For the first time, leaders from Boko Haram are trying to lure Nigerians to the land the militant group occupies in the northeastern part of the country. The goal: to establish a formal governing system and a legitimate caliphate. With its video messaging campaign, the group is imitating tactics used by the Islamic State group to increase its own legitimacy as an Islamic caliphate.
A video interview released Thursday showed two men, both with masks covering their faces, sitting before a black background. One of the men was introduced as Abu Musab Abul-Barnawi, the group's spokesman. Abul-Barnawi said his group would accept displaced residents back into their controlled area if they agreed to abide by the group's rules. He promised to provide security and food. Another video released this week showed Boko Haram militants expressing devotion to the group and calling on others to join them. The two videos resemble those released by the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, when it began to gain ground this summer, indicating that Boko Haram is looking to expand its power in Nigeria not just through violence but by establishing some form of civil services.
But many Nigerians have little incentive to join.
Boko Haram has been slaughtering civilians in Nigeria since 2009, when it embarked on a campaign to create an Islamic caliphate in the country. Data compiled by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, a research effort mostly focusing on African conflict, shows the militant group has killed 2,300 since the beginning of 2015. More than 1,700 of those were residents of Baga, the town where residents were slaughtered by the group this month.
In addition, millions of people have been displaced. In its January offensive alone, Boko Haram uprooted more than 1 million from their homes.
Despite the massacres this month, Abul-Barnawi is calling residents back home.
Abul-Barnawi said Boko Haram would welcome returnees if they came “in repentance” for their resistance to the group.
“We accept their repentance and he shall have safety and security from us,” Abul-Barnawi said in the interview video.
In an attempt to explain the Baga massacre, where more than 2,000 people were killed, Abul-Barnawi said his militants “liberated” the town, saving it from “oppression.”
“By the grace of Allah alone, we were able to open this city and to include it with the cities of the Islamic State in Africa,” he said. “The land is for Allah and he will bequeath it to whomever he wills.”
According to the spokesman's interview, the militant group is prepared to provide economic support to the people living on Boko Haram land. The group has seized one of the most profitable pieces of land in Nigeria, he said, because it borders two countries and provides pathways to trade routes.
But there are doubts that a group like Boko Haram would be able to provide the services ISIS offers in Iraq and Syria. According to the U.N. and Doctors Without Borders, thousands of people are living in Boko Haram territory and are in need of humanitarian assistance.
One U.N. report said Boko Haram has restricted residents from using vehicles and leaving their homes. The group, according to the report, is in control of 20of the 27 government areas in Borno State.
Even residents living in relatively safe towns are still in need of assistance. But aid groups can't get to them. The roads to the northeastern part of the country are inaccessible and the local airports are closed.
Abul-Barnawi said his group is capable of taking care of its people.
“The best proof for that is the cities we have entered such as Mubi, Damaturu and Fika. In these cities we did not cause harm to anyone, because they did not fight us," he said.
It is not clear where Boko Haram receives the majority of its funding. A Washington Post report from this summer quoted a survey of academic, governmental and journalistic accounts that show Boko Haram funds itself through black market dealings, local and international donors, and links to other terrorist groups like al Qaeda. The group also kidnaps Nigerians and sells them or releases them for ransom money.