Home » Articles, Boko Haram, Columnists, Jideofor Adibe, PhD, NNP Columnists » Boko Haram: Symptom of Crisis in our Nation-Building Project (1) + – By Dr. Jideofor Adibe

Boko Haram: Symptom of Crisis in our Nation-Building Project (1) + – By Dr. Jideofor Adibe

By Dr. Jideofor Adibe, London, UK, Feb. 26, 2012 – Virtually everything about Boko Haram is contested – including the reasons for its radicalisation after some seven years of being a peaceful group, whether all the atrocities said to be perpetrated by the sect were indeed carried out by it and who its sponsors are.  What is not contested is that the sect’s methods have become increasingly sophisticated and audacious.

One of the contested domains is whether the sect has links with foreign terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda. The government thinks it does. In fact in June 2009 the Nigerian State Security Service claimed that members of Boko Haram were being trained in Afghanistan and Algeria by members of al-Qaeda.  President Jonathan re-echoed that much a day after the bombing of the UN building in Abuja on August 26 2011 when he declared that “Boko Haram is a local group linked up with terrorist activities”.  But not everyone buys this.   Former US ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell and Ioannis Mantizikos, a Greek expert on radical Islamic movements, are among those who argue there is no evidence of any such linkage.

It can be argued that the government has a vested interest in presenting Boko Haram as having such a linkage. One, it will make it easier to attract international sympathy and technical assistance from  European countries and USA which are normally  paranoid about any group rumoured to be linked to Al Qaeda . Two, linking Boko Haram to Al-Qaeda will blunt criticisms against the government’s inability to contain the group– after all, if the USA and the European countries, with all their resources and capabilities have not been able to effectively contain Al Qaeda, why will anyone see it as a sign of weakness that the government has not been able to defeat an organisation it sponsors?  Three, by linking Boko Haram to Al Qaeda the government may hope to use innuendos and name-dropping of US involvement to frighten the sect and help to pressure it to the negotiating table.

Paradoxically linking Boko Haram to Al Qaeda will also enhance the chances of such alliance happening – if the sect does not already have such a linkage – because it could help it to attract the sympathy of other international terrorist groups. Another paradox in the portraiture of Boko Haram as an organisation with an external linkage is that if the USA and other European countries get openly involved in fighting the sect, it could mobilise anti- USA forces globally and even domestically behind the sect. It could also fire off a wave of nationalism that may end up winning the sect more members and sympathisers even from Nigerians stoutly opposed to the sect’s activities.

Explaining the Boko Haram phenomenon

Though there are several conspiracy theories about Boko Haram,  it is possible to group some of the more ‘reasonable’ explanations of the sect around some theoretical constructs and then interrogate the validity of such ‘theories’ in understanding both why the sect came into being and the audacity of its activities.  

Boko Haram as a Symptom of a Failed or Failing State

There are some who believe that Boko Haram is the clearest indication that Nigeria has become a failed or failing state. Those who argue within this framework often rely on the notion that a state should have the monopoly of legitimate violence in its territory. The argument is that Nigeria is a failed or failing state because it has lost that monopoly – not only to Boko Haram but also to kidnappers and armed robbers.

This argument however is not very convincing because there are countries such as Brazil which are regarded as ‘successful’ but where some of the cities and sub-states are effectively under the control of militarised gangs, drug barons and god-fathers.  Besides, the notion of ‘failed’ of ‘failing’ state is often subjectively and politically deployed.  In fact   Noam Chomsky’s famous book, Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (2006) argued that even the US was becoming a ‘failed state’.

The closest to an extant taxonomy for measuring a ‘failed state’ is the Failed State Index published since 2005 by Fund for Peace, an independent Washington DC-based non-profit research and educational institution. The Index, which is published in conjunction with the journal Foreign Policy, uses the following to determine the extent to which a state has failed or is failing:  (1) Loss of control of its territory or of the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force. (2) Erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions. (3) Inability to provide public services and (4) Inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community.

 Nigeria first entered the league of the worst 20 cases in the Failed State Index in 2007 – before Boko Haram became radicalised.  At that time it was ranked 17. In 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 it was ranked 19, 15, 14 and 14 respectively.  This means that despite the audacity of its actions, Boko Haram only contributed ‘marginally’ to the worsening of Nigeria’s ranking in the Index. In fact if official figures were to be believed, Nigeria with a per capita income of $2,700 and a GDP growth of seven percent cannot be called a failed or failing state – despite current security challenges.  

Human needs theory

Human Needs theorists would argue that one of the primary causes of protracted violence is people’s drive to meet their unmet needs. The argument here is that the relative poverty in the North, especially in the North-east, the Boko Haram’s main base, disposes people to violence. While there is some merit in this position, I will argue that this cannot comprehensively explain the audacity of the sect’s actions or why similar groups have not emerged in other impoverished parts of the country.

The Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis

The argument here is that frustration causes aggression but when the source of the frustration cannot be challenged, the aggression gets displaced onto an innocent target. There are a number of explanations of the Boko Haram phenomenon that would seem to fit into this theory. For instance the CBN Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi was quoted by ThisDay of January 28 2012 as blaming the rise of Boko Haram partly on economic inequality among states and regions caused by the principle of derivation, which gives 13 percent of oil revenue to the oil producing states.  According to Sanusi, who had clarified that he was quoted out of context, “There is clearly a direct link between the very uneven nature of distribution of resources and the rising level of violence.” 

A variant of this explanation is that the huge sums allocated in training former Niger Delta militants overseas under the Amnesty Programme of the late Umaru Yaradua may have had the unintended effect of triggering envy and frustration or sending a message that violence pays.  My position is that while these may be partly true, they cannot comprehensively explain why the Boko Haram type of violence is not generalised in the North or why several states in the South which do not benefit from the 13% derivation or the amnesty programme have also not taken to militancy.

Another argument within the frustration-aggression framework is that after the reintroduction of Sharia law in the 12 Northern states, there was a widespread disillusionment at the way it was implemented, and members of the sect simply tapped into that frustration. As Jean Herskovits, an American expert on Nigerian politics was quoted as saying about it: “You punish somebody for stealing a goat or less – but a governor steals billions of naira, and gets off scot-free”.

Another explanation within this thesis is that in Nigeria’s peculiar mode of sharing privileges, the Igbo controls the commercial economy, the Yoruba the corporate economy and the North political power.  It is thought that the loss of political power to the south in 1999 was perceived by some in the North as a loss of the region’s lever in ensuring that it is not dominated by the South. This perception is thought to have fed into the bitter debate on the PDP’s zoning and power rotation arrangements and Jonathan’s decision to contest the April 2011 presidential elections to create generalised frustrations in the North, which Boko Haram simply tapped into.  Again why this may be partly true, I will argue that it cannot explain why similar groups have not emerged in other parts of the North.

Next week, I will try to show that Boko Haram is one of the several symptoms of the severe crisis in our nation-building project.

+ Adapted from a lecture given at the Institute for Security Studies, Pretoria, South Africa on February 2, 2012.

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