A series of bombings allegedly carried out by Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria during the final weekend of May, just as newly elected President Muhammadu Buhari was being sworn into office, were a grim reminder of the pressing security challenge the jihadi group still poses to Nigeria and its neighbors.
Yet the attacks should not obscure the magnitude of Boko Haram’s recent defeats. Over the course of a few months, Boko Haram has reportedly lost nearly all of the over 18,000 square miles in northeastern Nigeria that it controlled in early January 2015. While reliable data on Boko Haram casualties continue to be elusive, anecdotal evidence suggests the group has experienced heavy losses in both men and material, even as Buhari has pledged not only to maintain but to step up military efforts against the group. Boko Haram will likely endure as a menace to northeastern Nigeria for months, if not years, to come, but its extremist aspirations to carve out a new polity in West Africa have suffered a seemingly irreparable blow.
However, Abuja should regard the successful destruction of Boko Haram’s nascent state as only the first phase in a much longer process to stabilize and reconstruct northeastern states like Borno, the epicenter of the group’s violence. Substantial resources will be needed to rebuild transportation infrastructure, farms, schools and health centers there devastated by Boko Haram’s insurgency. But far less attention has been directed toward another consequence of the Boko Haram conflict: the rending of northeastern Nigeria’s social fabric.