Columbia International Affairs Online: Policy Briefs

CIAO DATE: 05/2015

Boko Haram: origins, challenges and responses

John Campbell

October 2014

Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre


Boko Haram is a radical Islamist movement shaped by its Nigerian context and reflecting Nigeria's history of poor governance and extreme poverty in the north. The movement is unique in that it combines a sectarian, radical Islamic agenda with violence. Its stated goal is the establishment of a sharia state, but it shows little interest in actually governing or implementing economic development. It is based on the fundamentalist Wahhabi theological system and opposes the Islam of the traditional northern Nigerian establishment, which is broadly tolerant. Boko Haram and its more radical splinter, Ansaru, are steadily expanding their area of operations. Kidnapping has become a major source of revenue and is widespread, while attacks have occurred in Lagos and Kano. The government's response has been to treat Boko Haram as a part of the international al-Qaeda movement. Security service abuses are likely a driver of some popular support for or acquiescence to Boko Haram.