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Tackling root cause of Boko Haram beyond military campaigns


With the fall of Sambisa forest, Boko Haram’s supposed last fortress, premature shouts of victory are already all over the place. This euphoria is understandable, given the fact that for nearly one decade, Nigeria devoted enormous human and material resources to fighting the insurgency. The gallant men and women of the Nigeria’s armed forces, civilians in areas which fell under Boko Haram control, as well as several other segments of society, are quite relieved that the threat of armed and deranged elements bent on establishing an Islamist State within Nigerian territory, has been vanquished. In the moment of triumph therefore, it would be difficult to deny the war-weary polity the pleasure of savouring the victory of the state over the evil of terrorism.

However, before the jubilations gets into full swing such as to result in complacency, there must be some reality check. While the hard power of the military has subdued the terrorists on the field of battle, the overall war is yet to be won. Perhaps, this is what a top information manager of the government meant when he talked in terms of the “technical defeat” of the insurgency. This understanding presupposes that the war against Boko Haram was a reaction to the symptom of a much more fundamental problem. The next phase of the war against Boko Haram and other forms of extremism, is therefore about digging deep to understand the root causes of such strands of religious extremism. This diagnosis would then give birth to a curative policy, which would in turn stamp out religious extremism.

Put the other way, the battle in which guns, bullets and other weapons are deployed, appears to have been won. The next phase of the war has to focus on the ideas that created the extremist monster called Boko Haram. That process would involve asking very important questions; what motivated a subset of Nigerians, once declared as the happiest people in the world to resort to terror as a means of communicating their rejection of the values that groups like Boko Haram tried to stand against. How was Boko Haram able to mobilise and induce thousands of young Nigerians to join its camp, so much so that it could sustain an insurgency against the Nigerian State for one whole decade?


For some anti-terror strategists, the crux of the matter is economic. Those who push this view insist that young people who decide to join extremists groups like Boko Haram do so because society has excluded them. They therefore argue that any program to prevent young people from becoming radicalized and joining extremist groups must take a good look at their economic conditions. This much was echoed by a University of Lagos Political Science Scholar, Dr. Kayode Esuola, who argued in an interview aired on Sahara TV that the motivation for many suicide bombers that extremists groups use to unleash terror on innocent citizens, is largely economic. This thesis on economic exclusion is captured thus: “What does the Boko Haram attacker do? He is given a bomb to go to a particular market, and kill people, including himself because, one, his family will be given N50,000, and when he gets to heaven, seven virgins will come and meet him. (The solution is) then to identify the man called Boko Haram bomber, and ask, who is that man, who will kill himself because of N50, 000.

“That man must have been the wretched of the earth, made by Nigerian government. That is the government that gives oil block that is worth 800 million to an individual, where the youth cannot afford three square meals a day. If you go to the streets of Maiduguri, you will see them there. So once you dialogue with them as a short term solution, you have to immediately begin to redress the inequality.”

This position, which identifies inequality, poverty and economic marginalization as the primary reasons why youths make themselves available to be cannon fodders of the Boko Haram agenda of hate and extremism is further propped up by civic agencies who have argued that the North East, the epicenter of Boko Haram terrorism, is one of the poorest geo-political zones in Nigeria. Those who hold this position insist that the current problem in the North East clearly demonstrates what would naturally happen if unemployment, which breeds restiveness and insurgencies, is not addressed by those who should.

Executive Director of the Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED) Comrade Dr. Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi insists that Nigerians should ask how the nation came to its current sordid state where the State now has to spend billions to confront an insurgency largely caused by the abandonment of the youth. He paints the picture of a national tragedy, involving the Nigerian State, which earlier abandoned the youths in the North East, but is now forced to use its military might to subdue young citizens who have been won into the camps of extremists and terrorists.

“Would Boko Haram have had the hundreds of thousands of recruits it now uses to unleash terror on Nigerians, if education, skills and jobs were provided to the young Nigerians in these parts who have now been brainwashed into carrying out horrendous attacks against the Nigerian State and its people? The stark reality of the abandonment of the youth comes out in bold relief when one considers the fact that the founding fathers of Boko Haram merely took advantage of young Nigerians who could see no future.

“Truth be told, in the face of non-existent governance, Boko Haram provided these young people with a false sense of provision and security. They succeeded in selling their hateful and blood thirsty philosophy by first filling a void that governments for decades allowed to exist.

“A close scrutiny of the literature on Boko Haram would reveal how the bureaucracy of the then fledging terrorist sect went as far as providing food and distributing motorcycles to win thousands of youths into their fold. Till date, the terrorists have a vast base to recruit their cannon fodder from because there is a large population of unemployed and restive waiting to be recruited for these kinds of evil ventures.”

However, there is another school of thought, which holds that the problem goes beyond the economic. Their logic is that the same poverty could have birthed extremism in other parts of the country, where youths are equally disempowered, alienated and marginalized. They therefore argue that extremism in the mould of Boko Haram is planted in the ultra conservative religious messages propagated by Islamist scholars, who preach a radical message of intolerance for all values, which are perceived to be Western. These preachers, it is reckoned push for a strict return to what they define as the pure and pristine version of the religion.


They therefore excoriate democracy as an oppressive system designed by the West to negate the theocratic order, which they advocate. They abhor schools, and call for jihad against the state and all its representatives.

They even go on to point at the evils of corruption and the inequalities it creates as manifestations of an ungodly system. Their message resonates because those who listen to them in most cases do not have other sources of information. The North East, for instance, is said to have a comparably lower flow of information through mass communication channels within Nigeria.

Looking at these realities therefore, it has been argued that the key to ending extremism is to counter such extremists positions through aggressive and superior information flow. Already, efforts are being made in some quarters to work with clerics who would work to counter extremism and create understanding across faiths. Since this bothers on national security, the Office of the National Security Adviser could give fillip to all such efforts by working with grassroots movements to make the message sink.

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