Over the past twelve years, northeastern Nigeria has experienced one of the most destructive jihadist insurgencies of anywhere in the world. As many as 350,000 people have died and some five million have become displaced as a result of conflict between insurgents commonly known as Boko Haram and the Nigerian state.
While parts of neighboring Niger, Chad, and Cameroon are affected by the insurgency, this is first and foremost a Nigerian conflict. Boko Haram emerged nearly two decades ago as a result of the widespread grievances, social divisions, and institutional dysfunction that characterized the north of the country, particularly northeastern Borno state, in Nigeria’s first decade of democratic rule. Today, the insurgency persists because Nigeria’s divisions and institutional shortcomings persist, and because much of Nigeria’s political elite seemingly believes that consigning the northeast to indefinite conflict is an acceptable cost to avoid the sorts of structural and cultural changes that would threaten their interests. Nigerians of the northeast thus suffer from the paradox of peripheral insurgencies: The insurgency is strong enough to cause immense destruction and suffering in one region, but not strong enough to pose an existential threat to the political core and consequently spur the elites into action.