While the terrorist group Boko Haram has numbers, weapons and a mission to fight for, their best advocate for success is the poverty in Nigeria.
In 2013, Boko Haram managed to kill 40 students in Yobe State, despite the fact that there was a federal government-imposed state of emergency in the area. Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan, a senator from Yobe state, said this on the issue:
“This is an insurgency that doesn’t know any limits or bounds. But I think while we are fighting insurgency in that part of the country, I believe that Yobe and Borno particularly need to have more resources from the federal government to also fight poverty. If we are targeting insurgency, we must also be battling the source of the insurgency, and it has been established by people across this country and even people from beyond that poverty is in the mix of this crisis. And there I believe that the federal needs to come up with a special financial package for Yobe State and Borno State too.”
The poverty throughout the country not only helps Boko Haram with going against security, but it also aids their recruitment process. J. Peter Pham, an expert on Boko Haram at the Atlantic Council, speaks about how the group takes advantage of the desperation some Nigerians are going through. Essentially, Boko Haram thrives on poverty.
“What Boko Haram does is goes around with pennies, and they’ll hire these young boys for a penny or two to watch Nigerian military movements or carry messages around for them, it’s an example of how poverty makes for an easy operational climate.”
When each region of Nigeria is mapped out showing the percentage of those who are poor and those who are in absolute poverty, there is a correlation between the poorest areas and the areas with the highest presence of Boko Haram. The North-East, North-West and North-Central regions of Nigeria have the highest percentage of those living on less than $1 a day, and are also the areas most strongly affected by Boko Haram.
The International Crisis Group wrote in a report on Boko Haram in April that many of the youth in Nigeria are lacking in education and employable skills, and are therefore easy to recruit by anti-state and militia groups.
Former assistant secretary of state for African affairs Johnnie Carson told a house subcommittee in July 2012 that “Boko Haram thrives because of social and economic problems in the North.”
One worry many people have is that the Nigerian government is concerning themselves too much with their public appearance after all of the violence rather than curbing the violence itself. The administration under President Goodluck Jonathan recently hired a lawyer to help improve their image abroad.
There are possible solutions to minimizing the violence throughout Nigeria. Creating a well-structured poverty alleviation program, outside of any political motives, would be a strong start.
This would require more effort focused on Universal Basic Education programs, which would include qualified teachers and mid-day lunch. The educational improvements should continue with more vocational schools where graduates can receive grants to practice their vocations.
Overall, the best way to curb the success of Boko Haram is to eliminate the source they thrive on: poverty. With some work put into the education of the youth, Nigeria will be able to thrive in a safer, more educated country.
– Courtney Prentice