Counterterrorism: The Deep Issues Taking Place Within Nigeria

By Scott Morgan

     Any expectation that the Election of President Buhari as President of Nigeria would result in the decrease of attacks by Boko Haram have to be repudiated. This past December saw this administration declare that Boko Haram was defeated. The Previous Administration of Goodluck Jonathan had the goal to defeat this group too. This was a factor that led to its defeat in the most recent Presidential Elections.

    So how has this group been able to thrive? The quick answer can be lack of Governance by the several administrations in Nigeria. There is also some concerns regarding whether or not certain State Governors have been in collusion with the Islamists for Political Opportunities or as leverage against the Federal Government, which has been seen either as operating from a position of weakness or not having a presence at all in certain states.


    Using the graphic above one can ascertain that Nigeria has had an issue with Jihadists for Decades. Even though Boko Haram has appeared in various forms since the late 1990s, the ingredients for an Islamist Insurgency have been around since the 1970s.

    Lack of Economic investment, in Northeastern Nigeria, has been pointed out as the main reason for the rise of the Group, who may have its nerve center in Borno State and spread its influence throughout Northern Nigeria. However, one has to wonder if the policy of having Sharia Law in these Northern States created the backdrop for the formation of and the circumstances that allowed BH to grow and expand.


        A successful CT strategy is defined by the success of two key components:

  • Political Reform
  • Economic Development[1

    Just last decade, Nigeria was considered one of the N-11 Economies in the World[2]. At one point the Nigerian Economy was on a pace to overtake both Canada and Italy[3]. So what has gone wrong in Nigeria? We have seen the PDP rule the Country since the end of the Military Dictatorship end just last year; so then why the rise of Boko Haram?  According to a Paper from Mercy Corps[4] there are several factors at play in Northeastern Nigeria:

  1. A Key Factor in Recruitment has been Influence from Social and Business Peers
  2. The Youth see an opportunity of ‘getting ahead’ by joining Boko Haram with an expectation of Business Support
  3. They are frustrated with the lack of support from the Federal Government in Abuja and with the State Governments
  4. They offer young women unique opportunities 

    One of the key theories that those being recruited have been the poor, poorly educated and those with lack of social mobility has been debunked. Like its former ally Al-Qaeda, the data suggests that the Main Actors are well-educated, have the ability to generate a respectable amount of income and in some cases are well respected.

    This evidence also indicate that concerns about potential Radicalization in Mosques are legitimate, however the Group is trying to position itself as an alternative source of Resources to the Government. This can be seen as a symptom of the Corruption that has historically permeated Nigeria throughout its History. All of these factors indicate that Poor Governance is not only a major issue but remains a root cause of some of the ills plaguing Nigeria.

    So, is the current CT strategy being implemented by the Buhari Government the proper strategy to follow? Should it be following a Counterinsurgency track? Should it create a hybrid of the two? Whatever decision is made, it appears that Religious Ideology has to be a key component of any effort to defeat Boko Haram in the Northeastern Part of the Country. This could be easily accomplished by having local Imams teach the youth and not let outsiders take over the Mosques. 

    It has also been suggested that other regional actors step in to assist the Nigerian Government.  Already Chad, Cameroon and Niger have had their forces in Conflict against the Group and Benin has recently deployed troops in recent days to deal with the situation in the restive Northeastern part of the Country. 

    What are the answers for Nigeria then? Although Economic Development may not be a complete answer, Infrastructure Investments have been undertaken. This cannot happen until the Federal Government actually has a presence in the places where it does not. The inability of the Military to defeat the Islamists indicate that an SSR Program may be needed and quickly implemented. This may include improving the Pay of the Military Units. Closer scrutiny on the Mosques need to be implemented without violating Religious Liberties as well.

[1] James A Lewis “ Assessing Counterterrorism,Homeland Security and Risk” Terrorizing Ourselves (Washington, D.C. Cato Institute)
[2] N-11 the Next 11 Emerging Economies in the World
[3] Jim O’Neill,The Growth Map Economic Opportunities in the BRICs and Beyond ( New York Portfolio/Penguin) pg 98
[4] Motivations and Empty Promises: Voices of Former Boko Haram Combatants and Nigerian Youth

[The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dissecting Society]


  1. Time and time again studies show that poverty, lack of opportunity etc are not contributing factors to terrorism. Plus media reports tell us the same, look at the Brussels terrorist cell, some dudes were doctors, others come from high middle class families. Only politicians keep ignoring these facts.

  2. Hi Morgan,

    This is a great article. I agree that BH is not effectively fought against because of bad governance on all levels. And since this problem began in the 1970's, it means that someone is benefiting from it all (the question is, who?).
    Thank you for corroborating what so many of us say: Islamic terrorism has nothing to do with poverty, lack of social status, lack of jobs, etc. It has to do with ideology, Islamic ideology and shying away from the obvious does not solve the problem.


  3. Nigeria is an old problem. African police forces everywhere are corrupt cause they are not paid enough and maybe it's the same with the military. Africans don't take security seriously and that's why Nigeria has been having problems since the 70's! It's time for Africa to take security and defense serious and to achieve that they must ally themselves with the proper countries and downgrade relations with Arab countries.

  4. Excellent article. I will quibble, however, on the point of "radicalization". Perhaps being a contrarian it is easier for me to claim that the ideological threat isn't from radicalized Islam, but rather from de-radicalized Islam. Namely, as Islam becomes more true to its roots, and less subject to the radical perversions that creep in over time, it will tend to its natural state. The deep desire of the western intellectual is that it can radicalize Islam and corrupt it so that it is diverted from its main task, just as was accomplished with Protestant Christianity, Catholicism and Judaism. But they will not succeed, because (per Daniel 7:8), it is only given for them (the small boasting horn being the western intellectual) to destroy three things.


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