Anyone keeping themselves aware of what is going on in Nigeria will probably be wondering if there is going to be any end to it all. That’s a good question. Boko Haram have blown things up, as well as killing and kidnapping innocent people (well, they don’t think they’re innocent because they support a government that believes in Western education). On Sunday, they established a Caliphate (yes, you have heard that word before). They have now made more territorial gains and forced members of the Nigeria military to flee the country. That last point was disputed initially though – presumably as part of an effort to avoid humiliation and the sight of weakness in the media.
On the subject of the territory, part of it is a town called Gwoza (more on that later). Nigerian officials have disputed any claim of ownership by Boko Haram. Major General Chris Olukolade was on record as saying the was “false and empty”. This is the same Major General who was involved in the premature announcement of the rescue of the Nigerian schoolgirls. He has a history of being wrong and it seems to be no different this time. Witnesses have said the military was pushed out of the area by Boko Haram. Whilst it might not be legal ownership, it doesn’t change the facts on the ground that show Boko Haram are in control.
As for the fleeing military, this cannot be seen as anything other than a humiliation for the government and bad news for the innocent in Nigeria. According to Didier Badjeck (Cameroon Defence spokesman):
“I can’t give the exact figure, but they should be 483 or 484 soldiers”
What did the Nigerian military say? Well, apparently it was a “tactical manoeuvre”. I suppose it could be – withdrawing if you’re losing is a well-known tactic. They mean that it was planned, but I don’t believe that for one second. That response was nothing but at blatant attempt at putting a positive spin on things.
When in Cameroon, the soldiers were disarmed and temporarily housed at a school in Maroua. Residents didn’t (initially) believe that the men were Nigerian military and thought they were Boko Haram in disguise. That’s how unbelievable the decision to flee is.
Since then, the soldiers have returned to Nigeria – going through Mubi, which is in Adamawa State.
The town and the caliphate
The video above shows Abubakar Shekau (leader of Boko Haram) declaring a Caliphate and ownership of some of the territory within it. Current locations include Gwoza, Ashigashya, Gamboru Ngala and Kerawa.
Gwoza is part of Borno State. You might remember the state for being where the Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped. Ashigashya is a town nearby Gwoza and both are on the borderline next door to Cameroon (the former actually overlaps the border and effectively exists in both countries). Gamboru Ngala is another border town. When taking over, Boko Haram took control of a training centre, military barracks and police station. They also attempted to destroy a bridge that ends up in Cameroon. Kerawa is a town in Kaduna State, which is not next door to Borno, but is still in the north. As a target for Boko Haram, the state is ideal as it has a large number of education institutions and the nation’s Defence Academy.
At present, this is something much smaller than the one in Iraq and Syria. It is also attracting less international interest and few (if any) recruits from overseas. It’s increasing size is still worrying though.
A reminder about Caliphates
I have mentioned the term ‘Caliphate’ in a few posts recently. This has been mostly in connection with what’s gone on in Iraq and Syria.
For those of you who haven’t been following my posts, it’s worth providing another definition.
At it’s most basic, it’s an area of the world that is under Islamic law (Sharia law, which I have previously discussed in this post). The leader of the area has the title of Caliph (derived from the Arabic word ‘Khalifa’), which (roughly) means that they are a successor to Muhammad – the prophet is Islam. However, the leader is more political the prophetic.
There is a long history of Caliphates and they have all had different success rates. There is absolutely no guarantee that the current crop will last forever, particularly when they have ongoing fights with countries whose borders they ignore. However, even if they go away, you can expect more to surface at some point in the future.
If you have politics, you can have disputes. If you have police and security, there’s always the chance of weakness and corruption. If religion exists, you can guarantee that some will take it to the extreme.
Boko Haram just don’t get it. They can murder, pillage and destroy. They can threaten, kidnap and steal. However, there is absolutely nothing that they will do which would make the Nigerian government wave the white flag, submit to their rule and give up.
Having said that, it would be an awful lot better if the Nigerian government had more unity and communication. It would be much better if their levels of resistance actually looked meaningful. This is an oil rich country with a big army and they are failing against something that could be described as a glorified religious militia. It’s a failure that’s caused 650,000 people to flee their homes since May last year. It’s also a failure that’s cost the lives of 2000 people since the beginning of this year.
There is no doubt that the fighting will go on. I fully expect Boko Haram to add more towns and villages to their Caliphate. At the moment, they still seem to be focused on the financially and resource-poor north. It won’t stay like that though.
Will there be more Caliphates? I think there will be, but I don’t know if they will happen any time soon. Will this Nigerian Caliphate last? No, but it could be around long enough to cause lasting damage to a nation with a rich history.
So, what do you think?