While some are now debating whether Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau intentionally declared an Islamic caliphate in northeast Nigeria late last month, what remains clear is that, like the Islamic State (ISIS), Boko Haram has since gained vast swathes of territory, over which it has imposed Sharia law. Reports have indicated that Boko Haram has carried out executions for breaches of Sharia law, like smoking in public or dealing drugs. More egregiously, reports have also emerged that Christian men have been beheaded, their widows enslaved and their children forcefully converted to Islam.
09/13/2014 Nigeria (allAfrica) – Similar to the Islamic State (ISIS), Boko Haram’s territorial grabs over the past few weeks have been swift and met by a lower than anticipated level of resistance. The gains have led to pockets of territory in northeast Nigeria where government writ currently does not apply, which some believe are strategically located to encircle the Borno state capital and former Boko Haram stronghold of Maiduguri, perhaps signaling the militants’ next step.
Furthermore, indications have emerged that Boko Haram is doing more than just holding territory, but also attempting to implement governance, reportedly appointing a new Emir in Gwoza, executing a drug dealer and others for smoking cigarettes in Buni Yadi, instructing residents to defy government-imposed curfews in Madagali, and openly preaching in Yobe state.
Conflicting reports have emerged whereby some residents stated Boko Haram fighters explicitly informed locals they are not there to kill them, beyond some select individuals, in stark contrast to the past year of intense civilian targeting. Nonetheless, civilian abuse has been reported in places like Gamboru, including claimed executions of Christians, while militants have also gone door-to-door in search of fresh, and ostensibly forced, recruits.
Boko Haram is a fluid movement with continually evolving tactics, and the capture of territory is the latest step in this process. Prior to a state of emergency in May 2013 and the public emergence of the CJTF, Boko Haram was largely an urban phenomenon, with its stronghold in some of the wards of Maiduguri. The exodus from the cities turned Boko Haram into a rural organization with devastating consequences for villages in Borno state, but also demonstrated the organization’s agility.
This evolution has been seen in other arenas, from an initial refusal to engage in kidnapping, to conducting high profile kidnapping for ransom operations targeting foreigners across the border in Cameroon, to the mass abduction of over 200 schoolgirls, in addition to countless other local citizens. Many other examples speak to Boko Haram’s adaptability – the only constant is that the movement will change, and typically in an increasingly violent fashion.