ST. LOUIS, Missouri– Poverty in northern Nigeria has become the life source to the violent rise of Boko Haram. Boko Haram is a Sunni militant group with ties to Al-Qaeda located in northern Nigeria. The group began fighting in 2009 to establish an Islamic state in the northern region of Nigeria, where the population is predominantly Muslim. Thousands of Nigerians have lost their lives at the hand of Boko Haram.
September marked Boko Haram’s deadliest attack when the group took the lives of over 160 civilians in Benisheikh, Nigeria. Boko Haram made no regard to age or gender as both women and children fell victim. The United States State Department has officially designated Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization.
Nigeria is considered to be one of the richest countries on the African continent. Its economy has had an average annual growth of 6.8 percent since 2005 and could potentially exceed South Africa as the largest economy in Africa. Nigeria enjoys great wealth in oil with its 37 billion barrels of proven crude reserves, but that does not mean much for the Nigerian people.
The Nigerian energy sector is capital-intensive thus, employment and broad-based growth are low. Nigeria has an unemployment rate of 23 percent as a result. Compared to its southern neighbor, the northern region of Nigeria has not benefited from the prosperity Nigeria has accumulated. The difference in the conditions between the northern and southern regions of Nigeria reveal how a destructive group like Boko Haram forms and gains control.
Development and infrastructure in the north is minimal in comparison to what has been accomplished in the south. Half the rate of government revenues per capita is allocated to the south when the north is in greatest need. About three-fourths of the northern Nigerian population lives in poverty compared to the two-thirds of the entire nation that lives in poverty.
Government policies in Nigeria fail to address the need for job opportunities, education and socio-economic improvement. The northern region cannot help but fall behind if the government does not invest enough in it. Boko Haram thrives on the lack of development and infrastructure in the north. The group uses poverty to challenge government failure and present itself as a legitimate alternative for the northern population.
Boko Haram is fighting to establish an Islamic state in the north because the governing of the north has left the mostly-Muslim population impoverished and unstable. Poverty makes it easy for terrorism to spread and impact a population. Terrorist organizations like Boko Haram will continue to exist as long as government policies do not address poverty as the underlying cause.
Why are terrorist organizations operating in some regions of the world and not others? The difference in the standard of living. A terrorist organization cannot survive in regions where the majority of the population is productive and lives above the poverty line. Societies where poverty rates are low have the institutions needed to maintain political, economic and social stability. The Nigerian government must do more than fight Boko Haram militarily. It will have to form policies that lift the north out of poverty and encourage stability.
– Brittany Mannings