The "Nigeria Security Tracker," and the maps and charts it generates every week, can't possibly capture the complex dynamics behind Nigeria's instability. But they do provide valuable context as we try to understand the kidnapping in Chibok and the broader violence plaguing the country.
The idea for the Tracker, Campbell told me, sprung from his "frustration over the imprecision about how many people were being killed, where it was happening, and the extent to which it was political versus criminal. In Nigeria, there's been a progressive breakdown of law and order, which means there's a lot of criminal activity which may or may not be political."
Campbell, who served as ambassador to Nigeria from 2004 to 2007, launched the initiative to coincide with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan's inauguration in May 2011—a pivotal moment for the country. Jonathan, a Christian from southern Nigeria, assumed power when his predecessor, Umaru Yar'Adua, a Muslim from northern Nigeria, died in office in 2010. The next year, Jonathan made the deeply divisive decision to run for president, arguably breaking with an unwritten rule that his People's Democratic Party (PDP) had adhered to since the return of civilian government in 1999: alternating presidential power between the predominantly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south. (Yar'Adua had only partially completed the first of an expected two consecutive terms, so some argued that the PDP candidate in the 2011 race should have been a Muslim northerner.) Hundreds of people died in a spasm of post-election violence up north.
Jonathan's victory, Campbell said, "led to the splintering of these cooperating and competing elites—the consensus that had held the whole ramshackle structure together broke apart." Meanwhile, he explained, the increasingly impoverished north is struggling with challenges like "power shortages, the collapse of the textile industry, underinvestment in agriculture, and desertification and climate change, which is driving herdsmen south, where they collide with farmers."
The Tracker also emerged amid the rise of Boko Haram, which was founded in 2002 by the Muslim cleric Mohammed Yusuf in Maiduguri, the capital of the northeastern state of Borno. The group, which rejected the Nigerian government and instead advocated for an Islamic state, didn't turn violent until 2009, when a heavy-handed police crackdown on its members sparked a week of heavy clashes that left 800 dead, culminating in the killing of Yusuf in police custody. Boko Haram briefly went underground, Campbell said, before roaring back in 2010 and 2011.
Boko Haram insurgents, now under the leadership of Abubakar Shekau, have been battling Nigerian security forces ever since, with the bloodshed concentrated in Borno State, where the militant group originated, but spreading to other regions and occasionally spiking, especially in recent months after the government imposed a state of emergency in several northern states.