The state is dominated by the Kanuri and Babur while few Shuwa Arab ethnic groups are found. Shuwa Arabs are mainly the descendants of Arabized Fulani people and is an example of the endurance of traditional political institutions in some areas of Africa. There, the emirs of the former Kanem-Bornu Empire have played a part in the politics of this area for nearly 1,000 years. The current dynasty gained control of the Borno Emirate in the early 19th century and was supported by the British, who prevented a military defeat for the group and established a new capital for the dynasty at Maiduguri or Yerwa (as referred to by the natives) in 1905, which remains the capital to this day. After Nigerian independence in 1960, Borno remained fairly autonomous until the expansion of the number of states in Nigeria to 12 in 1967. Local government reform in 1976 further reduced the power of the emirs of the former dynasty, and by the time of Nigeria's return to civilian rule in 1979, the emirs' jurisdiction has been restricted solely to cultural and traditional affairs. Today, the emirs still exist, and serve as advisers to the local government.
Mala Kachallah was elected governor of Borno State in 1999 under the flagship of the then APP(All Peoples Party) later ANPP.
Ali Modu Sheriff was elected governor of Borno State in Nigeria in April 2003. He is a member of the All Nigeria People's Party (ANPP). Ali Sheriff was the first governor in Borno state to win the seat two consecutive times.
On 14 May 2013, PresidentGoodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in Northeast Nigeria, including Borno State along with the neighboring states of Adamawa and Yobe. This happened after fighting between Boko Haram and the state armed forces killed as many as 200 people in the town of Baga. A spokesman for the Nigerian Armed Forces declared that the offensive would continue "as long as it takes to achieve our objective of getting rid of insurgents from every part of Nigeria." The Nigerian Army has been accused of gross human rights violations in carrying out these operations, with witnesses accusing them of shooting people for wearing traditional Muslim robes or the vertical scars typical of Kanuri people.