Notes From the Margins…

Complexities: Boko Haram

  • April 24, 2014
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I was in London today, participating in a radio discussion for the Voice of Russia about Boko Haram.     I was probably the most anomalous presence there, given that I’m not – to say the least – an expert on either Nigeria or Boko Haram, so it was a really interesting and thought-provoking experience for me to discuss the subject with some people who really do know their stuff.

They included Dr Titilola Banjoko from the Nigeria Leadership Initiative,   the anthropologist Professor Murray Last from UCL and the journalist and fellow Hurst author Andrew Walker. Murray Last first went to Nigeria in 1961, where he studied the impact of Islam on Northern Nigeria as part of his Phd research at the University of Ibadan.

With guests like these, it was always going to be an informed and lively discussion, and so it turned out.     My own invitation was largely due to my more general writings about terrorism and counter-terrorism, both here on this blog and also in books and articles, and my contributions mostly revolved around the international context of Boko Haram and its parallels with similar movements.

The complex intersection of local and national power politics, religious revivalism and gangsterism, neglect, poverty and corruption  that produced Boko Haram could not have been further removed from the simplistic generalisations that Tony Blair inflicted on the world yesterday.

For Blair, every conflict with an Islamic component is invariably seen through the same prism of totalitarianism versus a free society that underpins the ‘war on terror’ – a framework that is inevitably invoked as a justification for war.

No one on the panel doubted that Boko Haram is a tragedy for its heartlands in the northeastern provinces and also for Nigeria as a whole, but the discussion also highlighted the history of political failure, official misgovernance, and military brutality that fuelled the insurgency.   No one believed that transforming Nigeria into another battleground in ‘the war on terror’ will get rid of Boko Haram.

That outcome demands a major transformation in the behavior of the Nigerian state, and a comprehensive and holistic strategy that looks at all the different tributaries that have fed the insurgency.

Something similar could be said of the other 21st century ‘antiterrorist’ conflicts, that moral crusaders like Tony Blair have already encouraged with such disastrous consequences.



  1. aj

    1st May 2014 - 1:20 pm

    Could I ask what station this discussion was on? I’d like to see if I can find a podcast or stream of it to listen to.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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