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Boko Haram: Poverty and Terrorism in Nigeria

Boko Haram is a militant terrorist organization whose goal is to overthrow the government of Nigeria and institute Sharia law. Nigeria is characterized by two areas defined by wealth: the poor north and the rich south. It is no surprise that Boko Haram operates in northern Nigeria, where it can capitalize on poor economic conditions to recruit new members.

Translating to “western education is forbidden” in English, Boko Haram rejects western ideals and forbids the use of modern technology, considering it to be a western invention. Since the group’s emergence in 2009, they have claimed responsibility for a number of terrorist attacks against the administration of President Goodluck Jonathon. A recent attack involved the suicide bombings of three churches in northern Nigeria in which 50 people perished.

Jonathon’s method of dealing with the conflict has been brutal, to say the least. The Nigerian President declared a state of emergency in the country in April, beginning a new offensive against Boko Haram. Unfortunately, the army has been unnecessarily brutal with civilians, causing a significant contingent of poor Nigerians to ally themselves with Boko Haram. A writer from The Economist has pointed out that “More Nigerians are killed by the police every year than by Boko Haram.”

The founder of the group was Muhammad Yusuf, a disenfranchised Nigerian youth who dropped out of secondary school to study the Qur’an in North Africa. Yusuf was one of the thousands of al-majiri who grew up in northern Nigeria. These children are extremely poor students of Islam who pay for their own education through begging. When Yusuf returned to his native town of Maiduguri in the early 2000s, his fervent sermons appealed to the al-majiri. Yusuf’s Boko Haram allowed youngsters to earn a living while fighting against the government that perpetuated their poverty.

African Studies scholar Aliyu Odamah Musa recognized the persuasive power of radicalism to the poor in a 2012 article featured in the Journal of African Media Studies, stating: “Acute poverty, as is experienced by people in the area (Northern Nigeria), is highly likely to encourage people to allow groups like Boko Haram to manipulate them.” Musa goes on to suggest that development efforts need to be made in northern Nigeria in order to prevent young people from falling in with Boko Haram. As ties between Boko Haram and al-Qaeda are discovered, it would be in the best interest of the United States to adhere to the logic of Musa and invest in the economic development of northern Nigeria.

Josh Forgét

Sources: The Economist, BBC, The Christian Science Monitor
Photo: GlobalPost