Their official name, Jama’atul Ahlu Sunna Lidda’Awati wal Jihad, or the People Committed to the Prophet’s Teachings for Propagation and Jihad, illustrates this group’s primary focus as a center for resistance against the Nigerian government, and what many northern Nigerians see as the dominant role that Christian Nigerians play in Nigerian politics.
Many northerners nicknamed the group, Boko Haram, or “Western education is a sin” because of the group’s belief that Western influences in education, media, and values, have a corrupting effect on traditional Islamic societies.
Boko Haram draws its membership primarily from clerics, university students, and unemployed youth from the north.
It’s estimated that 70 percent of Nigerians live on less than $1.25 a day, but poverty is more prevalent up north (far from Nigeria’s oil fields and agricultural areas). Some 75 percent of northerners live in poverty, compared with 27 percent of southerners. The great disparity between haves and have-nots, between north and south, appears to be one major draw for recruitment.
Its original leader, Mohammad Yusuf, who founded the group in 2002, was killed in police custody in 2009. His former deputy, Abubakar bin Mohammad Shekau, now leads the organization.
While Boko Haram has about 300 fighters, the International Institute for Strategic Studies said in a recent report that “the extent of the violence (since 2009) showed that Boko Haram was capable of mobilizing thousands of people and was better trained and armed than government forces had thought.”