Clarifying Boko Haram’s Transnational Intentions, Using Content Analysis of Public Statements in 2012

Clarifying Boko Haram’s Transnational Intentions, Using Content Analysis of Public Statements in 2012

by Benjamin S. Eveslage


To advance understanding of the dynamic global security threats emerging in West Africa, this article analyses the radical Islamic sect in Nigeria popularly called “Boko Haram”.This was done by addressing the question: What is the likelihood that Boko Haram will transnationalize? Current literature is inconclusive. On the one hand, some discuss Boko Haram as part of an international network of terror groups, and therefore a transnational threat, while others describe the Boko Haram conflict within a domestic or regional context. This article offers, for the first time, a systematic content analysis of the group’s public statements issued in 2012 to address this question. The analysis found Boko Haram to express itself in an intrinsically domestic orientation, and as such, transnationalization is unlikely. However, Boko Haram also exhibited a highly reactive modus operandi – highlighting concerns for increased transnationalization if international actors engage Boko Haram. In light of the analysis, policy recommendations are offered.

Providing a Context for Boko Haram

“You said I’m a global terrorist, then you are a terrorist in the next world,”[1] declared Abubakar Shekau to President Barack Obama in a YouTube video uploaded on August 4, 2012.

Abubakar Shekau is the leader of the radical Islamic terrorist organization based in Northeastern Nigeria popularly called “Boko Haram” which translates as “Western education is forbidden.” Around 2001, the sect was founded by Mohammed Yusuf and turned violent in 2009, to which the Nigerian government responded by severely repressing the group, killing many members, including Yusuf. Although Nigerian authorities initially believed Shekau was among those killed in 2009, he had survived and resurrected the sect in 2010. Boko Haram under Shekau’s leadership showcased a dramatic increase in violence and attracted heightened international concern. In August of 2011, Boko Haram orchestrated the bombing of the United Nations offices in Abuja and has continued to attack churches, government infrastructure, and other businesses and public targets. On July 21, 2012, the United States Department of State designated three of Boko Haram’s main leaders as “specially designated global terrorists,”[2] which led to the response by Shekau, as stated above. Although the Nigerian government has claimed Shekau’s death a number of times, he has continued to re-emerge refuting such claims in YouTube videos[3], and he still remains the known leader of the sect. A number of competing narratives on the Boko Haram sect complicate predictions regarding the group’s likelihood to transnationalize and posing a threat to international actors. Reviewing the influences, which have led to the sect’s emergence and growth, provides a context for Boko Haram’s current existence in Nigeria. With this lens, elaborated upon in the literature review, a content analysis of Boko Haram’s public statements in 2012 enhances understandings of the group’s ideology and likelihood to transnationalise. Both international and domestic policy recommendations are discussed.

Boko Haram as a Domestic Conflict Actor

An Identity-Based Conflict?

The narrative detailing Boko Haram’s formation is intertwined with the region’s transformations in political, economic, and social life, beginning before colonisation to the Nigerian state as it is today. From 1804, the Sokoto Caliphate governed a region encompassing much of Northern Nigeria, but also included parts of Niger and Northern Cameroon. The Sokoto Caliphate constituted the region’s first unified Islamic rule, which lasted for nearly 100 years. In 1903, the British colonial administration overthrew the Caliphate and implemented indirect control over the North and direct control over the South, meaning that Northern traditional Islamic leaders remained in considerable political power. The British colonial administration in Nigeria exacerbated differences between the country’s many ethnicities[4], which provided the foundation for ethno-centric political competition in the years after independence.[5] The experience of Islamic law governing Northern Nigeria during the Caliphate and continuing subserviently under colonisation impacted Nigeria in the years after the country’s unification in 1914 and since independence in 1960. Previous research indicates the writings of Ibn Taymiyyah, a 14th century theologian who stressed the political authority of Islamic law, now underpins Boko Haram’s ideology, among other Islamist movements in Nigeria.[6] This ideology, which Boko Haram subscribes to, has been used to criticise the validity of a secular state, non-Muslim state representation and corrupt Islamic leaders, favoring a return to Islamic authority in politics. In this context, a Sharia law-governed state has become an alternative to secular Nigeria, creating a basis for radical groups like Boko Haram to form and gather support, mainly from those who view the government as corrupt and ineffective.

In many ways the rise of Boko Haram, and its perpetuation, can be comprehended best by recognising the ethnic and religious conflicts in Nigeria and their interaction with national politics. In post-independence Northern Nigeria, a number of increasingly fundamentalist and extremist Islamic political movements swelled and waned.[7] These movements were also met by opposing Christian revivalist movements during the 1970s[8] that had an overall effect of politicising religious identities in Nigeria. One component of this politicisation process is explained through Nigeria’s legal status of “settlers” and “indigenes,” which often assumes ethnic or religious identities. This legal construct pinned, and currently pins, Muslims and Christians against each others in conflicts over land [9] by creating special privileges for those in the “indigene” status. Within this context, emerging violent Islamist groups drew on public support by embedding themselves within Muslim communities that have been affected by such structural disadvantages or violence, and responding by carrying out violence against Christians as well.[10] Violent religious confrontations have become characteristic in parts of Northern Nigeria, and today these conflicts occur within and outside the context of Boko Haram. After decades of government neglect of the development needs in the North, and especially since 2010 when Goodluck Jonathan, a Southerner and Christian, became president of Nigeria, Boko Haram has directly fought against the federal government with a goal of removing the current system and establishing Sharia law over the whole country.

A Weak States Conflict?

Another source of discontent, which Boko Haram precipitated from, is the disparity between Nigeria’s resource-rich environment and the disturbingly high poverty rates caused by corruption and poor management of the country’s resources, termed the relative deprivation theory.[11] Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa with an estimated 160 million people; it boasts the sixth-largest known oil reserves; and is the third largest economy in Africa with annual economic growth rates ranging from 7 to 8% from 2009 to 2011.[12] Yet, this wealth has been has been experienced by very few. Throughout Nigeria’s recent history, revenues from oil were only directed to the wealthiest, while the livelihoods of subsistence-based populations were undercut by the loss in value against luxury imports.[13] It was the Northern subsistence-based populations that were most severely harmed by this economic dislocation, a process also called the Dutch disease.[14] As a result of this economic impact over time, in 2011 72% of Northern Muslims lived on less than $1.25 per day, while only 27% Southern Christians lived beneath this income level.[15] In Northern Nigeria, this economic dislocation profoundly affected a once-respected class of Islamic followers called the gardawa, both in their economic and social status. The capitalisation of Nigeria’s economy and resulting inflation rendered useless the minor economic contributions from the gardawaand the public began to view them as nuisances and potential thieves.[16] The marginalisation of the gardawa led some to seek radical solutions, which influenced the formation of extremist Islamist movements in Northern Nigeria. Members of a radical Islamic movement in Nigeria during the 1980s called the Maitatsine Uprising, and one member in particular, Mohammad Yusuf, who later went on to establish Boko Haram in 2001, were said to be of the gardawa.[17]

Compounding Nigeria’s unequal growth and poor governance was corruption on an unprecedented scale. General Sani Abacha (Nigerian military ruler 1993-1998) “used to send trucks round to the central bank with orders that they be filled with bank notes.”[18] Abacha reportedly looted more than a million U.S. dollars for every day of his 5-year tenure in office, totaling to 3 billion U.S. dollars.[19] Abacha, though exceptional, was not out of the ordinary. Estimates hold that between 1960 and 1999, Nigerian leaders siphoned more than $440 billion out of the economy.[20] Although Nigeria has made efforts to curtail corruption under a civilian government since 1999, corruption remains a large problem in the public’s perspective [21] and its lawmakers are some of the highest paid in the world.[22] Popular belief that Nigeria is corrupt makes the government an easy target for criticism, which Boko Haram leveraged to gain support from disadvantaged communities. Other more direct forms of coercion, though still in conjunction with anti-government rhetoric, were used for recruitment of vulnerable populations including adolescents and street children in urban areas of Northern Nigeria called almajiri. A spokesperson of The National Agency for the Prohibition for People Trafficking said, “These children are vulnerable to all sorts of social problems – abuse, violence. [They can] be cherry-picked for any vice that adults want to use them for.”[23] The youth vulnerability is perpetuated in some cases by deceptive teachings of radical mallams (Islamic instructors), who have become the only source of education for many almajiri – an outcome of complex historical processes.[24]

Although Boko Haram originated as a fundamentalist movement, the group only started incorporating violence after confrontation with government security forces. In 2005, the Nigerian military arrested Boko Haram’s founder Mohammed Yusuf among other followers. By 2007 a new president pardoned and released them[25], yet only until July 2009 when violence broke out between Boko Haram and government forces.[26] On July 21, 2009 security forces raided a Boko Haram facility after receiving notification the sect was manufacturing bombs. During the raid, a bomb exploded killing a number of Boko Haram members. Reprisal attacks from Boko Haram and government forces led to nearly 1,000 deaths. The violence dissipated only after the deaths of many Boko Haram members, the scattering of remaining members, and the public and extra-judicial killing of Yusuf by security services.[27] Sect operatives went underground with “a stark example of the ‘unjust’ secular state that they would rally behind – the brazen execution of their leader.”[28] By 2010, Boko Haram reemerged with Shekau at the helm and the sect began introducing more sophisticated weapons and operations, including vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) and suicide bombings.[29] In response to this increase in violence by Boko Haram, but also perpetuating it, was the crude crisis response by the state of Nigeria. In 2012 and continuing into 2013, reports from the media and international human rights organizations[30] documented that Nigeria’s anti-terrorist campaigns were belligerently killing Boko Haram members and innocent civilians. The engagement of government forces in indiscriminate killings, arrests, and destruction of property have further alienated the government from the public, playing into the hands of Boko Haram. In this case, where both the government and Boko Haram conduct violence against civilians to incite fear, it is important to define terrorism broadly enough to encompass state-sponsored terrorism, which is met by the definition of terrorism used in this article.[31]

Boko Haram as an International Threat

A number of researchers, politicians, and reporters argue Boko Haram is capable of orchestrating basic transnational operations due to linkages with Al-Qaeda affiliated organisations.[32] Reports from the United States House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security[33] and RUSI[34] (a British defense and security think tank) suggested Boko Haram poses a growing threat to the United States and United Kingdom. These reports highlighted Boko Haram’s violent resurgence and shift to more destructive weapons since 2009 to substantiate their warnings.

Historical and geographic factors also present transnational concerns. During the scramble for Africa in the nineteenth century, European powers drew the borders of many African states arbitrarily, which often divided ethnic groups – creating transnational ethnic linkages – or enclosed many different ethnic groups – fostering sub-national ethnic conflicts.[35] Boko Haram’s birth in Maiduguri, a city located in the Northeastern corner of Nigeria, bordered by Chad, Niger and Cameroon, places itself within a predominantly Hausa-speaking population that has linguistic, cultural, and ethnic ties to its neighbors – increasing the risk of conflict spillover. Additionally, a small portion of Boko Haram’s leadership is foreign born or has traveled outside Nigeria for extended periods of time, though a review of the other “foreign elements” within Boko Haram is worth elaborating upon.[36] Boko Haram is also embedded in what international security agencies term the “arc of instability,”[37] stretching across Saharan and Sahelian Africa from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. It is feared that this area of unsecured borders and general un-governability will become a breeding-ground for Sahel and Sahara-based salafi-jihadi groups. Due to the proximity of some extremist groups in this region and their similar ideology, it is feared that their collaboration would result in the ability to launch globally threatening terrorist attacks.[38] Adding to this “perfect storm” was the collapse of Gaddafi’s Libya, unleashing a catalysing regional arms trade[39], and the vacuum of governance in Northern Mali. This is not to mention the low level of economic development, higher incidence of famine, and desertification in many areas of Western Africa that may sway local populations to support radical groups who claim to support their interests.

The ideology guiding Boko Haram members may also highlight the group’s intentions to attack internationally. The group’s popular name “Boko Haram”, which translates as “Western education is forbidden,” immediately highlights the group’s well-cited anti-Western ideology. However, “Boko Haram” is merely a popular name used by the media. Rather, the members of this sect call their organization, “Jama’atul Alhul Sunnah Lidda’wati wal Jihad,” translated in English as, “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad.”[40] The word “jihad” in Boko Haram’s official name is also related to “religious struggle” as referenced by another name by which the group has been known.[41] Still, the title “Boko Haram” holds significance because its spokespersons have criticized Western education, democracy[42], and attacked a number of public and private schools in Nigeria.[43] In this way, Boko Haram incorporates anti-Western themes, at least in their domestic representations, into the group’s core salafi-jihadi ideology. Also, effects from globalization and colonization, both significantly of Western origin, were described previously as influencers of the marginalisation of some populations in Northern Nigeria and thus motivating Boko Haram.

Reviewing Methodologies for Analyzing the Statements of Terrorists

While prior research can help identify the influential factors behind Boko Haram’s rise and track the origins of its leadership, the group’s operations and intentions remain elusive. Due to the killing of the group’s original leadership in 2009, little has been discovered about its initial operations. Still very little information is known about the group due to its loose cell-like structure and high level of secrecy. In similar circumstances, where terrorist organisations have offered little information for researchers to understand their violent intentions, analyzing the sects’ proclaimed ideology has provided answers. Drake (1998), who used terrorist group ideology to understand targeting, noted, “Terrorists are rarely mindless or indiscriminate in their attacks, although they may appear to be to observers who have not examined their ideological beliefs.”[44] Drake’s observation, highlighting the link between terrorist ideology and targeting, remains an applicable tool to understand the connection between Boko Haram’s ideology and likelihood for transnationalisation. Given that most methods for learning about Boko Haram’s ideology are not viable (i.e. interviews, phone calls, etc.), only a few sources containing this information remain, such as the sect’s public statements.

Research has found that analyzing terrorist statements, including speeches and interviews, “holds great promise.”[45] Content analyses of such statements have not only helped to clarify a group’s ideology and potential targets as Drake (1998) detailed, but they can also show more complex relationships. Linguistic content analyses of material written by terrorists “have been used to uncover relationships between the nature of group rhetoric and the incidence of terrorist violence.”[46] Other researchers have used content analysis to measure the threat-level of statements[47], to extract political and ideological meanings[48], to identify how groups change their language before an attack[49], and to identify psychological differences between violent and nonviolent extremist groups.[50] Since 2010, Boko Haram has operated as a very decentralised organisation[51], leaving very few sources to analyze the group, short of its public statements. A systematic content analysis [52] of these valuable statements is missing from the current literature, which may offer insight into the uncharted territory of Boko Haram.


For this article, a content analysis was conducted on the public statements Boko Haram issued in 2012. Numbering 26 statements in total, three of these were later excluded for various reasons[53], leaving 23 statements for analysis. These statements were accessible online and had been disseminated to the public by various methods, including publication on YouTube, in newspapers, and on printed leaflets dropped in Northern Nigerian cities. These written and spoken statements were translated by both Nigerian and international news sources and terrorism analysts.[54] A number of the transcribed English translations of Boko Haram’s statements are shown in Table 1 of the appendices, which includes the embedded coding and coding justifications. Some statements were found in their full-length original version, however a number of other statements were only represented in fragments of their original version. This was the case when news agencies only published portions of paraphrased or quoted content from the original statement delivered to them by Boko Haram. In these instances, multiple sources that published different fragments of the same Boko Haram statement were used to maximize the amount of text from the original statement. With the media’s bias to publish controversial content, particularly any threats and criticisms included in Boko Haram’s original statements, this research placed a high degree of certainty on receiving an accurate account of the threats that were issued in both full and partial-text statements.

Text rendered from the 23 statements was analyzed [55] for content that either met the definition of a criticism [56] or a threat [57] and was directed towards an international and/or domestic subject. The subjects of threats and criticisms in Boko Haram statements were grouped into 16 subject categories, 10 domestic (Nigerian) subjects and 6 international subjects. The categorisation of subjects is demonstrated in the hierarchical outline in Table 2. Per statement, every newly introduced subject receiving criticism was assigned a threat-level of one point. Threats were categorized as either a “vague threat” or “direct threat.” If the threat were conditional, if the threatened subject was not physical, if the threat admittedly lacked conceivable execution, or if the threat was practically impossible to execute, the threat was categorized as a “vague threat.” Per statement, every newly introduced subject with a “vague threat” was assigned a threat-level of two points. If the threat did not meet any of the four conditions of a “vague threat”, it was categorized as a “direct threat.” Per statement, every newly introduced subject receiving a “direct threat” was assigned a threat-level of three points.


In the statements analysed, 36 criticisms, 17 vague threats, and 17 direct threats were identified and coded. The vast majority of threats and criticisms were directed towards domestic subjects at 83%. Within domestic subjects, 47% of all threats and criticisms were directed towards governmental subjects (19% for security forces, 14% for government personnel, and 14% for “government generally”). A smaller portion of criticisms and threats were directed towards international subjects, at 17%. Within the threats and criticisms directed to international subjects, 4% were directed at the United States and 9% was directed at international news media. Subject categories that received fewer threats and criticisms included Nigerian news media at 10%, Nigerian Christians at 7%, Nigerian civilians at 9%, educational facilities in Nigeria at 4%, and Muslims, Southerners, and businesses, each at 1% (see percentages in Figure 1). Among the 36 criticisms coded, Boko Haram criticised domestic government subjects most frequently, at 52%, while international subjects received 23% (see bars in). One criticism that illustrated a domestic orientation stated, “Everyone knows that democracy and the constitution is paganism and everyone knows there are some things that God has forbidden in the Quran…even western education!”[58] Abubakar Shekau issued this statement on January 11, 2012 via YouTube upload. The subjects of “democracy” and “western education” in this statement were both criticized by Shekau and thus assigned a one-point threat-level each. Also, both of these were categorized as domestic criticisms, because Shekau made no referenced to an international subject, and furthermore, the criticism of democracy was referenced to the “constitution” – likely referring to the Nigerian constitution, which is domestic in nature.[59] Contextual references and knowledge of the conflict in Nigeria was used to support the categorisation of unclear criticisms and threats, as the earlier example demonstrated. For these circumstances, coding justifications were provided (some of which are shown in Table 1 of the appendix).

Figure 1 : Numbers in bars indicate the number of direct threats (in black), vague threats (in medium gray), or criticisms (in light gray) issued in that subject category. Percentages at the base of each bar indicate the representation of the subject category within all threats and criticisms.

The types of subjects Boko Haram vaguely threatened in 2012 displayed similar patterns as the sect’s criticisms, yet a number of differences emerged. First, international subjects decreased representation from criticisms with 24% to vague threats with 18%. Secondly, the largest share of vague threats was directed towards “civilians,” representing 24% (from just 3% in criticisms). Threats to civilians, such as this, were usually worded as conditional warnings. An example of this was coded from a leaflet Boko Haram dropped in Kano, a Northern Nigerian city, which stated, “Anyone who is instrumental to the arrest of our members is assured that their own is coming.”[60] Another condition for which a statement could be termed ‘vague’ was if the threat was practically impossible to achieve. An example of such a threat was when Boko Haram spokesperson Abu Qaqa said on January 27, 2012 that the sect was ready to take on the whole world and bring Sharia law.[61]

The representation of international subjects, vis-a-vis domestic subjects, continued to decrease when Boko Haram’s threats became more direct. International subjects were mentioned in only 12% of direct threats (n=2). Conversely, the representation of domestic subjects increased in Boko Haram’s direct threats, relative to vague threats. Nigerian government personnel had the highest share of direct threats for a single subject category, at 29%, followed by security services with 24%, while “government generally” held 6% (59% for all domestic governmental subjects, n=10). An example of a direct threat coded in the analysis stated, “By God’s grace very soon top government officials will have no peace as we will intensify attacks on them wherever they are.”[62] These direct threats were typically characterised by a clear identification of the subject(s) being threatened with claims to inflict harm upon those subjects in the future, but also preceded or followed by a criticism of that subject. Figure 1 graphically displays the number of criticisms, vague threats, and direct threats Boko Haram issued in 2012 corresponding to each of the 16 subject categories.

This research also sought to measure the trends in the international versus domestic focus of Boko Haram’s criticisms and threats throughout 2012. To do this, the points assigned to criticisms and threats within each statement were aggregated into a domestic and international total, giving each statement a “domestic threat-level” and  “international threat-level.” The statements’ international or domestic threat-level ranged from 0 if there were no discernible criticisms or threats, to as high as 15 if multiple threats and criticisms were mentioned. The threat levels for Boko Haram statements were arranged chronologically and linear trend lines were added to clarify the overall change in domestic threat level and international threat level. Over the course of 2012, the domestic threat-level of Boko Haram’s statements remained considerably higher than the international threat-level, with only a marginal overall decrease (as seen in Figure 2). However, the overall international threat-level increased slightly in 2012, beginning in January at nearly zero and ending close to a threat-level of two. This was still two points below the domestic threat level at the end of the year.

As graphically displayed in Figure 4, Boko Haram’s threats towards government subjects (shown in red, orange, and yellow) occurred at a frequent and consistent rate throughout 2012. However, other subjects fluctuated in their occurrence. The seven subject categories with the most variance in their representation among criticisms and threats within 2012 are represented with polynomial trend lines in Figure 3. Four of these subjects received relatively higher threat-levels in the middle part of the year, which included civilians, international news media, Christians, and (domestic) news media as represented by negative leading coefficients (ends down). Another three subjects received relatively higher threat-levels at the end and/or beginning of the 2012, which included Nigerian security services, “government generally,” and the United States, as represented by positive leading coefficients (ends up).

Figure 2: Data points represent the international and domestic threat-level for each statement, while linear trend lines represent the trend in domestic vs. international threat level over the course of 2012. R2 calculated in MS Excel.

Figure 3: Chronology displays the threat levels of the seven most dynamic subjects and includes polynomial trend lines. Polynomial trend lines represent the following subjects beginning with the line ending highest on the graph: with Security Services, Government Generally, and US with ends up and Civilians, International News Media, Christians, and News Media with ends down.

Figure 4 : Domestic subjects are represented by solid colors while international subjects are represented by colors with 50% transparency pattern.


Clarifying Boko Haram’s Ideology

The content analysis represented Boko Haram’s public statements in graphical and quantitative manners. However the sect has also plainly stated its intentions. In a statement issued on January 28, 2012, Boko Haram spokesperson Abu Qaqa stated, "We have on several occasions explained the categories of people we attack and they include: government officials, government security agents, Christians loyal to [Christian Association of Nigeria] and whoever collaborates in arresting or killing us even if he is a Muslim"[63]. This message was repeated in a number of the sect’s statements (see statements issued on June 10 and August 1). In these cases, it may appear that Boko Haram intends to maintain a domestic focus for its operation. However, the analysis allowed for a wider array of possible targets by including international subjects Boko Haram threatened and criticized. Additionally, it cannot be forgotten that Boko Haram has attacked an international subject before, the United Nations offices in Abuja in 2011. Yet for 2012, Boko Haram only directly threatened an international subject twice. Both of these times, threats were directed towards the VOA[64], which was categorized under “international news media” for the analysis. One of these threats issued on September 5, 2012 stated “[VOA] has undertaken the task of harming our religion. …[We] will not leave any correspondent or staff of VOA alone”[65]. Such direct threats are serious, especially given the correlation between subjects threatened and subjects attacked. However, logistical and pragmatic considerations have restricted Boko Haram from conducting attacks outside of Nigeria in the past and are likely to do the same in the future, provided these restrictions remain. Through the analysis, it was found that Boko Haram should be conceptualized as a domestic organisation due to the vast majority of criticisms and threats it directed towards domestic subjects and the sect’s own clarification as being domestically-oriented. However, again, this should not blind researchers to analyzing the implications of Boko Haram’s criticisms and threats to international subjects and its capabilities to attack them as demonstrated by the significance of the 2011 United Nations bombing.

Trends in Boko Haram’s Statements and the Likelihood of Transnationalisation

Boko Haram justifies its violence as a means to improve and purify Nigerian society, but the group has also provided religious justifications. These religious justifications allow Boko Haram to see itself as an agent of religious and godly will – acting within the broader network of Islamic salafi-jihadi organisations operating globally. Thus, any actor working against Boko Haram – and by extension, other radical jihadist groups, or Islam in general – could possibly become a subject of criticism, threat, or violence by Boko Haram. In theory, this presents a very global ideology. However, in practice Boko Haram has operated similar to a domestic revolutionary group, focusing its violence on security forces with a main goal of overthrowing the establishment for a Sharia law-governed state. In this sense, Boko Haram’s likelihood for transnationalisation can be largely understood by recognising its reactive nature. As described in the literature, Boko Haram is a product of many domestic and international factors, reacting to the environment of disparity by advocating against the government and eventually turning to violence as a result of confrontation with the government in 2009. For this reason, Boko Haram uses its fight against the government as a sufficient condition to implicate others as enemies of the group. This understanding indicates that potential international targets are not necessarily safe either if they are involved in the domestic conflict. Another consideration for analysis is that countries like the United Kingdom, being a colonial figure in Nigeria’s past, and the United States, being a very powerful Western nation, have considerable impact on Nigeria. This means actions against Boko Haram from these countries may result in more dramatic responses from Boko Haram than what might be the result if other less-Western nations, such as Nigeria’s neighboring states, became involved.

The heightened sensitivity to Western actors, specifically the United States, is illustrated by Boko Haram’s pattern of reactivity identified partly by relating Boko Haram’s threats and criticisms to international and domestic events occurring in 2012. Boko Haram issued criticisms and threats both in reaction to domestic or international events, but also in justification of its previous attacks. When Boko Haram conducted high-level attacks, such as the bombing of “This Day”, a Nigerian media house, they followed up with criticisms and threats to This Day and other media houses in their public statements. In the aftermath of the 2011 Christmas Day bombings in Northern Nigeria, Boko Haram used increasingly anti-Christian rhetoric, specifically directing threats against Christians living in Northern Nigeria in the beginning part of 2012. Additionally, comparing Boko Haram’s criticisms and threats with global events in 2012 indicated Boko Haram has been highly sensitive to the actions of outside actors. This is particularly true for powerful actors that embody what Boko Haram believe is evil (namely Western education and democracy). The increase in threats to and criticisms of subjects in the United States corresponded with a number of international events related to Boko Haram and Muslim communities in other places of the world. One example includes when Boko Haram’s three main leaders were designated as terrorists by the United States Department of State, for which Boko Haram criticised President Obama. The 2012 Israel-Gaza conflict also correlated with the mention of Israel in the criticism issued on November 29, 2012. Additionally, the media-buzz surrounding the anti-Islamic documentary called “The Innocence of Muslims”, which was said to have sparked conflict in Libya and protests across the Middle East, also occurred within the period of heightened threats against the United States. These are not merely anecdotal connections. On many counts, Boko Haram’s spokespersons specifically stated these international events in reference to their criticisms and threats. A full statistical analysis investigating the connection between world events and Boko Haram’s threats and criticisms, and the justifications to support such threats, would further benefit our understanding of Boko Haram.

International and Domestic Policy Recommendations

Foreign actors have involved themselves in the conflict between Boko Haram and the Nigerian government relatively quietly and minimally since 2011. However, the United States in particular has increased its military attention on Boko Haram and the African continent more generally. Former Commander of the U.S. African Command, General Carter Ham, spoke at the National Defense College (Abuja) on December 11, 2012. He indicated American interest to assist the Nigerian government, saying “the US was ready to cooperate with Nigeria in areas such as maritime security, communications, [and] development of civil-military capabilities.”[66] Additionally, near the end of 2012, Nigerian President Jonathan pushed for additional support from the United States to resolve the country’s security issues, mentioning Boko Haram.[67] These indications of American military interest in Nigeria became more solidified as reports found that the United States would send military teams to 35 African states as “part of an intensifying Pentagon effort to train countries to battle extremists and give the United States a ready and trained force to dispatch to Africa if crises requiring the US military emerge”[68]. However, by mid-2013 the U.S. Africa Command began exhibiting a different approach, at least in rhetoric. General Ham’s successor to the post of U.S. Africa Command, General David Rodriguez, has appeared to change the military strategy for the region by shifting towards capacity-building initiatives for African nations. On June 13, 2013, General Rodriguez said, “[The] things that are destabilising to a country [are] what we really want to watch carefully, because those are the things that we have to help build – the African capacity – because that's the best way for them to handle the challenges: in an African way, with African forces.” [69] He suggested the Boko Haram conflict necessitated “a coordinated effort by [Nigeria, Niger, and Chad] as well as some good decisions … [from] the Nigerian government.” [70] Furthermore, General Rodriguez pointed to the “history of African states” and colonialism as reasons not to involve American troops in the continent, but he did indicate that “creative solutions” could have high-payoff. The research presented herein supports this change in rhetoric from General Ham to General Rodriguez. If foreign nations utilize diplomatic rhetoric that places the responsibility for insecurity in Northern Nigeria on Nigerian actors, the likely result would be to reduce concerns of foreign military intervention, and would act as a positive first step to reduce the risk of Boko Haram threatening or coordinating attacks against foreign interests. However, irrespective of changes in rhetoric, it is unlikely that the geopolitical, military, and economic importance of Nigeria to foreign nations, namely for the United States, will reduce in the near future. As such, military-related assistance to Nigeria from the United States or other foreign nations is discouraged. Involving foreign military actors in the region would not only ideologically drive Boko Haram to justify targeting such international subjects, but such actions would also make it much easier to attack international subjects if foreign military forces are deployed to the region.

Ideally, assistance from the United States, among other countries, should be reduced in terms of military capacities and instead be dedicated to programs that bolster the Nigerian government to tackle corruption, widespread crime, and the delivery of essential services to the public. These efforts would in-turn erode the basis behind Boko Haram’s fight against the government. This could be done in ways that incentivise tax-collection for the purpose of state-led development and curtailing corruption. Yet, supporting the Nigerian government in these capacities also entails notable complications. The state remains inundated with corruption, and as such, the country’s mismanagement should be taken into account if direct or even indirect support is offered. Viable methods for the international community to assist the Nigerian people and the government, even if well-intentioned, will have to recognise these weaknesses and also the ways in which their support can make them vulnerable or even culpable to blame.

The policy-relevant consequence of Boko Haram’s domestic conceptualisation is that the conflict’s solutions should also be domestically conceptualised. Although foreign nations can certainly have an impact, actors within the domestic arena are best positioned to influence positive outcomes in Northern Nigeria. Focus should be on domestically derived and operationalised solutions. A review of the literature can intuitively provide basic criteria for such a domestic solution, including: reducing government corruption, providing education and other socio-economic opportunities for youth in Northern Nigeria, and developing the broader economic relevance of Northern Nigeria by incorporating the local workforce. Additionally, the literature also identifies a need to foster cross-religious, ethnic, and cultural alliances within Nigerian civil society, ideally supported by the various populations they represent, and also together supporting the Nigerian government. Yet, these criteria are extremely difficult to achieve for any young state, as indicated by Nigeria’s struggle to develop and consolidate a democracy since independence in 1960.

Furthermore, by adopting this approach there is a risk for policymakers to assume Nigeria should simply enact policies or programs that reverse the conflict’s underlining causes. This approach is not wrong, and in fact such an approach will be necessary for long-term stability in Northern Nigeria. However, it would be poorly suited to offer an effective response to Boko Haram in its current manifestation. For instance, the literature significantly underscores poverty as a major cause of the conflict. This is very true, but focusing upon this factor alone would obscure from sight the prerequisites for effective poverty reduction interventions to take place. To clarify, programs aimed at improving governance and tackling corruption are expected to have positive outcomes in the interim. For such efforts, foreign nations could be useful partners. However, on-the-ground development efforts in Northern Nigeria would be much less effective in the context of an ongoing conflict and would be unlikely to persuade the existing Boko Haram members to lower their weapons.

Consequently, a preliminary goal for Nigeria should be to secure a ceasefire with Boko Haram, and later respond in secure environments to address the conflict’s underlying causes. Without providing an exhaustive account of the intricacies involved in how terrorism ends, some promising options should involve capturing Abubakar Shekau, paralyzing the sect’s operations, and leveraging the weakened position of Boko Haram to offer amnesty to low-ranking members or even offering an amnesty plan outright. If amnesty plans are to be considered, they should include a set of “carrots” or moderate concessions that address some of the sect’s (and larger population’s) issues with the government. Successful ceasefire negotiations would provide a more secure foundation on which reconstruction and development efforts could proceed. The value of centering efforts on negotiation is demonstrated by the review of Boko Haram’s public statements, which clearly focused on government inadequacy and injustice, and not on other development concerns. In fact, throughout 2012 Boko Haram spokespersons almost never indicated poverty, and certainly never mentioned the lack of education in Northern Nigeria as influencing their fight against the government – despite the fact that these reasons could have influenced many of their members to join the sect in the first place. Therefore, for Nigeria to comprehensively address Boko Haram, procuring a ceasefire agreement should be of primary importance – making it possible for development to prevent reincarnations of Boko Haram from emerging in the future.

About the Author: Benjamin Eveslage is a master’s candidate at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, where he studies research for international development. He received his B.A. in International Relations from Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan where he conducted the research presented in this article. He has spent 15 months living in West Africa as part of community development projects and a number of months in Nigeria working on rehabilitation efforts with children affected by violence in Northern Nigeria.


[1] Abubakar, A. (2012, August 4). Nigeria sect leader slams Obama over ‘terrorist’ label. Agence France Presse. Retrieved from

[2] US Department of State, Office of the Spokesperson. (2012). Terrorist designations of Boko Haram commander Abubakar Shekau, Khalid al-Barnawi and Abubakar Adam Kambar. [Press release]. Retrieved from

[3] On August 27, 2013, Abubakar Shekau, leader of Boko Haram, was reported to have possibly died as a result of being mortally wounded in a shoot-out with Nigerian security services in Northeastern Nigeria. Source: BBC. (2013, August 19). Abubakar Shekau of Nigeria’s Boko Haram ‘may be dead.’ BBC. Retrieved from Supposedly, after Shekau was wounded he was taken to Cameroon for treatment and may have died there. On August 13, 2013, a video of Shekau was released by Boko Haram, but Nigerian authorities said the video “was dramatized by an impostor to hoodwink the sect members to continue their terrorism.” Source: Iroegbu. (2013, August 24). The controversy, politics of Shekau’s death. ThisDay. Retrieved from . On September 25, 2013 Agence France Presse secured another video from sources in Nigeria purportedly showing Abubakar Shekau alive and refuting government reports that he had died. Source: VOA News. (2013, September 26).  Allegedly dead Nigerian militant appears in video. Voice of America. Retrieved from

[4] For a description of the colonial effects on ethnic separatism in Nigeria, see page 3 of: Sodipo, M. O. (2013). Mitigating radicalism in Northern Nigeria. Africa Center for Strategic Studies. Retrieved from Also page 3 of: Fearon, J. D. & Laitin, D. D. (2006) Nigeria. A random narrative. Retrieved from the “Ethnicity, Insurgency and Civil War”; research project on the Stanford University website

[5] Mamdani, A. (1996). Citizen and subject: Contemporary Africa and the legacy of late colonialism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, p 26.

[6] Barkindo, A. (2013). “Join the caravan:” The ideology of political authority in Islam from Ibn Taymiyya to Boko Haram in North-Eastern Nigeria. Perspectives on Terrorism, Vol. 7, No. 3, pp. 30-43. Retrieved from

[7] For an analysis tracing Northern Nigeria’s Islamist movements from 1960 to 2009, see Adesoji, A. O. (2011). Between Maitatsine and Boko Haram: Islamic fundamentalism and the response of the Nigerian State. Africa Today. Vol. 57, No.4, pp.100-119. Retrieved from:

[8] Sodipo (2013, p. 3) discusses the ethnic and religious competition that was built up in Nigeria since colonization.

[9] Lewis, P. M. (2011). Nigeria: Assessing risks to stability (ISBN 978-0-89206-640-7). Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and International Studies. (p. 10). Retrieved from

[10] For Boko Haram’s claim of avenging the deaths of Muslims (mainly by Christians) see: Human Rights Watch. (2012, October). Spiraling violence: Boko Haram attacks and security force abuses in Nigeria. (p. 28). Retrieved from

[11] Relative deprivation essentially means the feeling of being deprived of something one feels entitled to, which is related to the emergence of extremist sects in Northern Nigeria who claim to fight for these entitlements, described in: Agbiboa, D. E. (2013). Why Boko Haram exists: The relative deprivation perspective. African Conflict & Peacebuilding Review, 3(1). Retrieved from

[12] For real GDP growth figures of Nigeria 2004-2012 with projections see table A4 in: International Monetary Fund. Research Dept. (n.d.). World Economic Outlook, April 2013: Hopes, Realities, Risks. In IMF e-Library, USA. Retrieved 16 Aug. 2013 from:

[13] See Thompson, V. (2012). Boko Haram and Islamic fundamentalism in Nigeria. Global Security Studies, 3(3), 46-60. (p. 49). Retrieved from

[14] For a description of the Dutch disease as it occurred in Nigeria, see Lewis, P. M. (2011). Nigeria votes: More openness, more conflict. Journal of Democracy, 22(4): p. 97. Retrieved from

[15] Thompson (2012), p. 49.

[16] Adesoji (2011), p. 102.

[17] Ibid. (2011), pp. 101-102.

[18] See Guest, R. (2004). The shackled continent: Africa’s past, present and future. Oxford: Pan books. (p. 121).

[19] See Agbiboa, D. E. (2012). Between corruption and development: The political economy of state robbery in Nigeria. Journal of Business Ethics, 108(3), p. 331. Retrieved from

[20] See Agbiboa, D. E. (2011). Leaders or leeches? Corruption and the cycle of dysfunction in Nigeria. Loyola Journal of Social Sciences, 25(1), p. 83. Retrieved from

[21] In 2012, Transparency International ranked Nigeria at 139 of 176 countries in its Corruption Perception Index. Source: Transparency International. (2012, December 5). Corruption Perceptions Index 2012. Retrieved from 

[22] Oby Ezekwesili, a former minister of Education in Nigeria and past vice-president of the World Bank (Africa) found that Nigeria has spent over one trillion Naira (Nigerian currency) on the National Assembly members since 2005, which is equivalent to 616 billion USD (August 2013). Ezekwesili said, “Research conducted in the United Kingdom identified Nigerian legislators as being the highest paid in the world.” See: Olokor, F., Ameh, J., & Josiah, O. (2013, August 20). N1tn spent on N’Assembly members in eight years – Ezekwesili. Punch. Retrieved from  See report from The Economist indicating Nigeria’s high pay for law makers as compared to other countries: J. S., I. B., & L. P. (2013, July 15). Rewarding work. Graphic detail. The Economist. Retrieved from

[23] See Parker, G. (2012, February 18). Nigeria's abandoned youth: Are they potential recruits for militants? Time. Retrieved from,8599,2107102,00.html

[24] The establishment of educational systems through colonisation and related missionary work made progress in Southern Nigeria, whereas missionaries were limited from going to the North in order to maintain Muslim dominance through emirates (the agents of British indirect colonial administration in Northern Nigeria). As such, the limited efforts in the educational system in Northern Nigeria were “harmonised with Islamic institutions” (Metz, 1991, p. 34). Consequently this held back the development of educational and health services in the North, and this continued due to the view from emirates that “any activity in the north that might include participation by the federal government was regarded as a challenge to the primacy of [their rule]” (Metz, 1991, p. 45). See pages 33 & 45 in Metz, Helen Chapin (1991) Nigeria: a country study (Washington D.C.: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress), on web at: 

[25] See Danjibo (2009), p. 15.

[26] Some suggest Boko Haram instigated violence against government forces by manufacturing bombs, causing the government to attempt their arrest in a raid on July 21, 2009. Others suggest the government instigated the conflict by opening fire upon Boko Haram members in a funeral procession “over mourners refusal to wear motorcycle helmets, injuring 17” (See Human Rights Watch, 2012, p. 33), which occurred previous to the raid. 

[27] Although the Nigerian police claimed Yusuf was killed in a shoot-out, a leaked YouTube video showed a calm Yusuf in police custody (wearing hand cuffs) answering to interrogators (SaharaTV, 2009). Another Al Jazeera video documents Nigerian police extra-judicially killing suspected Boko Haram members in the streets and even Yusuf’s body was shown mutilated and bullet-ridden in the street outside a police station. See: SaharaTV. 3 August 2009. “Boko Haram” leader Mohammed Yusuf interrogation before his execution by Nigerian security agents. Retrieved from

[28] See Human Rights Watch. (2012, p. 36).

[29] Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies (RUSI). (2012). Global jihad sustained through Africa. Soria, V.: London, UK. (Table 1, pp. 22-23) Retrieved from:

[30] AlJazeera English. (2013, May 31). Civilians among dead in Nigeria offensive. Retrieved from ; Nossiter, A. (2013, June 5). In Nigeria, ‘Killing people without asking who they are.’ The New York Times. Retrieved from ; Human Rights Watch (2012, October).

[31] Supported definition of terrorism: “the calculated use of violence for political ends against civilian society to induce widespread and intense fear.” See Falk, R. A. (2002). A dual reality: Terrorism against the state and terrorism by the state. In Kegley, C. W. (Eds.) The New Global Terrorism: Characteristics, Causes, Controls. (p. 52). Pearson Higher Ed. USA. The purpose of the supported definition of terrorism is to maintain a complete perspective on the cyclical problem of violence in Nigeria, including Boko Haram’s violence but also violence from Nigerian security forces that meet the conditions of the definition. This sort of definition is similarly used and supported by Bagaji, et al. (2012) in an article on Boko Haram. It is understood that the Nigerian government’s repressive counter-terrorism measures have also fostered reactionary violence. This cyclical struggle in Nigeria has made defining terrorism difficult, and if the definition only describes half of the problem then only part of the solution can be seen. Many scholars agree that violent repression of terrorism can become fuel to the flames of terrorism, especially religious terror (See Falk, 2002 ; Jordan, J. (2009). When heads roll: Assessing the effectiveness of leadership decapitation. Security Studies,18, pp. 719-755. DOI: 10.1080/09636410903369068; O’Brien, C. C. (1986, June). Thinking about terrorism. The Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved from The differentiation between domestic and transnational/international terrorism is offered by Sandler and Elder (1999) who wrote, “when a terrorist incident in one country involves victims, targets, institutions, governments, or citizens of another country, terrorism assumes a transnational character.”-  Sandler, T. & Elder, W. (1999). An economic perspective on transnational terrorism. The Economic Consequences of Terror, 20(2), 301-316. Retrieved from  

[32] Pham, J. P. (2012). Boko Haram’s evolving threat. Africa Center for Strategic Studies, 20. Retrieved from ; Boko Haram moves closer to AQIM. (2012). Jane's Islamic Affairs Analyst, 12(4).

[33] See: Meehan, P. & Speier, J. (2011). Boko Haram. Emerging Threat to the US Homeland. US House of Representative Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence. Retrieved from:

[34] See Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies (2012).

[35] For research describing the effects of colonisation and arbitrarily drawing borders of Africa states, see Englebert, P. (2000). Pre-colonial institutions, post-colonial states, and economic development in tropical Africa. Political Research Quarterly, 53(7), 7-36. Retrieved from

[36] Previous research has documented that there has been a preponderance of “foreign elements” within Boko Haram, notably due to previous migrations from neighboring Niger and Chad in the 1990s. See Adesoji, A. O. (2011). Between Maitatsine and Boko Haram: Islamic fundamentalism and the response of the Nigerian State. Africa Today. 57(4), p. 109. Retrieved from: In the 1990s, Al-Qaeda’s bin Laden sent a Yemeni aide to Nigeria. He was “impressed by the growing radicalisation and militancy of the Muslim communities of northern Nigeria,” and he suggested support from “the supreme global leadership of jihad,” see Bodansky, Y. (2010, August) Nigeria’s Boko Haram links with al Qaida. Defense & Foreign Affairs’ Strategic Policy, p. 2. Boko Haram’s founder Mohammad Yusuf studied the Qur’an in Niger and Chad where sentiments are said to be more anti-western than in Nigeria, see Musa, A. O. (2012) Socio-economic incentives, new media and the Boko Haram campaign of violence in Northern Nigeria. Journal of African Media Studies, 4(1) pp. 111-124. In 2009, when the Nigerian government arrested and killed many Boko Haram members, one insurgent admitted that he and another insurgent went to Afghanistan to receive training in bomb making (Danjibo 2009), although this could not be verified. After Boko Harm went underground and its founder Yusuf was killed in 2009, its other top leaders escaped to Niger and Chad where they linked up with other jihadists from AQIM. Abubakar Shekau, who later became Boko Haram’s second leader, made deals with AQIM to trade funds and training for his support and technical assistance in Nigeria and other Gulf of Guinea states (Ibid. p. 4). A Chadian-born (formerly) third-in rank leader named Mamman Nur was reported to have escaped to Somalia during the government crackdown in 2009. It has been speculated that he trained in al Shabaab camps and returned to Nigeria as the mastermind of the August 2011 UN bombing in Abuja (Pham 2012).

[37] U.N. Security Council. United Nations Press Release. ‘Arc of instability’ across Africa, if left unchecked, could turn continent into launch pad for larger-scale terrorist attacks, Security Council told. 6965th Meeting. PM Summary. 13 May 2013. (Press Release SC/11004). Internet. Retrieved from

[38] At the “Atlantic Dialogues” conference in Rabat, Morocco hosted by the German Marshall Fund, concerns were raised regarding the growth of radical Islamic terrorist groups operating throughout Northern Africa. At the conference, General Carter Ham of the US African Command listed major threats in the continent including al Shabaab in Somalia, AQIM in Libya and Mali, and ending on Boko Haram in Nigeria. He continued, “While each individual [threat] is concerning, it is to me the connected nature of all those different entities and activities that pose the greatest concern for us as we look to the future,” see German Marshall Fund. (2012, September 29). Anxieties without borders: The new Atlantic security environment [Video file]. Retrieved from

[39] U.N. Security Council. United Nations Press Release. Spiking arms proliferation, organized crime, terrorism part of fallout from Libyan crisis afflicting Sahel, Security Council told. 6709th Meeting. PM Summary. 26 January 2012. (Press Release SC/10533). Internet. Retrieved from

[40] Boko Haram’s name was discussed and translated by Agbiboa (2013), p. 145. 

  [41] For a description of the names Boko Haram has used and their translations, see Anyadike, N. O. (2013). Boko Haram and national security challenges in Nigeria; Causes and solutions. Journal of Economic and Sustainable Development, 4 (5), p. 17. Retrieved from

[42] See Adesoji (2011), p. 106, for a discussion of Boko Haram’s rejection of Western education, culture and modern science. For a reference to Boko Haram’s rejection of democracy, see Joint Special Operations University (2012). Confronting the terrorism of Boko Haram in Nigeria. MacDill Air Force Base, Florida: Forest, J. (p. 110). Retrieved from:

[43] Nossiter, A. (2012, Mar 25). Wielding fire, Islamists target Nigeria schools. New York Times. Retrieved from:

[44] See Drake, C. J. M. (1998). The role of ideology in terrorists’ target selection. Terrorism and Political Violence. Vol. 10, No.2, p.74.

[45] See Altier, M. B., Horgan, J., & Thoroughgood, C. (2012). In their own words? Methodological considerations in the analysis of terrorist autobiographies. Journal of Strategic Security, 5(4), p. 87. Retrieved from

[46] Ibid.

[47] Peterson, R. W. & Chrisman, W. G. (1977). International Terrorism Threat Analysis. (Masters thesis). Retrieved from Calhoun (ADA039928). Found online at

[48] Congressional Research Service. (2007). Al Qaeda: Statements and Evolving Ideology. (CRS, Library of Congress, Order Code RL32759). Retrieved from ; Minaret of Freedom Institute. (2011). Examining Bin Ladin’s statements: A quantitative content analysis from 1996 to 2011. Cethesda, MD: Beutel, A. J. & Ahmad, I.  Retrieved from

[49] Pennebaker, J. W. (2011). Using computer analysis to identify language style and aggressive intent: The secret life of function words. Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict, 4, 126-134. ; Hermann, M. G. & Sakiev, A. (2011). Leadership, terrorism, and the use of violence. Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict, 4: pp. 126-134

[50] Smith, A. G. (2008). The implicit motives of terrorist groups: how the needs for affiliation and power translate into death and destruction.” Political Psychology, 29: 55-75. ; Smith, A. G., Suedfeld, P., Conway, L. G., & Winter, D. (2008). The language of violence: Distinguishing terrorist from non-terrorist thematic content analysis. Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict 1: 142-163.

[51] Beginning in 2012, some researchers began de-emphasizing Boko Haram as a cohesive terrorist organization. Rather, some suggested that Boko Haram operated as a banner under which many violent perpetrators, even those unaffiliated with Boko Haram, were categorized. John Campbell, fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and former US ambassador to Nigeria, is a researcher who described Boko Haram as “Islamist insurgencies lumped under the moniker of ‘Boko Haram,’” see Campbell, J. (2013, June 10). Media reports on security service violence in Northern Nigeria. Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved from The more de-centralized and un-coordinated Boko Haram operating in 2012 and 2013 has frustrated the Nigerian government’s attempts to rein-in the group, but these characteristics have also panned-out negatively for Boko Haram itself. Throughout this period, Boko Haram experienced division, resulting in an offshoot group called Ansaru (which is more international in its ideology). Due to these recent developments, researchers have debated whether analysis of “Boko Haram” could even reliably account for the diversity of violence in Northern Nigeria that is attributed to the group.

[52] Agbedo (2013) offers a ‘sociolinguistic profiling” of militancy and terrorism in Nigeria by sampling some statements from Boko Haram and Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger-Delta (MEND), however does not engage in a content analysis by either its “conceptual analysis” method or “relational analysis” method as described by Colorado State University’s guide for content analysis, which was used as a basis to guide the design of the content analysis in this research. Sources: Agbedo, C. U. (2012). Linguistic determinants of militancy and terrorism in Nigeria: The case of M.E.N.D. and Boko Haram. Developing Country Studies, 2(11) 159-169. Retrieved from; Busch, C., De Maret, P. S., Flynn, T., Kellum, R., Le, S., Meyers, B., Saunders, M., White, R., & Palmquist, M. (1994 - 2012). Content Analysis. [email protected]. Colorado State University. Available at

[53] The statement issued on February 13, 2012 was excluded because it was purportedly given by a Boko Haram spokesperson during an an interrogation with the Nigerian security services and likely was done in duress and may not reliably reflect the ideas of Boko Haram. The statement issued on September 16, 2012 was excluded because it was issued by a faction or affiliate organization of Boko Haram, which may not credible represent Boko Haram. The statement issued on September 19, 2012 was excluded from the analysis because the original source that published the statement is no longer available and no other credible sources remain.

[54] Translation services used include Jihadology, a “clearinghouse for jihadi primary source material, original analysis, and translation service,” see Zelin, A. Y. (n.d.). Jihadology. Retrieved from

[55] A content analysis guide for “Conceptual Analysis” provided by Colorado State University was utilized in the design of this study’s content analysis, see: Busch, C. et al. (1994-2004).

[56] Criticisms were defined by Merriam-Webster’s second definition of “criticize” which states:  to “find fault with : point out the faults of.”

[57] Threats were defined with Merriam Webster’s first definition: “an expression of intention to inflict evil, injury, or damage.” The concepts of “violence” and “destruction of property” are considered within the scope of: “to inflict evil injury, or damage.”

[58] NaijaNeduTV. (2012, January 11). Boko Haram Leader “Imam Abubakar Shekau” message to President Jonathan 1. Retrieved from

[59] In the absence of an international or domestic reference or context for the threats or criticisms in Boko Haram’s public statements, this research assumed the subjects of such threats or criticisms were directed towards domestic targets (inside Nigeria) given the highly domestic orientation of Boko Haram and domestic audience of their public statements.

[60] (2012, January 21). English translation of statement released by Boko Haram via leaflets dispersed across Kano city. Nigerians Saving Nigerians. Retrieved from

[61] Mark, M. (2012, January 27). Boko Haram vows to fight until Nigeria establishes Sharia law. The Guardian. Retrieved from

[62] Punch. (2012, June 7). Boko Haram claims murder of ex-DIG Ningi. Punch. Retrieved from

[63] Agence France Presse – English. (2012, January 29). Nigerian Islamists urge ‘perseverance’ in flashpoint city. [Press release] Retrieved from

[64] VOA (also known as Voice of America) is “a multimedia broadcaster funded by the US government”. However for the purpose of the analysis it was categorized under “international news media.” (Source: Voice of America. (n.d.). About VOA Overview. Retrieved from

[65] VOA News. (2012, September 6). Boko Haram threatens VOA reporters. Voice of America. Retrieved from:

[66] Bello, M. & Iroegbu (2012, December 12). Jonathan seeks US assistance to combat Boko Haram, other crimes. This Day. Retrieved from

[67] Agba, G. (2012, December 11). Nigeria: Boko Haram – Jonathan asks U.S. to help Nigeria. Leadership Newspaper. Retrieved from

[68] Baldor, L. C. (25 December 2012). Army teams to train Africans as terror threat grows. Associated Press. Retrieved from

[69] Ramirez, L. (2013, June 13). US military pays close attention to Boko Haram militants. Voice of America. Retrieved from

[70] Ibid.


Table 1 : This table compiles a list of Boko Haram statements issued in 2012. Statements are arranged by date (chronological order) with a description containing the name of the spokesperson and how the statement was issued (given available information), followed by citation(s), then a full or partial transcriptions of the statement with coding of criticisms and threats embedded (shown by underlined criticisms/threats and point assignment by numbers and subject categories in parentheses), and ending with coding justifications for select statements. An asterisk (*) shown after the date of a public statement means that statement was not used in the analysis, for reasons indicated.


Statement given by Abubakar Shekau via video, published in full on YouTube and translated into English on Sahara Reporters:
Source of Video: NaijaNeduTV. (2012, January 11). Boko Haram Leader “Imam Abubakar Shekau” message to President Jonathan 1. Retrieved from
Source of Translation: Sahara Reporters (2012, January 12). Video: Boko Haram leader “Imam Abubakar Shekau” message to President Jonathan. Retrieved from

Greetings to you and greetings to fellow Muslims and thanks be to God. This is a message to Goodluck and to the CAN president. Alhamdullahi, we are known as Jamatu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-jihad which some people derogatory term as Boko Haram. We have said all that needs to be said and everyone has seen what the security personnel have done to us. Everyone has seen why we are fighting with them.
We hardly touch anybody except security personnel and Christians and those who have betrayed us. (1: security personnel and 1: Christians) Everyone knows what Christians did to Muslims, not once or twice. Why I've come out to explain myself is because of the explanation Jonathan and the CAN president gave on us, including the various versions people give about us that we are like cancer (a terrible ailment) in this country called Nigeria. No, we're not cancer, neither are we evil. If people don't know us, God knows everyone. Everyone knows what happened to our leader. Everyone knows what wickedness was meted out to our members and fellow Muslims in Nigeria from time to time in Zango kataf, Tafawa Balewa, Kaduna, villages, Langtang, Yelwa shendam. Different things were meted out to Muslims in this country. Everyone knows that democracy and the constitution is paganism and everyone knows there are some things that God has forbidden in the Quran that cannot be counted even western education! (1: democracy and 1: Western education [in Nigeria]) We have stopped everything apart from saying we should stay on the path of truth and peace and live right in the sight of God. There, we will have peace and that is what we have been preaching and because of that they said we should be killed and our mosques destroyed. We decided to defend ourselves and God has said if u follow him, he will give you strength! That is why Jonathan, u should know that this is beyond your power. It is not our doing but that of God. It is beyond you. Wallahi, what you are saying is like you have not started saying anything! Before God created the earth, he knew what was going to happen and he has promised in the holy book that he will help his religion. It is beyond your power. What you see has been happening, God allowed it because you have refused to follow him and you have betrayed his religion. That is why Jonathan, this is beyond your power-yes!! If a few in your government say nice things about us, it is not surprising-it has happened many times -our hands are open! Anybody that says he will not follow God, even if he loves us, God has not said we should love such a person. God has said we should show such person the right path and embrace such person! You Christians should know that Jesus is a servant and prophet of God. He is not the son of God. This religion of Christianity you are practicing is not a religion of God-it is paganism. God frowns at it. What you are practicing is not religion. Aside that, you Christians cheated and killed us to the extent of eating our flesh like cannibals! You did all you wanted to us. We are trying to coerce you to embrace Islam, because that is what God instructed us to do. Even at that, without provocation, you slaughtered us and took our wives and humiliated us! Now you CAN president, you come out to say your people should come out and do whatever they want to do! Any right thinking person knows what you mean, any right thinking person knows what you're saying. This is why as leader of this sect I tell you to repent and to you Christians, repent! This path we're taking is God's path. Fellow Muslims, understand us! Our objective is not to kill or humiliate or steal. This explanation has become necessary, even if I don't explain, I can decide to keep mute because the person I love to know me like this is God. I have no objective than to help the religion of God, that is all I can explain. But if u want further explanation, we have tapes you can listen to and know our objectives. This is also my message to the President of Nigeria, Jonathan, who has come out to say negative things about us and also a lot of harm to us - God has given us victory and we have done what we want to do. This is almost 11 years our members are being killed! (1: President of Nigeria) Anything people want to say or do, we say enough is enough! We serve God and we do not harm anybody, but anybody that looks for our trouble, we will face such person or persons! We follow the tenets of the Quran and anybody that thinks he can fight God shouldn't think his prayer or praying in the mosque can save him! Any Muslim that cheats and hides under the cloak of religion, if we know such person, we won’t hesitate to eliminate him. (2: Muslims) Yes, I am saying so because it doesn't take 5 minutes to kill just as we're being killed. We follow the teachings of the Quran. This is what God has told me to explain. Allhamdulillah!

Domestic Threats: 1 (Security Personnel) + 1 (Christians) + 1 (Democracy) + 1 (Western Education [in Nigeria]) + 1 (President of Nigeria) + 2 (Muslims) = 9
International Threats: 0

Coding justifications: Nigerian Christians were criticized multiple times in this statement and the religion of Christianity as an extension of Christians in Nigeria, thus these were not coded as separate criticisms. The mention of Western Education was not referenced to an international subject, thus was categorized as domestic. Democracy was mentioned in reference to the “constitution” (the constitution of Nigeria), thus it was categorized as domestic. The mention of Muslims hiding “under the cloak of religion” is likely a reference to Nigerian Muslims that side with the government, which is a common theme in Boko Haram statements.


Statement given by Abubakar Shekau via video (40:48), published in full on YouTube and translated into English and published in parts on The Guardian and Reuters.

Source of Video: NaijaNeduTV. (2012, January 27). New Video|Boko Haram leader “Imam Abubakar Shekau” message to President Jonathan 2. Retrieved from

Source of Translation: Mark, M. (2012, January 27). Boko Haram vows to fight until Nigeria establishes Sharia law. The Guardian. Retrieved from

In an audio message posted on YouTube on Friday, the group's current leader, Abubakar Shekau, threatened to bomb schools and kidnap family members of government officials. (2: schools and 3: family members of government officials)

"If [security forces] are going to places of worship and destroying them, like mosques and Quranic schools, you have primary schools as well, you have secondary schools and universities, and we will start bombing them."

Oboh, M. (2012, January 27). Boko Haram leader tape threatens Nigeria forces. Reuters. Retrieved from

In an audio tape posted on the Internet, the purported leader of the violent Nigerian Islamist sect Boko Haram threatened to kill more security personnel and kidnap their families, and accused US President Barack Obama of waging war on Islam.
In the 45-minute tape released on Thursday, a man's voice in the main northern Hausa language claimed to be Abubakar Shekau. He said President Goodluck Jonathan would fail to stop their insurgency.
"We were responsible for the attack in Kano, I gave the order and I will do it again and again. Allah gives us victory," the voice said…
"We attacked the securities base because they were arresting our members and torturing our wives and children. (1: securities base) They should know they have families too, we can abduct them. We have what it takes to do anything we want," the voice on the tape said.
But he denied responsibility for the civilian casualties, which police said made up 150 of the deaths.
"We never kill ordinary people, rather we protect them. It is the army that rushed to the press to say we are the ones killing civilians. We are not fighting civilians. We only kill soldiers, police and other security agencies," he said…
The tape hinted that Boko Haram was part of a global jihad against Western interests..
"In America, from former President George Bush to Obama, the Americans have always been fighting and destroying Islam," he said. "They have tagged us terrorists and they are paying for it. (1: Americans) It is the same in Nigeria, and we will resist."

Domestic Threats: 2 (schools) + 3 (family members of government officials) + 1 (securities base) = 6

International Threats: 1 (Americans) = 1

Coding justifications: The threat against schools and universities was coded with two points because later in the source it was shown that the actual statement from Boko Haram used a conditional statement. The criticism of “securities base” was reiterated later in the statement as “soldiers, police and other securities agencies” but no additional points were assigned because it would be duplication.


Statement given by Abubakar Shekau via video (17:54), published in full on YouTube and translated into English and published in full on Premium Times.

< Source of Video: Alhji Mani. (2012, May 1). Sako game de hari kan jaridar Thisday.flv. Retrieved from

Source of Translation: Premium Times. (2012, May 1). Breaking News: Boko Haram threatens to attack VOA, Guardian, Daily Trust others. Premium Times. Retrieved from

This is a message from the public awareness department of the Jamatu Ahlis sunnah lil daawati wal jihad, a group engaged in jihad in Nigeria.
We wish to explain about the attack we carried out on Thisday Newspapers. Some of the reasons why we decided to attack some Media Houses, especially Thisday, is because the paper was used in dishonouring our prophet, Mohammad (SAW) during a beauty pageant in Kaduna in November 2002. (1: Thisday).
At that time, some people who called themselves leaders of Muslims came out to say they have forgiven those who committed the offence.
But based on our knowledge, we know that no one has the power to forgive anyone for an offence that God himself has given judgment, especially on an offence that has to do with dishonouring Prophet Muhammad (SAW).
No one has the power to forgive this type of offence, and the judgment is for such persons to be killed.
This lady that committed this crime, the judgment on her is to be killed at any opportunity; (3: this lady) and the media house is also supposed to be driven out of existence whenever there is a chance to do so.
We are just getting the opportunity to attack the media house, and we are hoping to continue these attacks until we drive them out of existence. (3: media house [Thisday])
It is our hope that Allah (SWT) will help his religion.
We know that any genuine Muslim must have been deeply touched by the Thisday incident. 
Thisday newspaper is also leading in helping the government in fighting us, alongside other media houses that we will mention soon.
Some of the offences of Thisday and other media outlets include: firstly, during the botched attempt to rescue some kidnapped foreign nationals in Sokoto; these media houses asked us if we have anything to do with the kidnap and we said we have nothing to do with it, yet these media houses reported that we were responsible for the incident, that was a lie against us.
Secondly, when we sent a video of our leader, Abubakar Shekau, the media houses reported things that our leader did not say, such as that in response to the president’s threat to finish us in three months, we have also threatened to finish the government in three months. But the truth is, nowhere in the video did our leader said what they attributed to him.
Thirdly, on the purported arrest of Abu Qaqa by the SSS, we have come out to tell them that the person arrested was not Abu Qaqa, yet the media continue to portray us as liars, and even said that our leader had ordered for Abu Qaqa II to be executed, and we are now searching for Abu Qaqa III.
Recently too, they came out with another lie that one Mohammed Awwal Kontagora was the Abu Qaqa II that was executed, and that even his parents confirmed it, that was just a big lie to convince the world.
The media also said that we have killed the father of Abu Darda, so as to pass a message to him, because he had leaked our secrets after his arrest by security agencies, and they wanted him to know that he is one of our targets.
These are all lies, and they are many.
These media houses have committed a lot of offenses that is detrimental to Islam, and we don’t have the power to forgive them. We will take revenge on them by God’s grace, some of these media houses have been categorized into three groups.
The first group is the likes of Thisday whose offenses are big.
The second group we will also attack soon are Punch, Daily Sun, Vanguard, Guardian, Nation, Tribune, and National Accord, which are all newspaper houses. (3: newspaper houses [domestic])
There is also VOA Hausa radio. All these media houses we will attack them including their staff and offices, by God’s grace. (3: VOA Hausa)
VOA Hausa for instance have recently started campaigning for people to support the government against us by exposing us. (1: VOA Hausa Radio)
The next group that are on the verge of joining this list who if they are not careful we will attack very soon include, Leadership, Daily Trust, Peoples Daily and RFI (Radio France international). (2: [domestic news media] and 2: RFI)
There is an online medium known as Saharareporters who have their office in New York, and who have made their site as a platform for attack against Islam. So we are warning them to stop making their site an avenue for attacking Islam, otherwise we will find a way of attacking them too. (2: Saharareporters)
We resorted to using this medium to send our message instead of the normal tele-conference because of the fear by journalists; which made them refuse to conduct the conference.
We are grateful to God for the success recorded on the attack on Thisday, and we hope to continue such attacks.
Finally, the government has now resorted to arresting our wives and children and also demolishing our houses, like they did in Biu recently, that is why we have also resolved to start attacking government schools, especially, tertiary ones.
We promise to demolish 500 buildings for any one of our houses that the government destroys.
We have already started with Gombe and Kano. (3: schools)

Domestic Threats: 1 (Thisday) + 3 (this lady) + 3 (media house [Thisday]) + 3 (newspaper houses [domestic]) + 2 ([domestic news media]) + 3 (schools) = 15

International Threats: 3 (VOA Hausa) + 1 (VOA Hausa) + 2 (RFI) + 2 (Saharareporters) = 8

Coding justifications: When Boko Haram threatened a group of actors it was considered one threat, and was only coded with multiple threats per group if sub groups of domestic and international actors comprised that group. In this statement, Boko Haram justifies a previous attack on the ThisDay headquarters by criticizing the media house. In the criticism of Thisday, Boko Haram also implicates a “lady” (seemingly from the “beauty pageant”) who was involved in the supposed wrongdoing of ThisDay and Boko Haram says that “the judgment on her is to be killed at any opportunity,” which was translated as a direct threat. Boko Haram later issues a direct threat to Thisday and continued to criticize the ThisDay. Later, a threat is directed to a “group” of domestic newspaper houses. This was followed by a similar direct threat to VOA Hausa and a criticism of VOA. Boko Haram then distinguishes another “group” including domestic news media and RFI (an international news media company) and conditionally threatens this group, which was categorized as a vague threat both in international and domestic sub groups Another threat was issued to Saharareporters, which is referred to as an “online medium” and was coded as a vague threat because it admitted to lack a conceivable method of implementation. The threat to schools was assigned 3 points because the statement was a conditional threat whose condition had been met, thus being a direct threat.


Statement given by Abubakar Shekau via video (38+ minutes), published in full on YouTube (later removed for hate speech) and translated into English and published in full on Premium Times.

Abubakar, A. (2012, August 4). Nigeria sect leader slams Obama over ‘terrorist’ label. Agence France Presse. Retrieved from:

…The clip, more than 38 minutes long, could not be independently verified as authentic, but it was similar to previous videos of Shekau.
"You said I'm a global terrorist, then you are a terrorist in the next world," Shekau said in the Hausa language in the video posted on YouTube while speaking of Obama. (1: Obama)
Earlier in the video, Shekau says, "I call on you (Nigerian President Goodluck) Jonathan, you should abandon this ungodly power, you should repent and forsake Christianity, including Obama, who said I have business interests in the United States." (1: Jonathan)
Speaking in a sarcastic tone, an AK-47 leaning against the wall next to him, he also says, "I know the United States exists, but I don't know which part of the world it is located in, whether in the west or the north, the south or the east.
"I don't know where it is, not to talk of freezing my assets there."
His comments were a reference to the terrorist designation given to him and two other Nigerians which allows US authorities to seize their assets in the United States…

Domestic Threats: 1 (Jonathan) = 1

International Threats: 1 (Obama) = 1


Statement given by Abubakar Shekau via video, published in full on YouTube and translated into English and published in parts by Agence France Presse and Voice of America.

Abba Ibrahim. (2012, September 30). Sako Zuwa Ga Duniya (A Message to the World)! Translated by Jihadology. Retrieved from

“This short message is to traditional rulers who have been conspiring against us, that they have no hidden places for conspiring against our commitment and worship to Allah. They have entered our way and have no hidden places any more, this they should know. (3: traditional rulers).
“The message is for three purposes, all plans against Prophet Mohammed and Muslims will not succeed and just wait and see what we will do. The second is, they were arresting and molesting our members who are just serving Allah. We did not even talk and now they have continued capturing our women, this week about seven women were captured and we don’t even know where they are, but they are being held by infidel enemies of Allah. In fact, they are even having sex with one of them. Allah, Allah, see us and what we are going through. It is in one place that they are holding seven women, in other places they are more than that. Only Allah knows the actual number of our women being held, women who are married in accordance with Islamic law.
“In another way they are spreading that we are dialoguing with them, it is a blatant lie. There is nobody that we are dialoguing with. It is a lie and mischief that they are talking with Boko Haram using fake names, and they are boasting that they have found solution It is a lie, you have not found the solution. Rubbish and useless liars, there is no single person that you have sat with.
“You are killing our people and at the same time, they are saying they are dialoguing with us. Lies, they are only killing us, they are only killing us. See their lies, they went to the world that they are dialoguing with us, later on they come up and say they have killed and captured our leaders.
“Since you are now holding our women, (laugh) just wait and see what will happen to your own women. Just wait and see what will happen to your own wives according to Shariah law, (laugh) just wait and see if it is sweet and convenient for you. (3: wives of government officials) “SSS rubbish, Shekau on your neck, SSS you will see it, you are fighting Shekau in their thinking but Allah is by the side watching, and I am alive, healthy and no one had killed me. (3: SSS) Allah is with us. We are working for Allah, and not attacking Muslims but infidels, we are not against Ummah but those against work of Allah.” 

Parts of the above statement were published in: Abubakar, A. (2012, October 1). Boko Haram chief issues video threat over anti-Islam film. Agence France Presse. Retrieved from:; VOA News. (2012, October 1). Islamic sect says no peace talks with Nigerian government. Voice of America. Retrieved from:

Domestic Threats: 3 (traditional rulers) + 3 (SSS) + 3 (wives of government officials) = 9

International Threats: 0

Coding justifications: The threat to traditional rulers was coded as a direct threat and categorized under “government personnel” because traditional rulers in Nigeria have a designated role on the governance structure of the Nigerian state. The threat directed at wives of government officials was not in reference to traditional rulers and was coded as a separate direct threat.


Table 2: Hierarchy of subjects (of criticisms and threats in Boko Harm public statements in 2012) categorized into 17 bolded subject categories as used in the analysis



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