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Special Report
Last Updated: 11/02/2010
The 9/7 Boko Haram Attack on Bauchi Prison: A Case of Intelligence Failure
Freedom C Onuoha

The Nigerian-based Boko Haram Islamic sect revolted in July 2009, marking a period of intense violence. In September 2010, members of the sect organized a prison break to free those who had been incarcerated following last year's revolt. This article reviews the circumstances of the revolt and prison break, offering some suggestions for security and intelligence reform within the Nigerian state.

Nigeria has been affected by religious conflicts since the 1980s. This however has become more recurrent following the return to democracy to Nigeria in May 1999. For instance, Nigeria has recorded at least 187 ethno-religious conflicts since 1999.[1] The pattern of religious conflicts has predominantly been a matter of bloody confrontation between Christians and Muslims, mostly in northern Nigeria.

On July 2009, however, Nigeria experienced its most serious outbreak of another kind of religious violence, provoked by an extremist Islamic sect known as the Boko Haram.[2] The fighting lasted from 26 to 30 July 2009, affecting five northern states. In the aftermath of the July 2009 revolt, over 3 500 people were internally displaced, more than 1 264 children orphaned, and over 392 women widowed. In addition, 28 policemen and five prison warders, as well as an undisclosed number of soldiers, had been killed. Properties destroyed include 48 buildings, three primary schools, more than 12 churches and a magistrate’s court.[3]

State security forces succeeded in arresting some members of the sect, who were later detained in prison facilities in the affected states. Many of those arrested were held at the Bauchi prison pending trail. Surviving members of the sect had promised to avenge the killing of there members[4], and on 7 September 2010 (hereafter referred as 9/7), over 300 members of the Boko Haram Islamic sect did launched an attack on Bauchi central prison and freed their members detained since the July 2009 revolt. After freeing other inmates of the prison, they later set the facility and vehicles packed within the premises ablaze. This piece therefore provides an analysis of the 7 September jail break and proffers recommendations on how to improve internal security in the country to forestall reoccurrence of such incident.

The Boko Haram: Evolution, Structure and Philosophy

The exact date of the emergence of the Boko Haram sect is mired in controversy, especially if one relies on media accounts. The group is known to the Nigerian authority to have existed since 1995, under the name of Ahlulsunna wal’jama’ah hijra.[5] The sect has subsequently flourished under various names like the Nigerian Taliban, Yusufiyyah sect, and Boko Haram (literally meaning ‘Western education is a sin’). The name ‘Nigerian Taliban’ is used in a derogatory sense by the local people who despise the philosophy and teachings of the sect. Although the sect is fashioned like the Taliban in Afghanistan, it is widely believed that it has no formal links with its Afghan counterpart.

Boko Haram first took up arms against state security forces on 24 December 2003 when it attacked police stations and public buildings in the towns of Geiam and Kanamma in Yobe State. Members occupied the two buildings for several days, hoisting the flag of Afghanistan’s Taliban movement over the camps. A joint operation of soldiers and police dislodged the group after killing 18 and arresting dozens of its members.[6] On 31 December 2003 Boko Haram left the village and dispersed into other northern states after inscribing the word ‘Taliban’ on a captured vehicle.[7] In 2004 it established a base called ‘Afghanistan’ in Kanamma village in northern Yobe State, on the border with the Republic of Niger.[8]

On 21 September 2004 members attacked Bama and Gworza police stations in Borno State, killing several policemen and stealing arms and ammunition. Members later set the Gwoza police station ablaze. Apart from a few isolated skirmishes with the police, the sect received marginal attention until the middle of 2007 and again in 2008 when their militant activities came under surveillance by security operatives in Abuja.

On July 2009, members of the sect staged the most spectacular attacks on all institutions that represent the Nigerian state. The uprising affected five northern states, namely Bauchi, Borno, Kano, Katsina, and Yobe. A military campaign led to the killing of over 700 members of the group including the leader Muhammed Yusuf, while several other were arrested and detained for formal trial.

The sect was led by Ustaz Mohammed Yusuf until his death just after the riots of July 2009. In terms of organization, late Muhammad Yusuf was then the Commander in Chief (Amir ul-Aam) or the leader of the entire group. He has two deputies (Na’ib Amir ul-Aam I & II). Each State where they exist has its own Amir (Commander/Leader), and each Local Government Area were they operate also has an Amir. Below the Local Government Amirs are the remaining followers. They also organized themselves according to various roles, such as Soldiers and Police, among others.[9] The source of funding of the sect comes from daily levy paid by members and from donations by politicians, government officials and other individuals or organisations within and outside Nigeria.

The philosophy of the sect is rooted in the practice of orthodox Islam. Orthodox Islam in their interpretation abhors Western education and working in the civil service. This explains why the sect is popularly known as the Boko Haram, literally meaning ‘Western education is a sin’.[10] However, a statement allegedly released on August 2009 by the acting leader of Boko Haram, Mallam Sanni Umaru, rejected such a designation. The sect in a pamphlet circulated in front of the Bauchi Prison and on major streets in Bauchi after 9/7 attack again frowned at the name "Boko Haram", stating that its name is “Jama’atu Ahlissunnah lidda’awati wal Jihad”, meaning a group advocating for righteousness and holy war.[11]

Their ideological mission is primarily to overthrow the Nigerian state and then impose strict Islamic Sharia law in the entire country. Boko Haram draws its members mainly from disaffected youths and unemployed graduates, including former Almajiris (Street Children) who migrated from the rural areas to urban areas in search of better means of livelihood or to study under renowned Islamic teachers in cities like Kano, Zaria, Kaduna, and Maiduguri. The sect also has some well-educated, wealthy and influential people as members. The sect is estimated to have over 280 000 members across the 19 states of northern Nigeria, Niger Republic, Chad and Sudan.

The 9/7 Attack and Intelligence Failure

Bauchi is the capital city of Bauchi State. The state is located in the North-East zone of Nigeria. The Bauchi Central Prison is the largest detention facility in the state. It is located directly opposite the Central Mosque, and adjacent to the palace of Emir of Bauchi. The 9/7 attack on Bauchi Central prison started at about 6:40 pm, shortly after Muslim faithful broke their fast of the holy month of Ramadan. Malam Zubairu Abdullahi, an eyewitness, stated that members of the sect stormed the prison premises in a saloon car. They quickly mounted their machine guns in four strategic locations and asked traders around the premises of the prison not to panic.[12] They gunned down some security personnel stationed in front of the state Ministry of Education, close to the prison. The sect members then proceeded and break open the gates of the prison after overpowering few prison warders on duty.

On getting access into the prison, they moved from cell to cell freeing inmates. The Comptroller General of the Nigeria Prisons Service, Mr. Olusola Ogundipe, confirmed that 721 out of the 759 inmates at the Bauchi Prisons escaped as a result of the attack, including about 123 members of the sect. Hours later, about 127 inmates who escaped during the attack returned to the prison out of their own volition.[13] In the aftermath of the attack, five people including a soldier, a policeman, two prison warders and a civilian were killed by members of the radical Islamic sect. Six others who sustained gun shot wounds were admitted at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University Teaching Hospital.

The successful attack on Bauchi prison raised concerns over security breach that made the attack possible and successful. A critical examination of the 9/7 attack will reveal intelligence failure at the three levels where intelligence plays vital role in crime prevention and control: systemic, organizational and individual levels. Although the idea of intelligence has been defined in various ways, in this context it refers to processed information obtained from a mixture of overt and covert sources and made available in a timely manner to the government or its agencies to inform the formulation and/or implementation of policy or actions to protect and advance national security interests by proactively responding to threats to those interests from actual or potential adversaries. Intelligence therefore is critical to a nation’s security because it can foretell factors and trends which may threaten its sovereignty, stability and the wellbeing of its citizens.[14]

Thus, intelligence failure manifests when there is gap or inadequacy in the capacity of security and intelligence agencies to obtain, collate, analyse and disseminate intelligence that would inform on the proactive steps to be taken by the authority to forestall the actual outbreak of crisis or prevent any security breach.[15] Intelligence failure would generally include the following categories, among others:

§ Overestimation: This is characterised by a determination to overemphasise information, leading to a false conclusion.

§ Underestimation: This is the syndrome in which the security-intelligence services or the political leadership completely misread the adversary’s intentions.

§ Over-confidence: This is a case where one side is so confident of its ability that it projects its reasoning onto the other side and believes that since it would not do something itself, nor will the other side.

§ Complacency: This is the case when security-intelligence services know anticipates that an adversary might do something, though they are not sure what or when, and thereby fail to take any proactive measure.

§ Ignorance: This is a situation when there is virtually no intelligence, often leading to inaction that leaves the target at the mercy of events.

§ Failure to Join the Dots: This is the failure to make connections between bits of intelligence to gain a better understanding of impending threats.[16]

Against this backdrop, intelligence, particularly actionable intelligence, is critical to the maintenance of internal security and the protection of a nation’s interests both within and outside its own territory. Nigeria, for instance, has several security-intelligence agencies that contribute in different ways to the maintenance of internal security, including the Nigerian Police Force, Nigerian Immigrations Services, Defence Intelligence Agency, National Intelligence Agency, State Security Services, Nigerian Prison Authority, among others. Although they are separate agencies, they are expected to cooperate in maintaining security.

Information and intelligence sharing is one critical element that these agencies have in common. From a system perspective, once any of these agencies defaults in its responsibility, it usually generates unintended consequences for the entire security system of the country. In this wise, the inability of the various security agencies to anticipate and prevent the 9/7 attack is an indication of failure of intelligence at the systemic level. This is evident in the lack of intelligence on possible arms stockpiling, prior surveillance on the prison, and planned escape route by the sect, among others. A month before the attack, the British Council in Nigeria had released a report which documents serious security lapses in the country, recommending that these security loopholes be plugged.[17] Interestingly, the attack took place few days after it was alleged that members of the sect were conducting training somewhere in the border area between Chad and Niger republics.[18]

At the organisational level, the concern is the failure of the Bauchi prison authority to anticipate any possible jail break. The failure of protective intelligence (PI) on the part of the prison authority is at the core of the jail break. A good security program is one that is based on action rather than reaction. Protective intelligence therefore involves proactive process of focusing on intelligence that will prevent the next attack from happening.[19]

Jail breaks are not new in Nigeria, however the tenets of threat analysis and protective intelligence would suggest that jail breaks are more likely when a detention facility has high-profiled criminal suspects (terrorists, insurgents, jihadists) awaiting trail. In a situation like this, aggrieved members of such detainees look for patterns and vulnerabilities that they can exploit in mounting a rescue or revenge attack. Their chances for success increase greatly if they are allowed to conduct surveillance at will and are given the opportunity to thoroughly assess the security measures (if any) employed by the target.[20]

The 9/7 incident drove home at least two important points. First, there was deficiency in security arrangement around the prison which had several members of the Boko Haram, thereby making it more vulnerable to and a prime target of attack. Second, that the Boko Haram members arrived when there were few (and poorly equipped) security men on duty suggests a well-planned attack, probably after conducting several surveillance operations around the prison.

Another element of intelligence is the factor of the timing of the attack. Two elements of timing are important in this regard: hour of the day and mood of the nation. The attack which started around 6:30 pm occurred when only few security agents can easily be mobilised at short notice. An eye witness told the African Independent Television (AIT) that the sect had a field day, having operated for over two hours at the prison premises without any serious intervention by the police or any other law enforcement agency in the state.[21] In terms of the mood, it was launched at the period of the Ramadam, when incidence of such nature is less likely, at least in the view of the Nigerian (prison) authority. The role of intelligence in the success of the attack is partly a product of inability of the prison authority to appreciate the prison vulnerability and develop a contingency measure, and partly a function of careful planning and execution by the sect when success rate was adjudged to be high.

At the individual level, the exhibition of the principles of security situation awareness (SA) is a key quality of a professional security agent. Deficiency on the part of the few security agents around the prison in the practice of SA and PI, coupled with possession of less sophisticated arms, may account for why they were easily overpowered by the sect. According to Burton and Stewart, situational awareness is the act and process of recognizing a threat at an early stage and taking measures to avoid it.[22] Being observant of one’s surroundings and identifying potential threats and dangerous situations is more of an attitude or mindset than it is a hard skill. Thus, situational awareness is not just a process or practice that is restricted to well-trained agents or specialized security forces – it can also be adopted and employed by anyone.

SA requires a habituated practice of being in a state of mind (relaxed awareness) that can be maintained indefinitely without all the stress associated with being on constant alert. When people, especially trained security agents, are in a state of relaxed awareness, “it is far easier to make the transition to a state of heightened awareness than it is to jump all the way from complacency to heightened awareness”.[23] SA compliments PI because it enables a person to proactively focus on intelligence that will prevent successful attack from happening by being very observant of one’s environment. The success of the 9/7 attack suggests that the few security agents on duty were not in any state of high alert (relaxed awareness) to easily detect the presence of potential attackers and to immediately alert other security agencies and formations for reinforcement.[24] The outcome of the overall failure of intelligence at the three levels was the escape of several hundreds of inmates, include members of the Boko Haram awaiting trial.


The foregoing analysis suggests that the Islamists challenge portends serious danger for security in Nigeria. If not properly and timely addressed, its audacity will grow and any successful bonding with more established terror network in the future would compound the security threat. The following recommendations would help in addressing the emerging threat of Islamic extremism in Nigeria.

§ The Nigerian government should strengthen its governance institutions and processes to enhance social provisioning for its citizens who are becoming increasingly frustrated over governance failure, thereby becoming vulnerable to recruitment by extremists

§ In particular, government at all levels (federal, state and local) need to partner with the private sector to undertake an aggressive job creation programme for Nigeria’s teeming youths.

§ Government should evolve a robust counter-religious extremism strategy (CONREST) designed to address Nigeria’s vulnerability to terrorism and transnational jihadism.[25]

§ Nigerian government should evolve a national strategy to help prevent as well as mop up the high circulation of small arms and light weapons proliferation in the country. The proposed National Commission on the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (NatCom) should be immediately established to lead in this effort, involving collaboration with civil society organisations and other stakeholders.

§ Implementation of effective security agencies-border community mechanisms to strengthen border security arrangements, including enhanced intra- and inter-state collaboration among security/intelligence agencies. Emphasis should therefore be placed on monitoring illegal migration, small arms and light weapons interdiction, and a greater exchange of information.

§ Delivery of capacity building programme and refresher courses for security personnel on the principles and practices of protective intelligence and security situation awareness.

§ The strengthening of interventions at the national, state, and local levels to promote interfaith dialogue and communication between Muslims and Christians to promote tolerance in Nigeria. Such intervention should exploit platforms provided by the existence of the Nigerian Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to help in peace education at all levels of education in Nigeria: primary, secondary and tertiary.

§ The National Orientation Agency should partner with CSOs and the media to mount enlightenment and value (re-)orientation programmes to help dilute extremist orientations and entrench the culture of peaceful coexistence.

§ Credible CSOs should be supported by the government and donor agencies to initiate and sustain comprehensive rehabilitation and reintegration programme for thousands of Almajiris roaming the major cities in northern Nigeria.

§ Parents need to pay more attention on the behaviours and activities of their children, and to report suspicious acts to the appropriate authority.

[1]Philips, “Jos Crisis is more than Religious”, Newswatch, 19 April 2010, p.26.

[2] The Economist, “Islamist attacks in Nigeria: a taste of the Taliban”, 1 August 2009, p. 34.

[3] Freedom C Onuoha, “The Islamist Challenge: Nigeria’s Boko Haram Crisis Explained”. African Security Review Vol.19, No.2 (2010), pp. 54 - 67.

[4] The Jihadi Websites Monitoring Group, Periodical Review, March 2010, No. 2, p.14

[5]Taiwo and M. Olugbode, Boko Haram leader killed, Thisday, 31 July 2009, p.4.

[6]Suleiman, Terrorism unsettles the north, Tell, 26 February 2007, p.25.

[7]Morgan, Exclusive: Islamists on the rampage in Nigeria, 28 July 2009, (accessed 12 August 2009).

[8]Awofadeji, 150 killed in Bauchi religious crisis, Thisday, 27 July 2009, p.8.

[9] Da’wah Coordination Council of Nigeria, (DCCN) “Boko Haram” Tragedy: Frequently Asked Questions. Minna: DCCN, 2009, p.14.

[10]Boyle, ‘Nigeria’s Taliban Enigma’. BBC News, 31 July 2009, (accessed 8 July 2010).

[11] Daily Trust, “Nigeria: Group Claims Responsibility for Attack, 9 September 2010.

[12] Bussiness Day, “Prison Invasion: Residents Laud Jonathan over Onovo, SSs DG’s Sack”, 10 September 2010.

[13] Leadership, “Attack on Bauchi Prison – Boko Haram frees 721 Inmates”, 8 September 2010.

[14] Gregory Copley, “Forging the Shield: Intelligence Management in the Developing World”, Defense and Foreign Affairs, 15 (Dec. 1987): pp.14-21

[15] Freedom C Onuoha, Op cit. p. 61.

[16] See Paul Reynolds, “Long history of intelligence failures” BBC News, 11 July 2004, (accessed 1 September 2010).

[17] AIT, News Hour report, 8:10 pm news broadcast, 10 September 2010.

[18] Author discussion with a top government official with reliable links to Nigeria’s security-intelligence community, 3 September 2010.

[19] Stratfor How to Look for Trouble: A Stratfor Guide to Protective Intelligence. (accessed 10 July 2010)

[20] Scott Stewart, “A look at Kidnapping through the Lens of Protective Intelligence, Stratfor, 20 May 2010, (accessed 10 July 2010).

[21] AIT, News Hour report, 8:10 pm news broadcast, 10 September 2010.

[22] Fred Burton and Scott Stewart, “Threats, Situational Awareness and Perspective”, Stratfor, 22 August 2007, (accessed 17 June 2010)

[23] Ibid.

[24] Tony Akowe and Gbenga Omokhunu, “Yuguda, CAN condem Boko Haram attacks in Bauchi, Borno”, The Nation, 9 September 2010, (accessed 11 September 2010)

[25] The author is already developing this CONREST in a forthcoming work.

Freedom C. Onuoha is a Research Fellow at the African Centre for Strategic Research and Studies (ACSRS) of the National Defence College, Abuja, Nigeria. He is also a doctoral candidate at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. His broad research interests include resource conflicts, security studies and disaster management, with particular focus on human security. He has contributed on a wide variety of subjects in both local and international journals and books on the subjects of piracy, Islamic fundamentalism, militias and organized crimes. He is the author of “The Islamist Challenge: Nigeria’s Boko Haram Crisis Explained”, African Security Review Vol.19, No.2 (2010).