Ini Dele-Adedeji calls Virginia Comolli’s new book a thorough and expertly-analysed work that will become an invaluable compendium for Boko Haram watchers.
Virginia Comolli’s Boko Haram: Nigeria’s Islamist Insurgency is the latest offering to attempt to put conflict in northern Nigeria into better context, connecting the long history of violence in the region with the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency.
Considering the difficulties and risks inherent in conducting research on the virtually-inaccessible Boko Haram, this book makes ample use of open-source information, historical material and information from a wide variety of Nigerian sources. The result is an expertly analysed work which successfully condenses the myriad of information on Boko Haram and episodes in the group’s campaign of violence, making it into a compendium for referencing by ‘Boko Haram-watchers’, to borrow the author’s parlance.
The book begins by pre-empting critique about its purview, by pointing out its own research limitations, most of which stem from the volatile nature of northern Nigeria, more so where Boko Haram is concerned. It then lays a foundational context for the rest of the book by beginning with a cursory look into the entry of Islam into northern Nigeria. The reading from this point provides more spark, delving into the history of different Islamic groups which have tried to reform the religious sphere in northern Nigeria.
Comolli acquaints the reader with the contentious debates among some writers on Islamic sects within northern Nigeria, with one school of thought seeing movements such as the ‘Izala’ as reformist with the other disagreeing. This provides another bottom layer to the crux of the book, allowing the author to appreciate the abundance of conflicting narratives which exist in trying to understand Boko Haram. Commolli, however, points out that in spite of these seeming incongruences, there are areas where all of these narratives on Boko Haram overlap. Comolli does a good job of pointing out that Boko Haram has always, even before its popularity, been somewhat fractured, and is even more so now and as such any understanding and analysis of the group has to recognise that.
The book relies to a greater extent on the perspective of various important personages within the Nigerian government, at the time of its writing. As such, this helps to capture the stance of some key actors within Nigeria’s decision-making bodies on the ongoing conflict. It, however, relies less so on the perspective of civilians. The analysis of Boko Haram itself might be considered somewhat superficial, which might have been deliberate on the part of the author, since the book seems to lean more towards those within the field of policy-making. It, however, succeeds greatly in sieving through and collating the vast data available on Boko Haram, breaking them down into thematic groupings in a manner accessible to lay readers on the subject. It also covers the transnational effects of Boko Haram’s attack, the response of the Nigerian government to the group’s menace, that of its neighbouring countries and the international response as well.
As Comolli rightly asserts, for some of the relatively limited information available on the inner workings of Boko Haram, there is also a large amount of counterfactual narratives being passed on and recycled as facts, which makes this work important as a guide of sorts in the initial study of Boko Haram.
Boko Haram: Nigeria’s Islamist Insurgency by Viriginia Comolli. Hurst Publishers.
Ini Dele-Adedeji is a research student at SOAS.
The views expressed in this post are those of the authors and in no way reflect those of the Africa at LSE blog or the London School of Economics and Political Science.