria.  She writes on Africa and counterterrorism issues, and her work has been published in U.S. News and World Report, e-International Relations, and The Huffington Post.  Ms. Poling was featured in Diplomatic Courier’s “Top 99 Under 33 Foreign Policy Leaders” in 2013.  In 2012, she received her Master of Arts in Security Studies with honors from the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University.  She wrote her master’s thesis on Boko Haram and affiliated terrorist groups in the Sahel.  Caitlin graduated summa cum laude from Ashland University in Ohio with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, International Studies, and French and was a John M. Ashbrook Scholar.


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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