Over the past month, an underground rebel group in Nigeria has been attacking government officials.
Nearly every day, this group successfully kills at least one of its countrymen. Amounting to what can only be considered terrorist acts, this group has been bombing buildings and shocking citizens in cities across the country's northern states.
Thousands of people have died at the hands of these insurgents, and the number is steadily rising. The frequency of these acts is unprecedented. The Nigerian government is mounting a defense, but many fear that the prevalence of this group proves that the government is already too destabilized.
Known as Boko Haram, the rebel group consists of Islamic militants who want to make Nigeria a Muslim nation. The name Boko Haram translates into Western education is a sin, and the group comes from northern Nigeria, which already has a number of Islamic regions.
Boko Haram wants to establish god's kingdom on earth through Islamic institutions, and establish sharia in all the states in Nigeria, says Council on Foreign Relations' John Campbell.
To do so, Boko Haram has taken to violence. Boko Haram-led attacks in June and July have included bombings of police stations and churches, bank robberies, assaults upon beer halls and cafes, and assassination attempts on security chiefs.
The Nigerian government, led by President Goodluck Jonathan, is taking a hard line against the militants, but violence continues unabated.
The government is stopping them. [We] are running them underground, fighting in any way you'd expect a government to fight such a greatly misguided group of militants, P.O.Onadipe, political minister at the Nigerian Embassy to the U.S. said in an interview with IBTimes.
True to his word, the Nigerian government has taken a proactive approach in their attempt to stop the insurgents. On June 9, a joint military and police force staged a raid in the northeastern city of Maiduguri.
Reports of the event are rife with confusion. According to the Joint Task Force, Boko Haram used homemade explosives to attack a patrol team, causing the police and military troops to open fire at suspected aggressors.
Although the police deny it, some witnesses say they saw Joint Task Force members kill bystanders and destroy property.
Men were dragged out of their houses and shot dead by the JTF claiming that they were Boko Haram members. They killed our husbands and youths for nothing, a witness told news agency All Africa.
The army blames fires and civilian deaths on Boko Haram, but regardless of how exactly the events unfolded, what is certain is that by the end of the night a number of people were left dead on the streets of Maiduguri.
The government has also outlawed motorbikes, Boko Haram's favorite method of attack, in Maiduguri. In past bombings, one man would drive a motorcycle while a passenger in the back hurled bombs at cafes and police stations. The attackers escaped nearly every time.
The wide berth and incredible frequency of Boko Haram's attacks have confounded many in Nigeria and abroad.
On the same day as the raid in Maiduguri, three people were killed at a church bombing in Suleja, more than 800 kilometers away.
Boko Haram-related violence occurs nearly every day, and people in northern cities are starting to flee. Up to 3,000 residents of the London-Ciki neighborhood of Maiduguri are thought to have been displaced in one night.
But who is Boko Haram?
The Nigerian government, based in Abuja, says that Boko Haram is a militant, non-secular organization whose members are misguided in their beliefs, according Onadipe.
The insurgents are vehemently against Jonathan, who is a Christian and comes from the south. At first, Boko Haram said they were willing to negotiate with Jonathan, but any hopes of that solution are gone.
Although its attacks and bombings are becoming ubiquitous in Nigeria, little information is available on Boko Haram itself. Its recruiting techniques are unknown, and aside from their religion, there is no information on who Boko Haram members really are.
This is because much of the information that the West receives comes from the government or from prominent media outlets in the South, which are generally loyal to Jonathan.
According to Campbell, the name Boko Haram is actually one used by the government to label the insurgents inside its country, and not the name of any formal body.
It's quite likely that Boko Haram in one city is different than Boko Haram in a different city, Campbell, who is the Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Council of Foreign Relations, told IBTimes.
There's no central organization or leadership. It's not a coherent group,
It is important for terror to have a name. It would be much harder for the government to fight the idea of violence than for it to fight a particular faction, although it is possible.
The Boko Haram movement is relatively new and its rate of attacks is unmatched.
A militant leader named Mohammed Yusuf, who was killed in July 2009, founded a group called Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad, which translates to Association of Sunnis for the Propagation of Islam and for Holy War. Nicknamed Boko Haram by northerners, the government is using the name as a blanket term for all insurgents.
Although the current wave of militancy is substantial, it is not unique. Boko Haram's true roots reach back to the Muslim uprisings in Nigeria in the 1980s. For decades, militancy in Nigeria has spread its influence over the country, promoting a culture of violence. Over the past thirty years, riots and violent attacks in northern Nigerian cities like Kano, Maiduguri and Kaduna have sprung up over and over again.
Violence is always beneath the surface, Campbell commented. The particular form it takes can be quite variable.
The latest violence -- Boko Haram's violence -- is the next stage in an ongoing religious movement, a stage which was exacerbated by the election of Jonathan.
Goodluck Jonathan was sworn into office on April 18, 2011. Immediately after his victory was announced, 800 people were killed in the Northern states.
The presidential position is supposed to switch between a Northerner and a Southerner each election, but because Jonathan's successor, who was from the north, died in office, Jonathan technically began his second term. The election results were constitutionally sound, but people in the north felt short-changed by having a second Southern president in a row.
Jonathan was not expected to run in 2011, but he did run and he won. He was expected to step aside and let the party select someone from the north, Campbell said.
Jonathan ran against Muhammadu Buhari, who people in the north viewed as an agent for social change. Many Northerners believed that the elections were stolen from them, and their perceived lack of representation has sparked the outrage that fuels Boko Haram.
This widespread dissatisfaction might be part of the reason that Boko Haram has so far been so hard to stop. Boko Haram has mostly attacked government buildings and institutions -- although civilian casualties have certainly occurred -- and people in the frustrated north are thought to be sympathetic.
The local people love us, they support us and the locals will never betray us because they believe in our cause, Boko Haram said in a statement.
Although the government denies the claim, Boko Haram is somewhat correct. So far, the government has received little civilian help.
I have seen no evidence of popular denunciations of people in Boko Haram to the police, Campbell said.
Colonel Victor Ebhaleme of the Joint Task Force against Boko Haram reiterated Campbells's inference, saying the JTF is aware that some members of the general public have prior information on attacks of security agencies and willingly allow their premises to be used for such acts without reporting to security agencies.
Ebhaleme warned that anyone caught aiding or even keeping information on Boko Haram silent will be dealt with by the police.
When and how will the violence end?
It is essential for the government to reach out to North. The North has to be reconciled politically. Jonathan will have to use security force, but that's not the answer, Campbell said.
The Muslim north in Nigeria feels under-represented in national politics, and clearly felt slighted by the recent presidential elections. President Jonathan's best strategy would be to appoint northern politicians to important -- and visible -- positions in his government. There are currently some northerners in the government, but the Presidential cabinet has 72 members and is far too large a group to be politically effective.
Interestingly, a trial began in Abuja on Monday, July 11 against four Nigerian policemen involved in the 2009 murder of Yusuf.
The timing of the trial is telling. By holding the police accountable, Jonathan is showing that he holds the south and north on level ground. Much will depend on the trial's result.
An awful lot is riding on Jonathan's political skill, Campbell noted. He has shown patience thus far, but others ask what has he done? The political challenges he faces are enormous. He's got to work very carefully.