Nigerian Terrorist Group Splits?

Why Boko Haram may be dividing

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The press is reporting that Yusufiyya Islamic Movement (YIM) distributed leaflets widely in Maiduguri on July 19 denouncing other Boko Haram factions as "evil." The authors of the leaflet, asserting the legacy of founder Mohammed Yusuf, distanced themselves from attacks on civilians and on houses of worship. It said it would suspend its military operations during the month of Ramadan, which starts August 1.

As indicated by the leaflet, YIM's goals appear limited: free exercise and propagation of Islam, compensation for destroyed mosques and other property, and punishment of those who murdered Yusuf and others. The leaflet denounced the former governor of Borno state, the former Borno police commissioner, and former president Umaru Yar'Adua, who it said "has since been seized by Allah in an answer to the sect's prayers for support against his aggression." Notably, all of those YIM denounced were Muslims. The leaflet appears to have been silent on the secular nature of the Nigerian state and on Christians.

YIM might be opening the door to possible negotiations with the federal and state authorities, and the possibility of a general cease-fire during the month of Ramadan. The harshness of YIM's rhetoric gives it some credibility. But it is too soon to say how significant is this alleged split in Boko Haram. If Boko Haram has split between YIM "moderates" and unidentified "radicals," what the latter group wants and will do remains unclear. Indeed, Boko Haram up to now has resembled a broad movement rather than a political program. As such, it would be open to splits and internal conflicts, and to manipulation by those with conflicting agendas. Further, it remains unclear with whom the government could negotiate on the Boko Haram or YIM side. Boko Haram's leadership structure continues to be clandestine.

As far as official response to intense violence in Borno state, the current governor has called for dialogue and has already paid some compensation for property destroyed. Federal authorities have also announced the arrest of police accused of the murder of Yusuf and his close associates.

Meanwhile, there are thousands of internally displaced persons fleeing the violence in Maiduguri. Some of the violence has been caused by the police and the army, with official acknowledgements of "overzealousness." But, the army and police are not leaving Borno anytime soon. President Jonathan, supported by the AREWA Forum (a venue of the Northern establishment), announced that federal troops would remain in Maiduguri, an indication of elite fear of Boko Haram. (While press reports of the meeting are not altogether clear, it looks like at least some of the Borno elders, also involved in this meeting, wanted the troops withdrawn but were overruled by AREWA and the president.)

The basis of popular support for Boko Haram and other radical and millenarian movements in the North is the region's profound poverty and its perception that it is marginalized. Factors such as population pressure, de-industrialization, and reduced pasturage because of climate change makes the North unstable, even if there is a dialogue with parts of Boko Haram.

This article originally appeared at

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John Campbell, a former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, is a Senior Fellow for Africa policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. He served as political counselor at the U.S. embassy in Pretoria during the end of apartheid. He blogs at Africa in Transition.

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