Rodrigo Pedrosa Lyra

Rodrigo Pedrosa Lyra tem escrito 1 posts para Observatório da África

The emergence of Boko Haram: why Nigeria?


Boko Haram is one of today’s most widely discussed issues. But what do people really know about this topic? As I’m writing this essay, Nigerians are facing a car-crash scenario of terror. You may ask why this situation is happening in Nigeria, the world’s eighth largest oil producer, which has registered strong economic growth averaging 6.5%, according to the World Bank most recent estimates. The answer is not quite simple. Surely, the first thing we have to bear in mind when discussing Nigeria is its complex social reality. Having taken that into account, we can look at the current scene differently. Upon more careful analysis, the emergence of Boko Haram is less about poverty or economic issues and more about social differences that exist even among the poorest.

Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and in 2014 it overtook South Africa to become the biggest economy on the African continent. However, considering Nigeria’s recent history, Falola and Heaton (2008) advocate the idea that its success has for a long time been undermined by ethnic and religious conflict, besides a great deal of corruption and political instability. Nonetheless, between the years 1980 and 1990, the argument goes, civil society organizations grew expansively, mainly due to demand changes from an authoritarian military regime and to provide services and freedom to Nigerians. Thus, since 1999 Nigeria is a democracy with the president as head of state. Indeed, from 1999 to 2007 President Obasanjo made some efforts to improve the image of the country in international circles.

The crux of the matter lies elsewhere, though. According to the World Bank (2015), Nigeria is also the most populous country in Africa (173 million people), which represents 47% of West Africa’s population. Nigeria’s population is made up of about 200 ethnic groups, 500 indigenous languages and two major religions – Islam and Christianity. Therefore, intolerance and ethnic hatred explain in part the emergence of Boko Haram in 2002, despite the continued strong economic growth. Religious diversity keeps people apart instead of near.

Although the world turned its ears and eyes toward Boko Haram especially on the night of 14 April 2014, when female students were kidnapped from a secondary school in Chibok, thousands of people have already been killed by Boko Haram since at least 2010. The main reason is that this group is pigheadedly opposed to western-style modern education. After training received from al-Qaeda terrorist attacks have intensified in Nigeria. Broadly speaking, Boko means Western education, while Haram means forbidden. It was designated a terrorist group by the US in 2013. According to The Guardian, Boko Haram’s attempts to impose sharia law in Nigeria has killed approximately 13,000 people and driven 1.5 million from their homes. Last year, the group declared an Islamic caliphate in Gwoza and in March 2015 IS and Boko Haram became key allies in order to create a global caliphate.

To sum up, despite strong economic growth and the fact that the fifth consecutive national elections in March 2015 was successfully conducted, which represents a very important step in the strengthening of the democratic process in Nigeria, the country still faces difficulty caused by religious conflict. On this note, the main concern must be to relegate the Nigerian terrorist group to the scrap heap of history. There cannot and should not be room for a step backward in the history of the country. After all, it is no exaggeration to say that considering the importance of Nigeria on the African scene, Boko Haram insurgency may turn into a global problem and Islamic State has been taking advantage of this situation.


FALOLA, Toyin; HEATON, MATTHEW M. A History of Nigeria. Nova Iorque: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

WORLD BANK, 2015. http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/nigeria/overview






O Observatório

Este observatório é uma iniciativa do Grupo de Estudos Africanos vinculado ao Instituto de Relações Internacionais da Universidade de Brasília (GEA/IREL-UnB), que busca refletir sobre a vida política, social e econômica da África contemporânea, com destaque para sua inserção internacional. Preocupando-se com o continente marcado pela diversidade, o Grupo de Estudos Africanos, por meio do Observatório, propõe um olhar crítico e compreensivo sobre temas africanos, em suas mais diversas dimensões.