The kidnapping of 270 schoolgirls shines a global spotlight on Boko Haram’s brutal campaign in Nigeria a four-year rampage of murder, kidnap and attacks on schools.
Infographic by Ciaran Hughes
Since Boko Haram’s re-emergence in 2010 the Nigerian government and military have been unable to effectively deal with the terror group and militants have run riot over the country’s northern states.
Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is forbidden” came to prominence in 2009 when a series of attacks on police escalated into an armed insurrection. Nigeria’s military crushed the rebellion – killing hundreds of Boko Haram members and sending the organisation underground.
A year later Boko Haram returned – exacting revenge for the killing in custody of its leader, Mohammed Yusuf, in a range of attacks on police stations and military barracks.
Boko Haram’s violence has escalated since – and from killing a reported 55 people in 2010, the death toll from suspected and claimed Boko Haram attacks has risen to 1,109 last year (see graphic, above). It is estimated that Boko Haram is responsible for around 1,000 deaths already in 2014 – putting the group firmly on course for its deadliest year yet.
Initially the group’s attacks were spread across the country – states of Kano, Yobe, Plateau, Bauchi, Kaduna and the capital city of Abuja were all targets. However, in recent years the group has focused its campaign on the economically poor areas in the northeast of the country.
Above: Incidents of violence against civilians perpetrated by Boko Haram over time. Credit: Joshua Wallace, University of Cambridge
In 2013 the Nigerian government declared a state of emergency in the north-eastern states of Borno – where the schoolgirls were kidnapped, Adamawa and Yobe.
Elizabeth Donnelly, assistant head of Chatham House’s Africa programme told Channel 4 News that the effect was to drive Boko Haram out of urban centres. However, the group then began attacking in those rural communities – including “softer targets, like schools”.
Borno state has borne the brunt of Boko Haram’s attacks – 1,359 people have been killed in the state between 2010 and the end of 2013 – more than 800 of these in the 2013 alone.
Borno has been the site of further killing recently – with more than 100 people reported to have been massacred in an attack on a town on Monday, and some reports putting the death toll as high as 300.
However, it is not just murder that makes Boko Haram such a feared force in Nigeria. The group, as befits its name, targets schools – and has killed and abducted teachers and pupils, and razed schools, as a part of its ongoing campaign.
In February, gunmen thought to be from Boko Haram killed 59 pupils at a boarding school in Yobe state.
On Wednesday, Gordon Brown, the UN’s special envoy for global education, launched a Safe Schools Initiative alongside a coalition of Nigerian business leaders. The scheme will have an initial $10m to promote schools as safer places – it is hoped that it will lead to physical improvements at some schools such as guards and the ability to quickly rebuild.
Mr Brown said: “We now know that in a separate incident in the past few weeks seven teachers were murdered and 27 members of their families were abducted as a result of kidnappings in the Borno State.
“This brings to 171 the numbers of teachers who have been assassinated since 2009 in Nigeria and it makes it all the more important that the Safe Schools Initiative announced yesterday, to increase the security available to pupils and teachers in their school grounds, moves forward as quickly as possible.”
Women have been particularly targeted by Boko Haram. Last year the group abducted dozens of women and women who have been rescued or escaped have returned pregnant or with children, saying they have been raped, Human Rights Watch reported.
Human Rights Watch also reported that witnesses have seen child soldiers amongst Boko Haram’s ranks.