Nigerian Poverty And Boko Haram

Nigeria is currently one of the worst countries affected by conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is in no small part due to the continued insurgency by Boko Haram. Starting in 2009, this conflict was prompted when a number of Islamic extremists from the Islamic terrorist group clashed with a group of Nigerian Security Forces in Bauchi. Although the conflict initially calmed down following the death of then-leader Mohammad Yusuf, attacks quickly resumed and escalated, including the bombing of the United Nations Building in Abuja. The most infamous incident of this ongoing conflict involved the group abducting a group of 234 girls from a government’s secondary school in Chibok. While some were rescued or escaped, many still remain unaccounted for with the only evidence of their survival being videos released by the group. Since then, the conflict has only expanded, reaching a point where the neighbouring states of Chad, Cameroon and Niger formed a task force to attempt to address the conflict after the group claimed Bauchi. The United States also provided 300 troops to Cameroon in order to offer intelligence support and aid in reconnaissance. Even though Boko Haram have lost their strongholds, the group continues to launch terror attacks throughout the region. Much of the growing tensions with the group can be traced back to two distinct factors. The first is the historical prevalence of the Islamic faith in the North, which is one of the dividing factors between them and a predominantly Christian southern Africa. However, the differences of faith between regions is only one factor. The second factor, and the primary reason for the group’s ability to flourish is the poverty and inequality that exists within Nigeria. In a publication he wrote in 2011, Professor Chris Kwaja explained that “[t]he ethnic or religious dimensions of the conflict have subsequently been misconstrued as the primary driver of violence when, in fact, disenfranchisement, inequality, and other practical fears are the real root causes. Capitalizing on such conditions, many political rivals have instrumentalized the ethnic and religious diversity of Jos [a Nigerian city] to manipulate and mobilize support. Each outbreak of violence worsens suspicions and renders communal reconciliation more difficult, deepening the cycle and further incentivizing polarization.”

While they are not as powerful as they initially were due to losses and the ousting from their final stronghold in the Sambisa forest, Boko Haram has continued to stage various attacks throughout Nigeria. One of the most recent attacks this month believed to be linked to the group was a suicide bombing in Maiduguri that left over 40 people injured and 12 dead. This demonstrates that while conventional warfare may have rerouted the group, it has not done anything to deter them from continuing to carry out terror attacks. In addition, much of the rationale for the continued violence is the persistence of issues that are currently plaguing Nigeria at a social level. In 2013, the Atlas of Sustainable Development Goals had found that over 86 million people were currently living in poverty. In this index, poverty is determined as those who were living on less than $1.90 per day. This is up by 35 million people compared to results in 1990, which put Nigeria’s population in poverty at 51 million. This number has likely only increased due to continued conflict and attacks, leading to damages and a need to rebuild infrastructure following attacks by the extremist group. Furthermore, pre-existing issues of internal corruption have lead to greater disenfranchisement among Nigerians, which likely only continue to fuel the group’s efforts against the state. In Transparency International’s 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index, Nigeria scored a 28 out of 100 on their scale, which rates countries from 0 (Highly Corrupt) to 100 (Very Transparent). This puts Nigeria in line with nations such as Myanmar and Lebanon, indicating that there are problems that run through the core of the country itself that must be addressed. While the actions of Boko Haram are not only damaging to Nigeria, but also to its surrounding neighbours, much of the group’s activity has been centred around the Nigerian state. And, as mentioned above, they have been able to persist after various defeats due to the pre-existing issues of corruption and poverty that are inherent within the Nigerian nation.

If the issue of Boko Haram is to be properly dealt with, the Nigerian state must first make changes to how it conducts itself. While there have been some inroads made in the past five years – most notably Nigeria’s overall corruption ranking being lowered from 143 to 136 – more needs to be done to ensure that it’s leaders are held to a higher degree of accountability. In order to achieve this, there needs to be greater oversight into not only its leaders, but also into the links between government and how they utilize public funds. One of the most prevalent issues throughout current and past governments history, even before their transition to democracy, has been embezzlement. This, in turn, has lead to the rise of cronyism among other institutions such as the Nigerian Police, which is viewed as one of the least trusted and most corrupt bodies in the country, as per the 2017 National Corruption Survey by the United Nations Office for Drug and Crimes. In this report, it was found that Nigeria spent $400 billion annually on bribes and that 46.4 percent of the population had been in a situation where they had either experienced or witnessed bribes with police officers. If Nigeria is able to focus its efforts on creating an oversight committee that supervises not only government officials but also law enforcement, it can go about focusing its efforts on reversing poverty within the country. While this group may override some of the functions of the national assembly, a newly created organization with a greater focus on this issue would eliminate some of the pre-existing problems that already exist within the government.  Additionally, this entity could work with the National Assembly, thereby easing strain and resources to allow the assembly to ensure that they are able to pass bills without worrying entirely about overseeing the conduct of their public servant peers. As well, greater oversight would mean that there would be less spent on bribes and embezzlement, thus allowing more funds to be put back into the economy. This could then be spent on infrastructure and improving the quality of life and education within the country. Furthermore, by going out of their way to provide greater scrutiny over these elements of government, it could go a long way to further ease the minds of the public and allow them to begin to have more faith in their public institutions without much fear of corruption. While this alone will not stop the acts of Boko Haram, it will surely make the group far less able to grow to the strength that it had in the past. By improving the quality of life within the region and winning back the faith of the people, the Nigerian government will find that there are less individuals that will be swayed into joining the extremist group. As a result, the group will find far less support than it had in the past, and thus make it far more difficult for it to carry out attacks against the state and the Nigerian people.

Joshua Robinson