Boko Haram Violence Dec. 2018 – February 2019

Boko Haram’s violence December 2017 to February 2019: a preliminary analysis

(version 2, March 2019)

Nicholas David Ph.D. BHVR Webmaster

In a first version of this report  (Dec. 2018) that surveyed Boko Haram violence from December 2017 through November 2018. I developed a simple methodology for categorizing and mapping Boko Haram incidents in time and space. The data indicated that a major attack was imminent. Within the month Boko Haram had, for the first time since early 2015, captured and held territory, in this case Baga and smaller towns around it near the western shores of Lake Chad. Two military bases were overrun and some 30,000 people reported to have fled to Maiduguri. It appears therefore that, however crude and provisional my analysis, it has predictive value.


As someone who has carried out research in Boko Haram-afflicted West Central Africa, Francophone and Anglophone, since 1984 and remains involved in cultural heritage matters and victims’ relief, I have become increasingly frustrated by the fragmented nature of journalistic coverage of the insurgency. Lack of synthesis of news materials by the media, governments or others makes it near impossible for interested parties, NGOs, government agencies, researchers — and apparently the forces of order — to evaluate the situation, far less to act effectively to counteract the violences committed by terrorist factions or to plan for the political solution urgently needed to resolve the insurgency. At least and serious and more dispiriting is the ignorance of the situation to which the millions of victims, direct and indirect, in the afflicted areas are condemned.

This is the rationale for this limited synthesis based upon a) the indispensable Wikipedia monthly listings of terrorist incidents from around the world, b) the superb access to space offered by Google Earth Pro, and c) my own knowledge of the larger region and its peoples gained since 1956 as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 4th Bn Queen’s Own Nigeria Regiment, anthropologist, archaeologist and university professor. I should add that my grasp of the specialist literature on Boko Haram is limited, and that I have scarcely attempted to differentiate the activities of the two main factions of what is commonly known as Boko Haram: Abu Bakr Shekau’s Jama’at Ahl al-Sunna lil-Da’wa wa al-Jihad (JASDJ) and Abu Mus’ab al-Barnawi’s Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA or ISWAP).[1] Nor, though I have looked at the generally uninformative and unconfirmable press releases of the Nigerian military, have I conducted any research on the various armies and other forces of order tasked with defeating Boko Haram.

For the period December 2017 through February 2019, I have extracted from the Wikipedia lists and other sources those incidents known or reasonably inferred to have been carried out by Boko Haram, placed them in useful categories, tabulated them by country, month and category, grouped incidents into regions and mapped them. After which it becomes possible to draw limited but significant conclusions regarding Boko Haram’s activities in time and space, and to gain insight into the future.

Data and methods of analysis

The area affected by Boko Haram is very poorly covered by the international and national press. Africa is generally and grossly underreported in global media, and journalists native or expatriate are wisely concerned with their own safety amongst populations that include Boko Haram sympathizers. Reports of incidents are thus almost always generally brief and of variable reliability. Plagiarism is rampant. Nigerian military and other government spokesmen are reticent to provide information, playing down the seriousness of incidents directed against them and especially the number of soldiers and police casualties. Reporting the number of kills is always a confession that no significant gains have been made.

The Wikipedia data (Table 1)[2] include brief summaries of incidents, the numbers of deaths and other casualties, combining the injured and the abducted in a single figure. A number in parentheses is sometimes given for Boko Haram casualties but, except in the case of suicide bombers, is erratic and of little value. The Wikipedia staff responsible for collection of data gather materials in French and English, occasionally Spanish and Arabic, but not in Hausa or other African languages. They clearly have no special knowledge of the region as is evident, for example, in their choice of the term “loggers” to describe collectors of firewood, many and mostly female part-timers, and woodcutters, fewer and mostly male, some full-time. I have modified Wikipedia’s brief descriptions where necessary to avoid misrepresentation of cultural life or where I have found better information. Wikipedia does, however, provide references to the original Internet sources. I have read all of these that are still available and have added data from them and from other (usually Googled) sources after the footnotes that give access to the original publications. When, while doing this, I have come across unreported incidents I have added them to the listing.

Google Earth Pro is a precious resource but its naming of settlements (and placement of names) in this part of Africa is capricious below the level of substantial towns. The locations of the villages or larger settlements in which incidents occurred are almost always supplied in incident reports but there are no online gazetteers of settlements (Cameroon being a partial exception), names are frequently spelled in multiple ways, and only in some cases are distances to cities or larger towns specified. Sometimes we are told that the village is within a certain Local Government Area (LGA) or comparable administrative unit. The case of “Mabanda” in the Far North Region (FNR) of Cameroon and the site of an assault on civilians and two dubious “suicide” bombings of a mosque is a particularly frustrating one. Although described by sources variably as a village and as a city, no further information on its location was provided beyond its proximity to the Nigeria-Cameroon border, across which it is implied there is a road connection. Mabanda appears on no maps or administrative listings to which I have access nor in any other sources. I suspect therefore that is the name of a ward in a larger settlement and, since transboundary roads are rare in this area and I know the southern ones relatively well, I have tentatively placed “Mabanda” in the environs of Fotokol on the northern route.

Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state in the extreme northeast of Nigeria, has been repeatedly targeted by Boko Haram bombers and by assaults on civilians, often camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), and some military targets. The sites are often described as being in the outskirts of the capital and sometimes by the names of wards, suburbs or exurbs. But I have found no map of Maiduguri and environs that provides such detailed information and must often rely on other clues. For example, there is a Kalari road in Maiduguri that leads to the SSW and it seems reasonable therefore to place the village of Kalari Abdiye along it, which also fits with it being within Konduga LGA.

I have followed up every clue I could find to map incidents with accuracy, and am convinced that the errors (including minor ones introduced by me to differentiate incidents in congested areas) do not obscure the regional differences obvious in incident distributions.

Incident typology

The Wikipedia typology of incidents relates mainly to the means (shooting, beheading, arson, suicide bombing, etc.) by which death and other forms of violence are inflicted. It is far more useful to consider the production of violence since this offers insights into the organization and capabilities of insurgent forces. My typology divides incidents into the categories listed below. To avoid overburdening the maps only the categories shown on the Key to Symbols are plotted.

Raids and Other types of incidents described below are not mapped but are taken into account in the Tables. Maps 1-7 are provided in separate files and can be considerably enlarged.

Key to Symbols

Bombings, in which the bomb carrier almost always dies, are often carried out by women and girls.[3] However that may be, bombings require relatively sophisticated organization of supplies and manufacture, but very little manpower or other resources. They allow Boko Haram to reach out to terrorize where they are unable otherwise to attack or assault. Bombers sometimes accompany attacks.

Attacks on civilian targets require militants in platoon, company or even battalion strength to carry them out, and these must be trained and maintained, armed, and transported on motorcycles or in trucks to and from the site or an assembly point nearby. A succession of assaults over a short period of time suggests competent organization with well-established logistics.

Civilian targets are attacked for a variety of reasons: to inflict damage on governments, to punish communities believed to inform or cooperate with the state and its organs, to terrorize, as in the assaults on IDP camps, and, importantly, to obtain cash, supplies and goods. Kidnapping is also practiced during such raids, usually on a small scale though at Dapchi 113 schoolgirls were abducted. Near Gamboru some 50 collectors and cutters of wood were abducted. Most are likely to have been women. Others were no doubt children, seen as potential recruits or slaves. Repeated attacks of this nature suggest that Boko Haram may in some areas be attempting to control the market for the firewood on which most depend for cooking and heating.

Assaults on military targets (including police) take place for a variety of purposes, one being to clear roads and facilitate terrorist communications, and to access larger centers, notably Maiduguri, by suppression of checkpoints. These require limited manpower. Ambushes directed at military convoys or civilian ones under military escort require larger contingents and perhaps prior gathering of intelligence. Attacks on military bases require the highest level of organization and logistics and are pursued in good part in order to obtain weapons, sometimes heavy, munitions and other matériel. The attack of 18 November 2018 on a base of the 157 Task Force Battalion in Metele was undertaken by 20 truckloads of militants who killed at least 118 soldiers with 153 still missing 6 days later. The jihadists “carted away four tanks and other vehicles”.

It has seemed worthwhile to differentiate on the maps ambushes of military and civilian convoys, the latter often accompanied by a military escort, since the spoils to be won are so different.

Where an incident involves more than one of these categories, for example a Bombing that forms part of an Attack it is grouped with the category that appears most significant.

Raids are carried out by a dozen or fewer militants, perhaps teams given missions of minor significance, perhaps fugitives seeking supplies as is suggested where there is no mention of firearms. The main aim is likely often survival rather than any larger tactical or strategic goal. Some may have a punitive or terrorist intent — but probably not one devised by a high level commander. Desperation rather than significant planning or organization is all that is required to mount many such raids. Where sources provide little information, there are few casualties and there is no clear evidence of an assault or attack, the incident is by default classified as a raid.

Under the category Other are classed six other incidents, involving two executions and four explosions of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or landmines.

Table 2. The distribution of incidents by month and region according to the following incident types:  B = bombing; A = Assault on civilian target, Ac on civilian convoy; M = Attack on Military target, Mc on convoy; R = Raid; O = Other. Neither Raids nor Other incidents are plotted on the maps (Figs 1-7). The 22 most serious incidents, those with 50 or more dead, killed, abducted or missing, are shown in bold red type (see Table 4).











2017 Dec




2018 Jan




































































2018 Dec








2019 Jan







2019 Feb

















B = Bombing (often suicide) A = attack on civilian target
O = other (IED, execution, etc) M = assault on military target
R = raid, small scale attack Ac/Mc = Ambush of convoy (civilian or military)

Regions and their characteristics

The area of the polygon enclosing the mapped categories of violent incidents is 135,000 sq. km, maximally extending 460 km N-S and 380 km E-W (Map. 1). The distribution of incidents suggests partition of the whole into six regions characterized by different patterns of terrorist activity as described below (Table 2).

Region 1.  Northern and Eastern Lake Chad  (Map 2). Area of enclosing polygon: 14,000 sq. km. The Chadian northern and eastern margins of the (mainly former) lake, extending in the extreme north a short distance into Nigeria.

The eight incidents recorded include three attacks on military targets and five on civilians. Boko Haram activity in this region is marked mainly by its rarity, likely on account of its limited resources and the extent to which Boko Haram “owns” this region (see Postscript).

Region 2. Southernmost Niger and Northeast Borno (Map 3). Core area polygon: 20,900 sq. km.vbThe Komadugu Yobe drainage from Toumour to a site west of Diffa in Niger (estimated at 12.08º E) to Geidem in Nigeria’s Yobe state and the ancient Lake Chad plains south of the river down to Jilli (12.97º N; 13.17º E) and east to Gajiram at 12.49º N and to Lake Chad. Dapchi in Yobe state is an outlier.

Among the 22 most serious incidents, those that resulted in 50 or more casualties (or abductees) between December 2017 and February 2019, ten occurred in this region (see Table 4 below). The first was the mass kidnapping by the ISWA faction of 113 schoolchildren from Dapchi, of whom 107, all Muslims, were shortly thereafter returned. There were 27 widely distributed assaults on military targets, six in the most serious category, and nine attacks on civilians of which two besides Dapchi were most serious There were also two bombings, a most serious one at Diffa, the regional administrative center. There were three raids and one IED incident.

Particularly striking is the surge in the numbers and severity of assaults on military targets in November and December 2018. During several of these the militants were able to capture heavy and other weapons, vehicles and munitions. The strategic build-up of insurgent forces and matériel that threatened the Nigerian government was followed in late December by the capture and holding of Baga and neighboring towns. Whether these remain under Boko Haram rule is unclear: it is stated there was a strong counterattack.It is noteworthy that Boko Haram’s campaign in this region was almost exclusively directed at Nigerian forces (see Table 3).In January and February 2019 Boko Haram’s focus shifted to regions 3, 4 and 5.

Region 3. Ngala-Gamboru-Fotokol border area (Map 4). Area polygon: 1000

Terrorist activity focused on this Nigeria-Cameroon border area, extending east to Rann (12.28ºN, 14.47ºE) and southwest past Dikwa to Boboshe (11.94ºN, 13.89ºE).In the area of Boko Haram activity very few roads suitable for four-wheeled vehicles traverse the Nigeria-Cameroon frontier. Smaller attacks can be mounted cross country using motorbikes or even bicycles, but for offensives intended to obtain bulk supplies, military or other, or to inflict major damage, insurgents need to be able to use roads in order to strike and withdraw into the countryside. Since international communications are imperfect, crossing an international border offers advantages and disruption of border crossing areas is very much in Boko Haram’s interest.

Incidents varied considerably over the year, there being only five during the May-October period during which the rainy season and its aftermath render transport difficult away from major roads. The region experienced two bombings, eight attacks on civilian and eight on military targets, six raids and two IEDs. A dense cluster of incidents around the border area of Ngala, long-suffering Gamboru and Fotokol (Cameroon) includes a bombing and attacks on three civilian and four military targets. In December 2018 and January 2019 the town of Rann, site of several IDP camps, came under multiple attacks, three of which were among the 22 most serious incidents. There were four ambushes of military and one on a civilian convoy on the Maiduguri-Dikwa-Gamboru-Cameroon road. The last of these was directed against the election campaign of the Borno state governor. Despite major disagreements on casualties this incident falls into the most serious category.  There was a bombing at Dikwa, headquarters of a LGA, six raids, all early in the period analyzed and two IED incidents.

The pattern of incident occurrences through time in Region 3 is almost the inverse of that in neighboring Region 2. This might indicate that some of the same militants were operating in both areas but at different times.

Region 4. Waza-Madagali border area (Map 5). Core area polygon: 5000 sq. km. with outliers.

In the northeastern part of this region incidents occurred mostly in Cameroon, extending from Waza (10.93ºN, 13.97ºE) southwest to Mora and Mozogo and north to Kerawa. Nigerian Gulumba in the north, site of two attacks on civilian targets, is an outlier. The western portion of the region is Nigerian, extending from Pulka at the northern tip of the Mandara mountains south along its western slopes and adjacent plains to Madagali and Hyambula, with Mubi, an outlier at 10.93ºN, 13.97ºE, site of a major bombing. It seems that all or most of the incidents in this region were carried out by the Shekau faction.

Region 4 suffered ten bombings, twelve attacks on civilian and seven on military targets, and 16 raids. Four bombings, all in Cameroon, and an attack on a civil target and a convoy in and near Banki (Nigeria) disrupted the Banki-Limani border crossing area. Three other bombings, also on the Cameroon side, at Kerawa, Bia and Mora, targeted another trans-border route and significant administrative centers. There were five attacks on Cameroonian settlements, and an assault on a military target at Waza. Of the 16 raids, twelve took place in Cameroon. In 2016 and 2017 there had been a concentration of Boko Haram in the mountains above Gwoza from which they ventured out to attack Gwoza and towns as far south as Gulak. However they met stiff resistance and may, for a while, have largely abandoned the area leaving disorganized elements behind. This might account for the large number of raids into Cameroon carried out by small numbers of militants, likely in search of subsistence.Alternatively, the lesser importance of major attacks in this part of Cameroon might be explained, as in the Lake Chad region, by the greater penetration of Boko Haram among the populace (see Postscript).

On the Nigerian side of the frontier in Borno state, convoys were ambushed north and west of the town of Gwoza, once proclaimed capital of a Boko Haram caliphate. There was a single raid. In northern Adamawa state there were three bombings, the outlier at Mubi, the largest town, killing at least 88 people and injuring another 58. No attacks requiring significant forces took place in Adamawa state over the period covered here, and there were only 3 raids.From November 2018 onwards the number of attacks on civilian and military targets increased, indicating that the Boko Haram threat is here far from over, although now largely confined to Borno state and the extreme north of Adamawa.

Region 5. Maiduguri-Bama (Map 6). Core area polygon: 3000 km., with Nyeneri, Dambo, Mifa and Biu (10.55ºN, 12.18ºE) as outliers to the southwest linked to the core by the Biu-Damboa-Maiduguri A4 highway.

Activity was focused on Maiduguri, capital of Borno state, and along the roads leading to it from the east, southeast, southwest and west, and especially on the Maiduguri to Konduga sector. The region suffered eighteen bombings (many of which were accompanied by attacks in force), sixteen of which occurred between December 2017 and July 2018. Six of these, including one in Damboa, carried out by six girls and timed to coincide with Eid el Kebir, were among the 22 most serious incidents recorded. After 1 July 2018 incidents focused on civilian targets, with three before as against twelve after. There were only seven attacks on the military, five after July 1st 2018 and none major, and ten raids. Military targets include a military convoy was ambushed near Damboa, and several posts along the highways leading into Maiduguri from the east, southeast and southwest. A barracks in the town was also targeted as was the main post office.

The overall picture for this region is one of intense bombing with sporadic raiding until the end of June 2018 after which there was a focus on civilian and a smaller number of military targets.During the period under consideration it would appear that Boko Haram became progressively more able to marshal the numbers of insurgents required to mount successful attacks, but that their capacity to inflict large numbers of casualties  by bombing was severely reduced. This may reflect a reduction in the Shekau faction’s access to bomb materials occasioned by the transfer of ISIS recognition to the ISWA faction of Boko Haram. As in Regions 3 and 4, the number of incidents decreased from July to October, resuming in November but in the form of attacks rather than bombings.

Region 6. The Western Margins in Yobe state (see Map 7). Area polygon: 2000 sq. km.

There were no incidents in this marginal area until the bombing of a mosque at Buni Yade in March 2018. After a pause lasting into November there were no less than six assaults on military targets and one on a village. The recent focus on the military suggests an expansion of the ISWA faction’s actions into this region. It is significant that the increase of incidents in the last four months of the period considered is paralleled by similar developments in all the other regions except mainly Chadian region 1.

Table 3. The distribution of incidents by country, region and month outside Nigeria.

Niger Cameroon Chad
Months Region 2 Region 3 Region 4 Region 1
Dec 2017 BRB
Jan 2018 MM AABB
May A R M
Jul M RA A
Sept B AA
Oct M
Nov AA B
Dec 2018 AcR
Jan 19 R A
Feb 2019 AMBR M AA
N = 53 14 3 27 9

The bigger picture

First we should note that Boko Haram’s range has been greatly reduced. No longer is it bombing the United Nations in Abuja (2011) or churches in Kano and Kaduna (2012), attacking schools and the capital of Yobe state (2013), breaking inmates out of prisons in Kogi state (2014), bombing Adamawan Yola while controlling 70% of Borno (2015), attacking Chadian army positions near the Niger border (2016), or targeting towns in northern Adamawa state (2017). On the other hand the events of late 2017 to early 2019 are at odds with President’s Buhari’s overoptimistic claim of  2015 that the insurgency was “technically defeated”. On the contrary, the ISWA faction believed to operating mainly in the north and west of the afflicted area gained strength during the rains of 2018, readying itself for the larger scale campaign that erupted in November and resulted in the capture of towns and territory. The Shekau faction, thought to be most active in Regions 3, 4 and 5, although primarily engaged in bombing of major administrative centers and IBP camps until July 2018, thereafter became able to mount repeated onslaughts on civilian and military targets, disrupting the Maiduguri region and border areas.

A general inference worth emphasizing (although perhaps somewhat exaggerated by my mapping) is the importance of roads, and particularly main roads, to Boko Haram operations. This is true even in Region 2, which has a relatively poor road network, where most attacks on the military occurred along the Zari-Kauwa and Maiduguri-Kauwa-Baga axes. Various indications, not least the successful ambushes, indicate that the Nigerian military has so far failed to come up with a solution to this problem.

The decrease in activity in Regions 2 through 6 from August through October  2018 is likely to be associated with seasonal deterioration of the road network occasioned by the rains. On the other hand the labor demands of the main sorghum and millet harvest and threshing season from November through January did not reduce Boko Haram activity. Insurgents are apparently not reliant on their own labor for their staple foods. Nor does the patterning of regional activity through time provide any clear evidence of interregional cooperation between insurgents or factions. However, in region 6 there was an expansion of probably ISWA activity directed against military targets from November 2018 through February 2019.

During the period and over the area as a whole, of the 22 most serious incidents eight were bombings, all of which took place between January and June, after which they were equally directed at military and civilian targets (Table 4). The geographical distribution of bombings shows complex patterning. Some took place around the margins of the main incident distribution (Diffa, Buni Yadi, Damboa, Biu, Mubi, Madagali, and Mozogo) in towns that are administrative centers, but on which Boko Haram was unable or chose not to mount assaults. The Maiduguri-Konduga corridor and Maiduguri, capital of Borno state, and with by far the greatest number of IDP camps, were also favored targets for bombers, six of which fall into most serious category. In regions 3 and 4, bombs were also used in the disruption of border crossings and communication routes.

Table 4. Boko Haram incidents with 50 or more casualties and/or abductees . Factions responsible tentatively identified. Click here.

What is clear from Tables 2 and 4 is that Boko Haram attacks involving considerable numbers of militants on both civilian and military targets were never assaulted as often or violently  as they were between November 2018 and February 2019. Boko Haram is on the rise again and becoming stronger, inflicting significant defeats on the military. President Buhari’s statement of 23 January 2019 that “the people of Borno state have confirmed that the dreaded Boko Haram terrorist sect has been fully decimated” could not be further from the truth.

If we had access to reliable and full information from the Nigerian government and especially the military we would be better able to assess both the present and the future of Boko Haram. Some things are clear. Although the sources do not provide information on the religious affiliations of casualties of terrorism, Table 1 includes only one mention of ‘churches’ against nine of ‘mosques’, which were preferred targets of bombers. Many more Muslims than Christians suffered from the insurgency between December 2017 and February 2019. I hope that this will be remembered by all in the process of reconciliation that has to take place in the afflicted areas and that has already been initiated by the admirable American University of Nigeria’s Adamawa Peace Initiative (API).

Lastly, I am aware of the inadequacies of the data and my analyses. I hope that others will correct these and take the research further, thereby assisting in the resolution of differences and the end of the horrors to which the inhabitants of the afflicted area areas are collectively subjected at the rate of one every 2.3 days.

Please send additions, clarifications, corrections and ideas to nicdavid37 at gmail dot com.


Beyond the scope of this paper, an obvious question to be asked is how Boko Haram can survive under pressure from the four nation states in whose territory they operate. As all guerillas must, they swim among the people as fish in the sea. As yet the only well-informed discussion of the modalities of this quasi-osmotic process is that of the human geographer Christian Seignobos in two articles that appeared in Le Monde and describe in some detail the situation in lawless southern Lake Chad and in Cameroon’s northern departments and especially the Kerawa-Mora-Waza triangle. See: Seignobos, Christian, “Comment le piège Boko Haram s’est refermé sur le lac Tchad. Le Monde. 1 April 2018, and “Boko Haram a été le révélateur de toutes les haines de voisinage”. Le Monde  5 Jan. 2019. Required reading!

28 March 2019

Table and Map Captions

Table 1. Wikipedia listing of terrorist incidents attributed to Boko Haram for the period Dec. 2017-Feb. 2019 with corrections and additions by the author. Downloaded from (also 2018 and 2019). Downloadable file not included in the text,

Tables 2 -4. See captions in text.

Map 1. Distribution of Boko Haram bombings, on attacks on civil and assaults on military targets in Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad over the period Dec. 2017 – Nov. 2018. Key to symbols in the text.

Map 2. Boko Haram incidents in Region 1 extending from Chad to extreme NE Nigeria.

Map 3. Boko Haram incidents in Region 2 extending from Niger into Borno and Yobe states (Nigeria) .

Map 4. Boko Haram incidents in Region 3, the Ngala-Gamboru-Fotokol border area (Nigeria and Cameroon).

Map 5. Boko Haram incidents in Region 4, extending from Waza (Cameroon) to Mubi (Nigeria).

Map 6. Boko Haram incidents in Region 5, the Maiduguri-Bama region and outliers.

Map 7. Boko Haram incidents in Region 6, Eastern Yobe state.