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Nigeria: A Case Study in New Terror

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On September 29th, 2013, a group of Islamist militants in northeastern Nigeria stormed a college, killing 40 students. The group responsible for the attack was a group called Boko Haram (literally translates to “Western education is sinful”). Boko Haram was formed in 2001, and since 2010 has been responsible for numerous terrorist attacks across Nigeria. Boko Haram is interesting, partially because of their impact in Nigeria, but mostly because the way Boko Haram operates, and the way they always have, is increasingly becoming the norm for terrorist organizations across the globe.

A key thing to understand about terrorist organizations is that while, at their core, they are built around some extreme ideology, this is not the main reason they get supporters. Terrorism is normally strong because it offers a better alternative. Pirates in Somalia’s al-Shabaab join because it offers an alternative to the low standard of living in Somalia. al-Shabaab creates jobs in Somalia, no one else does. Terrorism is risky business, but terrorist organizations attract supporters because they allow the member to support their family. In addition, terrorist organizations, however unfortunate this is, are often more meritocratic than governments in countries in which terrorism thrives. Governments are corrupt, but terrorits organizations rarely are. The same is true of Boko Haram. In a country plagued by political and police corruption, Boko Haram grew by attracting young, unemployed men to speak out against this very corruption. This means that dismal economic situations, corrupt politics and inconsistent law enforcement create perfect breeding grounds for terrorists. Increasingly, we are seeing the rise of terrorism in not just Nigeria, but in other countries¬† which meet these standards (Yemen, Mali, Syria). In essence, terrorists are beginning to find themselves striking fear into “weak” governments, trying to eventually gain some level of control. While this is nothing entirely new, the effects this has upon the terrorists actions is a key difference. Instead of focusing on bringing terror to developed countries, as was seen on 9/11, terrorists are seeing success in gaining power in these countries with “weak” governments, meaning that terrorists, including Boko Haram, are increasingly focusing on more regional targets.

One of the Nigerian government’s primary goals in the past decade has been fighting Boko Haram. They have poured lots of government and military resources into fighting Boko Haram. When going after terrorist organizations, the traditional technique is to go after the leaders, hoping that by destroying the leadership, the organization will become ineffective and eventually fall apart. This has not worked at all in Nigeria. Every few months, the Nigerian government will make an announcement saying that they killed some important leader in Boko Haram. Yet, despite making this announcement, no one really knows whether or not that person was an important leader. Boko Haram is a very unorganized group, with disparate groups of members, and posessing only a very loose idea of what they would actually like achieved. Increasingly, this is the trend in terrorism, as more organizations lack an organizational structure, just a bunch of people who have a loose idea of what to do. This makes increasingly hard to fight terrorist organizations, as our traditional method is thrown out the window.

With this new terror, it is, of course, imperative to find new ways to fight terrorism. The best way to fight new terror goes back to the idea of “weak” governments. Since we can no longer attack the structure of the organizations, we need to focus on cutting off the source from which terrorists grow their strength. In the case of Nigeria, the solution rests with President Goodluck Jonathan. While Goodluck Jonathan is fairly clean by Nigerian standards, the rest of his government is far from it. Jonathan is fairly passive, but he needs to pick up his act and become more aggressive in fighting corruption, both politically and in law enforcement. The other key that Jonathan needs to get down is the economy. Nigeria has immense potential for economic prosperity. With Africa’s largest population, and immense oil reserves, Nigeria could be a true economic powerhouse. But Nigeria lacks the infrastructure and education to take advantage of their potential, and with this dismal economy, terrorists prosper. Yet despite this, Jonathan has spent over a quarter of its annual budget this year just on fighting Boko Haram. Its money would likely be better spent on infrastructure and education, hitting at the root of Boko Haram better than continuing its failed military campaign. These two ideas can be applied in how governments worldwide approach terrorism. Rather than focusing so much on military offensives, commit fewer resources to military defensives, and use the rest of the resources to cut down on corruption and boost the economy, choking terrorists out of power, and thus fighting new terror.

Filed under International
Oct 8, 2013

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