Nationhood Crisis and Violent Extremism as a Poverty Issue in Nigeria

Nationhood Crisis and Violent Extremism as a Poverty Issue. Nigeria National Report
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Research managers
National report
Dr. Efem N UBI, Research Fellow and Head, Division of International Economic Relations, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Lagos, Nigeria

Field survey
Sharkdam WAPMUK, Research Fellow and Head, Division of African Politics and Integration, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Lagos, Nigeria


The great significance of this study is that it fills a major gap. In Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa States, at the boarders with Chad, Cameroon and Niger, communities interviewed stressed that it was the first time that researchers were actually visiting them to find out about their experiences of living in border areas and the current challenges they faced. One major concern shared by all interviewers was their vulnerability and insecurity stemming from insurgencies and armed violence in North-Eastern parts of Nigeria. They all experienced difficulties in gaining access to the border areas for several reasons: bomb explosions nearby, numerous security check points, limitations with the communication systems, dirt roads and movement restrictions by car and/or motorcycle, etc.

Study areas
Three states were selected to conduct the research, namely Borno (Baga and Banki Towns), Yobe (Geidam Town), and Adamawa States (Mubi Town). They remain a hotspot for insurgency and violent extremism. These areas also share porous borders, cultural affinities and desertification, amongst others. In Borno state, the two towns were, until recently, beehives for trans-border trading, smuggling and fishing activities due their proximity with Lake Chad.

  • In Borno State lies Kukawa, the capital of the Kanem-Bornu Empire, founded in 1814 by the Muslim scholar and warlord Muhammad al-Amin al-Kanemi. The town had great strategic importance, being the Southern terminal of an important trans-Saharan trade route to Tripoli. o In Yobe State, the people of Geidam are mostly farmers who also engage in fishing. Smuggling is also a major activity along this border area. o In Adamawa State (Mubi Town), major economic activities in this area include trading, farming, and cattle rearing. In addition, the porous border has made smuggling a lucrative activity along this border area. Arabic culture and arts as well as Islamic laws, customs and dress have influenced, and in some cases replaced, the culture, arts, native laws, customs, beliefs and dress of the inhabitants.

State and citizenship, religion and identity
Citizenship and identity are at the heart of the crisis that has engulfed the postcolonial Nigerian state since independence. Ethnicity and religion, which are often politicised, have constituted a dilemma to the project of nation-building by expanding conflict and undermining development. The politicisation of Sharia law, following its adoption and implementation by some Northern states, further provided explanations for the increased agitation for Islamisation of the North by some militant Islamic groups. The so-called Boko Haram group, especially since it became violent, is the last complexification piece of the Nigerian portrait. An overview of its origins seems necessary.

Inter-communal and cross-border dynamics
People in these areas hardly recognize the borders, cross at will to attend schools, visit hospitals, access other social services and visit their relatives. Neglected in the development strategies of the postcolonial Nigerian state, border areas were relatively peaceful and good for trade, both legal and illegal, prior to the presence of the insurgent group called Boko Haram. Border areas have become an arena for cross- border smuggling, crime, violent extremism and insecurity. Fears of spill-over from Nigeria to neighboring countries and vice versa are increasing. People are significantly uninformed about the developments outside their immediate environment. The main component of insecurity is, according to respondents and despite the presence of Boko Haram, poverty and idleness. The accelerated rise in the intensity of insecurity in the North-East is predicated on the dwindling or absence of social amenities and capital resources, environmental degradation, social fragmentation and decay as well as economic marginalization of the people. Most respondents perceived international assistance as helpful and effective in addressing insecurity and violent extremism. The synergy between the states in the region, international and traditional structures is of utmost importance in ensuring safety of border communities. The role of the media is imperative in influencing social values and mitigating conflicts and insurgency.

Radicalization: clues and process
Due to the prevalent volatile context, people were reluctant to share their beliefs. The lack of standard perceptions of Boko Haram is therefore a result of such inhibiting factors. The study reveals that the insurgents took advantage of the high level of poverty, illiteracy and inadequate presence of security forces to dominate and oppress. Religion is also wrongly used to indoctrinate supporters and material gain has now become the dominant motive and driving force of Boko Haram. Even if respondents gave an external origin to violent extremism, the current Almajiri system of education has exposed young people in the North-East to radicalisation and their subsequent recruitment by Boko Haram as foot soldiers. To resolve the Boko Haram crisis, respondents expect specific actions that must involve governments at various levels, community leaders, women and youths as well as the international community at large. The traditional methods of conflict resolution can play an imperative role in curbing the crisis. People also favour the role of the Nigerian courts in bringing to justice those who committed crimes.

The role of women and young people
Women and youth have become the most vulnerable layers of the population in the selected border areas since Boko Haram came into existence. Women are turned into widows when their husbands and children are killed and, in several cases, they are abducted, raped and enslaved to cook, wash and attend to Boko Haram insurgents. The unemployed youth, particularly the Almajiri, are either forced to join the Boko Haram insurgents or enticed with money, motorcycles and promises of easy access to cash and free women. At the same time both categories seem to play an ambivalent role. As key stakeholders, they have to be peacemakers and agents of change when given the opportunity. The role played by women in reducing violence is seriously underscored by respondents.

Based on the perceptions collected during the study and observation in the field, as well as the analyses of, and discussions with, various relevant stakeholders, the following recommendations emerge:

  • The Nigerian government could reshape its strategy and take a more prominent role in addressing insecurity
  • Psychosocial intervention could be pushed forward as a strategy in mitigating and resolving the insurgency in Nigeria o Education as a means of empowerment o Harnessing traditional methods of conflict resolution o Role of women and youth o Mobilizing international concerted efforts
  • Emphasis could be laid on rehabilitation and reintergration


1. The crisis of nationhood
2. The politics of sharia and the resurgence of militant Islamism in Northern Nigeria
3. Boko Haram:the last complexification piece of the Nigerian portrait

1. The dilemma of living conditions in border areas
Looking for social services and economic opportunities
The two sides of trafficking
2. Perceptions of insecurity and how to deal with it
Insecurity: a poverty issue or a Boko Haram-driven phenomenon?
Addressing security challenges
3. The strategic role of the media in Nigeria’s security

1. Perceptions of violent extremism and radicalisation
Origin, factors and measurement of extremism
Misuse of religion and “easy cash” attraction
Reluctance while questioning respondents about their identity and beliefs
2. Perceptions, the search for solution and the fight against Boko Haram
The potential of traditional methods for peace-building
Including women and youth in peace-building
The role of the state and justice
A wake-up call for the international community
3. The Almajiri system and radicalisation of youth in North-Eastern Nigeria

1. Vulnerability and impacts on freedom
2. Ambivalent roles



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