BAUCHI, Nigeria – Boko Haram, a radical Islamist group in Nigeria, was founded in 2002 in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, by self-proclaimed religious teacher Mohammed Yusuf, who is thought to be in his mid-30s and has considerable private wealth.
Locals are not willing to offer much information on the founding and activities of the group, owing to the sensitivity of the issues at stake and the ongoing crackdown.
Boko Haram does not have a known strategy of recruiting members.
Members include former university lecturers and students who dropped out once they joined, as well as illiterate, jobless youths.
The group reportedly includes members who come from neighboring Chad.
Its members pray in separate mosques and don’t mix with local people. They sport long beards and wear red or black heads covers.
Since its launch, the group has been pushing for application of Shari`ah across Nigeria’s 36 states.
In 2004, it moved to Kanamma in Yobe state, close to the border with Niger, where it set up a base from which it attacked nearby police outposts.
A minor religious unrest in Bauchi was blamed on the group in 2004, but nothing has since been heard of it.
But the group came to prominence in 2009 after a series of attacks on police stations and government buildings, which left hundreds of people killed and injured.
Boko Haram means “Western education is sinful” in the Hausa language spoken across northern Nigeria and sums up the main pillar of the group’s ideology.
Many believe the group members may have been brainwashed into seeing western education as evil.
They speak only Arabic, as they believe English is the language with which the West spread immorality and corruption worldwide.
The group also has a deep-seated aversion for anything modelled after the Christian West, from mode of dressing to conduct of public affairs.
Although security agencies have launched investigation into activities of this group, no information has pointed yet to its source of funding.
Police records do not show any of its leaders on wanted list and it is unclear if the State Security Service (SSS) has anything regarding the group.
Experts and politicians believe that Boko Haram, despite brandishing a religious banner, is only seeking political ends.
Some link its founding and funding to politicians who want stranglehold on the political terrain, using members of Boko Haram to cow opposition and rig elections, if need be.
They maintain that the resurgence of such militant groups will continue until governments tackle unemployment and deliver on their campaign promises to the people.