Political violence in Nigeria resulted in 980 reported fatalities in July, the highest count since March 2015. This increase in fatalities is largely due to the actions of Boko Haram, which has increased its campaign of violence against civilians. In July, Boko Haram was responsible for 67.3% of all civilian fatalities, the highest proportion since January 2015. This represents a substantial increase on June and May, when actions by Boko Haram accounted for 40.3% and 29.9% of civilian fatalities respectively. Despite this poor sign of progress, President Buhari has predicted that the insurgency will be defeated by December of this year (Reuters, 15 May 2015; Laccino, 3 August 2015).
In spite of their lethality, Boko Haram still seems to be comparatively weak by other measures: the group has not successfully captured territory since May when it asserted control over the medium-sized town of Marte. This weakness has not translated into reduced lethality as the group has increased its reliance on suicide attacks and bombings in major metropolitan areas, such as Gombe and Maidaguri, as a means to retain its coercive hold over the population.
Improvised explosive devices and bomb attacks, while not the preserve of the weak, enable actors that lack the ability or will to seize territory from the government to discredit the government’s monopoly on violence and intimidate or demoralise the citizenry (ACLED, 29 October 2014). Accordingly, the rise in Boko Haram’s use of suicide bombings has been accompanied by a noticeable decline in the number of battles with the government since March 2015 (see Figure 1).
President Buhari made security in the North-East a cornerstone of his electoral platform, and Boko Haram’s attacks pose a severe risk to his administration’s perceived legitimacy (Nossiter, 1 April 2015). Unlike the previous administration, Buhari has strong support in the states most affected by Boko Haram’s campaign, meaning that sustained attacks could undermine the regime’s electoral bulwark (BBC News, 13 April 2015).
However, Boko Haram’s shifting tactics will likely necessitate a change in the government’s counter-insurgency strategy. If the group continues to rely on urban bombings and mass shootings, the government response may be characterised by mass arrests and raids, instead of battles and aerial strikes. These tactics carry their own risks as similar operations in Kenya by anti-terrorist units have been accused of driving radicalisation and undermining human rights (Crisis Group, 25 January 2012; Anderson, 15 June 2015). The Nigerian security services have already proved all too willing to ignore human rights and engage in atrocities in its fight against Boko Haram (Amnesty International, 5 August 2014). Boko Haram itself functions as a cautionary tale of the risk of overt state violence fomenting insurrection, with the group stating on its re-emergence in 2010/2011 that it sought to avenge the death of its former leader, Mohammed Yusuf, who died in police custody (BBC News, 13 July 2011).
This report was originally featured in the August ACLED Conflict Trends Report.