John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Boko Haram and Nigeria’s Culture of Violence

by John Campbell
December 26, 2012

A soldier sits in a truck during a military patrol in Nigeria's central city of Jos 20/01/2010. (kintunde Akinleye/Courtesy Reuters) A soldier sits in a truck during a military patrol in Nigeria's central city of Jos 20/01/2010. (kintunde Akinleye/Courtesy Reuters)

CFR.org published today an expert brief Asch Harwood and I co-authored on violence in Nigeria. It is based on the Nigeria Security Tracker (NST) that also went live today. Based on NST data, we conclude that Boko Haram, the radical Islamic insurgency against the Nigerian political economy, is expanding its area of operations. In 2011, Boko Haram violence was largely confined to Nigeria’s northeast. By the end of 2012, the NST had documented Boko Haram related incidents across all of northern Nigeria. We also conclude that Boko Haram’s methods have evolved. The NST documents numerous suicide bombings. Use of suicide bombers was unknown in West Africa, where suicide is culturally anathema, until two such high-profile incidents took place in Abuja during the summer of 2011. The NST also lends credibility to claims by human rights organizations that the Nigerian security services have been responsible for many deaths, at times as many as Boko Haram.

We conclude that while Boko Haram has gained support by propagating a radical Islamist ideology, it is northern alienation, poverty, and bad governance that are the fundamental causes of northern Nigeria’s instability and violence. Nigeria will need to make monumental changes to its political economy in order to address its myriad internal conflicts. That is a tall order for any government. The unanswered question is whether the Nigerian political system has the will to even start the journey.

Tomorrow, I will blog on the NST, describing its methodology.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Chike Chukudebelu

    “it is northern alienation, poverty, and bad governance that are the fundamental causes of northern Nigeria’s instability and violence.”

    I don’t agree totally with that statement. A culture of religious intolerance, which has been carefully cultivated over several decades by unscrupulous politicians is also a fundamental cause (if not THE fundamental cause of this problem).

    Nigeria is not the only West African state with significant Muslim & Christian populations. It also isn’t the only West African state in which the Northern population is less wealthy (on a per capita basis) than the coastal population.

    The key question is why have Northern youth expressed their anger in a particular way? Where does the religious extremism stem from, why is it lacking in Cote D’Ivoire (where the dynamics are similar)?

    My fear is that Western analysts are afraid to discuss religion (for the fear of being branded as “racist”), but if we don’t deal head on with the perversion of Islam that fuels this violence – our analysis will be incomplete.

  • Posted by Chike Chukudebelu

    My second point.

    I don’t think any Western analyst has seriously grappled with one of our most important questions, i.e; “in spite of 38 years of Northern dominated rule, why does the North lag so badly behind the South in human capital indices”.

    Cliches like “government neglect” do not help us answer this question. There is another fact; the Middle Belt has better human capital indices than the far North, yet there is no evidence to show that the Middle Belt has been “more favoured” than the far North.

    If you start of with a wrong set of assumptions, you will produce the wrong sort of policy prescriptions, and this is what many (if not most) Western policy analysts are doing with respect to Northern Nigeria and Boko Haram.

    When Western Analysts talk about “government neglect”, they make it sound as if Abuja, not the local state governors / local council administrators are the primary change agents here – that isn’t how Nigeria works.

    Abuja has a large role to play in resolving this crisis, but let us not forget that bad governance by local administrators is a remote cause of Boko Haram. On the other hand, the manipulation of religious youth for political purposes (e.g Borno State) by unscrupulous politicians is a very direct cause of Boko Haram.

  • Posted by Justman

    I strongly disagree with the analyst that northern alienation, poverty and bad governance are the causes of insecurity in the north. If poverty was their problem, they would have asked for economic opportunity rather than resorting to taking up arms against the minority Christians in the north from their sponsors .If indeed poverty is their problem why are hiding under religion to terrorise the innocent. Northerners have been in power in the country morethan any zone. Where exactly is bad governance coming from. The truth should best be sought for before any analysis be made. Lets call the spade a spade. The churches are constantly targets of attacks by these people. The question is, is government inside the church? Try and be objective please.

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