Game Theory Of Terrorism: Digging Deep Into The Roots Of Radicalization Of Boko Haramism

Increasingly, terrorism has become an unprecedented threat to global peace, security, and development. Besides loss of millions of lives and properties, political instability, psychological disorders, and an increasing population of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) with associated immigration crisis, the continuous expansions of terrorist networks and attacks are pushing up governments’ expenditures on security and defense. Over the past six years, Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger governments have increased their budget allocations on security and defense with an expectation of increasing sophistication of weaponry for combating dreadful attacks of Boko Haram. However, it remains unclear if the increasing budget allocations have helped lower the frequency of Boko Haram attacks in the four countries. This would require further research.

In the recent report of Global Terrorism Index 2015, Boko Haram has been identified as the most deadly terrorist group in the world. Nigeria, which has been the main target of Boko Haram asides Cameroon, Chad, and Niger, has witnessed the largest increase in terrorist deaths ever recorded by any country, increasing by over 300 per cent to 7,512 fatalities (Institute for Economics and Peace, 2015). In spite of offensive counter-terrorism efforts by governments of the affected countries, Boko Haram continues to increase sophistication of attacks on non-combatant citizens. Implicitly, it seems the offensive counter-terrorism approach is proving to be ineffective; it is like cutting the grass that needs to be uprooted. Factually, offensive counter-terrorism has not addressed the root causes of the emergence of Boko Haram.

Intuitively, Boko Haram operations are guided by an ideology. Boko Haramism is an ideology that promotes anti-westernization and extreme jihadism. While anti-westernization is an outright detest of western ideas, concepts and governing system, jihadism is a radical form of Islamization (that is, the spread of Islam). The combination of anti-westernization and jihadism give rises to violent extremism and radicalization of Boko Haramism. Contrary to general belief, Boko Haramism is not exclusively an ideology against western education but entire western ideologies. Evidently, except for the ‘Chibok Girls’ that were kidnapped by Boko Haram, there were few incidence of the terrorist attacks on educational institutions, which one would have reasonably thought should have witnessed the highest records of attacks. At its early appearance, though not physically destructive, Boko Haramism evolved to indoctrinate and politicking liberal believers of Prophet Mohammed into jihadism. That was why the existence of Boko Haram predated its insurgency in Nigeria.

Schelling (1980) conducts a study on “Strategies of Conflict” using game theory and demonstrates that conflicts can be managed and subsidized through meetings of minds (consensus) of the two extremists. In the same manner, this article investigates the roots of Boko Haramism through the game theory of terrorism. Two interviews and one experiment were carried out to investigate the spread of Boko Haramism in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. The first interview was conducted in 2009 among 21 student colleagues in the North-Eastern part of Nigeria, immediately after the first attack on police in Maiduguri in 2009. At different locations, each student was asked to indicate their positions on Boko Haram’s attack on the police in Maiduguri. The respondents were classified based on their religion (Muslim and Christianity); about 90% of the respondents who are Muslim supported the attack while not less than 60% of the respondents who are Christian criticized it. In 2012, most of the respondents who supported the attack later kicked against it. One would have asked what has happened that the same respondents changed their positions. It is the impact of education and enlightenment that diffused the extremism of religion. Nevertheless, there are still large proportions of unenlightened citizens who are vulnerable to the radicalization of Boko Haramism in the affected regions.

Furthermore, the same questions asked in Nigeria (in 2009 and 2012) were directed to another group of four different nationalities from Mali, Cameroon, Chad, and Burkina Faso who were both Christian and Muslim in 2015. All the respondents criticized Boko Haramism. This implies that the widespread of Boko Haramism in the Northern Nigeria may be linked to the prevailing religion intolerance and violent extremism in the region but not the religion in itself (Islam). Evidently, modern form of jihadism still exists in the region; Sharia Law being implemented in the region promotes divides and extremism. Northern Nigeria has always been associated with frequent religious crises and ethnic conflicts before the emergence of Boko Haram. Hence, offensive counter-terrorism may not address the roots of Boko Haramism in Nigeria and its neighboring countries.

Using game theory, an experiment was carried out among five university graduate students who were given the same amount of money to some buy drinks. Each student was instructed to buy their drinks at different shops in different locations. Having been guarded by different instructors, they were instructed to report with their drinks at a specified time. The amount given to each of the students was enough to buy assorted drinks. After the return of the five students, four out of the five bought four bottles of coke while only one bought mango juice. This demonstrates that different people from different locations can have the same ideology even though they have never met. In reality, the result from the experiment justifies the globalization and radicalization of terrorism in the 21st century. Boko Haramism has a borderless feature and, therefore, cannot be confined to offensive counter-terrorism measure. Governments need to work on changing ideology that promotes Boko Haramism rather than focusing on only offensive strategies. It is also important to increase campaign and sanitization on the radicalization of Boko Haramism in the region. Until governments address the roots of Boko Haramism with minds of uprooting it rather than cutting it, counter-terrorism efforts may remain futile in the affected countries.


Schelling, C. T. (1980), Strategy of Conflict. Harvard University Press, Cambridge. Massachusetts and London: England.

International Institute for Economies (2015). Measuring and Understanding The Impact of Terrorism. Global Terrorism Index. Accessed on 21/11/2015 from

Oyewole Oginni
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