Representations of boko haram in political cartoons on Nigeria’s digital space
Representations of Boko Haram in political
cartoons on Nigerian digital space:
Implications on mobility
Michael A. Kombol, PhD
Department of Mass Communication,
Benue State University, Nigeria
Presented at the 56th Annual Meeting of the
African Studies Association, ASA, Baltimore, MD
21st -24th November 2013
• Cartoonists. Nigerian cartoonists may be
afraid of terrorism but they are not afraid to
draw and poke fun at it.
• Significance. Thus, what is the significance of
these political cartoons.
• Digital space. Furthermore, what happens
when these political cartoons find expression
online in digital space?
Mobility of ideas and
mobility of people
“… mobility of ideas is intertwined with mobility
of people and knowledge.”
… lundmark (2010, p. 3)
1. How is Boko Haram depicted in political
cartoons placed on online editions of Nigerian
2. In what way(s) are depictions of Boko Haram
in political cartoons (placed on online editions
of Nigerian newspapers) counter narratives (or
otherwise) against extremism and terrorism?
Research Questions. ,… contd.
3. What are the metaphors used to represent
Boko Haram in political cartoons placed on
online editions of Nigerian newspapers?
4. What is the directionality of the metaphors
which are used to represent Boko Haram in
political cartoons placed on online editions of
• Conceptual Metaphor Theory
• Originally by Lakoff and Johnson (1980) with
the publication of Metaphors we live by.
• This theory has origins in Linguistics but is
relevant here as well due to an examination of
metaphors used in political cartoons.
Conceptual Metaphor Theory
• According to Lakoff and Johnson (1980) there are
two conceptual domains.
1. Source domain.
2. Target domain.
Source domain- consists of a number of attributes
and relationships stored in the mind.
Target domain- Largely abstract and takes its
structure from the source domain via the
Boko Haram as a source domain
• Boko Haram as a source domain conjures a lot
of images and attributes in the human mind
based on the acts of terror it perpetrates.
• On the basis of these mental impressions,
metaphors of Boko Haram (target domain) are
constructed, especially in political cartoons.
• Cartoonists will only draw what is in their
minds that is based on existing social reality.
• Political cartoons- are caricatures which explore
current events by advancing opinion and
criticism. Also referred to as editorial cartoons.
• Mobility- Like people, ideas too can be mobile
from one mind to another. Thus, there is physical
mobility of people and the mobility of ideas.
• Narratives- Stories told which highlight specific
Types of political cartoons
• According to Press (1981) there are three (3)
types of political cartoons, namely:
1. Descriptive cartoon. (Neutral)
2. The laughing satirical cartoon. (presents
ongoing political debate)
3. Destructive satirical cartoon. (intended to
damage subject referred to)
“Extended typology” of political
• Manning and Phiddian (2003, p. 31) extended
the typology of political cartoons by adding a
fourth (4th) category.
- Cartoons displaying savage indignation.
These cartoons explore pressing social
issues and is not concerned with the
legitimacy of the status quo.
Functions of political cartoons
as free speech
Intergral element of democracy.
Serves as a system of checks and balances.
Promotes healthy criticism.
Holds public officers accountable to the people.
“a licence to mock the king” …. Seymour-Ure
• Moulders and reflectors of opinion. Caswell
• Facilitate public debate on controversial issues.
• In Hausa language, “Boko” means book while in Arabic,
“Haram” means forbidden.
• McCaul et al (2013, p. 7) translates “Boko Haram” as
“Western education is forbidden.”
• Started in 1995 under the name Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna
Lidda’awati wal-Jihad” which translates to “People
Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s
Teachings and Jihad.”
• This name was changed to “Boko Haram” after the
September 11th terror attack in the United States.
• The group is know for carrying out violence and other
acts of terror especially in North Eastern Nigeria.
Motivations to “Terror” in Nigeria
• Globally- the dominant narrative by terror
groups across the world is poverty, humiliation,
oppression and intimidation of Muslims across
• Existing social conditions in Nigeria.
• Inability of the Nigerian government to
• Popular distrust of the Nigerian government.
• Religious extremism and intolerance.
• Regional allegiances.
Significance of counter narratives in
cartoons of Boko Haram
• Counter narratives are stories aimed at discrediting the
ideology and belief systems of extremist groups.
• Counter narratives are “coherent system of interrelated
and sequentially organized stories,” which are deeply
ingrained in culture.
Halverson, Goodall and Corman (2011, p. 14)
• Counter narratives are meant to “…. deter, disrupt and
defeat terrorist groups. Casebeer (2008, p. 653).
• The battle against terror is not only about aggression
and physical force but is indeed a war of ideas.
• Takes a qualitative approach using Focus
Group Discussion in order to identify the
counter narratives, metaphors representing
Boko Haram in the political cartoons and the
directionality of these metaphors- whether
they were: neutral, negative or positive.
Selection of political cartoons
• Using five (5) research assistants, the study selected
twenty three (23) political cartoons from the websites
of Nigeria newspapers as well as other discussion sites
that post political cartoons.
• The criteria for selecting these political cartoons was
depiction of Boko Haram.
• Digital visibility i.e. location of the political cartoon
online was a significant criteria for selection. Political
cartoons on the pages of print issues of Nigerian
newspapers were not selected for this study.
• Each of the 23 political cartoons were printed for
analysis in the FGD.
• The study randomly selected sixteen (16) people
to participate in the Focus Group Discussions
(FGD) based on availability.
• This group was split into two in order to compare
the findings between the groups. Thus there
were two (2) groups of eight (8) each.
• Members participated in the FGD were ordinary
everyday professionals (teachers, nurses, doctors,
clerks, etc.) in Nigerian society who during the
course of their lives have online access and would
inadvertently see these political cartoons.
• Counter narratives- the FGD were required to examine
the political cartoon and state whether there were
inherent counter narratives and also give a description
of the counter narrative where it was perceived to
• Metaphors- The FGD were required to describe the
metaphors representing Boko Haram in each of the
• Directionality of the metaphors- the FGD were
required to state the directionality of the metaphors of
Boko Haram in the political cartoons- neutral, positive
• Counter Narratives. All the political cartoons analysed
expressed counter narratives about Boko Haram for
example, the political cartoon in figure I (see Appendix
I) portrays Boko Haram as a tyrant on a killing spree
without regard for negotiation.
• Metaphors. The metaphors used to represent Boko
Haram are varied namely: bombs; arrows; skulls;
scoundrels; horned monsters; villains, bandits, burning
fire; skin headed brute; octopus, etc.
• Directionality. The directionality of the metaphors
representing Boko Haram in the political cartoons are
The findings of this study collaborate the conclusions
reached by Lundmark (2010, p. 3)
“… mobility of ideas is intertwined with mobility of
people and knowledge.”
On this basis, the study predicts
“placement of political cartoons about Boko Haram
online provides digital presence which facilitates global
mobility of ideas on the subject and may influence
physical mobility of people to parts of Nigeria where
Boko Haram activities are prevalent due to the counter
narratives and negative metaphors which represent
Boko Haram in the political cartoons.”
Conclusion “…, contd.”
Findings of this study re-affirm the central tenets
of the Conceptual Metaphor Theory. Boko Haram
is indeed a “source domain” which conjures a lot
of images in the minds of people due to the
terrorist activities which it carries out in Nigeria.
These are stored in the minds of people and
become the basis for the metaphors which are
used to represent the organisation. Due to the
frequency of terrorist attacks perpetrated by the
group, it is only logical that the metaphors which
represent the group will be negative.
Conclusion “…, contd.”
The counter narratives contained in political
cartoons (in this study) are indicators of free
speech and the need to stand up against
terror and Boko Haram. There is the need to
raise voices against the group by recounting
the misdeeds which it perpetrates.
The war against terror must first be won by
ideas by the influencing the ideas which go
back and forth in people’s minds.
From North Eastern Nigeria, where Boko Haram hold sway,
Thank you all for listening