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INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM AND NATIONAL SECURITY IN NIGERIA: A CASE STUDY OF BOKO-HARAM
1.1 Background of the Study
Terrorism is a highly contextual phenomenon. Indeed, the old maxim that “all politics is local” holds true for political violence as well. We sometimes hear a lot of talk about terrorism as if it were a monolithic, easily understood term, but it is really the opposite. Terrorism is a complex issue that has been studied and debated for several decades. In fact, there are dozens of competing definitions of the term, not only among scholars but among policymakers and government agencies as well. But one thing holds constant – terrorist attacks do not occur in a vacuum, but are instead a product of complex interactions between individuals, organizations, and environments.
Further, there are many different kinds of terrorism, defined primarily by ideological orientations like ethno-nationalism, left-wing, religious, and so forth. And just like there are many different kinds of terrorism, there are many different kinds of contexts in which terrorism occurs. Within each context, we find a variety of grievances that motivate the terrorist group and its supporters, along with things that facilitate terrorist activities.
The word terrorism was first used in France to describe a new system of government adopted during the French Revolution (1789-1799) (Encarta, 2009). The regime de la terreur (Reign of Terror) was intended to promote democracy and popular rule by ridding the revolution of its enemies and thereby purifying it. However, the oppression and violent excesses of the terreur transformed it into a feared instrument of the state. From that time on, terrorism has had a decidedly negative connotation. The word, however, did not gain wider popularity until the late 19th century when it was adopted by a group of Russian revolutionaries to describe their violent struggle against tsarist rule. Terrorism then assumed the more familiar antigovernment associations it has today.
According to Encarta (2009) Terrorism is the deliberate creation and exploitation of fear for bringing about political change. All terrorist acts involve violence or-equally important-the threat of violence. These violent acts are committed by nongovernmental groups or individuals-that is, by those who are neither part of nor officially serving in the military forces, law enforcement agencies, intelligence services, or other governmental agencies of an established nation-state.
Terrorists attempt not only to sow panic but also to undermine confidence in the government and political leadership of their target country. Terrorism is therefore designed to have psychological effects that reach far beyond its impact on the immediate victims or object of an attack. Terrorists mean to frighten and thereby intimidate a wider audience, such as a rival ethnic or religious group, an entire country and its political leadership, or the international community as a whole.
Terrorism is a highly contextual phenomenon. Indeed, the old maxim that “all politics is local” holds true for political violence as well. We sometimes hear a lot of talk about terrorism as if it were a monolithic, easily understood term, but it is really the opposite. Terrorism is a complex issue that has been studied and debated for several decades. In fact, there are dozens of competing definitions of the term, not only among scholars but among policymakers and government agencies as well. But one thing holds constant-terrorist attacks do not occur in a vacuum, but are instead a product of complex interactions between individuals, organizations, and environments.
Forest (2012) argues that terrorism is seen as a violent product of an unequal distribution of power on local, national, or global levels. The unequal distribution of power feeds a perception of “us versus them,” a perception found in all ideologies associated with politically violent groups and movements. The hardships and challenges “we” face can be framed in terms of what “they” are or what “they” have done to us. From this perspective, “we” desire a redistribution of power in order to have more control over our destiny, and one could argue that many terrorist groups use violence as the way to bring this about. As Bruce (2006:40-41) notes, terrorism is “the deliberate creation and exploitation of fear through violence or the threat of violence in the pursuit of political change . . . [and] to create power where there is none or to consolidate power where there is very little.”
According to Forest (2010), there are many different kinds of terrorism, defined primarily by ideological orientations like ethno-nationalism, left-wing, religious, and so forth. And just like there are many different kinds of terrorism, there are many different kinds of contexts in which terrorism occurs. Within each context, we find a variety of grievances that motivate the terrorist group and its supporters, along with things that facilitate terrorist activities. From decades of research on these grievances and facilitators, two primary themes appear most salient for this research on Boko Haram: preconditions, or “things that exist,” and triggers, or “things that happen.
Mark (2003) observed that grievances are structural reasons for why the ideology resonates among a particular community, and can include a broad range of political issues like incompetent, authoritarian, or corrupt governments, as well as economic issues like widespread poverty, unemployment, or an overall lack of political or socioeconomic opportunities. Terrorism is most often fueled by individuals and groups who are very dissatisfied with the status quo, and have come to believe in the need to use violence because they see no other way to facilitate change. In essence, they draw on Mack (2003:13) described as “a reservoir of misery, hurt, helplessness, and rage from which the foot soldiers of terrorism can be recruited.” Clearly, one can find such a reservoir in many parts of Nigeria, and indeed throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa. This seems the reason for the development of the Boko Haram sect in Nigeria.
Government corruption and absence of good governance are also cited by many researchers as a frequent motivator behind collective political violence. In states where such corruption is endemic, resources, privileges, and advantages are reserved for a select group of the people or ruling elite. According to Khalil (2007), corruption encumbers the fair distribution of social services and adds another layer to the resentment caused by the lack of political participation. The rest of society, because they have no voice, is ignored or placated. This corruption erodes the government’s legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens. In Nigeria a combination of statist economic policies (building on the early post-independence nationalization of former colonial private industries) combined with patronage systems to create an environment in which the state became seen as a means of access to wealth, rather than a means to serve the people. When a government fails to adhere to the conventional social contract between governments and the governed, its citizens become disenchanted and seek the power to force change. This, in turn, has resulted in a variety of militant movements throughout the coutry, including the Boko Haram set.
In recent years, Nigeria has come under attack by a radical Islamic sect known as Boko Haram. It officially calls itself “Jama’atul Alhul Sunnah Lidda’wati wal Jihad” which means “people committed to the propagation of the Prophet’s teachings and jihad.” As its name suggests, the group is adamantly opposed to what it sees as a Western-based incursion that threatens traditional values, beliefs, and customs among Muslim communities in northern Nigeria. Oboh (2012) reported that in an audiotape posted on the Internet in January 2012, a spokesman for the group, Abubakar Shekau, even accused the U.S. of waging war on Islam. Forest (2012) contends that the group is largely a product of widespread socioeconomic and religious insecurities, and its ideology echoes among certain communities because of both historical narratives and modern grievances.
It is against this backdrop that this research examines international terrorism and national security in Nigeria, with a focus on the Boko Haram sect in Nigeria.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Born of colonial rule, the modern state of Nigeria contains a multitude of ethno linguistic groups and tribes, religious traditions, and local histories. This complexity, spread out across diverse environments from the coastal southern lowlands to the dry and arid north, has long posed a daunting challenge to governance and stability. Nigeria has had 14 Heads of State since independence in 1958-many of these have taken power by military coup, while only five, including the current president Goodluck Jonathan, have been elected. Approximately half of the population is Christian, the other half Muslim, adding a religious dimension to Nigeria’s contested political life.
Many groups feel economically and politically marginalized, a situation that increased following the discovery of significant oil reserves in the Niger Delta and offshore. Corruption is rife and state institutions are weak. It is within this larger context that a group calling themselves Boko Haram, a Hausa term meaning “Western education is forbidden,” appeared in 2009 and has attacked Nigeria. Government entities, such as police stations and politicians (both Christian and Muslim), as well as others who they feel act in an ‘un-Islamic’ manner have been the primary focus of these attacks. The sect, which is loosely organized and contains numerous disagreeing factions, is centered in northeastern Nigeria.
While it is very much a locally-oriented movement, the group has not yet attracted a significant following among Nigerians of other tribal or ethnic backgrounds. Further, it has thus far proven difficult for the group to find sympathizers or anyone who would help them facilitate attacks further south, thus the majority of attacks have taken place within the north (and primarily northeastern corner) of the country. Since 2009, the group has attacked police stations and patrols, politicians (including village chiefs and a member of parliament), religious leaders (both Christian and Muslim), and individuals whom they deem to be engaged in un-Islamic activities, like drinking beer. Boko Haram has also carried out several mass casualty attacks and is the first militant group in Nigeria to embrace the use of suicide bombings.
Within the last years, Boko Haram expanded its terrorist attacks in Nigeria to include international targets, such as the United Nations (UN) building in Abuja in August 2011. The group also made significant leaps in its operational capability, and there are indications that members of the group have received weapons and training in bomb-making and other terrorist tactics from al-Qaeda affiliates in the north and/or east of the continent (Stewart 2012). This is in spite of increasing state actions, such as military attacks, intelligence gathering and public mobilization against sect. In the light of this, it becomes imperative to examine implications of international terrorism on national security in Nigeria, with focus on the Boko Haram insurgency. What then is the impact of this insurgency on national security in Nigeria, especially as it is increasingly assuming international challenges? To meet the security challenges posed by the Boko Haram and others, this study seeks to provide answers to the following research questions:
- Is the absence of good governance implicated in the Boko haram insurgence in Nigeria?
- Is the involvement of the civil society and non-governmental organizations an effective strategy in curtailing Boko haram terrorism in Nigeria?
1.3 Objective of the Study
The broad objective of the study is to examine international terrorism and national security in Nigeria with focus on Boko Haram. However, the specific objectives of the study are:
- To determine if the absence of good governance is implicated in the Boko haram insurgence in Nigeria.
- To establish if the involvement of the civil societies and non-governmental organizations is an effective strategy in curtailing Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria.
1.4 Significance of the Study
The significance of this study is at two levels: theoretical and practical. Theoretically, the study will examine international terrorism and national security in Nigeria with focus on the Boko Haram sect. explores the origins and future trajectory of Boko Haram, and especially why its ideology of violence has found resonance among a small number of young Nigerians. Furthermore, the study will bring to the fore the challenges that Boko Haram poses to Nigeria.
Practically, the study will provided guide to policy makers, government officials and the general public in dealing with the Boko Haram insurgency. It will also contribute to the body of literature on terrorism in Nigeria and Boko Haram in particular. The study is also expected to spur more studies in this regard.