Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Boko Haram: A Threat to Nigeria's Development

By Deborah EgboPublished November 8, 2013

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Nigeria faces a new threat to continuous economic development: Boko Haram, a Nigeria-based terrorist organization. Boko Haram, which means "Western education is sin," aims to enforce the Sharia law in all thirty-six states in Nigeria and has carried out attacks on several attacks on civilians with a major focus on targeting Christians and government officials.
By Deborah Egbo, Published 11/8/13

Like most other African countries, Nigeria became a democratic nation in the 1990's, specifically 1999. Since then, it has experienced an increase in foreign trade, investment and international aid. Today, it boasts the second largest economy in Africa with a GDP of 262.2 billion USD. However, Nigeria's growth has been full of conflict. A few years ago, Nigeria's oil exportation was significantly reduced due to violence in the Niger Delta region. Today, it faces a new threat to continuous economic development: Boko Haram, a Nigeria-based terrorist organization. Boko Haram, which means "Western education is sin," was formed by Yusuf Mohammed in 2002. Its goal is to enforce the Sharia law in all thirty-six states in Nigeria. Although established in 2002, it was not a threat to national security until 2009. Since then, it has carried out attacks on several attacks on civilians with a major focus on targeting Christians and government officials. 

A minimal understanding of Nigeria's history and ethnic composition is necessary to grasp the motivation for this jihadist movement. There are three major tribes in Nigeria: Hausa/Fulani (Northerners), Yoruba (Westerners) and Igbo (Southerners and Easterners). The Hausa and the Igbos in particular have had decades of bitter conflict. During the colonial and pre-independence period, the Hausas held the major positions of power in the government. With the Hausas in power, the Igbo people were exploited, maltreated, and sometimes killed by the Nigerian government and foreign investors who wanted to drill oil found in their lands. This led to the Igbos resenting the Hausas, and ultimately trying to secede in order to form their own nation in 1967. The civil war that resulted from the failed attempt to secede strengthened the enmity between the Igbos and the Hausas.

Despite the continuous Northern leadership, development and job opportunities are scarce in the North. The presence of oil in the South encourages international investment, which boosts job opportunities, infrastructural development, and literacy. The West and the East have also developed due to their business acumen, their agricultural output, and an increased focus on education. Conversely, literacy rates in the North have been very low because education is linked to Christian missionaries, which negates their Muslim beliefs.

Boko Haram followers are comprised of mostly unemployed and illiterate Hausa youth that have been brainwashed into thinking that Western (Christian) education is the cause of their unemployment and low standard of living. Hence, they believe the only way to overcome their adversity is to eliminate the influence of "Western education." The Boko Haram leaders on the other hand, are well-educated and want a Northern leadership. After Nigeria became a democratic nation in 1999, a Westerner led the country for eight years. The Northerners believed it was their right to serve for the next eight years. The president elected in 2009 was a Northerners but he died a year into office and a Southerner took over. This upset the Northern leaders as they felt they were unable to complete their eight years in office, especially since the Southerners are their biggest opponents. When a Southerner took over in 2010, Boko Haram's terrorist activities increased. This can be attributed to the antagonistic history between the Northerners and the Southerners. 

Boko Haram's activities are an additional hindrance to development in the Northern part of Nigeria, which affects the overall measure of Nigeria's development. Attacks on infrastructure have caused loss of jobs and housing, which has resulted in the migration of people out of the region to search for better jobs and safer living conditions. The net migration of those who can afford to move out of the region would eventually cause a concentration of impoverished people, creating a favorable environment for recruitment into this terrorist organization.

To further worsen the situation, international health aid to the region has reduced drastically because the Northerners believe modern medicine is a form of Westernization. In addition, aid workers are often killed by extremists like Boko Haram followers. Trade and investment in the region have also reduced drastically due to this increase in violence. Local business have either closed or moved to other parts of the country due to the unsafe environments and the deterioration of reliable infrastructure. While Boko Haram's attacks do not directly affect the entire country, they prevent equilateral growth. Ultimately, the instability in the region hinders Nigeria from reaching its 2020 target goals of becoming one of the 20 largest economies in the world, establishing itself as a significant player in the global economic and political arena, and consolidating its leadership role in Africa.