Of Caliphates

In recent weeks, I have fielded a number of questions regarding Boko Haram’s declaration of a caliphate and whether the sect’s actions have been inspired by that of the Islamic State in the Levant. I thought I would great to pose some of the more commonly asked questions on my blog and also list the responses I have generally, and perhaps haphazardly so, provided to these quandaries.  I am no expert in Islamic theology, nor do I profess to have more than a very basic understanding of developments within the Levant with specific relation to the Islamic State. That said, I am hoping that my views could potentially answer some nagging questions or perhaps illicit some more informed responses. Here goes nothing….

Is Boko Haram copying or being motivated by the Islamic State (IS) to create a caliphate in north eastern Nigeria?

Boko Haram’s primary goal has always been the creation of an Islamic State (IS) in north eastern Nigeria which the group’s founder, Mohammed Yusuf, believed would be the panacea to the Nigeria’s socio-economics ills which have arisen due to Nigeria’s secular government. In summary, Boko Haram’s ambition to create an Islamic state governed under Sharia Law predates the formation of IS.

Given the declaration of a caliphate, is Boko Haram seeking to join up with IS?

In terms of joining IS, it currently seems unlikely that Boko Haram will do so. While Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau paid tribute to al-Baghdadi and his Islamic State in July, Shekau has not officially pledged an oath of allegiance (known as bayat) to the Islamic State. Indeed, in the same video, Boko Haram similarly pays tribute to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. This is of importance as it indicates that Boko Haram is making explicit its neutrality in the ongoing row between al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Also, there is evidence to suggest that Boko Haram has and may continue to be receiving patronage from al-Qaeda’s North African branch, namely al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). AQIM’s emir, Abdelmalek Droukdel, has sworn bayat to al-Zawahiri. If Boko Haram had to affirm its allegiance to IS, the sect risks jeopardizing its alleged AQIM patronage.

Has Boko Haram established a caliphate in north eastern Nigeria?

In the purest sense of the term, Boko Haram is unable to declare a caliphate in Nigeria as the sect has not and likely will not meet the requisite criteria to declare a caliphate which will be recognised by the Islamic Ummah. For one, while BH are assimilating and subsequently holding territory, much of what falls under their control is not continuous and therefore cannot be defined as unified territory – i.e. somewhat of an unspoken geographic precondition for the establishment of a caliphate.

Secondly, a caliphate requires a Khalifa. To be recognised as a Khalifa, the individual needs to be from the Quraysh lineage – a precondition which Shekau does not and will not meet.  There are also other qualifications required for the declaration of a caliphate which is based on the Khalifa’s ability to be both a spiritual and political leader to the citizens of the caliphate. Boko Haram, as it stands, lacks the requisite resources, infrastructure and administrative acumen to effectively provide these conditions to communities in areas under their control. In summation, Shekau’s Caliphate is only that in name and nothing else. 

Are there any similarities between Boko Haram and IS?

Akin to IS, Boko Haram is rapidly expanding its operational presence across parts of north eastern Nigeria. At the time of writing, it is claimed that Boko Haram has effectively seized control of a number of towns in Nigeria’s north eastern Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states, most notably that of Bama (Borno state), Gwoza (Borno state), Gamboru (Borno state), Buni Yadi (Yobe state) and Madagali (Adamawa state) where the sect are claimed to have raised the Rayat al-Uqab (Black Standard) flags.  A number of other areas with Borno and Yobe state are also being contested by the group and could similarly come under sect control over the short-to-medium term.

Is Boko Haram changing tactics and what could happen next?

The capture and holding of territory presents a significant evolution in Boko Haram’s modus operandi. The group has previously exhibited its operational acumen in an effective guerrilla campaign which was being waged in both urban and non-urban environs across much of northern Nigeria. However, in capturing and defending territory, the sect is also noting that it has the capacity and capabilities to engage in more conventional forms of warfare. It is expected, Boko Haram will continue to launch more offensives in Borno state aimed at capturing and assimilating more territory. A very realistic medium term goal for the sect may be to encircle Borno’s state capital and the sect’s birthplace, i.e. the city of Maiduguri, and possibly capture and control the urban centre in a similar manner to which IS eventually secured control of Mosul.