NEW DELHI: As rumours circulate regarding the health of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr Baghdadi, the Syria and Iraq based militant group has made a decisive move toward the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate.

Boko Haram -- the Nigeria-based militant group that dominated to international headlines after it kidnapped over 200 school girls last year -- has officially changed its name to Islamic State's West Africa Province," or ISWAP. Boko Haram -- itself a nickname for Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad, which in Arabic means "People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad" -- had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State previously, but till now, was operating under its independent name. “Our caliph, God save him, has accepted the pledge of loyalty of our brothers of Boko Haram so we congratulate Muslims and our jihadi brothers in West Africa,” Reuters quoted Islamic State spokesman Abu Mohammad Adnani as saying in an audio message in March.

Latest materials shared by Boko Haram use the new name, and seem to be imitating the Islamic State’s slick and brutal propaganda style. In addition to showing the faces of fighters, the new material carries the group’s logo. According to RT, “this would appear to show that the terror group, which has carved out large amounts of territory in Iraq and Syria has taken full control of Boko Haram’s propaganda. It is also the first time in over a month that Boko Haram has officially released any footage of their militants.”

(Source: The Independent)

The Nigeria-based group released its first beheading video -- channeled presumably on the lines of the Islamic State’s numerous video executions -- in March this year, where it executed two men that it claimed are spies.

"I believe Boko Haram is more than just copying the Islamic State — their image is being 'shaped' at very least in the ISIS media wing," said Veryan Khan, editorial director of Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium, as quoted in the Christian Post.

"Immediately after [Abu Bakr al-] Baghdadi declared the Islamic State Caliphate, Boko Haram's leader Abubakar Shekau did the same. We then started seeing (in the videos) the Islamic State flags being painted onto Boko Haram's most prized possessions, their AFVs and tanks, most recently on Feb. 20 during the ops within the Northeastern Nigeria border."

The news of the new name emerges as hundreds of people were found dead in the north-eastern Nigerian town of Damasak -- believed the be victims of a recent Boko Haram attack. This latest attack, in turn, comes as forces battling the militants -- a coalition of of troops from Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria -- claim major victories since February.

Meanwhile, Nigerian President elect Muhammadu Buhari, denounced the militants as a bogus religious group, and vowed to take a tougher stand against them when he comes to power at the end of the month. Buhari’s election, in fact, was directly linked to the perception of a hard line against the militant group -- making it the first time in Nigeria’s troubled history that an opposition candidate beat the incumbent.

The elections came to be viewed as a face-off between a Christian presidential candidate from the south, Goodluck Jonathan and Buhari, a Muslim candidate from the north.

Buhari dominated the northwestern states -- that have suffered most from the violence of Boko Haram. In Borno, one of the worst affected states, Buhari won 94 percent of the vote.

Buhari positioned himself as critical of Jonathan’s handling of the insurgency, which had grown in the absence of a coordinated military campaign, claiming over 10,000 people in the last few years. In this regard, Buhari played up his image as a “military man” -- vowing to be tough on the extremists whilst, at the same time, promising a secular government, toward which he chose Yemi Osinbajo, a Christian pastor, as his running mate.

However, for Buhari to be able to tackle the threat posed by Boko Haram, a lot more than a coordinated military effort and a religious un-rendering is needed. The origins of Boko Haram sheds light on the specific social-economic context that has determined developments. As parts of Nigeria fell under British control in 1903, locals came to view western education with suspicion, and this resistance continued as Nigeria gained independence, with many muslim families refusing to send their children to government run “western schools.” The problem was compounded by the lack of priority given to education by the state government.

Located in this context, in 2002, Muslim cleric, Mohammed Yusuf, formed Boko Haram in Maiduguri with the intention of setting up a religious complex, which included a mosque and an Islamic school. Many families across Nigeria and the region enrolled their children in Yusuf’s school. The movement did not remain restricted to education, with the eventual aim of an Islamic state being conceived within the struggle for power that was rooted in an anti-western discourse. In 2009, the group carried out a series of attacks on official buildings in Maiduguri. The group was defeated and Yusuf was killed, but fighters regrouped and in 2010, attacked a prison in Bauchi state, setting free hundreds of the groups’ supporters.

Since then, the group’s attacks have increased in severity.The context is far more complicated than a mere religious rendering can do justice to. Nigerian American author and columnist offered a voice of reason when he tweeted: “I understand the impulse to "do something." But Boko Haram is irreducibly complex. Makes Kony look like child's play” and “The history of the Nigerian military "doing something" about Boko Haram has been one of mass murder of civilians.”