21945. His polemical sermons, aimed at both religiousand political authorities, earned Marwa the sobriquet“Maitatsine” (in Hausa, “he who curses”), as well asthe ire o British colonial authorities who had himdeported. Maitatsine eventually returned to Nigeriasometime ater its independence and, by the early1970s, had gathered a large and increasingly militantollowing, the Yan Tatsine (“ollowers o Maitatsine”),o youths, unemployed migrants, and others who eltthat the ocial Islamic hierarchy was unresponsive totheir needs. Maitatsine was killed by security orcesduring a December 1980 insurrection in Kano, but hisollowers rose up again in 1982, 1984, and 1985.Both Yan Tatsine and Boko Haram can be de-scribed as anatical sects whose belies are not heldby the majority o Nigerian Muslims. In their de-nunciation o Western civilization, both also cameto reject the legitimacy o the secular Nigerian state,invariably described as
(“evil”) and unworthy o allegiance, and ended up waging war against it in aneort to replace it with a “puried” Islamic regime. Inboth cases, police were unable to quell the outbreako violence, and military orces had to be deployed.The passage o time between the two movements hasbeen marked by persistent corruption and relativelyew improvements in the socioeconomic conditionso northern Nigeria, leaving many communities inthe North with the perception that they are all-ing urther behind their counterparts in the (mostlyChristian) South.
This has heightened the recep-tivity o Boko Haram’s message promising a radicaltransormation o Nigerian society.The name
is itsel derived romthe combination o the Hausa word or
(asin “book learning”),
, and the Arabic term
, which designates those things which areungodly or sinul. Thus “Boko Haram” is not onlythe group’s common name, but also its slogan tothe eect that “Western education (and such prod-uct that arises rom it) is sacrilege.” The group’sounder, Mohammed Yusu, once described the cos-mological view that resulted rom such an ideologyin a 2009 interview with the BBC: “Western-styleeducation is mixed with issues that run contraryto our belies in Islam. Like rain. We believe it is acreation o God rather than an evaporation causedby the sun that condenses and becomes rain. Likesaying the world is a sphere. I it runs contrary tothe teachings o Allah, we reject it. We also rejectthe theory o Darwinism.”
The introduction o Islamic law (shari’a) in the12 northern Nigerian states since 1999 (see map)was deemed insucient by Yusu and his ollowers,who argued that the country’s ruling class as a wholewas marred by corruption and even Muslim northernleaders were irredeemably tainted by “Western-style”ambitions. Their envisaged “pure” shari’a state wouldostensibly be both more transparent and just thanthe existing order. That the group has little regardor the country’s traditional Muslim hierarchy wasunderscored in early 2012 when its spokesman, AbuQaqa, threatened attacks on the historic seat o the Nigerian caliphate in an open letter to the Sultan o Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III.Ater its initial 2003 attacks were repelled, BokoHaram ollowers regrouped at a base in Yobe State onthe border with Niger, which they dubbed “Aghani-stan” ater hoisting the Taliban fag over the encamp-ment, although they had no links with their Aghancounterparts. Subsequently, the group was given thename the Nigerian Taliban by “the local people whodespised the philosophy and teachings o the sect.”
Nevertheless, its number gradually increased as stu-dents rom various local universities and technicalinstitutes withdrew rom school and joined the groupor Koranic instruction. By mid-2004, Boko Haramhad gathered enough strength to attack a ew policestations in neighboring Borno State, killing severalpolicemen and stealing arms and ammunition. Thepolice counterattacked and killed two dozen members.This set the pattern or the next ew years, with BokoHaram carrying out occasional assaults on police, who
Dr. J. Peter Pham is Director of the Michael S. AnsariAfrica Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC.
“Boko Haram can be describedas a fanatical sect whose beliefsare not held by the majority ofNigerian Muslims”