Poverty And Youth Restiveness In Nigeria An Evaluation Of The Boko Haram Crisis

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Poverty And Youth Restiveness In Nigeria An Evaluation Of The Boko Haram Crisis

Youth Restiveness



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 poverty and youth restiveness as causes 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 poverty and youth restiveness as 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 poverty and youth restiveness as 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 $5.1 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 socioeconomic 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 socioeconomic 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 poverty and youth restiveness as 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 socioeconomic 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 poverty and youth restiveness as 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 poverty and youth restiveness as 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:

  1. How can the concept of terrorism be explained given philosophical considerations?
  2. How can the Boko Haram phenomenon be explained within the context of the conceptualisation of terrorism?
  3. What are poverty and youth restiveness as determinants of terrorism, and how do these relate to Boko Haram terrorism?
  4. In what ways can Nigeria address the Boko Haram crisis considering its socioeconomic 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”.

Table 1.1: Nigeria’s ranking in the Failed States Index (2007-2013)

Year Rank
2007 17
2008 19
2009 15
2010 14
2011 14
2012 14
2013 16

Source: Failed State Index as provided by Foreign Policy magazine (20072013), author’s compilation.


From another vantage point, there is also the relation/vengeance theory which situates intergroup conflict in factors such as economic, political, sociological, religious and historical relationship in a society (Alozieuwa, 2012). According to this theory, there is the  “We” versus “Them” attitude in inter-group relationship, which is quite often characterized by  some enmity perception among groups based on the aforementioned factors (Alozieuwa, 2012: 2). This situation breeds conflict in society. Given the anti-state, anti-Christian and anti-western dimension of Boko Haram, the sect’s grievance has been understood by some mainly as a reaction against the grave ‘injustice’ of the Nigerian governments especially with regard to the extra-judicial killing of the groups’ leader, Muhammad Yusuf, by the state’s security agency in 2009 (Ojo 2010). In this light, the sect’s heightening of its terrorist’s activities since the above period and the fact that the government is being headed by a nonNortherner and a non-Muslim can be hardly understood as a coincidence in consideration of the sect’s anti-Christian and anti-western position.

Looking at the rational choice theory, which is more often adduced by economists, the motivation for terrorism is tied essentially around utility maximization. The principal behavioral assumption that underpins individuals’ participating in collective action is that the cost of participation is less than the benefits (Anderton and Carter, 2005; Gupta, 2005). But given that the benefits accruing from collective actions is hardly enjoyed by, and restricted to, the individual as well as the fact that the individual’s effort is quite insignificant when the group is large in size, the question regarding why individual would participate in such group or its collective actions remains unanswered in the first place, using economic perspective (Gupta, 2005: 17). It is either the individual is irrational or has ulterior motivation in sacrificing their welfare for a group’s objective when there is hardly any personal benefit.

Hence, Gupta aptly holds that “the most pressing  problem with the traditional economic assumption of self-utility maximization is that it provides us with a truncated view of a human rationality,  which ultimately can lead to a faulty policy prescription for eliminating the threats of terrorism” (2005: 18). Indeed, the individuals are not the psychopathologists or irrational in their participation in collective actions.

Applying this argument to Boko Haram, the utility-maximization curve of the  rational choice argument, while plausibly accounting for the criminal elements pertaining to bank robbery/looting by the sect, hardly accounts for the overall sense of grievances against the Nigerian government, the Christians as well as Muslims being targeted by the sect. Hence, the rational choice theory requires some argumentation in order to be able to explicate the motivations of both the individual members’ and the groups’, given that the two are not necessarily always in concord.  The collective vision that keeps the group together does not necessarily correspond to why individuals participate in the sect’s activities (Gupta, 2005). As such, as a causal explanation the rational choice fails to adequately capture other rather non-economic motivations behind the emergence of terrorism, such as religion, and social cultural factor etc.

From poverty and youth restiveness as determinants the human needs theory is also adduced in explaining terrorism with reference to Boko Haram.[2] The crux of this theory is that “all humans have basic needs which they seek to fulfill. The failure to meet these needs especially if caused (or even believed to be caused) by other individuals or groups could lead to conflict” (Alozieuwa, 2012: 3). This theory has been adduced as explanations for the conflict in Sri Lanka (Danielsen, 2005) as well as Boko Haram (Adibe, 2012). According to this framework, which bears striking resemblance with the relative deprivation thesis (for which the frustration-aggression thesis is the psychological base), the emergence of Boko Haram terrorism is blamed on the deplorable socio-economic condition of the Nigerian society in general and the northern region in particular (Adibe, 2012). The basis of these three interrelated theories is that unmet needs create frustrations in people thereby propelling them towards violence against the perceived source of their problem.

According to Porto (2002: 17), relative deprivation entails people’s feeling of dissatisfaction arising from the sense of having less “than they could or should have”, which can take different forms, such as: “members of a society or organization have decreasing amounts of what they previously possessed; improving conditions which then deteriorate; rising expectations, where people raise their expectations about what they could and should have”. By implication, this perceived or actual sense of deprivation transcends mere economic deprivation and includes political deprivation.  The first exponent of the theory,  sociologist J.A Davis (1959) advanced the theory with reference to two groups, in-group and out-group, with the former referring to the rebel group in question. Rather than being distinguished by Marxist notion of ownership of means of production, these two groups are distinguished

based on “any identifiable quality such as race, religion and ethnic or economic capability”. The perception of the out-group as being well-off creates, thus, a sense of deprivation for the in-group, which might make the latter antagonistic towards the former (Gupta, 1990: 53).  Essentially, a sense of  deprivation arises “when one desires something, compares himself with those who actually do have them and then feels that he deserves the attainment of that objects” (Gupta, 1990: 54).

The relative deprivation theory was further advanced  by Ranchman who identified three types of relative deprivation, namely, egotistical, fraternal, and double deprivation (cited in Gupta, 1990). The first refers to the sense of deprivation arising from comparison of individuals with others within the same group. The second entails a collective sense of deprivation of group in comparison with other groups usually perceived by individuals in the group, who themselves are however satisfied. The third include the combination of one and two above as perceived by the individual. Building on the Runciman’s arugment, psychologist, Fay Crosby (1979) argues that egotistical deprivation is simply a part of a chain of variable including, environmental antecedents, preconditions, felt deprivation, mediators, and behavior. He added that these four conditions require another fifth condition namely, lack of personal responsibility to produce a sense of deprivation in an individual. In other words, as long as the individual would blame him/herself for his/her failure to attain a cherished goal, the feeling of deprivation would not surface in that individual.

The most influential development of RD in relation to collective rebellion is probably found in the classic work of Ted Robert Gurr, Why Men Rebel (1970). Essentially Gurr maintains that collective violence is functionally related to relative deprivation wherein. Gurr derives the fundamentals ideas of the relative deprivation theory from Aristotle who believes it is the relativesense or feeling of inequality, rather than an absolute measure that derives revolution

(Richardson, 2011:5). For Aristotle, thus, “the principal cause of revolution is the aspiration for economic or political equality on the part of the common people who lack it, and the aspiration of oligarchs for greater inequality than they have” (cited in Richardson, 2011:5). Thus, social discontent is spurred by relative deprivation which provides motivation for collective violence as reminiscent of the political upheaval in Northern Ireland (Birrel, 1972).

Based on the above view, one may reason that the causes of various forms of violence in

Nigeria can be traced to socio-economic factors such as “unemployment, especially among the youth, poverty and a deteriorating standard of living, especially in the north” (Alozieuwa,

2012: 3). Essentially, this view is in tandem with Karl Marx’s position that the disequilibrium between demand and supply of socio-political and economic goods causes political unrest (Gupta, 1990: 2). In a similar vein, socio-psychologists situate political conflicts within the framework of frustration, arguing that “people take up violent resistance when they feel frustrated by the gap between what they actually have and what they feel they should have” (Gupta, 1990: 2 emphasis added). This behavioral hypothesis casts some worthwhile doubts on the traditional explanation that situate conflict within the sphere of irrationality and instinct.[3] Indeed, the problem of linking frustration with aggressive behaviours remains insurmountable with the given hypothesis since it is one thing to be frustrated but another different thing altogether to resort to aggressive or anti-social behaviors. In other words, frustration appears only to be a necessary but not sufficient condition for an individual or a group’s participation in political violence. This is where Crosby’s (1979) fifth condition, (as earlier mentioned) becomes relevant in understanding the dynamics of the relative deprivation thesis.

Furthermore, the role of demographical and geographical factors in the emergence of terrorism, which are non-negligible in the case of Boko Haram, are not easily discernible from the above behavioral hypothesis; hence the need for a more encompassing theoretical framework. On the part of Human Needs Theory, it has also been observed that rather than absolute need, it is the perception of inequality considered as the cause of those need that actually motivates people to resort to violence (Richardson, 2011). Hence while these three inter-related socio-economic theories offers explanation for the emergence of terrorism, each on its own may be too reductive to cast adequate light on the emergence of Boko Haram in

Nigeria. As Hutchful and Aning (2004: 200) appositely noted “monocausal explanation of conflicts may be deceptively attractive or persuasive due to their apparent simplicity, but they are ultimately unhelpful” given that  “as conflicts unfold and mutates, so do the motivations and relationships underpinning them”.

1.5.1 Root Cause (RC)

This study privileges the Root Cause [RC] theoretical approaches over the foregoing in view of its wider scope in explaining the multifarious impetus of Boko Haram terrorism in Nigeria.

The crux of the root cause argument is that certain correlations exist between “underlying social, economic, political, and demographic conditions and terrorist activity” (Newman, 2006: 750). Factors such as poverty, population explosion, social inequality and exclusion, dispossession and political grievance, as well as oppression and human rights abuse, are considered as the independent variable on which the emergence of terrorist organization is dependent. In other words,  if terrorism – both the emergence of a terrorist organization  or a terrorist act – is consider the dependent variable, then root causes form the background independent variable” (Newman 2006:751). These underlying conditions and grievances help to explain why and how terrorism occurs in a place rather than others; hence, are quintessential to counterterrorist policies. Figure 1 below illustrates how the interactions among the various root factors precipitates terrorism.

This intuitively appealing framework, despite its own limitation, shows that certain socio-

economic conditions “provide a social environment and widespread grievances that, when combined with certain precipitant factors; result in the emergence of terrorist organizations and terrorist acts” (Newman, 2006: 750). It suffices, however, to acknowledge that despite the remarkable strides made by scholars as well as policy makers, a particular determinant (root cause) of terrorism remains to be found due, among other reasons, to the complexity of phenomenon itself.  Indeed, it is reductive, if not erroneous,  to imagine there is a single root cause behind an act of terrorism (Maleckova, 2005: 100). Meanwhile, according to Newman the key indicators could include: poverty, political freedom, economic dislocation, unemployment, population growth, social change, urban migration and social change. The  “root causes” argument centers around the fact that structural factors[4] , while they may not be of any explanatory value on their own, provide essential insight into the emergence of terrorism when combined with trigger   factors” (Newman 2006:751).

In analyzing the root cause, BjØrgo (2005) rightly differentiated between preconditions and precipitants of terrorism, with the former referring to factors that set the stage for terrorism in the long run while the later represent the specific events or phenomenon that immediately precede or trigger outbreak of terrorism. He identified four level of causation as follows:

Structural cause (demographic imbalances, globalization, rapid modernization transitional societies, increasing individualism with rootlessness and atomization, relative deprivation, class structure etc.) are causes which affect people’s lives in ways that they may or may not comprehend at a rather abstract macro level.


Facilitators (accelerators) make terrorism possible and attractive, without being the primary cause. Examples include the evolutions of modern news media transportation, weapons technology, weak states controls of territory etc. Proponent of the so-call “ecology of terrorism” thesis even claim that international terrorism  occurs because modern circumstances have made it exceptionally easy to employ terrorism methods.

Motivational cause are the actual grievances that people experience at a personal level, motivating them to act, ideologues and political leaders are sometimes able to translate cause from  a structural level up to motivational level, thereby moving people to act. The role of ideology as rhetoric is to explain how things really are, and persuade individual and groups to take actions. Motivational causes may also be seen as concentrate ‘symptoms’ of more fundamental structural causes.

Trigger causes are the direct precipitants of terrorist acts. They may be momentous or provocative events, or some other events that calls for revenge or actions. Even peace talks may trigger opponents of political compromise to carry out terrorists actions. In order to undermine negotiations and discredit moderates (BjØrgo, 2005: 3-4).


Other notable precipitant factors include “leadership, funding, state sponsorship, political upheaval”, which serve as catalysts to root causes in breeding terrorism (Newman, 2006:

751). Group’s leadership is therefore significant to the individual’s participation in collective political violence, in the face of lower chances of any individual utility maximization, which as we have shown above is one of the major weaknesses of the rational choice theory. Certainly, “political  violence takes place when a leader gives voices to the frustration by formulating a well-defined social construction of the collective identity and paints a vivid colour of the images  of ‘us’ verses ‘them’’ (BjØrgo, 2005: 19). The case of Boko Haram is quite illustrative of this view. Yusuf who is widely believed to be the progenitor of the group is known to have captivated his followers through is eloquence of speech pivoted on a deep knowledge of the Islam, by which he was able to accent the ills of the Nigerian government. Hence, he was able to mobilize his audience, who were mostly disenfranchised youths against the “unjust” Nigerian government. In this way, the root cause thesis also augments for some of the weaknesses in the abovementioned socio-economic theories in explaining why different individuals react to frustration in different ways.

According to Gupta (2005), three basic types of participants in group’s terrorism in line with their basic source of motivation can be identified as follows: [1] the ideologue, [2] the captive participants, and [3] the mercenaries. Gupta (2005: 16), avers that  ideologues, also known as ‘true believers’, are mainly motivated by the promotion of the group’s ideals and welfare, the mercenaries are motivated by selfish interest such as raping and looting opportunities, while captives participants are motivated by fear (cost) of non-participation. Meanwhile, an inherent interrelatedness of these different precipitant motivations actually blurs the line between group’s utility and the individual utility. The distinction is arguably of explanatory significance to why individual member’s criminal and economic motivations are sometimes submerged under the sect’s religious ideology, as is the case with the Islamist sect, Boko Haram. The sect has been known for various criminal activities such as material robbery and killing of the innocent, which obviously are not necessarily in tandem with its supposed religious mission at a group level.

It suffices, however, to note that the Root Causes argument has its own limitations.  For instance, its critics underscore the lack of ‘moral clarity’ as its one major failing.  It is argued that the concept of root causes, prima facie, seems to give some legitimacy to terrorism

(Borgo, 2005). But, it is instructive to clearly state that this study’s use of roots causes does not in any way try to justify Boko Haram terrorism, as the subsequent chapter would show.

Figure 1: Interactions between “Root Causes” And Direct Factors of Terrorism


Source: Newman (2006: 766)

Furthermore, a mushrooming literature showing a weak link between socio-political and economic structural factors, such poverty, lack of economic opportunity and terrorism, cast doubts on the efficacy of the root causes thesis (Gupta, 2005: 16). In fact, some jettisoned the root causes perspective as “misleading as an explanation for terrorism or prescription for dealing with it” (Jervis, 2002: 41). An interview with two hundred and fifty members in most Palestine militia groups observes that “none of them were uneducated, desperately poor, simple-minded, or depresses. Many were middle class and, unless they were fugitive, held paying jobs; thus suggesting a weak or no correlation between terrorism and roots causes such as socio-economic conditions” (Hassan, 2001: 37).

Similarly studies have shown that “none of the 19 perpetrator of 9/11 attacks suffered from poverty, lack of education or lack of exposure to the privileged lifestyle of the Western world” (Gupta, 2005: 19).  The implication is that since structural deprivations are merely necessary conditions, there is a weak correlation between terrorism/other form of political violence and poverty. Hence, as control measure to terrorism, the root cause perspective, is also criticized as infeasible given that certain factors such as media, technology inter alia, which needless to say, oxygenate terrorism cannot necessary be addressed by way of removal; thus, posing a big question: how do we address terrorism via removing certain causal or precipitating variables that are of essential societal values in themselves? (BjØrgo, 2005)

Likewise, based on Olson paradox, the wide-raging social, political, economic and even religious grievances in society would not necessarily lead to violence. It has been observed also that “terrorists organization have emerged from and operated with stable, democratic, and developed states such as North America and Europe” (Newman, 2006: 755). Similarly, leaders of terrorist’s organization are more unlikely to be personally deprived or undereducated. Besides, the there is also the question of conceptual obscurity which, fortunately, have been improving over the years. As Newman (2005:750) observed, the root causes refer to “a very broad range of issues that cannot be contained within a social category”.  In this light, generalization on the root causes could be “almost always as misleading” as the very phenomenon of terrorism (Laqueur, 1999: 21). Hence allusion to generic issues as poverty has also been criticized regarding the root causes argument as being too general. “The more deep rooted a cause (as with poverty or modernization), the more general it becomes and less directly it is related to terrorism”.

Despite the forgoing, the salience of the root cause perspective in understanding the emergence and persistence of terrorist organization is well acknowledged among scholars

(Hudson and Majeska, 1999; O’Neill, 2002a). In fact  “even if the generalization is true (and most terrorist leaders are not uneducated or personally deprived), the background of terrorist leadership is only one variable; supports for terrorism is also important, and social condition can be significant in this respect” (Newman, 2006: 755). Further stressing this point, Newman counter’s the critics of the root cause thesis who see terrorists as rarely personally deprived or uneducated. His main argument is “that terrorists (just like all people) surely do not act only according to their own experience or background. They perceive that they are responding to social conditions, irrespective of their own personal situation” (Newman, 2006:755).

Moreover, while Krueger and Maleckova (2003), for instance, question the poverty/education-terrorism nexus, they neither totally deny their relationship nor undermine the importance of improving the living conditions. Accordingly, it would be more intellectually satisfying to acknowledge there is rather a complex causal relationship between roots causes and terrorism than jettisoning it altogether. When one takes into account the fact that “modern terrorist organizations require management and technological skills found in the upper and middle classes yet they also needs foot-soldiers who overwhelmingly hale from the poor and down-trodden” (O’Neill 2002a:8), it becomes even more glaring that poverty and poor education can hardly be discarded as causal factors as Krueger’s study has suggested. Herein lays the importance of foot soldiers without which any terrorist organization would die away. Hence, commenting on the expediency of such root causal factors, Newman (2005:751) noted that “underlying grievances … represent tangible political issue”.

To be sure,O’Neill (2002a: 8) gave reasons to show that those who jettison the povertyterrorism nexus are wrong.  First, the “overly mechanistic cause-effect relationship” of such critics oversimplify a rather “complex but real connection”. Second, the restriction of their analysis “to a select group of terrorist organizations, primarily in Europe and in the Middle East whose leaders and many of whose followers are not poor and have received relatively decent educations”, is usually a gross negligence of “terrorist organizations in Africa, Central and South Asia and Latin America who have very different economic and social profiles”. The members of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone, the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, and the Abbu Sayyaf group in the Philippines, inter alia, are illustrative of groups that emerged from extremely poor backgrounds and have little or no education. Additionally, O’Neill (2002a: 8) aptly stressed how the “deeply impoverished Central Asian states have provided the recruits for the  Taliban, Al Qaeda and homegrown groups like the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Hizbut-Tahrir”. Corroborating the above view Newman (2005:763-4) rightly maintains that albeit the leadership of such groups may be both affluent and educated, “their support group and lower ranking operatives are more likely to reflect certain conditions: dispossessed or marginalized, the perceived victim of humiliation, denied opportunities, and suffering from a lack of education opportunities”.[5]

Prompted by the multifarious nature of the causal factors of  terrorism and Boko Haram in particular, the root causes perspective is preferred as it enables us to glean broader understand of the economic underpinnings of Boko Haram terrorism ranging from poverty, unemployment, inequality, demography, population, to development amidst other possible explanation. This is against the backdrop of the view that the impetus for Boko Haram terrorism is hardly reducible to a singular factor such as religion, politics or even economics.

Indeed, the multiple and complex causes of conflict always have to be put into consideration via a more “nuanced multidisciplinary, and dynamic approach” (Hutchful and Aning 2004:200). Indeed, one risks a gross misunderstanding of the “full nature and scope of terrorists motivations and modes of operation”, in limiting oneself to a single framework, considering the various manifestations of  terrorism (Schmid, 2004b: 214).

Importantly, the ‘Root Cause’ theoretical framework incorporates, both directly and indirectly, some of the socio-economic theories mentioned earlier particularly, the relative deprivation thesis, which provides a more precise insight into the socio-economic conditions of the Northern region in comparison to the South in Nigeria. This adds to the validity and suitability of the theoretical framework in illuminating the thesis of this study. Against the backdrop of the abounding arguments that relate economic conditions such as economic deprivation, poverty and income inequality with terrorism (Li and Schaub, 2004: 231; Burgoon, 2006: 176), the root causes theory can fittingly identify key socio-economic factors, among other factors, that give rise to the Boko Haram syndrome in Nigeria. The uprising and its persistence are argued here to be premised on the negative socio-economic indexes that encourage resort to violence among a large population of Nigerians particularly the youths in the northern region.

According, in lieu of being treated as merely transient security crises, addressing the root factors is argued to be a more effective control of the Boko Haram terrorism. As Gupta (2005:16) rightly argues that an exploration of the root cause analysis of terrorism would do well to underscore the quintessential difference between terrorism and other criminal acts. This is against the fact that while having elements of criminality, terrorism is a political phenomenon. Hence, one cannot neglect the grievances that drive people towards the act of terrorism. In the incisive words of Gupta (2005:27):

Not all grievances are baseless.  In our zeal to fight terrorist’s atrocities, it is easy to disregard legitimate grievance. Although absolute poverty and other aspect of economic deprivation have a weak link to terrorism, a pervasive sense of sense of humiliation and hopelessness does not. The global community must recognize the need to address the legitimated grievance of disaffected people in a meaningful way

Indeed,  “until policy-makers can understand the root causes of terrorism, they will be unable to implement effective measures to prevent it” (Richardson, 2011: 5).  The inverted U shape relationship between government coercion and political violence complicated the military counter-terrorist strategy in a way that it becomes more tangible for an effective and long term “solution to the problems of terrorism with high ideological contents” such as Boko Haram, to be sought within the political arena and not the battle field (Gupta, 2005: 24).

Hence, the explanatory efficacy of the root cause theory is notable.

Meanwhile, to systematically examine the root causes of Boko Haram, Brown’s (2001:219) model of underlying causes of ethnic and internal conflict is partly adopted. This is because of its relevance to the root causes theoretical framework adduced herein. In view of the multifaceted causal dimensions of the Boko Haram insurgency, this model is used to highlight the root causal factors of the insurgence, particularly its socio-economic dimension. As shown in table 1.2 Brown identified four underlying (and interrelated) factors of ethnic and internal conflicts, to wit, [1] structural factors, [2] political factors, [3] economic/social, and [4] cultural/perceptual factors. The structural factors encompass: weak state, intrastate security concerns, and ethnic geography. The political factors encapsulate: discriminatory political system, exclusionary national ideologies, intergroup politics, and elite politics. The economic/social factors include: economic problems, discriminatory economic systems, economic development/ modernization. And the cultural factors entail: patterns of cultural discrimination and problematic group histories. The relevance of the Brown’s model, in explicating the root factors of Boko Haram terrorism, hinges on its broad range, given the complexity of the phenomenon under investigation.[6] However, this study focuses primarily on the socio-economic dimension, being the overall objective of the study, while merely acknowledging other possible factors.

Table 1.2: Underlying Causes of Ethnic and Internal Conflicts

Structural Factors

•       Weak states

•       Intrastate security concerns

•       Ethnic geography

Economic/Social Factors

•       Economic problems

•       Discriminatory economic systems

•       Economic development/modernization

Political Factors

•       Discriminatory political institutions

•       Exclusionary national ideologies

•       Intergroup politics

•       Elite politics

Cultural/Perceptual Factors

•       Patterns of cultural discrimination

•       Problematic group histories

Source: Brown, (2001:219).

According to Brown’s model, economic problems, economic discrimination, and economic development/modernization have significant explanatory power for internal conflict. The view holds significance for the various Armed Non-state Groups (ANSGs) including the current Boko Haram in Nigeria because the interrelated variables have telling effects on both individual and regional impoverishment across Nigeria, particularly in the northern region and in turn provide a permissive environment for anti-state rebellion. These socio-economic factors manifest themselves in the various dimensions to fuel Boko Haram terrorism.


1.6 Research Methodology


This study privileges a qualitative method of data analysis due to factors such as, geographical restrain to direct access with, and assessment of, the group in question; the clandestine nature of terrorism itself; and the consequent difficulty with engaging terrorists directly. The study relies on both primary sources and, for most part, secondary sources.[7] The primary sources is defined in the context of this study as first-hand  or direct evidence and materials emerging from the time period being discussed, which includes official and unofficial reports of organization and government agencies such as: Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Transparency International, World Bank, UNESCO, inter alia. The secondary data include books, academic journals, and published research reports from newspapers and magazines, as well as conference papers. The reliance on secondary data facilitates a broader interpretation of the phenomenon under question. Additionally, credible and useful internet websites of relevant organisations and scholarly databases are also sourced. Evidences drawn from this array of data sources provide a fitting base for addressing the key research questions of the study. Notably, during the study, sometime were also spent on direct observation of the socio-economic conditions in some north-western states (particularly Zamfara and Sokoto states) by the physical presence of the researcher. Although the sect’s activities are rather concentrated in the north eastern region relative to the north western region, the socio-economic conditions of both regions are similar. Hence, data drawn from the latter region provides reasonable insight into the socioeconomic conditions in the former region, and thus, contributes to the validity and credibility of the relevant secondary information used herein.


Albeit speaking broadly to the issues of terrorism in the light of its causes, this study particularly focused on Boko Haram vis-a-vis the Nigerian political economy. Hence, a case study analysis is employed because it provides a more practicable as well as pointed research design that can address the outlined research questions, a feature that is vital to an effective methodology (Neuman, 2011). This method enhanced a detailed understanding of the phenomenon in question as well as helping to further appraise the argument whether the deplorable socio-economic conditions do or do not cause terrorism, in the particular context of Boko Haram in Nigeria. As Neuman (2011: 22) aptly observes, case study allows researcher the possibility of linking micro level, or the actions of individuals, to the macro level, or larger-scale structures and processes, due to its detailed and extensive nature (see also Vaughan, 1992). Accordingly, the case study approach endorsed herein facilitates an understanding of poverty and youth restiveness as determinants of Boko Haram terrorism both from the macro and the micro level of analysis.

For data analysis, a thematic analytical approach is employed to explain the obtainable data in lending support to the core thesis of the study. According to this approach, qualitative data are systematically analyzed  “by identifying themes or patterns of cultural meaning; coding and classifying data, usually textual, according to themes; and interpreting the resulting thematic structures by seeking commonalties, relationships, overarching patterns, theoretical constructs, or explanatory principles”(Mills et al., 2010: 2). Thus, relevant themes pertaining to the Nigerian political economy and the Boko Haram sect are used to support the thesis of the study. For instance, socio-economic variables such as poverty, education, unemployment, inter alia, are used in a thematic structure to substantiate the root causal factors regarding the emergence and persistence of Boko Haram.


1.7 Significance of Study


This study does not consider Boko Haram terrorism as a momentary threat that would pass away merely by the counter-terrorist strategies of the Nigerian state security agencies. The reason for such view includes the fact of the growing frustration and the political atmosphere of discontent among the populace in the mostly affected northern region, particularly the youths of the area. This has been mainly engendered by what Madunagu (1982: 1) referred to as “the political economy of state robbery” that typifies the national economy, which invariably has heightened the level of frustration and desperation among the populace since the nation’s independence in 1960. Thus, at a fundamental level, the Boko Haram uprising is largely symptomatic of the ambiance of general human insecurity brought about by the pervasive corruption that has tainted Nigeria’s political and economic history. By implication, control measures employed if not entrenched in a long term economic and political development may only amount to an ineffective quick-fix, which would only result in the resurfacing of other “Boko Harams” perhaps under another nomenclature (Zgadzaj, 2011). Hence, while it might be reductive to explain Boko Haram terrorism under the heading of socio-economic factors, to jettison root causes, pertaining to socio-economic factors, as non-important is arguably tantamount to a further deterioration in the security and stability of the affected northern region. This, in turn, is counterproductive to Nigeria’s efforts towards development. Hence, against the backdrop of the arguments that seem to disconfirm any link between socio-economic variables and terrorism, this study underscores that fact; that the Nigeria context presents a different food for thought, namely that socio-economic root factors cannot be undermined based on the generalization from studies done in other context such as those of Krueger and Maleckova (2003) and Krueger (2007). Indeed unless Nigeria tackles those socio-economic issues that tend hitherto to legitimize resort to violence, the occurrence and re-occurrence of “Boko Harams” would remain a major blockade to peace, security and development in the northern region and Nigeria at large. This study is pivoted on the assumption that adequate provision of social welfare service and good education, of which the Nigerian government has generally fallen short in so far, is one critical way of mitigating the growing tendency towards violence across the country. To engage these socio-economic root causes of Boko Haram terrorism, however, it is first pertinent to uncover what terrorism entails. Accordingly, the next chapter focuses on the conceptualization of terrorism.


1.8 Structure of the Study


It is important to note that the objectives of this study are set in a manner as to meet the interdisciplinary nature of this degree program – Politics, Philosophy and Economics. Accordingly, a philosophical approach is adopted towards the conceptualization of terrorism so as to show the philosophical debates around the phenomenon and the significance thereof for the ‘root causes’ explanation. This debate would form the crux of the second chapter where, via literature review, attempt is also made to engage the debate on the link between socio-economic conditions and terrorism, in other to provide the necessary foundation for the subsequent chapters. Thereafter, in the third chapter, focus is shifted towards the historical and contemporary interplay between politics and economics especially from governance perspective. Essentially this chapter provides a descriptive account of the general political economy of Nigeria and its tendency to fuel terrorism, and other forms of political violence. This is against the backdrop of the impact of the nexus between politics and economics on the socio-economic condition of the given society. Meanwhile, since this study focus on the economic roots of Boko Haram terrorism by looking at the socio-economic conditions in Nigeria, particularly in the mostly affected northern region, the fourth and, particularly, the fifth chapter are dedicated to this appraisal. In the final chapter, way forward out of the security quagmire in country is proffered and a general conclusion is drawn.

[1] The Marxist believed that  capitalist society carries within itself the seeds of self-destruction (Gupta, 1990: 31)

[2] The Human Needs Theory (HNT) finds it clearest expression the work of John Burton (1990) where he submits that conflicts are the product of unmet human needs. These needs are quintessential to the attainment of an individual or groups wellbeing

[3] This view is inspired by Freudian psychology which situates violent behaviors in human instinctive, learnt and subconscious nature.

[4] Structural factors are seen as “black holes” within which fanaticism can emerge (Ranstorp, 2003: 1)

[5] Other groups identified with this dynamics by Newman include: the Popular Front for the Liberation, Hamas

Kurdistan Workers’ Party, Palestine Liberation Front of Palestine, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam—appear to reflect certain root cause dynamics. These groups tend to draw on dispossessed and deprived communities

[6] It is instructive to acknowledge that though a distinction can be made between ethnic conflicts and terrorism, in the case of Boko Haram such distinction is strongly blurred considering the ethnocentric nature and dimension of its targets. Albeit northerners and Muslims have fallen victims, Boko Haram focuses more on the southerners and Christians. Hence, the use of Brown model originally designed for ethnic conflict is not a misapplication. Meanwhile, required variations are included in order to cater for the specific nature of the study.

[7] The distinction between primary and secondary data is that while the former “have been constructed by the researcher in the context of his or her own research project”…the later “have been constructed by others, who may or may not be fellow researchers, for purposes which may or not be research (Thomas, 2004:191)

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