Thousands of Nigerians Flee Boko Haram Violence

Victims of Boko Haram violence rest in a refugee camp. [ Flickr ]

Victims of Boko Haram violence rest in a refugee camp. [Flickr]

30,000 people were forced to flee the northeastern Nigerian town of Rann due to threats of Boko Haram violence between January 26 and 27. On January 28, the terrorist group carried out one of the deadliest attacks in its history. The group killed at least 60 people, including two aid workers, and burned down hundreds of homes.

On January 14, Boko Haram attacked Rann, forcing 9,000 people to take refuge in Cameroon. Shortly after, the refugees returned and the multinational task force made up of Cameroonian, Chadian, and Nigerian military departed. To the fear of many residents, though, Boko Haram publicly “promised to return to Rann.” In a renewed panic, 30,000 Nigerians fled back to Cameroon as a preemptive measure. Two days later, Boko Haram returned as promised and wreaked havoc on the town again.

The attacks in Rann are just one example of Boko Haram’s “militant attacks targeting civilians.” Since 2011, the group has killed over 16,000 civilians and forced the displacement of millions. Boko Haram’s activity has been concentrated in the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno since 2003 but has been expanding in recent years.

Boko Haram was officially organized in 2002 under Muslim cleric Mohammed Yusuf, but may have existed as early as the 1990s. They carried out their first attacks in 2003 against various Nigerian police stations. Since 2003 the group has committed numerous raids, bombings, and kidnappings targeting the military, police, and civilians.

Since 2013, Boko Haram’s attacks against civilians have become more frequent and have gained international concern. The kidnapping of 276 teenage schoolgirls in 2014 sparked global outrage and saw the rise of the #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign.

The United Nations has recognized Boko Haram as a terrorist organization and imposed sanctions on the group, which has been compared to the Taliban due to their Islamic extremist similarities. Additionally, in 2015 Boko Haram publicly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

In the Nigerian dialect Hausa, Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden.” Alternatively, the group also refers to itself as “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad.” The group’s mission to purify Islam in Nigeria has caused chaos in the nation for years. This is further intensified by the fact that the group refuses to cooperate with the Nigerian government due to a fundamentalist form of Islam that forbids participation in a system that does not adhere to Sharia, or Islamic law.

Though it is the most populous and wealthiest nation in Africa, Nigeria has been unable to effectively contain or reach any peace agreement with Boko Haram. Experts analyze that the group’s rise is not unprecedented but rather is a symptom of Nigeria’s domestic issues. The country has a history of corrupt government, religious tensions, and severe income inequality. These broader issues are reflected in Boko Haram’s target choices of national military and churches. Further, the majority of the group’s members are unemployed Muslim students and professionals.

Unfortunately, Rann is just one of many areas victimized by Boko Haram’s targeting of civilians. The tense fighting between Nigerian security forces and Boko Haram militants is unlikely to end any time soon.