Terrorist violence in Nigeria: A case of social injustice

ON the night of 14th April, 2014, 276 female students were kidnapped from a government secondary school in Chibok, Borno State. Responsibility for this was claimed by Boko Haram, an Islamist extremist terrorist group based in Nigeria’s North-western states of Borno and Yola. This and many other significant killings, suicide bombings and kidnappings attributed to this group have resulted in the death of thousands and displacement of millions from their homes. These activities suggest that terrorism poses a serious challenge to the Nigerian government and there is a pressing need to combat this menace. Generally, terrorism refers to the coercive intimidation, or more fully as the systematic use of murder, injury and destruction, or threat of same, to create a climate of extreme fear, to publicise a cause, and to coerce a wider target into submitting to its aims. It is the use of intentional violence against civilians or non-combatant for political purposes. Terrorism implies a degree of purposiveness that is; it is done with an intended purpose which can be political, religious or economic. Terrorists believe that the best way to get certain political effects is to aim at “soft” non-combatant targets. Hence, terrorist acts can be and are expressive, symbolic and politically purposive.

However, given the growing incidence of terrorism around the globe, terrorism is now considered a leading global security threat. In Nigeria, terrorist attacks on people, communities, government and infrastructures have caused serious panic as well as a dire humanitarian situation. The Boko Haram sect, which started out as a nonviolent Islamic group has gradually become a full blown terrorist organisation that is bent on undermining the sovereignty and security of Nigeria. Owing to this,significant debates have ensued about the possible causes of terrorist violence in Nigeria with the hope that recognising these root causes would help in dealing with the problem. Research studies have shown that terrorist violence in Nigeria is firmly rooted in the socioeconomic, religious and political challenges confronting the country. It is argued that poor socioeconomic conditions such as lack of employment opportunities, poverty, inequality, marginalisation and underdevelopment often create the condition for people to join terrorist organizations. This, therefore, suggests that people who are economically deprived, unemployed and live in abject poverty are more likely to resort to violence as a way to express their grievances.

Now, while considering these issues, the fundamental questions that bother us are; why is Nigeria, a state with the largest economy in Africa and 27th in the world finding it difficult to address the socioeconomic and political challenges confronting her? Why is Nigeria, a state with abundant human and natural resources struggling with unpleasant socioeconomic conditions among other issues which create the avenue for people to engage in terrorism? We say it is due to the absence of social justice. “Social justice” in this sense refers to fairness in the distribution of wealth, opportunities, privileges and burdens within the society. It is the ideology which encompasses creating organised human interactions and institutions which provide access to what is good for the human person, both individually and in associations with others. But in a situation where the country’s annual revenue is over 54 billion dollars and yet majority of its citizens live on less than a dollar per day, where legislators, ministers and politicians walk away with tens of millions daily while university lecturers, health workers and other essential workers languish in poverty; where an average Nigerian worker cannot boast of earning 40,000 naira monthly as minimum wage  and where leaders and their allies readily work not only to subvert democratic norms by coercing legislatures and bureaucracies into subservience but also to compromise judicial independence and abuse the legitimacy of power for parochial ends, it is only logical that citizens would transfer allegiance and gravitate towards terrorism and violence to register their displeasure. This, therefore, tells us that the absence of justice, fairness and equitable distribution of wealth, opportunities and burdens in Nigeria can be said to beresponsible for terrorist violence in Nigeria.

If this is true that social injustice breeds terrorist activities, then it becomes imperative that Nigerian leaders adopt greater socioeconomic intervention strategies to mitigate the apparent injustices in the wheels of the government. There is a pressing need for the Nigerian government to reverse the economic and social degradation that has provided a fertile ground for terrorism by ensuring just governmental policies, encouraging negotiation, compromise and settlement, recognising minority rights, implementing fundamental reforms that will relax the grievances of the masses and providing employment opportunities and empowerment for the youths. If these are achieved, then there is the hope that terrorist activities in Nigeria would at the very least be limited, reduced, weakened and alienated. To use the words of King Solomon, the wisest king to have ever lived,“by justice a king brings stability to the land but those who sow injustice will reap disaster!” Terrorism is a complete disaster that can only be crushed with the hammer of justice.

  • Oduola is a postgraduate student of philosophy at the University of Ibadan.

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