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The Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria has been a source of concern not only to the government of Nigeria, but also to the international community especially when they bombed the United Nations headquarters in Abuja in 2011. After this attack, the sect has carried out numerous attacks in Nigeria killing hundreds of people. There has been plethora of reason adduced to this development. Some opinion and political leaders within and outside Nigeria adduced the causes of Boko Haram insurgency to poverty, injustice, and lack of civil liberties, while others disagree with this line of thought. Based on this, using both quantitative and qualitative method of analysis in determine the causes of Boko Haram insurgency. The research found out that the insurgency was not as a result of poverty, injustice, or lack of civil liberties, though, it could be a contributing factor, but deep seated ideology rooted in Islamic fundamentalism was to be blamed for the chaotic development of the sect.



The emergence of Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist sect that has been agitating for the introduction of strict Islamic laws and the Islamisation ofNigeria through violent activities such as killing, bombing, and suicide bombing has taken a worrisome dimension. Though, Nigeria is no stranger to violent extremist groups’ crises. These include the 1980 Maitatsine riots in the Northern Nigeria which left thousands death. The Kano riot in 1982, Ilorin crisis of March 1986; crisis over Nigeria membership of Organisation of Islamic Conference in 1986; the Zangon-Kataf riot Kaduna State in May 1982; the recurrent Jos crises from 2001 up to the present, to mention just but a few (Abimbola 2010: 97; Kalu 2008: 77 – 85; Bah 2008: 49 – 52). In addition, there are agitations, which at times turn violent, by different ethnic nationalities that made up Nigeria. For instance, the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), and the Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND) in the South-south of the country, are agitating for a fair share of the oil revenue from their lands. There is the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), in the South-east, agitating for independence for the Igbo speaking people in that region. There is the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) in the South-west, whose agitation is the protection of the interests of the Yoruba race in Nigeria. Also in the North, there is Arewa Youth Organisation (AYO) championing the interests of the North (Kalu 2008: 173 – 185; Bah 2008: 49 – 52).

Therefore, Nigeria is not new to agitations from different ethnic nationalities that made-up the country for a fair share in its governance and equitable distribution of its wealth and resources. It however, took an unprecedented violent dimension when Boko Haram, a deadly Islamic sect, surfaced to demand for the introduction and imposition of Sharia, an Islamic penal code, not only in the Northern part of the country that is populated by the Muslims, but also in the entire country. The advent of Boko Haram and its demand added a new phase to ethno-religious crises and insurrectional groups’ agitations in Nigeria. Although, Boko Haram started out as a benign Islamic organisation, providing social services and preaching strict adherence to Islamic injunctions, it, however, along the line made a detour by engaging in violent activities which not only undermine the legitimate authority of the government of Nigeria, but also, posing existential threat to the cooperate existence and unity of the country.

A US congressional report of Nov 30, 2011 on Boko Haram says the sect is an “emerging threat” not only to the US, but also to its interests. The Congressional committee Chairman, Mr Patrick Meeham in an interview said the “fast evolution” of Boko Haram was worrying. He stated further that there was little evidence as of that time to suggest that Boko Haram was planning an attack against the US; he quickly added that for the fact that there was lack of evidence “does not mean it cannot happen” (BBC).

The US Congressional findings ( Boko Haram: 4) stated inter alia:

Ø  Boko Haram has quickly evolved and poses emerging threat to US interests and the U.S homeland.

Ø  Boko Haram has the intent and may be developing capability to coordinate on a rhetorical and operational level with Al Qaeda in the land of Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Al Shabaab.

Ø  Boko Haram’s evolution in targeting and tactics closely track that of other Al Qaeda affiliates that have targeted the U.S homeland, most notably Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Tehrik – I – Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Ø  The U.S intelligence community largely underestimated the potential for Al Qaeda affiliate groups to target the U.S homeland, wrongly assessing they had only regional ambitions and threats against the U.S homeland were merely “aspirational”.

Ø  The United States should work with the government of Nigeria to build counterterrorism and intelligence capability to effectively counter Boko Haram.

From the above painted scenario, it is valid to assume that Boko Haram is not only a threat to Nigeria, but also to world peace at large. This was ably demonstrated when it attacked the United Nations headquarters in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, on August 26, 2011,a suicide bomber drove a vehicle laden with explosive device into the building, killing 23 people and more than 80 people were injured. The United Nations Secretary General, Mr Ban Ki-Moon in condemning the attack described it as “an assault on those who devoted themselves to helping others” (The guardian).

Apart from the United Nations headquarters bombing in Abuja, Boko Haram has carried out numerous deadly attacks in the North. It is estimated that Boko Haram sect has killed more than 1000 people and injured thousands more.

Problem formulation: Why has Boko Haram, a benign Islamic sect metamorphosed into a terrorist organisation?

In order to comprehensively explore the above question, then one has to look at the definition of terrorism. Defining terrorism has been a subject of controversy among researchers, whilesome would include both state actors and non-state actors; some rejected the inclusion of state actors as possible terrorist. Other definitions restrict terrorism to attacks on civilian targets. Some definitions limit terrorism to an act with political goals, and exclude criminal purposes, while some include both political and criminal purposes. Most definitions regard terrorism irrespective of its goal as illegitimate method or means, while few definitions consider it legitimate if it is for a just cause, hence the aphorism “one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter” (Martin 2008: 11).Nevertheless, there is a consensus that no matter how altruistic terrorism is, it is an extreme method or tactic.

The United State Codes prepared by the US House of Representative defines terrorism “as premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.” While executive branch codes defines it as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives” (Mahan and Griset 2008: 3).

The British on the other hand defines it as “the use of violence for political ends including any use of violence for the purpose of putting the public or any section of the public in fear” (Imobighe & Eguavoen 2006: 14).

Bruce Hoffman defines terrorism as the “deliberate creation and exploitation of fear through violence or the threat of violence in the pursuit of political change.” While Stern defines it as “an act of threat of violence against noncombatants with the objective of exacting revenge, intimidating, or otherwise influence an audience.” Laqueur argues that there is no definition that comprehensively addresses the issue of terrorism, but all the same, he defines terrorism as “the use of covert violence by a group for political ends” (Mahan and Griset 2008: 4).

 For the purposes of this thesis, and to fully understand Boko Haram ideology, I will define terrorism as a premeditated act of violent carried out by extremist organisations, or individuals against unarmed or defenceless civilians, civilian targets, soft spots, and passive military and police targets,to cause maximum carnage and destruction, in order to instil fear, confusion, and apprehension in the minds of people. And in pursuance of political, social, religious, or ideological agenda.

It is very important to note that the above definition does not take into cognisance terrorism from the top, that is, terrorism perpetrated by the states. It only covers terrorism from the bottom, that is, terrorism carried out by non-state actors.

To put Boko Haram in a perspective, it is pertinent at this juncture to distinguish between terrorism, extremism, and freedom fighting. There is a thin line between these three concepts. An extremist holds a radical opinion or view about a belief or political ideology, which does not accommodate contrary opinion.  The extremists are intolerant of any other belief systems, they consider their cause as absolutely just and good, and any other cause aside theirs, is considered evil.For the fact that the extremists hold such belief or ideology does not translate into terrorism, but the moment the Rubicon is crossed by forcefully and violently imposing their beliefs and ideologies on the others through killings, bombing, kidnapping, etc., then it becomes terrorism. While a freedom fighter is someone who is perceived to be fighting for a just cause, either the liberation or emancipation of a people, or any other just causes. But when freedom fighters begin to use unconventional means to achieve their purpose, then it becomes terrorism. For example, the Provisional Irish Republican Army in the United Kingdom and the Basque Separatist Organisation known as Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) in Spain declare that they are fighting for the oppressed, and for a homeland. These causes are noble, but the ways and manners they go about it have resulted into labelling of these organisations as terrorist organisations.

Although, terrorism is not a recent phenomenon, it has been in existence for ages, taking different forms and modes.From the fearful group known as the Thugs, also known as Phansigars or stranglers, that existed in the seventh century, who committed violent acts and atrocitiesby killing and dismembering the corpses of their victims to prevent cremation or proper burial to satisfy Kali the Hindu goddess of death and destruction. To the Assassins also known as Ismailis-Nizari, which existed between 1090 and 1275, whose objective was to purify Islam, and hasten the eventual emergence of a Mahdi or Messiah who would ultimately lead a holy war or Jihad against the traditional establishment. In addition, the Jewish group known as Zealots-Sicarii, whose activities eventually led to the exile and ultimate destruction of the ways of life and Jewish structure and institutions, was dreaded as a violent group (Rapoport in Horgan and Braddock 2012: 9 – 11).

However, terrorism became a topical issue after the attack on world trade centre on September 11, 2001. That is not to say there were no terrorist attacks before 9/11, in fact, the Israeli athletic contingent to the Olympic held in Munich, Germany, in 1977 were taking hostage by the Palestinian militant from the Black September Organisation. The attacks resulted into the death of eleven Israelis, a German police, and five militants (Jackson, et al. 2011: 54). On the 21 December 1988, Pan American Flight 103 was destroyed by a bomb over Lockerbie in Scotland, the aftermath of the attack left all the 259 passengers and16 crew members dead. Eleven Lockerbie residents also died in the attack when parts of the plane fell and destroyed several houses in the town (Mahan and Griset, 2008: 97).

Terrorism, however,took a global dimension whereby either you support America’s adventure on war against terrorism or if you are not in support of the war, you are labelled an enemy. There had been several terrorist attacks after September 11, 2001. On July 7, 2005, there were the coordinated suicide attacks in London underground that killed 56 people including the four suicide bombers who carried out the dastardly act, 700 people were injured. Also in Madrid, there was an attack targeted the train on March 11, 2004, which killed 191, and injured around 1,600 people. In India, on July 11, 2006, seven bomb explosions rocked the Suburban Railway in Mumbai, which killed more than 200 people and injured 700 people (Williams and Mockaitis in Shemella 2011: 298 – 329). The list of terrorist attacks after 9/11 is endless if we have to discuss it.

Having identified Boko Haram as an extremist sect, using the instrument of terror to achieve its ideological belief, it is of primacy to understand the reason(s) behind the chaotic transformation of Boko Haram as posted in the problem formulation. To comprehensively explore the problem field, different perspectives or schools of thought on the root causes of terrorism must be looked into. Could the metamorphoses of Boko Haram to a dreaded terrorist organisation was as a result of poverty, inequality, economic disequilibrium as espoused by strain and deprivation theorists (Forst 2009)? Alternatively, are Boko Haram’s operatives psychopaths who just kill for the sake of killing because they are mentally unstable and deranged? Probably, Boko Haram is just a social movement in the Nigeria’s political firmament making a legitimate claim for the recognition, accommodation, and integration of its ideological beliefs into the governance of Nigeria. Perhaps, Boko Haram was the creation of the Northern political elites who view the governance of Nigeria as their birthright, and threatened to make Nigeria ungovernable if one of them did not emerge as the president of the country during the last presidential election in the country.  Alternatively, perhaps, Boko Haram’s metamorphosis was as a result of social conflict between the haves (ruling elites) and the disenchanted have-nots. On the other hand, could it be a response to the extra judicial killing of their leader, Yusuf, and more than 700 of their members by the Nigerian police and security services during the first uprising of the sect in 2009?


Ø  The study will seek to unravel the root causes of Boko Haram insurgency

Ø  The study will consider different narratives, especially the issue of poverty and injustice as being expressed by leaders as the causes of Boko Haram crisis.

Ø  To determine, if any, the role that the political system or politicians played in the emergence of Boko Haram

Ø  To unravel the ideology driving Boko Haram insurrection.


Why has Boko Haram a benign Islamic sect metamorphosed into a terrorist organisation?  Nigeria being a secular state has been affected adversely by the activities of Boko Haram. In fact, Nigeria is titling on the brink of religious conflict which could destroy the cooperate existence of the country. Therefore, this study will try to provide an answer for the germane question posed in the problem formulation.


Since Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria is the nucleus of this research, and knowing full well that hypothesis is the cornerstone or foundation of any scientific research, in view of this, it is pertinent to consider the following hypotheses:

H0: Boko Haram metamorphosis was caused by poverty and inequality.

H1:  Boko Haram chaotic development was caused by injustice and lack of civil liberties.

H2:  Boko Haram insurgency, a political conflict of ideologies.

The aforementioned hypotheses will be thoroughly and methodologically analysed to have a better understanding of the reason(s) for the anarchic development of the sect.


This research will try to answer the following questions, because they are germane to understanding the problem formulation. Why has Boko Haram a benign Islamic sect metamorphosed into a terrorist organisation?

Ø  Did poverty contribute to Boko Haram Insurgency?

Ø  Is injustice and lack of civil liberties to be blamed for Boko Haram crisis?

Ø  What impact does revolutionary and radical Islamic ideologies have on Boko Haram Insurgency?



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