Terrorism, and Security Challenges in Nigeria; Causes, Consequences and Prospects – Ezeah, P.C., Osayi, K.K.

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Our Take: Nigerians and non-Nigerians are murdered in large numbers daily, given the security crises. Despite claims by the government and security agencies to addressing issues of security issues, it persists. The government and security personnel seem overwhelmed or incapable of protecting Nigerians’ lives and property from terrorists. Combating terrorist activities would require the government to restructure and strengthen its security and intelligence gathering architecture. Also, restore public trust by addressing the country’s underlying widespread discontent through good governance and respect for the rule of law. The use of conflict prevention strategies that focus on timely detection and countering conflicts would help tackle insecurity.


Terrorism is presently a major challenge in Nigeria. Nigerians and non-Nigerians are being killed on daily bases in their numbers. Although the government and security agents claim to be on top of the situation, the problem still persists. From all indications, the government and the security agents seem to be overwhelmed or incapable of effectively securing the lives and properties of Nigerians from terrorists. This paper analysed security challenges in the face of increasing incidences of terrorism in Nigeria by looking at its causes and consequences as well as the prospects. The paper used library research method and data collection was purely based on secondary materials. The paper strongly argued that to be able to counter terrorist activities, the Nigerian government needs to restructure and strengthen its security and intelligence gathering architecture and restore public trust by dealing with the underlying widespread discontent in the country through good governance and especially respect for the rule of law. The  paper as well emphasized the adoption of conflict prevention (preventive diplomacy) methods which focuses on the early detection of likely causes of conflict and promotes early involvement which can de-escalate conflict and hasten the restoration of peace.


The Nigerian society is getting more and more insecure, more people are getting into crimes and they are getting more desperate, ruthless, and sophisticated. In Nigeria today, new forms of violent crimes have become common. These include, kidnapping for ransom, pipeline vandalization, ritual killings, armed robbery, and ethnic skirmishes (Otto and Ekpere, 2012). The latest architect of insecurity in Nigeria is Boko Haram, a terrorist sect whose overt and covert activities has threatened the very foundation of the country.

            Presently, Nigerians live their lives in fear without knowing when a Boko Haram suicide bomber will come their way. The ease with which the suicide bombers carry out their dastardly act shows that the Nigerian government is not doing enough security wise to stop these attacks. From all indications, security agents do not seem to be on top of the situation. For instance, security agents seem not to be proactive of the bombings of Boko Haram despite the fact that the sect sends warning signals in advance. The result is that, security personnel usually arrives the scene of the bombing after it has happened. Thus, they are never found in the right places at the right time. This scenario plays out in most other terrorist related crimes such as bank robberies, kidnappings and other organized crimes. On the other hand, there appears to be poor critical security awareness and consciousness amongst the Nigerian populace. This could explain the level of vulnerability and helplessness in the face of any security challenge in the country.

            National security issue has not been a core concern in Nigeria more than it has been within the last decade especially with the emergence of terrorism. In many social, political and academic fora, several socio-political and religious factors have been muted as factors that give rise to and have fuelled the phenomenon. The bottom line is that insecurity is a social problem that is socially created through conscious and unconscious actions and inactions of man, and so, it needs as well, man’s concerted effort to find solution to it (Igbo & Anugwuom, 2007).

Conceptual Clarifications

Security can be conceptualized as the knowledge and attitude members of a society possess regarding the protection of their lives and properties. Being security aware means that one understands that there is the potential for someone or people to deliberately or accidentally attack, steal, damage, or obtain information that will be to the detriment of the community and therefore being on the lookout for any sign of danger. The focus of security is centered on cultural, behavioural and attitudinal dispositions of societal members towards the protection of their lives and properties.

Terrorism means different things to different people in different contexts. Radu, (2002) for instance, defines terrorism as ‘any attack, or threat of attack, against unarmed targets, intended to influence, change or divert major political decisions’. Similarly, Wardlaw, (1982) views terrorism as ‘the use, or threat of use of violence by an individual or a group, whether acting for or in opposition to established authority, when such action is designed to create extreme anxiety and, or fear including effects in a target group larger than immediate victims with the purpose of coercing that group into acceding to the political demands of the perpetrators. In this context, terrorism is defined as the premeditated use or threat of use of violence by an individual or group to cause fear, destruction or death, especially against unarmed targets, property or infrastructure within a state, intended to compel those in authority to respond to the demands and expectations of individuals or group behind such violent acts. Their expectations may be for a change of status quo in terms of the political, economic, ideological, religious or social order within the affected state or for a change in the actions or policies of the affected state in relation to its interaction with other groups or states (wardlaw, 1982).

According to Madunagu (2011) the word terrorism can be defined in the following ways: An unlawful violence or any other unlawful harmful  act committed (or threatened) against civilians by groups or persons for political or other ideological goals, a premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by sub national groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience. Furthermore, UN (2005) cited in Madunagu (2011:10) defined terrorism as “an action intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act.

Some other scholars view terrorism from different perspectives. According to Griffitha and O’Callaghan (2004) cited in Mudasiru, (2011:95) “terrorism is an unpredictable and premeditated use of violence or the threat of violence to achieve identifiable goals. It includes attacks against tourists, embassy staff, military personnel, aid workers, and employers of multinational corporations (MNCC). It can be used by individuals and groups against governments, and it can be used and sponsored by governments against governments, and it can be used and sponsored by governments against particular groups (Mudasiru, 2011: 95). Griffiths and O’callaghan (2004) identified four distinct kinds of terrorism as follows: (a) The transnational crime, (b) State-sponsored terrorism, nationalistic terrorism, and (c) the ideological terrorism.

According to Mudasiru (2011), the transnational terrorism involves the use of violence by drug cartels to protect their private interests by attacking governments and individuals who attempt to reduce their activity and influence. The Italian Mafia is a good example in this case. State-sponsored terrorism is a method of warfare whereby a state uses agents or surrogates to create political and economic instability in another country. States also sponsor terrorism by giving logical support, money, weapons and allied equipment, training, and safe passage to terrorists. Examples include the activities of anti-colonial movements, groups wishing to secede from a particular state as witnessed in the Basque movement in Spain, Sikh nationalists in India, Biafran government in Nigeria and so on. Ideological terrorism is that in which terrorists use terror either to change a given domestic policy or to overthrow a particular government. It is thus pertinent to observe that terrorism is far from being a mindless, irrational force. Usually, acts of terrorism are well planned and carried out with military precision.

Spencer (2006) cited in Mudasiru (2011) opined that terrorism is difficult to conceptualize. For him, one of the problems of defining terrorism is the ability to distinguish terrorism from the other related concepts like guerilla warfare, crime or mad serial killers and a host of others. There is even a pessimistic notion by Laqueur (1977) that a comprehensive definition of terrorism does not exist for now.

Four elements form the essential features of terrorism or terrorist act. First, the act must be violent; whether premeditated or instantaneous. Second, the direct targets of such attack are usually non-combatant; usually without a direct relation or influence on the real motive behind the act. Third, the act took place largely in an environment of relative peace, but sometimes could involve conflicts situation. Finally, the ultimate motive for the resort to violence is to cause fear (in the psyche of the public) in order to influence those in political authority to respond to the demands or expectations of the individual or group behind the attack.

It is pertinent to note that there is an important correlation between methods used by terrorists and their ultimate goals. The more spectacular the method, the more attention the act itself will receive. Terrorist attacks on civilian are primarily intended to be symbolic. Similarly, a terrorist bombs a building not so much because he or she seeks to kill indiscriminately but because the attack will be published across the globe and will draw unwittingly attention to the cause. In this sense, the mass media can become an ally of the terrorists. The newsworthiness of terrorist attacks has led some scholars to argue that there should be a complete blackout on such acts (Mudasiru, 2011).

Madunagu (2011) argued that there is need for a differentiation of the concepts “Terrorism in Nigeria” and “Nigerian Terrorism” for a better understanding of the insurgencies in Nigeria. For him, terrorism in Nigeria suggests a foreign terrorist is distinct from Nigerian terrorism which is home grown Nigerian terrorism.  The two are different formulations which, when inserted in the contemporary Nigerian situation, produce entirely two different perspectives on how to tackle it (Madunagu, 2011). It can therefore be said that Nigerian terrorism are those terrorism whose seeds were sown in Nigeria, germinated and is now flourishing in Nigeria. Focusing on Nigerian terrorism Madunagu (2011) stated that five forms stand out: Niger Delta insurgency; the Boko Haram insurgency; the Middle Belt (Jos) killings; Kidnapping for ransom; and Armed Robbery. Each of these dimensions of Nigerian terrorism has been modified or “enriched”, or even transformed, by developments in Nigerian politics and political economy. But their roots and their trajectories are clear (Madunagu, 2011). 

The Nigerian State and Terrorism

Ostensibly, terrorism in Nigeria is spanned by the contradictory dynamics of the polity in Nigeria. In particular, with the notorious corruption among the political elite, the country’s vast wealth has failed to improve the lives of the citizens. This coupled with stolen political mandate, has led to a growing disenchantment particularly among jobless young men (Adesoji, 2010). 

Both ancient and modern philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Mill and Bentham have argued that the state (government) is not only the organ where the citizenry can actualize themselves, but, more importantly, the end of such state is the maximization of their welfare (Akubor, 2011). Anything that derogates from the security and happiness that the state can guarantee, in the prescription of Lock, he calls for rebellion against the sovereign (Aminu and Yaqub 2002 cited in Akubor, 2011).

Scholars as well as Conflict Analysts such as Ilo (2008) are of the view that the religious, ethnic, and regional tension in the country can only be understood in the light of the conditions created by debts, economic crisis and structural adjustment in the country. Ilo (2008) argued that poverty is the greatest source of civil strife in Nigeria. He opined that when people are hungry and lack the basic necessities of life, they are easily prone to violence. On the other hand, Adekunle (2007) posited that the introduction of stiff economic measures like Austerity Measures during civil rule in the 1980’s and structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) during the military regime have tended to be accompanied by increasing incidents of violent protests, crises and conflicts, strike, demonstrations, armed coups and counter-coup attempts.

Interestingly, fanatical uprisings in Nigeria have mostly originated from the North, which arguably is the poorest part of the country (Makinde, 2009:6). Indeed, out of the 178 clashes that have taken place in Northern Nigeria between 1980 and 2004, 104 were related to religion (Sani, 2007).

Furthermore, Adesoji (2011) contended that the role that partisan politics and political patronage play in the sustenance of Boko Haram sect is obvious. In a similar vein, Nigeria’s former National Security Adviser (NSA) in a paper delivered at the South-South Economic summit held in Asaba, Delta State, Nigeria on 27th April, 2012, observed that Boko Haram members were getting better trained, better equipped and better funded, while Nigeria’s security agencies have no answer to the question posed by them. He traced the incessant bombings, suicide attacks and jail breaks ravaging mostly the Northern part of Nigeria and sensitive national landmarks institutions to the ‘politics of exclusion” of the ruling party in the country. He thus tried to input political undertone to the intractable problem of insecurity that has been made more vociferous by the activities of Boko Haram (The Nation, May 3, 2012). Given the level of vexation among different sections of the population, it is no surprise that racial manifestations and fundamentalist philosophies like Boko Haram developed, thrive and wrecks havoc at will in Nigeria. (The Nation, May 3, 2012).

In his views, Obadofin (2012) opined that terrorism is not only attached to religion, but often, it has political undertone. He further argued that the main factor that triggers terrorism is hatred. For thousands of years, the Arabs have been the enemy of the Jews, and the same hatred, from the Arabs is also translated to the United States (Obadofin, 2012). According to Obadofin (2012:35), . to an Islamic extremist, especially those trained as suicide bombers, this is an era of jihad. They have been brainwashed into a belief that if they sacrifice life to kill ‘unbelievers’, they would be rewarded with the bliss of heaven and a harem of virgins both voluptuous and good at bed.

It can be observed that more blood has been shed in the name of religion than any other cause; and terrorists (most of which hide under the cover of religion) have committed many deadly attacks since 2001. The case of Nigeria is not an exception but the problem is multifaceted, it cuts across religion, politics and even economic issues. Socio-economic problems, ethno-religious sentiments, educational fallout (illiteracy), Unemployment, political geocentricism etc have become platforms to launch attacks on innocent citizen by armed robbers and kidnappers in the past. Boko Haram is a product of national failure like others (Obadofin, 2012).

In the same vein, Kukah (2003) is in tacit agreement that the Boko Haram terrorism is embedded in the character and structure of the Nigerian nation state. According to him, with its neo-colonial heritage, Nigeria imposed a new perception and definition of inter-ethnic relations. The competition for power as a means of resource allocations has meant that the ethnic elites within the Nigerian state have had to fall back on what can, and will, enhance their prospects of capturing and retaining power for their immediate environmental constituency. In Northern Nigeria, the hegemony of the ruling class has been prefixed on the veneer of the Islamic religion, since this was the basis for the establishment of the caliphate. This means that, claiming the fear of God being a Bawan Allah (God’s servant) and trust in Ikon Allah (the will of God), are prerequisites and major aspects of political and economic survival within this ruling class.

Although, there is no conclusive link of Boko Haram with jihadist movements outside Nigeria, the modus operandi of the sect, fashioned after the Taliban in Afghanistan, has generated some curiosities. Given its large followers and the claim that it has sent members to Afghanistan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Iraq, Mauritania and Algeria for training, it could be that Boko Haram modeled itself after the Taliban simply to acknowledge its source of inspiration (Adesoji, 2010).

These and other related incidents of shooting of innocent citizens and security operatives, bank robberies, rape and molestation of women and children at home by unknown group in the last few years points to alarming deterioration of security and Nigeria’s growing vulnerability to extremism and terrorism; a situation that calls for urgent and more concerted response from the Nigerians and Nigerian government.

Some Incidences of Security Violations in Nigeria

Terrorism as so defined seems to have come to stay in Nigeria. The frightening rate with which innocent citizens and public infrastructure in Nigeria are being attacked either by unknown Islamist radical group, or politically hatched unknown/faceless groups has long become headline news in local and international media, with damaging consequences on Nigeria’s image. As noted by Onuoha (2011), on July 2009, for instance, the country witnessed its most serious anti-government uprising, provoked by the Boko Haram. In the aftermath of the revolt, over 3,500 people were internally displaced, more than 1,264 children orphaned, and over 392 women widowed. In addition, 28 policemen and five prison warders, as well as an undisclosed number of soldiers, were killed. Properties destroyed include 48 buildings, three primary schools, more than 12 churches and a magistrate court. A year after, precisely on 7 September 2010, members of the sect again organized a jail break in Bauchi Prison to free its members who had been incarcerated following the 2009 revolt. Over 700 inmates of the Prisons including the sect members escaped from the prison. In addition, over five people including a soldier, a policeman, two prison warders and a civilian were killed during the attack.

Particularly worrisome is the spate of bombings in the last few years in Nigeria. For instance, the 50th Independence Day (1 October 2010) twin bomb blasts near the Eagle Square in Abuja that killed at least twelve people and injured several dozen others. the bomb blasts and killings in Jos and Maiduguri on Christmas Eve (Thisday, 27 December 2010) and the explosion on New Year Eve at the Mami market near the Mogadishu Barracks in Abuja, which claimed more than 109 innocent lives within a month (Onuoha, 2011). Since then Nigeria has witnessed several more deadly bomb blast, many which are suicide bombings targeted at police stations, and police posts, army barracks, churches and mosques as well as government buildings such as the US Embassy attack.

Nigerian security networks seem also to have been compromised such that they have now been left floundering. Allegations that some security agents are on the pay roll of the terrorists given their role during reported attacks have increased over these many months. Many times, eye witnesses talk of people, not just in the uniform of soldiers or police personnel, participating in the killings. They finger among their attackers security people called in to protect them. Sometimes, these security people take side with the attackers or provide escape leeway for them. Incidents like these have been reported from places as far apart as Jos, Abuja and Damaturu among others. In Jos, a very senior soldier, a military commander, was said to have sabotaged efforts to repel the terrorists during one such attack on a community. The case of Kabiru Sokoto, the suspected mastermind of some of the most heinous of these attacks, easily comes to mind. This was the man allowed to escape from custody by the security people attached to him on a routine mission to search his house. This episode led to the sacking of Zakari Biu the police man recalled from semi retirement following his suspected involvement in some crimes of the Abacha era. Furthermore, Policemen were alleged to have ‘smuggled’ Farouk Lawan, the House of Reps member from Shanono and former chair, ad hoc committee on fuel subsidy panel, out of detention to freshen up in his home ( I don’t see why the police cannot provide basic conveniences for someone in their custody). Lawan currently rides the crest of a bribe-for-favour scandal rocking the House of representative. Security people that would take a man in a high profile case like this out of detention would do anything. Most of the security people who compromise their position like this do so for ‘tribal’ or religious reasons that prove we are not yet a nation.

The Way Forward

Leadership comes with accountability; the greatest national challenge facing this Heart of Africa and the most populous black nation on earth is leadership. Nigeria lacks quality leadership that is yet to transform economic wealth and distribution of state resources meaningfully into the lives of the governed. Until leadership is accepted as service to the nation and mankind and not the opportunity for personal wealth or enrichment, until Nigeria experience leadership that makes citizenry central to development and first in the affairs of the nation state, Nigeria shall remain in the same spot while the people live in penury for many generations to come. Good leadership and governance characterized by honesty, trust, transparency, and confidence building are basic necessities and fundamentals to handle conflict resolution in Nigeria. Adopting conflict prevention (preventive diplomacy) methods will show a great sense of care, concern and higher responsibility on the part of the Nigerian government, in the sense that it is a social detection and early intervention in crisis management, this is because it focuses on the root causes of conflict and promote early involvement which can de-escalate conflict and hasten the restoration of peace. No wonder, Boutros-Ghali (2000) analyzed that concerning “peace and security, as in medicine, prevention is self-evidently better than cure,” he emphasized that it saves lives and money, untold hardship and human suffering.

It is pertinent to note that a nation is respected when it is built on the rule of law and order. In a country where power means everything in the public arena and there are unconstitutional checks of balance of power between the Executives, the Legislatives, and the Judiciary, the rule of law will be undermined and the confidence in both the constitution and the judiciary that is the last hope of the common man will be eroded. 

The Nigerian Police should be reformed for effectiveness. The police should be trained to take up their constitutional roles of combating crime, control and quell internal conflicts and urban violence (not the military whose role is to defend any external aggression against the state). Police officers should enjoy good salaries and conditions of service and well equipped with arms and logistics, many at times they have complained that the arms in the possession of the robbers and hoodlums are more sophisticated to what they have in the event of confrontation. Rueben Abati put it this way “the robbers are better equipped. No policeman wants to die for Nigeria. Why should he or she be a martyr? The average policeman earns less than N10, 000 [about $78 in 2006] per month [before the salary increment]. If he dies on duty, his family may not be paid his entitlements until after much agony” (Abati, 2006). In many instances, armed robbers have reportedly invaded police stations, looted the armory and released suspects in the police cells (Ogunseye, 2007). An average law enforcement agent should be psychologically and morally motivated, undergo training periodically and have the assurance that in the case of any eventuality, those left behind would have the opportunity to see him as a fallen hero that sacrificed his life for national duty.

 While hard work should be rewarded, laziness should be discouraged, a proper reform is the type that will check the bureaucratic system in the force and eradicate bribery and corruption. It is high time for the police command to draw programmes on how to combat proliferation of small arms and light weapons in the hands of miscreants.

It is not too late for the Nigerian state to create avenue for reconciliation involving religious, ethnic and community leaders as witnessed in the past, but this time it should be more assertive in addressing the issues of ethnic and religious identity. Nigerians should be able to lay claim and gain access to economic and socio-political benefits in any parts of the country. Addressing the “indignity” clause and adopting full residency rights to Nigerians will be a right step in the right direction, The 1999 Constitution was amended from the 1979 Constitution, Section 147, regarding the appointment of Federal Ministers implied that the notion of the clause can hardly be expunged from the constitution (Citizen’s Forum for Constitutional Reform Nigeria, 2002). Section 147 (3) reads in part “…provided that in giving effect to the provisions aforesaid, the President shall  appoint at least one Minister from each State, who shall be an indigene of such State” (constitution, 1999). This is referring to the Federal Character Principle (meaning a representation of various states in the federal cabinets and government agencies) has limited existing opportunities to those defined as “indigenes.” This is deprivation because “Categories such as “indigenes”,  “settlers”, and “natives” are social and political constructions of the Nigerian ruling or power elite in their search for legitimacy within the local community/ state and their quest for access to power and resources” (Ibrahim, 2006). 

Nigeria get unified as one only when participating in international sports festivals like the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) championship, African Cup of Nations, the Olympics, etc. By that moment, grudges of political, religious and ethnic animosity are forgotten. The national policy think tanks should recognize that sports are tools for national unity, national development and key for reviving Nigeria’s international image. While it is encouraged to create other empowerments for the youths, this avenue should be exploited by the government to develop and maintain sports infrastructures around the country to get the youths occupied, rechanneled their energy away from violence and keep the best talented sports men and women in the country, but unfortunately poor remunerations, neglects and decay of facilities had led few to take up nationalities of some developed countries where the pastures are greener. In summary, Nigeria should have clear-cut policies on sports and develop framework for implementing these policies and programmes.

Education is the bedrock of any society that wants to leap into future greatness; this is because education breeds enlightened citizenry with bright ideas and initiatives to develop the country, run the future government and create self-empowerment. Such empowerment could increase the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the country and create a multiplier effect in the Nigerian economy. Knowledge and empowerment will save the youths from various social vices and unnecessary manipulations by the politicians for conflicts and to settle bitter political animosity as a result of joblessness.


The reality is that Nigeria’s protracted problems perpetuate a perception of a nation progressively headed backwards. Socioeconomic and health indicators show that in Nigeria contradicts in positive growth rates. There is increasing poverty in Nigeria and poverty is seen as a function of poor governance.

Nigeria needs a team of result oriented officials, committed to a plan that encompasses development security. Heavy handed military needs to diminish. Human right abuses can be avoided by emphasizing on improving the police and intelligence services rather than the over dependence on the military. Better equipped and trained police and intelligence officers can better solve the country’s security challenges. Though the result may not be immediate, but progress must be made.

A dogged commitment to strategy, social, economic, and political policies and programmes that discourage disgruntled Nigerians from exploiting the country’s religious and ethnic diversity is far the best option. A government responsive to the people’s needs builds truth, foster national integration and unity (This day, July 5th 2010).


• To handle conflict resolution in Nigeria, good leadership and governance defined by honesty, trust, transparency, and confidence-building are required.
• Adopting conflict prevention approaches will demonstrate the Nigerian government’s worry, concern, and increased responsibility.
• The Nigerian Police Force needs to be reformed to be more effective. The police should be prepared to fulfill their constitutional responsibilities of combating crime, maintaining order, and resolving internal conflict.
• Police officers should be compensated, have acceptable working conditions, and be well-equipped with weapons and supplies. It is not too late for the Nigerian state to build a pathway for reconciliation incorporating religious, ethnic, and community leaders, as it has done in the past, but it must be more proactive in addressing ethnic and religious identity issues this time.

About the Author(s):

Ezeah, P.C.– Department of sociology and Anthropology, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka

Osayi K. K – Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka

Source: Research Gate

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