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BOKO HARAM started its operations with cash donations from members and non-members in local communities, a report published on July 23 by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change has revealed.
The report titled ‘Violent Extremism in Sub-Saharan Africa: Lessons From the Rise of Boko Haram,’ noted that initial funds which the terrorist group used to finance its early operations were raised through soliciting donations from both members and non-members.
Boko Haram, founded by the late Mohammed Yusuf, emerged in the early 2000s in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State in North-East Nigeria, in the wake of a popular call for the introduction of a justice system based on the Shari’a Law, the Islamic legal code.
The group launched its first violent operations on July 26, 2009 – when it attacked several police stations across northern Nigeria, culminating in a four-day standoff with security forces that ended with the death of hundreds of its members, including Yusuf.
Surviving members went underground to plan a deadly insurgency and the following year, Boko Haram returned under a new leadership with an official name and a fresh mode of operation that would prove to be far more sophisticated and lethal.
However, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change report, which traced the origins of the terror group, disclosed that Boko Haram initially depended on cash and other materials raised from its members, as well as non-members.
“Donations fundamental to Boko Haram’s take-off came from local community members – including individuals not officially affiliated with the organisation. Boko Haram raised their initial funds by soliciting donations not only from their members but also from communities who sympathised with – and were manipulated by – the group’s causes,” the report said.
With time, the funding channel grew to become more sophisticated as Boko Haram became more influential in Maiduguri religious and social circles.
In addition to regular financial contributions from members during Friday services and daily prayers, individuals from the community, including those who were not official Boko Haram affiliates, also donated to the organisation – driven by their desire to aid ‘the course of Allah,’ the report observed.
A substantial part of the donations came from ‘Zakat,’ an annual charitable payment made by wealthy Muslims. The report revealed that Boko Haram used proceeds from the Zakat and other donations to cultivate farms and acquire properties.
Members who gave parts of their profits to the group were empowered.
“Boko Haram was able to expand its preaching activities using these funds, namely by building mosques, purchasing vehicles and audio equipment, and completing major property transactions.”
When Boko Haram started to move towards violence, it used donations and contributions to purchase weaponry in the early days of the insurgency, and the income from donations eventually became a vital source of sustainability as the group diversified its operations and expanded its territorial footprint, the report added.
The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change reported that Boko Haram’s funds and supplies from 2011 onwards largely came from the vast land and water resources around Lake Chad, as well as raids or taxation on communities in the Lake Chad region.
It further revealed that the group also used members in disguise and middlemen to smuggle in items they could not produce themselves – including medicine and ammunition.
. Low literacy, poor education aided Boko Haram’s recruitment drive
The report further found that low literacy rates and education gaps served as both tools and opportunities for Boko Haram in its quest to recruit new members.
“Boko Haram became adept at attracting and manipulating followers from low socio-economic backgrounds, many of whom lacked a solid education. The northeastern states of Borno and Yobe, for instance, have the lowest literacy rates in Nigeria. While there were a handful of recruits who had either obtained a qualification to high-school-certificate level or who came from well-to-do families, they counted as fewa among the many – and remained the exception.”
According to the report, for those unfamiliar with formal study, Boko Haram’s preaching sessions and well-rehearsed stories of Islam and gloried Islamic societies served as a primary source of education.
The report noted that slow development had continued to hinder literacy and education in the North-East, a situation which had enabled Boko Haram to build a robust system of conversion and recruitment by targeting those who were most vulnerable to their rhetoric.
Also, the deliberate destruction of schools and displacement of teachers by Boko Haram insurgents, which further worsened the dismal literacy record in the North-East, had aided the group’s recruitment drive, the report further said.
. Boko Haram preachers exploited Kanuri language and ethnicity for recruitment and mobilisation
The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change noted that, from its inception, Boko Haram’s founders and leaders had methodically exploited their ethnic Kanuri lineages.
“While framing their group as an Islamic movement, Boko Haram’s founders, most of whom were Kanuri or versed in the dialect, effectively channelled the language to their cause.”
Literature in Arabic and Hausa languages was translated into Kanuri and disseminated to members of rural communities in Borno and Yobe, many of whom were both illiterate and monolingual.
The development, according to the report, mobilised Kanuri populations to Boko Haram’s terrorist agenda and eventually, the strategy enabled the group to manipulate populations beyond their religious fold and to facilitate cross-border recruitment of other Kanuri communities outside Borno, including in the neighbouring countries of Niger, Chad and Cameroon.
However, the report pointed out that the development did not mean that the Kanuri language was synonymous with Boko Haram or that Boko Haram was an ethnic-focused uprising. It further pointed out that the overwhelming majority of Kanuris had opposed Boko Haram and fought against it both ideologically and militarily.
As a result, Kanuris remained Boko Haram’s biggest victims, the report said.
. Although Boko Haram benefited from alliances with al-Qaeda and ISIS, transnational support is not essential to its survival
The report further also found that Boko Haram’s alliances – first with al-Qaeda, and then with ISIS – produced material, logistical and financial support as well as capacity-building benefits that elevated the group’s operations and standing.
Al-Qaeda’s support between 2009 and 2010 was vital to Boko Haram’s transition to insurgency, while ISIS has also supported the group since 2015.
However, the report noted that the alliance between the homegrown terror group and the global terror networks was more or less mutually beneficial.
“The success of Boko Haram factions especially the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) has in turn benefited ISIS and its bid for global territorial dominance. As such, ISIS regularly draws on the achievements of ISWAP to venerate its own global brand and make stronger appeals for fighters to join one of its insurgencies in other parts of the world.”
It is an overstatement to portray Boko Haram as a mere puppet or representative of transnational jihadi organisations as ISIS would not essentially control Boko Haram, the report observed.
According to the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, defeating al-Qaeda or ISIS elsewhere would not weaken Boko Haram because of its inherent, homegrown attributes.
Boko Haram is able to continue thriving by leveraging on its influence via ethnic, religious, social and political channels around the Lake Chad Basin, which, according to the report, has become more entrenched than ever.
The report added that cutting off international support would not necessarily weaken Boko Haram as the group’s major sources of funding remained local, with revenue coming from farming, fishing and logging or raids on communities in order to secure cattle, food, medicine and taxation from residents.
. Despite splitting into factions and leadership changes, Boko Haram has grown stronger
Nigerian authorities, who have been struggling, unsuccessfully, to defeat Boko Haram for several years, were warned against mistaking factional disputes and changes in leadership within the terror group as signs of ‘operational crises’ and weakness.
Noting that global jihadi factions were prone to splintering and operational divergence, the report explained that while Boko Haram currently operated as three distinct factions – ISWAP, Jamatu Ahli Al-. Sunna lil Da’wa Wal Jihad (JAS) and Jamāʿatu Anṣāril Muslimīna fī Bilādis Sūdān (Ansaru) – they were still inherently the same.
“The goal of establishing an Islamic State in Nigeria, and across the Lake Chad Basin, is ideologically ingrained in each faction. Despite differences that have since led to infighting and splintering, the factions remain united by the core, foundational message of their founders.”