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The psychological basis of war and terrorism


[FILE] Residents walk past burnt houses following multiple attacks by Boko Haram Islamists at Dalori and other neighbouring villages outside the Borno state capital of Maiduguri, northeastern Nigeria, on November 1, 2018. At least 12 civilians were killed in multiple Boko Haram jihadist late on October 31, 2018 attacked Bulaburin and Kofa villages as well as a camp in Dalori village outside the Borno state capital of Maiduguri in northeastern Nigeria, civilian militia and residents told AFP November 2. AUDU MARTE / AFP

Peace and security are literally indispensable to sustainable economic growth and development. Imagine the effect of sudden breakout of war in a community, state or nation. Literally everything grinds to a halt as people run into hidings in the bid to save their lives. With war, no business transactions and consequently no income generation. Means of livelihood are therefore cut off. If not quickly reversed, in a matter of days or weeks, starvation, malnutrition, sickness and death begin to set in.

It is an unending chain of devastating events that may ultimately bring the affected community, state or nation to extinction. These surmises clearly depict the significance of peace and security. It is therefore imperative that an insightful leader strives to maintain peace and security at all strata of economy at all times. In many developing nations, futile attempts have been made to engender peace and security. The efforts ranged from Dialogue, to Peace Reconciliation Committees, to Amnesty, to Prisoners’ exchange; promise of gainful employment, and sponsorship of education abroad. The question remains: despite these efforts, why is peace and security still eluding many nations?

Wars begin in the mind of people. If you can’t think it you can hardly do it. Furthermore, a predominant proportion of wars can be attributed to manifestation of low emotional intelligence. Some could also be attributed to cases of being led by Psychopaths. The root cause of wars therefore, be it at family, community or national levels, appears to be demented mind. It is fundamentally a psychological issue. How else can we explain the strange behaviours of youngsters, including girls, who were convinced to commit suicide bombing? It is nothing short of brainwashing and indoctrination, which is actually an application of a deeper, more effective teaching pedagogy.


If we exclude minds that are affected by congenital malformation due to chromosomal aberrations, mutations and the like, the class to which Psychopaths belong, it can be argued that a larger proportion of the populace can be effectively treated with right education and psychotherapies. What is the best way of administering these national peace therapies? The school system (formal and informal) appears to be the most promising platform for achieving this feat. Oriji and Amadi (2017) re-affirmed this point when they posited that persistent violence and insecurity, which are largely caused by illiteracy, poverty and corruption, could be seriously mitigated through the instrument of education.

For this therapy to be effective, the entire population must be reached. Any cluster or group left out may eventually constitute peace threat to the nation. A single psychopath with influential leadership acumen like Adolf Hitler can wrought havoc in the whole world. Consequently, it is imperative there is repeated and continuous sweeping of every nation to fish out psychopaths for special treatment and to reach the remaining populace with peace therapies. For instance, in a study of the impact of art education in helping out-of-school adolescents to reintegrate to the local community due to armed conflicts in Zamboanga City, Southern Philippines, Labour (2018) found that participants developed positive attitude and communication skills that tend to engender peace building behaviours in their community. In another study on how teaching social and emotional learning (SEL) skills in schools could make children and youth choose non-violent ways of building relationships, Hymel and Darwich (2018) reached the tentative conclusion that incorporation of SEL into the school curriculum offers hope for future generations.

The starting point is infusion of peace and security content into the national school curriculum at all levels of the education system. The same content can be wisely and strategically infused into mass media presentations to reach the informal education sector. The programme should commence at the early stage of child development. At this stage, the possibility of infusing peace mind-set into the human personality is higher. Recollecting the outcome of Bandura’s social learning experiments, vis-à-vis the power of role modelling, it is imperative that parents and adults also serve as good role models to the younger ones to facilitate this process. These are all products of concerted education for the entire populace.

The core objective of this work is to assess the current Nigerian curriculum for peace and security content, from Primary school through Secondary Schools to Universities. Subsequent study will focus on reporting case studies of how the peace curriculum is being implemented and the related outcome of such implementation. Experimental studies will also be undertaken to prove the efficacy of the proposed peace therapy. The ultimate goal is attainment of sustainable development via peaceful co-existence.

In the light of the objective of this write-up, documentary analysis research design was adopted. According to Bowen (2009), document analysis is a form of qualitative research that allows researchers make closer scrutiny of scientific documents to derive clearer meaning around focal topics. In this study the core documents that were subjected to this scrutiny are the school curricula at the primary, secondary and university levels, with the aim of ascertaining the depth and scope of the peace and security content therein. Though a perusal of the entire curricula across all subjects was made, greater scrutiny was made of some key subjects that are expected to address the issue of peace and security more, namely: Social-Studies, Civic Education, Religious Studies, Government, Sociology, Psychology, Political Science and International Relations. The outcomes of these qualitative analyses are reported below. Out of 53,925 words in the NUC-BMAS Social Science document, the word ‘peace’ occurred 90 times [1%]. It occurred 70 times under Peace Studies and Conflict Resolutions; 10 times under General Studies; six times under Sociology; and four times under International Relations. It was not mentioned once under Criminology and Security Studies, Psychology, Mass Communication, and Political Science.


At the university level, it is apparent the subject of Peace should be under the domain of the Social Sciences. The eighth (8) programmes are expected to treat peace in-depth. Alas, only 50% of the 8 focal programmes reflected the peace content. Out of four programmes, only two tend to show promise of giving the subject of peace, the depth it deserves – one General Study [GST 222: Peace Studies & Conflict Resolution] and a degree programme [B. Sc. Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution]. The question is how many students will enroll for a degree programme in Peace Studies & Conflict Resolution? The only promising avenue of reaching a larger populace at the tertiary level is the General Studies course. Alas, this is often rushed as a one-hour lecture only once in a semester. At the secondary and primary levels, peace security content in the curriculum is even more scanty. At secondary level, out of about 30 subjects, the only subject that somehow reflected peace content was ‘Religion and National Values’ at JSS 2. It was placed under the theme ‘Security Education’ and the sub-theme:‘Common Crimes and Security Management’. The topic given the theme was ‘Different ways of observing and reporting common crimes with appropriate response’.

The materials recommended for teaching the topic were charts, posters and stickers. The recommended teaching method was predominantly verbal explanation.

In a private primary school that tend to integrate the Nigerian curriculum with some foreign curricula, peace content was reflected in Nursery 1, under the subject: ‘Personal, Social and Emotional Development’ and the topics of Kindness and Forgiveness. It also featured in Nursery 2 I under the topics: ‘Co-operating with others’; ‘Showing Sympathy’; and ‘Waiting for others and taking turns’. In Primary 2, the closest topic to peace found in Social Studies was ‘Request for People to obey law and order’. In Primary 3, the closest topics to peace, in Religious Studies, were: ‘Showing love and selflessness’; ‘Showing desire for peaceful co-existence’; ‘People who desire peaceful co-existence: Abraham and Lot’; ‘Desire for peaceful co-existence in the society’; ‘How differences could be reconciled in the society: Tolerance’; and ‘Call for dialogue’.

In Primary 4 peace was cited in Religious Studies and Social Studies curricula under these topics respectively: ‘Importance of living in peace’ and ‘Conflict and Resolution’. What kind of peace outcome do we expect from these shallow inputs? Many of the subjects, like Social Studies, Civic Education, Government and History [now abolished], that are expected to treat the concept of Peace in-depth barely did so. Apart from the paucity of peace content in the curricula, the recommended materials and methods of teaching the sensitive concept would deliver the desired objective of teaching peace. Another challenge is that many of the focal subject/courses fielding peace and security content are not compulsory for all students. Consequently, from secondary school level, only few students are exposed to peace education.

The overriding finding is that there is paucity of peace and security content in the Nigerian curriculum. Though a robust full degree programme on Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution has been incorporated into the NUC-BMAS for Social Sciences, it is apparent only a few proportion of the teeming Nigerian population may subscribe to it. The thesis here is that the greater the proportion of the populace that can effectively be reached with relevant peace and security information, the greater the likelihood of attaining and maintaining peace. In fact, for attainment of lasting peace, it is imperative that everyone be reached, including illiterates. The advent of the Fulani herdsmen and Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria is enough validation of this assertion.


It is against this backdrop it is recommended that a quick and pragmatic review of the Nigerian curriculum be undertaken to correct the anomaly. Nine years after the civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Cunningham and Ladd (2018) conducted a qualitative analysis to find out the role of the school curriculum in sustainable peace building. They found that the study participants were weak in fact-finding skill and had shallow knowledge of the historical roots of the conflict. Critical thinking and discussion skills necessary for social cohesion and active citizenship were also lacking. This finding further reiterate this need for pragmatic review of the curriculum for sustainable impact.

The revised curriculum should incorporate the informal sector via the platform of the mass media. Everyone must be reached with the peace message, with emphasis on short and long term consequences of not embracing peace. The message should be consistently and persistently disseminated via all conceivable avenues. We should leverage on the religious platforms too. Virtually all religions in the world today proclaim the message of peace. Informal school settings like Quranic schools, Mosques and Churches should be ardent key players in the peace education drive. Proven psychological techniques like cognitive restructuring, classical conditioning and operant conditioning should be adopted.

Psychopaths at all levels and spheres should be regularly searched for and quarantined for psychological treatment. These are the perpetrators of ritual killings, kidnapping, armed robbery, political assassinations, bomb blasts, boko haram killings, Fulani herdsmen killings, all forms of wars and terrorism, and all their sponsors. Everyone connected with these events are psychopaths. But the essential starting point is preparation and wide dissemination of a robust curriculum that will reach the entire populace – literate and illiterate, at rural cum urban settings.

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