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Understanding why Boko Haram urgently needs a territory

By Karen Goulding
Notorious terrorist group, Boko Haram (Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihād) has ramped up its suicidal attacks. Suicidal in this context should not be missed up with suicide bombing in which person borne improvised explosive devices are detonated, killing the bearer and anyone unfortunate enough to be caught up within range of the explosion. Suicidal is in reference to the attacks staged against military facilities and convoys, which until recently was successful for the terrorists until the Nigerian Army made it into a costly venture for any of the insurgents on Boko Haram’s posse to their chosen locations or targets. They get killed in droves.
This has not deterred Boko Haram as it continued these brainless attacks. The end game on the part of the terrorists has been confirmed as the desire to again have geographical areas under their black flag. If they succeed in doing this they would have achieved the same level of nuisance and threats that they were to the country pre-May 29 2015 when they announced a caliphate in parts of the north-east; if they succeed in doing this, their political sponsors would be able to claim that the present administration has not achieved anything in the four years it has been in the saddle.
A second consideration along this point is that Boko Haram, at least the faction branded the Islamic State in West Africa or Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP), would be able to show itself as a worthy affiliate of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS/IS). The main Islamic State has been the recipient of a harsh medication dispensed by Russia and its allies, delivered in sufficient dose for the United States to be pulling out of Syria with President Donald Trump declaring that the group has been defeated.
With the US out of the picture Russia may dispense with any form of finesse, which could potentially imply a scorch earth policy for ISIS. Boko Haram could thus be eager to carry out attacks until it lays claim to a geographical area it can use to harbour the fleeing murderers from Syria and Iraq. Hopefully, the coalition led by Russia will see to it that ISIS commanders do not make it out alive from the enclaves in which they are presently holed up, hiding from the sustained attacks that has ensured their poison does not spread beyond its current reach.
On the domestic front, Boko Haram carries out these attacks because the terrorists are broke. They lack funds and it makes sense to deploy what is left of their strength and resources to stage attacks that can convince their financiers that they are still worth backing. In the past, attacks on the scales they have been able to pull off would have led to some phony negotiations that put money in their pockets but it is apparent that the government they are currently dealing with would not play ball as expected. The natural response to the government’s refusing to bend has been to scale up the attacks.
Escalating attacks is as well a kind of signal to the international terror brand, ISIS, to which Boko Haram is affiliated. ISIS no longer sees its Nigerian franchise as useful nor is it appreciated as a potent force to reckon with. The group that once attracted the label of the most bloodthirsty terror group in the world is now desperate to the point of emphasizing the ISWAP tag merely for its propaganda value. The chronic rant about a religious Jihad has since lost its value after the group was decimated, sent out of Sambisa Forest and now compelled to conduct cross border attacks.
The resort to ambushes and kidnapping of women to get stipends is also not flying on the scale it once did. The best ransom comes from French nationals, whose government somehow finds the means to pay millions of dollars in ransom. But even the French have learnt to avoid the harrowing experiences of being dehumanized by the terrorists before they regain their freedom. The market for kidnap-for-ransom has thinned out.
Even the strategy of focusing on military targets to win public sympathy has been jettisoned. It has returned to attacking soft target, on which attacks are becoming the order of the day. The return to attacking food supply, markets and farming communities might have driven terror into the hearts of the people that are proximate to areas where the terrorists operate, it has also sown a hatred for Boko Haram in their hearts. Now they know that the government forces are a better option above the terrorists any day.
Finally, elections are around the corner so those that want to prevent or postpone the polls appear to again be exploiting Boko Haram’s attacks as justification to distort the political landscape. The attacks from Boko Haram should have threatened the polls same way it happened in 2014 but each successive attack has only proven that there is not much that the terrorists can do to stop the exercise in any part of the country. If the attacks have not had the desired results then the politicians that would have financed more of them to disrupt the polls no longer see sense in throwing money away for terrorists that cannot do worse than the level they have been reduced to.
Boko Haram has been suffocated for too long as a result of sustained military action against them. The escalation of attacks by the group should be treated with the diverse perspectives to its dire financial needs in view. Beyond the unleashing of military might against the terrorists, there should be further efforts to starve the terrorists of funds, food and weapons. In addition, the earth should be swept from under their feet to ensure that they have to claim to a squared metre of territory over which to hoist flags less declaring a territory.
Authorities must also meet the terrorists on any other front to which they take the battle. As their attacks intensified, their media and online assets also activated, which makes it important that the government is prepared to counter the escalation they are coming with. The most critical part of course is not to allow these killers the breathing space to re-strategize.
Goulding, a counter-terrorism expert, wrote from the United Kingdom.
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