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Essay: Primary factors that lead to Boko Haram in Nigeria

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  • Primary factors that lead to Boko Haram in Nigeria
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There are many countries suffering from internal conflicts, most especially the African countries. Internal conflicts are one of the worst things that could happen to a country. There are factors that influence these internal conflicts and these factors continue to be the main reasons why people take up arms against their government.

Through this paper, I want to identify and assess the primary factors that lead to the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeastern part of Nigeria.

There are so many factors that lead to the book haram insurgency, some of the factors are;

1) The abuse of power by the armed forces
2) Unemployment and Poverty
3) Illiteracy
4) Corruption
5) Availability of arms

The above-listed problems are the main issues which Nigeria is facing today and the primary factors that lead to the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria. There are a number of different opinions from different scholars concerning the factors that lead to the Boko Haram insurgency. Andrew Pichette also said, “The factors concerning the rise of Boko Haram are many and diverse.” (Pichette, 2015, p. 4). He went on to discuss two relative theories concerning the rise of the Boko Haram insurgency. The first theory is the “Relative Deprivation Theory: The deprivation theory is a simple, widely recognized explanation for terror. The fundamental belief underlying this idea is that people who are not having their basic needs fulfilled are more likely to resort to violence and that poverty is a key factor in explaining terrorism in less developed parts of the world.” (Pichette, 2015, p. 4). I totally agree with Andrew Pichette’s relative deprivation theory because the Northern part of Nigeria has been suffering from immense poverty and illiteracy and the government has not been working effortlessly in solving these problems. Andrew Pichette’s second theory is the State Failure Theory, which focuses on the socio-economic circumstances and it relates to the Self Deprivation Theory, in the sense that Nigeria has failed to complete the tasks required of it. A government is successful through prosperity and as mentioned earlier, the Northern Nigeria is brutally impoverished. (Pichette, 2015, p. 5).

Chinua Achebe in his book The Trouble with Nigeria says “the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership” (Achebe, 1983, p. 1) which correlates Andrew Pichette’s theory. I completely agree with them because Nigeria has been suffering from these problems ever since it gained independence.

The Boko haram insurgency fits into several explanatory models used in peace and conflict studies. It can be related to the greed and grievance debates. Boko Haram, like other internal conflicts, is driven by greed and grievance. The Boko haram is more driven by grievance than greed because the northeastern part of Nigeria, which is the Boko Haram’s stronghold is highly impoverished due to the decades-long issue of poor governance, elite delinquency and extreme level of economic inequality (McQuaid, 2015, p. iv). Boko Haram is driven by greed as well because they are terrorizing people, the Muslims, and the non-Muslims to forcefully join Islam and for the other Muslim groups to accept the group’s form of practicing Islam (Oyeniyi, 2014, p. 86). Osaretin Idahosa also wrote that the socio-economic flux borne out of a combination of decades-long pervasive corruption and mismanagement is the reason for the evolution of Boko Haram in Nigeria (Idahosa, 2015).

I will now explain and access the primary factors which I mentioned above and explain how it lead to the initiation of Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria.


The abuse of power by the Nigerian armed forces is not a new thing for the Nigerians, from extortion to threatening civilians.
Boko Haram initially started in 2002 with their founder Muhammed Yusuf. Although, in the beginning, the group was not a violent group because all they did was to gather people around and preach and also recruit more followers, aiming to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria ( Council on Foreign Relations, 2014) but then it still had some minor troubles with local law enforcements, but not enough troubles to raise an alarm.

Some scholars like Patricio Asfura-Heim and Julia McQuaid also believe that the abuse of power by the armed forces is a major reason why Boko Haram turned violent. They said “An additional conflict driver is the government’s heavy-handed use of military force to combat Boko Haram militants in the northeast. Nigeria observers have often cited this heavy-handedness as a major reason that Boko Haram, once a fundamentalist but largely peaceful movement, has turned into a violent insurgent group” (McQuaid, 2015, p. 20).

July 2009 was the turning point for the Boko Haram group. This was when they went from the group that preach and took up arms against the government. This was as a result of an armed confrontation between the anti-robbery tasks force, which is a division of the Nigerian police and the Boko Haram members on their way to the cemetery to bury some of their own. They were stopped by the anti-robbery unit for riding motorbikes without helmets, which the United States embassy found a bit curious as well. In a statement on The Atlantic, it said the U.S embassy wrote that “The fact that an anti-robbery task force chose to stop motorcyclists during a funeral procession for traffic violations and riding without helmets is curious” (Friedman, 2014). Considering the anti-robbery unit are supposed to be consigned with robbery. According to Amnesty international, “The officers opened fire on the group and 17 people were injured” (Amnesty International, 2012, p. 7). It was at the same time that their leader, Muhammed Yusuf was captured. Muhammed Yusuf later died in police custody. This was someone the members of the Boko Haram see as their leader, their savior, therefore, they were bound to seek revenge for the sake of their leader and retaliate. Patricio Asfura-Heim and Julia McQuaid also believe that the abuse of power by the armed forces is a major reason why Boko Haram turned violent (McQuaid, 2015, p. 20). Killing the leader of an extremist group is a very important thing to do in the fight against terrorism, but it might also have some repercussions. The repercussion for that incident is what Nigeria is suffering from till date.


Unemployment and poverty are one of the major challenges facing many countries because the lack of employment and a source of income are one of the things that get people, most especially the youths into different sorts of crimes in order to make a living. Nigeria happens to be one of those countries battling with a very high rate of poverty and unemployment. Dr. Olubukola S. Adesina argues that unemployment is the major reason for the security challenges facing Nigeria today, because of the number of graduates that are unable to secure any job after school and the government is doing nothing about it (Adesina, 2013). I agree with Dr. Adesina’s statement because there are so many youth graduates with good qualifications in Nigeria, but are still unable to secure any job to sustain themselves. They don’t have any source of income to put food on the table for themselves and their families. This is the reason why crimes like armed robbery and kidnapping is very rampant in Nigeria.

Unemployment and poverty is at its highest most especially in the Northern part of Nigeria. Boko Haram used that to their advantage in recruiting members. Freedom C. Onuoha said “privation and other frustrating conditions of life render youth highly vulnerable to manipulation by extremist ideologues” (Onuoha, 2014, p. 6). Due to the lack adequate source of income and job opportunities, Boko Haram used money to recruit members. According to a report by the Mercy Corps, “Communities see Boko Haram’s financial services as more accessible than existing alternatives. Many respondents reported they did not know of viable alternatives to access cash or credit that would allow them to pursue their economic ambitions. They reported that government-provided economic support was not accessible without political connections or bribes.” (Mercy Corps, 2016, p. 2). Boko Haram were giving out loans to people to continue or start a business. Fox News reported that “A fish trader identified as Ibrahim told the newspaper that members of the terror group offered him nearly $7,000 to join the group and provide intelligence on security forces in the area.” (Fox News, 2016). Another example stated by Freedom C. Onuoha was that “In June 2013, young suspects who were released by the military claimed Boko Haram paid them 5,000 naira each (about $30 U.S. dollars) to set schools in Yobe and Borno states on fire and spy on soldiers” (Onuoha, 2014, p. 6). This shows us how an idle mind, sitting in poverty with no work to do and no source of income whatsoever can be exploited and used as a tool of violence. By creating job opportunities, especially for the youth graduates for them to earn a living, there won’t be anyone who will want to sacrifice his or her life to join any extremist group, in my opinion. Thus, with the issue of unemployment and poverty in Nigeria, the Boko Haram expanded to what it is today, and unemployment and poverty continue to be primary drivers of different sorts of crimes, including terrorism.


Illiteracy is one of the major issues in the Northern part of Nigeria which is the Boko Haram’s stronghold. Most of the youths in the Northern part of Nigeria cannot afford to go to a formal school due to the immense level of poverty, therefore they engage in informal Qur’anic schools with different teachers, everyone giving his or her own interpretation of the Qur’an. This was the kind of informal school that the Boko Haram founder Muhammad Yusuf initially had. Therefore, it was very easy for the group to manipulate people into telling them that they are doing the right thing. Freedom C. Onuoha also said, “Illiterate people can be more easily manipulated because their state of social deprivation denies them the capacity and knowledge to critically question the narratives and doctrines of extremist groups” (Onuoha, 2014, pp. 6-7). Barrister Innocent Nkemjika Ezeugo in an interview with Daily Trust said that “Illiteracy is one of the major factors that caused terrorism in Nigeria” (Haruna, 2016). He went further to say that,” An illiterate can easily be convinced that by killing innocent people he gets an automatic ticket to heaven. This is so because of his inability to read, understand and give the right interpretation to the Qur’an or any information given to him.” (Haruna, 2016). That is how they manipulate their followers, making them do all the killing and telling them that it’s the only way they will make heaven and they will be rewarded with 72 virgins as well (Nnochiri, 2012). The PM News reported that the former president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo “urged African nations to provide quality education to ensure peace and tolerance in the continent, stressing that, the low level of education in Northeast Nigeria was responsible for insurgency” (PM NEWS, 2015). I also believe that illiteracy was one of the major factor that lead to Boko Haram. Without education, the educated will continue manipulating the uneducated in any way he/she wants to and steer the uneducated in any direction they want them to go.


Corruption is one of the major issues Nigeria has been facing since its independence in 1960. Nigeria is a country rich in oil. It has been estimated that over 400 billion dollars in oil revenue has been lost due to the persistent act of corruption in Nigeria (Okoye, 2012). This wealth could have been used to wipe out poverty in Nigeria and the level of poverty driven crime acts will diminish or even be absent.
Corruption pave ways for terrorism because the wealth and resources that were meant to be used to empower the people were diverted to private use by those in power without providing the necessary amenities for the people and therefore leaving the lower-class citizens in a state of anger and despair, which then created an environment to recruit youths into terrorism and other sorts of crimes (Imaji Zekeri Ojonumiache Sule, 2015, p. 39).

Corruption is also one of the main things that made Boko Haram more powerful today. The Boko Haram had more sophisticated weapons than the Nigerian army which made it hard for the Nigerian Military to combat Boko Haram before it became stronger (ALJAZEERA, 2014). More than 2 Billion Dollars was issued out to buy weapons for the Nigerian army to combat the Boko Haram insurgency and prevent more casualties and restore security in the country but the money was stolen by the former national security adviser (ALJAZEERA, 2015). Therefore, corruption is one of the primary drivers that lead to the Boko Haram insurgency and continues to be as the war goes on.


Availability of arms is one of the primary drivers of the Boko Haram insurgency especially in Nigeria where there are insecure borders and corrupt border officials. Small arms and light weapons are ready and accessible to just about anyone who has the money to purchase them and carry out their evil intentions (Oluro, 2014, p. 3). The lack of a strict border control in Nigeria made it easy for Boko Haram to purchase and smuggle these weapons into the country (Oluro, 2014, p. 6). The Boko Haram use several methods in smuggling arms into the country, by convincing the nomadic herders and attaching crafted skin bags on animals like cows, camels and donkeys and moving them across the borders and conniving with cross-border traders to help them carry the weapons in their trucks across the border and given the lack of efficient border mechanism, these trucks are not checked properly or not even checked at all (Onuoha, 2013)

The availability of arms is a huge challenge for Nigeria in the fight against Boko Haram because, the group has access to abundant lethal and illegal weapons which makes them stronger and capable of creating more havoc (Oluro, 2014, p. 6).

The Boko Haram are stronger than the Nigerian military in terms of fire power that they could attack a Navy and Army base at the same time, leaving some of the military personnel running for their lives because of the huge fire power (Oluro, 2014, p. 7).
The availability of arms continue to be a driving factor as the war goes on because the Boko Haram still have access to lethal weapons that they can easily smuggle into the country and continue to carry out their operations without any interference from the Nigerian Military because of the availability of a larger fire power.


In conclusion, a number of issues have been made clear, explaining and analyzing the primary drivers of the Boko Haram insurgency. The Boko Haram is more of a grievance based conflict than greed.

The abuse of power by the armed forces continue to be a driving force as the war against Boko Haram continues because the basic human rights of the citizens are violated by the Nigerian armed forces and more angry people are generated day by day and therefore determined and willing to join any group willing to take up arms against the government to fight for their freedom. Therefore, the Nigerian government needs to tackle this serious issue facing the nation in terms of the abuse of power by the armed forces in order to prevent angry youths from joining and supporting Boko Haram or any type of insurgent group.

The Nigerian government needs to work first hand on improving the education and labor sector. This is because improving the education sector gives people access to formal education and therefore able to get the adequate knowledge to prevent the youths from being manipulated by the likes of Boko Haram. Also, by improving the labor sector, creating job opportunities for the youths, the rate of poverty will go down. Creating job opportunities for the people to earn a living will prevent them from resulting in any sort of crime that will provide them with the money they need to survive. Unemployment and poverty are one of the biggest issues Nigeria is facing today, therefore, if the government does not work effortlessly in creating job opportunities, there are going to be more people for the Boko Haram to recruit and pay them to do their dirty works.

Necessary amenities need to be provided for the people in order to live a comfortable and conducive life because many of the rural communities in the northeastern part of Nigeria do not have access to clean drinking water or functional health centers. Therefore, The Nigerian government need to tackle corruption and looting by the elites.

The government much create a strict and strong boarder mechanism to regulate or stop the heavy flow of arms into the country in order to prevent insurgent groups like Boko Haram to have unlimited access to weapons and continue to create more havoc.



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