After Boko Haram

How to Rebuild Nigeria

Members of an anti–Boko Haram vigilante group pose for a picture at their camp in Maiduguri, May 21, 2014. Joe Penney / Courtesy Reuters

Boko Haram is on the run. Chad’s January intervention against the group, coupled with a new Nigerian offensive launched in February, appears to have inflicted a series of military defeats on the terrorists. At the moment, Boko Haram fighters have been expelled from many of the towns they once held. The organization has tried to carry on its struggle against Abuja, and it has made a reported pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). But that likely reflects desperation on the part of Boko Haram’s leadership; indeed, recent events point to the group’s inevitable (if not immediate) defeat.

But that doesn’t mean that Nigeria is in the clear. As outside observers have focused on defeating Boko Haram, few have paid attention to the looming postwar reconstruction effort, whose success will determine whether northeastern Nigeria continues to be a source of instability in West Africa. The profound demographic, socioeconomic, and political upheavals triggered by Boko Haram’s activities in the northeast, particularly in Borno State, have further impoverished a region that was already struggling and have deepened communal tensions. If these issues aren’t addressed, it will only be a matter of time until new violent nonstate actors emerge.


International observers believe that the Boko Haram insurgency has uprooted over a million people in northeastern Nigeria (the actual number could be much higher) and killed at least 12,000. The majority of the victims have come from Borno, which, with an estimated prewar population of approximately 4.5 million, confronts the prospect of resettling as much as a quarter of its inhabitants. The mass displacement has devastated Borno’s already destitute economy. The flight of farmers from the violence-plagued countryside reportedly caused agricultural output to contract by 26 percent in 2014 alone, and most of the commercial class—made up disproportionately of Christian southerners—has abandoned the state.

Meanwhile, schools and health-care centers in Borno’s rural regions have largely been deserted due to chronic insecurity. Even before the

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