The Root Causes of Terrorism: An Appraisal of the Socio-Economic Determinants of Boko Haram Terrorism in Nigeria

April 12, 2019
April 13, 2019

Price: 4000 Naira (BSC, MSC)


Since 2009 the Nigerian state has been under the throes of the deadly terrorist activities of the Islamic sect formally known as Jama’atuAhlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad (Association for propagating the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad). The sect, popularly dubbed Boko Haram, meaning Western civilization/education is forbidden, claims to be on a mission to Islamize the Nigerian State. Prima facie Boko Haram’s motivations appear to be religious; however, considering factors such as the dismal socio-economic conditions that prevail in the northern region, the epicentre of the sect, a religious explanation alone is reductive. Accordingly, using the root cause theoretical framework and a qualitative method of data analysis, this study investigates the socio-economic determinants of the emergence and persistence of Boko Haram terrorism. The alarming socio-economic inequality and deprivation manifested in pervasive poverty across the nation, but particularly in the northern region is accentuated as one of the main factors that predispose the teeming disenchanted and jobless populace, particularly the youths in the region to take arms against the state. Fundamentally, Boko Harm terrorism pivots on the growing anti-state tendency in Nigeria, a state arguably losing its legitimacy as a result of her inability and failure to meet the political, social and economic needs of its populace. Among the reasons for this failure include pervasive corruption and maladministration largely entrenched by the monocultural nature of the oil centric national economy.
Based on the interdisciplinary nature of this degree program – Politics, Philosophy and Economics – this study philosophically engages the concept of terrorism; situates the debates on the socio-economic determinants of terrorism within the particular context of the Nigerian political economy; contributes to the body of literature that seeks to provide an understanding of the Boko Haram phenomenon from the perspective of its socio-economic determinants; and suggests some relevant policies for addressing this particular crisis as well as those of other like-minded groups in the country. Given that the state’s militarised approach to the crisis has hardly been able to efficiently stall the sect’s terrorist activities, this study accents the need for a long term solution characterised by addressing the root causes, especially through the socio-economic development of the mostly affected northern region.



1.0 General Introduction: Setting the Scene
It is no news that the northern region of Nigeria has surfaced in recent times, particularly since 2009, as a theatre of the terrorist activities of the Islamist sect properly known as Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati’Wal-Jihad (Association for propagating the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad). The sect, popularly dubbed “Boko Haram”, which translates to “Western education is forbidden” (which is a combination of both Arabic and Hausa language) has since claimed to be on a mission to Islamize the Nigerian state. The sect is not only yet to be deterred by the state’s military counter-insurgence but also growing more complex and obdurate with the passage of time. While conflicts along ethno-religious line are not entirely novel in the Nigerian history, especially in the post-independence era, the dimension of Boko Haram is unprecedented both in terms of its unwieldiness and its accompanying number of casualties.
The losses attributed to the insurrection thus far are by no means slight, transcending human casualties and also increasingly manifesting in economic terms. In fact, over $600 billion (about N1.3 trillion) is reported to have been lost by the Nigerian economy due to the crisis (Eme, 2012: 23). And, of course, these damages are mushrooming with every single attack. Sadly, there is yet no end sign in sight. According to the UNCTAD reports (2010 cited in Eme, 2012:23), FDI flows to Nigeria declined by about 29 per cent from the $8.65 billion (N1.33 trillion) realized in 2009 fiscal year to $6.1 billion (N 933.3 billion Nigerian Naira) in 2010 a decline of about 29 per cent– a development which might be connected to the insurgency of Boko Haram.
This current security challenge in which Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, has been entrapped for over a decade is not altogether unconnected to the contested poverty-terrorism nexus which is increasingly been manifested in the African continent at large. In a broader context, recent Africa’s story, like the Middle East, is replete with incidences of transnational and domestic terrorism, especially in the form of religious fundamentalism. This is partly because the continent provides a safe haven for the flourishing terrorism considering its low level of development. Besides, depending on their respective allies, many African nations continue to share common enemy with America and the West in general, as was the case during the Cold War. By implication, Africa has been drawn into another international conflict and an anti-American, especially following the horrendous 9/11 2001 attacks in the United States. The bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, the Paradise Hotel in Kenya in 2002, and the 2010 bombing of the UN headquarter in Abuja are reminiscent of this view. Meanwhile, to fully understand the roots cause of violence and terrorism in Africa, it is apt to consider both external and internal factors.
On the one hand, with regard to external factors, the harmful legacy of colonialism is integral, especially at it pertains to the foundation of various African states. Indeed, the greedy hodgepodge of different ethnic groups irrespective of the historical, political, cultural as well as the religious differences of these groups has been considered as fundamental to the emergence of various intergroup conflicts across Africa over the years. What is more, the politics of colonialism also means that the colonized African states have to share common enemy(ies) with its colonizers thereby becoming part of its wars, as redolent of the fact that many African countries “acted as ideological proxies for the East and West” during the Cold War (Okumu, 2009: 29). Other non-negligible factor includes the adverse effect of globalization. Essentially, the negative impact of this link on domestic governance is critical to understanding Africa’s inter-state and intra-state conflicts, including ethno-religious conflicts.
On the other hand, internal factors such as systemic corruption and mismanagement, which continues to engender overwhelming human security challenges ranging from epic unemployment rate, alarming environmental degradation, poverty, child mortality, HIV/AIDS, to maternal mortality, inter alia, have created severe state legitimacy issues in most African countries. The knottiness of these issues simply highlights the “paradox of plenty” in Africa since despite being home to a mammoth quantity of some of the world’s precious natural resources, such as Gold, Diamond, crude oil, inter alia, as well as being populously endowed, as the second most populous continent in the world, Africa remains frail economically and politically. Consequently, the continent lags behind other regions of the world in development. Given the nexus between development and security, the above developmental challenges have quite often initiated, animated and sustained conflicts among individuals or groups fighting over available resources or its scarcity as redolent of the war in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Angola and Sudan, and the Niger Delta crises in Nigeria, among others (Barnes, 2005; Karl, 2007; Oyefusi, 2007).
Against this backdrop, even though the driving forces behind the growing trend of terrorism in Africa may seem to be religion, their internal inducers have been aptly linked to the weakness of most African states especially the inability of its leaders to foster development and peaceful coexistent among the diverse populace (Davis, 2007; Salkida, 2012). Basically the weak state syndrome has resulted from decades of misrule by the operators of state craft, who, in lieu of fostering national unity, solidifying state legitimacy and building national identities through the provision of security and the necessary services, have “resorted to predatory and kleptocratic practices” (Mentan, 2004: 2). This has consequently entrenched a deep feeling of frustration and alienation among the populace, who now find terrorism as a way of responding to what they perceive as “unjust system” in various African countries. The Islamist sect, Boko Haram, is one of such groups in Nigeria, which believes itself to be responding to the nation’s “unjust system” through terrorism. The sect not only threatens the sovereignty, and stability of Nigeria but particularly the security, of the northern region where its lethal attacks have been most deeply felt thus far.
Considering the contagious effects of terrorism in general, it would be a gross mistake to limit the negative effects of this crisis to Nigeria alone due to the state’s key role in both regional and global political and economic affairs. It is a challenge for the global community since according to Mentan’s (2004:2) apt observation, “terrorism today is a problem of incalculable dimensions not only for both Africa and America but also for all people of the world”. Nevertheless, following the increasing human and economic consequences of the crisis, thus, Boko Haram terrorism has clearly become an imminent danger to efforts towards development in the country in particular. Given this, it is imperative to have a sufficient and accurate understanding of the root cause in order to stem the ominous tide. This is especially against the fact that terrorism – particularly suicide terrorism – is a new and unusual phenomenon in the Nigerian society (Onuoha, 2012c).
In consideration of the above, a number of studies have provided useful analyses on the issue of Boko Haram in Nigeria from different dimensions. These include the religious, political and international dimensions to the crisis (Aghedo and Osumah, 2012; Ajayi, 2012; Onapajo et al., 2012; Thomson, 2012). Additionally, there have also been attempts to provide socio-economic explanation of the incidence of Boko Haram in the literature (Musa, 2012; Onapajo and Uzodike, 2012; Agbiboa, 2013b). However, there is yet to be a compelling study that has successfully situated the issue within the context of a political economy discourse as this would provide a better context for a socio-economic analysis of the phenomenon. Even though Boko Haram terrorism prima facie does not reveal the economic dimension given its religious decoy, a critical look at the situation illuminates a variety of economic underpinnings especially the sad socio-economic outlook of the mostly affected region, though not exclusively. It is against this backdrop that this study aims towards a socio-economic analysis of the Boko Haram phenomenon within the context of Nigerian political economy.
1.1 Statement of Problem
Although scholarly works on the Boko Haram phenomenon is mushrooming, there is yet a paucity of compelling scholarship on the socio-economic determinants of the uprising, especially in terms of the economic origins of the crisis with reference to the Nigerian political economy. Considering the medley of prevailing opinions, which are sometimes contradictory as far as the impetus for the Boko Haram’s terrorism is concerned, the efficacy of policy response in long term rests on a well-informed understanding of the causal factors of which socio-economic conditions are crucial. Hence, an in-depth and comprehensive scholarly investigation that can positively influence policies geared towards ending this portentous scenario in Nigeria is pertinent. Indeed, the better the issue is understood the more efficacious would be policy aimed at combating not just Boko Haram terrorism but other like-minded individuals that might arise in the future due to the deterioration of the socio-economic conditions of Nigerians. As some author has pointed out, there is not a Boko Haram but many “Boko Harams” in Nigeria. Accordingly, this study seeks to investigate the socio-economic roots of Boko Haram terrorism in northern Nigeria.
1.2 Research Hypothesis
The central thesis of this study is that the high level of socio-economic inequality in Nigeria can meaningfully explain the emergence and persistence of the Boko Haram terrorism in the country.
1.3 Research Objectives
 To engage the concept of terrorism from a philosophical standpoint, highlighting some of the main critical issues with its definition and justification and further relating it to Boko Haram terrorism in Nigeria;
 To situate the debates on the socio-economic determinants of terrorism within the particular context of Nigeria political economy;
 To contribute to the body of literature that seeks to provide an understanding of the Boko Haram phenomenon especially from the perspective of its socio-economic determinants;
 To suggest some policies that will aim at addressing the Boko Haram crisis.
1.4 Research Questions
Based on the outlined objectives this study seeks to address the following central questions:
a) How can the concept of terrorism be explained given philosophical considerations?
b) How can the Boko Haram phenomenon be explained within the context of the conceptualisation of terrorism?
c) What are the socio-economic determinants of terrorism, and how do these relate to Boko Haram terrorism?
d) In what ways can Nigeria address the Boko Haram crisis considering its socio-economic underpinnings?
1.5 Theoretical Framework
The post-Cold War international system is a remarkable epoch in human civilization considering the decrease of interstate conflicts; the establishment of the United Nations which has reasonably striven to minimize the hegemonic attitude of superpowers in global politics. Sadly however, what became prevalent afterward and which has endured till date, is the rise in intrastate conflicts of which no nation has been spared. Media reports, almost on daily basis, are littered with stories and images of individuals or groups of individuals engaging in one form of collective actions or the other often directed against an established political order (Gupta, 1990: 1). The various armed conflicts that characterized the Arab World over the last three years and many part of Africa are cases in point. In the same vein, terrorism has also become prevalent especially post 9/11.
Meanwhile, rather than being predominately international in terms of foreign targets such as the case of Al Qaeda targeting the United States and Europe, terrorism has also taken a more domestic outlook. The later form has particularly been on the rise in the Third World countries particularly in the Middle East and, lately, in Africa. Albeit the events of 1960 and 70s, such as the riots in the United States, have plainly demonstrated that developed nations are by no means immune to political violence, the excruciating prevalence of the latter in Third World countries is a truism. Although these social revolutions may appear inexplicable in view of their polyvalent causes, there are a growing number of literatures suggesting that such incidences are not beyond explanation. Indeed, great thinkers such as the eighteenth century political philosopher and economist, Karl Marx and social contract theorists such as Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau recognized the special role of collective rebellion in the shaping of modern political structure. As far as Marx’s theory of social evolution is concerned, conflict is a necessary component of capitalist society as result of what he dubbed the ‘inherent contradiction in capitalism.1
A survey of the literature reveals a wide range of theoretical frameworks adduced in explaining the motivation(s) behind participation in various forms of political violence and terrorism in particular. Some of these have been used to explain the emergence of Boko Haram terrorism in Nigeria since 2009 and the threats thereof to peace, security and development not only in Nigeria but also its immediate surrounding countries and by extension, the global community. These theories include: State-failure thesis (Piazza, 2008; Maiangwa, 2012), Relation/vengeance theory, Relative Deprivation (Davis, 1959; Gurr, 1970; Birrel, 1972), Rational Choice theory, Conspiracy theory (Schimid and Jongman, 2005), Human Needs theory, frustration and aggression (Callaway and Harrelson-Stephens, 2006; Alozieuwa, 2012) and the Root Cause theory (BjØrgo, 2005; Gupta, 2005; Newman, 2006; Piazza, 2006) inter alia. Let us take a cursory look at some of the prominent theories. Note that the consideration of these few theories is necessitated due to space limitation.
To begin with, the state failure thesis maintains that a state’s inability to discharge its due responsibilities provides a fertile ground for terrorism. The responsibilities of a state according to this thesis include adequate discharge of political good and social welfare to its citizens and effective territorial control given its monopoly of the use of force (Adibe, 2012). Essentially, the failure to meet these responsibilities is seen as both necessary and sufficient condition to bring about various forms of politically motivated violence including terrorism (Princeton and Morrison, 2004; Davis, 2007; Piazza, 2008). Meanwhile, the cloud of conceptual confusion that engulfs the notion of “failed states”, means a rigorous explication of the concept is quintessential to understanding how it explains conflict and in particular where Nigeria stands in that regard. A failed state is mostly defined as
one which is unable to perform a set of functions taken to be characteristic and definitive of what constitutes a properly functioning state: to maintain secure boundaries, ensure the protection and security of all of the population, provide public goods and effective governance, maintain law and order throughout the territory (Jones, 2008: 180).
A failed state is also characterized by various other indicators such low GDP per capita output. It is argued that these negative indicators in most states across the global south provide an environment where terrorists can easily build their sanctuaries. Hence, the rise in terrorist incidence in Africa in recent times have been attributed to the above (Mentan, 2004; Davis, 2007).
Although Nigeria exhibits many feature of a “failed state,” designating it as a failed state as it were, has remained contentions given that it does not meet all the criteria. For instance, using indices of per capita income ($2,700) and GDP growth, Adibe (2012: 55) contended the notion of Nigeria as a “failed state” vis-a-vis the emergence of Boko Haram. It is instructive to note that there is a heated debate as well on what constitutes a failed state. Sudan and Somalia, for instance, are widely used to illustrate the relationship between a failed states and terrorism. The later, in particular, which has widely been described as a “collapsed states” is widely believed to have provided a safe haven for the al Qaeda terrorist network, whose influence is spreading across the Horn of Africa (Hill, 2005; Newman, 2007; Jones, 2008). Thus, going beyond this seeming self-evident appeal, some scholars have criticized the failed state thesis as being blind to the “deeply historical account of the inter-related but differentiated production of state forms and regimes of sovereignty in Europe and Africa” (Jones, 2008: 182; Wai, 2012).
Several other questions abound concerning the validity of the failed state designation given that most of the developed states in the West went through similar stages as those characteristics of some of these developing states. For instance, Wai (2012: 28) poses an interesting question: “could what is defined as state failure actually be part of the processes of state formation or reconfiguration, which are misrecognized or misinterpreted because of the poverty of Africanist social science and ethnocentric biases of the particular lenses used to understand them? An honest answer to such question nudges one to be quite prudent in making hasty conclusions regarding the very essence of the notion of “failed state” even before using its thesis as a causal explanation for terrorism. Depending on one’s answer to the above question, it might be a misunderstanding to dub a yet-to-be completed process, such as the formation of the Nigerian state, failed. Indeed, by “offering a beguilingly simple, richly descriptive, pseudo-analytical approach, the “failed state’ discourse obfuscates the historical social relations of crisis while legitimizing the reproduction of imperial social relations” (Jones, 2008: 182). In other words, the state failure thesis treats Africa current structural stasis as quite disconnected to the historical influence of West.
Nonetheless, the state failure thesis has its own merits in the context of Boko Haram. Its proponents incisively aver that the inability of the Nigerian state to “deliver positive political good to its people” basically explains the rise of Boko Haram (Maiangwa, 2012; Onapajo and Uzodike, 2012; Salkida, 2012). This non-delivery of political good, which ranges from “security, education, healthcare, social infrastructures, employment opportunities” to “legal framework for law and order”, have largely resulted in the loss of governments legitimacy in the eyes of its citizen (Maiangwa et al., 2012; Onapajo and Uzodike, 2012: 31). Consequently the state becomes characterized by various forms of political violence usually directed at the established government, to the effect that Nigeria continues to move toward the wrong end of the annual Failed State Index provided by Foreign Policy Magazine (See Table 1.1). It is instructive however to state that “while weak or failed states might provide an enabling environment for certain types of terrorist groups to operate, additional explanatory variables need to be identified” (Newman, 2007: 463). Table 1.1 below, for instance, illustrates Nigeria’s ranking with the annual failed states index between 2007 and 2012. What is observable therein is the fact that prior to the full emergence of Boko Haram in 2009 Nigeria was already ranked negative in the Index. According to Adibe (2012:54), the implication thereof is that “while Boko Haram was not to be responsible for Nigeria moving into the league of infamy of the worst 20 cases of failed or failing state, it contributed to the worsening of its ranking”.

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