A new publication by the International Crisis Group focuses on the effects of the political violence in Nigeria, specifically the violence caused by Boko Haram. The insurgency led by Boko Haram, now entering its fourth year and showing no signs of abating, has had a particularly debilitating effect on Nigeria, resulting in the displacement of half a million people and the death of 4,000 civilians. The violence also threatens to spread to the neighbouring states of Niger and Cameroon, which do not have the capability to combat this radical Islamist group.
There is no doubt that Boko Haram poses an extremely grave threat to Nigeria’s security. Unless the country’s federal and state governments – alongside that of its similarly afflicted neighbours – design and implement policies that address the root causes of the problem, the Boko Haram insurgency will continue to disrupt the region’s stability. Importantly, the response to the problem should not place inordinate emphasis on the use of the military, a tactic that Nigeria has adopted which has proven ineffective.
The publication emphasizes that the roots of the violence are embedded in the everyday conditions of Nigerians, especially those living in extreme poverty in the northern parts of the country. More Nigerians are living in poverty today than in 1960, due to the fact that they have become victims to the resource curse, the phenomenon that countries which have abundant resources tend to experience limited economic growth. Additionally, the deeply entrenched corruption within the political system also contributes to the fiscal irresponsibility of the Nigerian government. In many parts of the country, the government is unable to ensure the provision of security, sound infrastructure, an adequate healthcare system, or a reliable education system. The inability of the government to provide basic resources has alienated many Nigerians who are then attracted to “self-help” ethnic and religious groups (see the recent post by Chris Kwaja on the SSR Resource Centre), with the emergence of Boko Haram being a prime example.
Boko Haram is dispersed across Nigeria, Cameroon, and Niger, with leaders in specific locales. The insurgency is not likely to be suppressed unless the Nigerian government properly addresses the root grievances of the people who support the group. This would require implementing political reforms that address such issues as bad governance, corruption, and poverty. It is also in the interest of Nigeria’s political elite to concentrate on designing solutions to the problem of insurgency; further violence will only undermine the legitimacy of the 2015 federal elections as well as that of the current government.
The International Crisis Group makes specific recommendations aimed at Nigeria’s federal and state governments as well as its international partners, in order to ensure security in the northern part of the country.
To Nigeria’s Federal Government:
- Abandon heavy-handed military/police methods that risk encouraging violence and extremism.
- Address the issues of bad governance and systemic corruption.
- Address sustained economic hardship, rising inequality, and social frustration by strengthening anti-corruption agencies, and ensure their efficiency at state and local levels.
- Address the causes of radical Islamic and ethnic militancy by developing and implementing a commission with a mandate that coordinates anti-desertification campaigns, develops large-scale irrigation, agriculture, power, and road projects, and promotes small businesses that create jobs for youths.
- Encourage greater public discussion on the roots of radicalism in order to alter suspicions over radical Islam.
- Appoint senior ambassadors and defence attachés to all neighbouring countries and meet them frequently to review regional security situations.
To State Governments in Northern Nigeria:
- Cooperate with northern political, traditional, and religious elites for the de-radicalization and disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of Islamist militants.
- Reform the Quranic educational system by introducing a dual curriculum.
- Set high standards of transparent and accountable state governance.
To Nigeria’s International Partners:
- Continue the building of bilateral and multinational security networks in the region.
- Strengthen patrols at Nigeria’s borders to curtail the movement of armed groups and criminals.
- Increase the exchange of intelligence information.
- Support programs at all levels of government that address poverty, youth unemployment, and gender inequality.
- Encourage the Nigerian federal government to have a policy of zero tolerance for corruption.
The full publication can be accessed here.
Lema Ijtemay is a Research and Communications Intern at the Centre for Security Governance.