On the 20th January 2012, a series of attacks were launched by the Boko Haram group against the northern Nigerian city of Kano (the second biggest city in the country). A number of government buildings including passport offices and immigration centres, several police stations, the headquarters of the State Security Service (SSS), as well as some churches were targeted. There were several bombs, but also firefights between Boko Haram members and the Nigerian security forces. Most estimates put the number of deaths at around 150-170, but people I’ve spoken to that were in the city that day put the number much higher.
Boko Haram is an Islamist group, seeking to have Sharia law imposed in the north of Nigeria. The name means something like ‘Western Education is forbidden’, but it has wider resonance of Western values or those who take Western money and don’t act charitably towards the normal people. ‘Boko’ originally meant fake; ‘Haram’ means forbidden, sinful or sacrilege (see the BBC News report on the group). Their base is in the north-eastern states of Yobe and Borno. The Nigerian state response has been heavy handed, with reports of door-to-door raids in Boko Haram strongholds such as the city of Maiduguri. In 2009 raids led to the death of the group’s leader Mohammed Yusuf, and several members were imprisoned, but in September 2010 they freed several prisoners from a jail, and the group continued under the leadership of Abubaker Shekau with new attacks on the city of Jos and on barracks in the capital of Abuja. Their strategies have included remote detonation of bombs, suicide bombers, and shootings. (For a timeline see The Guardian). The group have claimed responsibility for numerous further attacks, some of which are further from their northeast bases, including the bombing of the Abuja police headquarters in June 2011, the bombing of the UN building in the capital in August 2011, various attacks on churches, and are likely behind the attack on the Emir of Kano just yesterday (19th January 2013). The Emir is a Muslim religious leader, but Boko Haram have attacked Muslim leaders before for their criticism of the group. The Emir survived the attack, but his guards and driver were killed.
Kano has changed since the 2012 attacks, with a much stronger security presence, and many Christians moving south. A number of aid agencies or foreign government workers have been relocated to Abuja or elsewhere in the country. Boko Haram have often started their attacks with men on motorbikes – easier to manoeuvre through road blocks and Nigeria’s traffic, and quick to use for escape afterwards. Many of the 20th January 2012 Kano attacks were launched in this way, as was the attack on the Emir. This has led to increased police and military presence in the city, with riders forced to dismount and wheel bikes through checkpoints. There are various reports of police and military atrocities following attacks, which often produce more supporters for the group being targeted.
I plan to talk about the January 2012 attacks in my AAG paper this year. There is an abstract of that paper here. I also plan to discuss them in a seminar I’m giving at the L.S.E. on 19 February. Both talks are under the title of ‘Urban Territory’ – trying to see how the work I’ve done on territory as a political technology can begun a productive discussion with literature on the urban and urbanisation. Some very preliminary ideas were explored in the Durham workshop on ‘Urban Worlds’ in December 2012 (audio here and some comments and images here). In that talk I said very little about Nigeria, but I’ve begun reading the academic literature that is starting to emerge on Boko Haram, and would welcome further suggestions.