Corruption in Nigeria is one of the key causes that has allowed Boko Haram to rise and flourish in the region. You can learn more about Boko Haram with full fact sheets, timelines, backgrounders and history here.
One of the leading causes in the rise and persistence of the Boko Haram in Nigeria is corruption in Nigeria. Commentators have recognized this as the “just grievance” of those Nigerians who are drawn to Boko Haram even if their means for expressing that grievance is unjustifiable.
Recognizing the reality of corruption in Nigeria, both the government and the economy, demonstrates that no amount of financial or military aid will bring resolution to the nation. According to Transparency International in 2013, 9 out of 10 Nigerians said the police were corrupt and 45% said the military was corrupt.
Former President Sani Abacha is alleged to have stolen over $1.1 billion from the country. The same organization’s annual Government Defense Anti-Corruption Index which ranked 82 countries according to corruption showed Nigeria in the top tier of nations with a high corruption risk.
The current Nigerian President Buhari has reported that in the last decade over $150 billion has been stolen from the country by corrupt government officials and administrators. Upon taking office Buhari began pursuing the implementation of a $2.1 billion intervention package to help bankrupt Nigerian states pay owed salaries. At least 12 of Nigeria’s 36 states were said to owe more than $550 million in salaries with many employees having been unpaid for as long as seven months.
The corruption is especially significant and visible in its regional distributions. Nigeria earns more than $50 billion a year through its great oil reserves but the northern part of the country sees virtually none of this.
If you read my post “The Nigerian Social Divisions that Gave Rise to Boko Haram” you will Recall how the north possesses a predominantly Muslim demographic and the south a Christian population. It is not difficult to understand how these outlays of corruption and injustice are quickly perceived through the lens of religion for many in Nigeria.
- Among children under the age of five years old in northern Nigeria, more than half are stunted from malnutrition and only a quarter of homes in this region have access to electricity.
- Borno, home of the once great golden age of Islam in Nigeria has a literacy rate two thirds lower than that of Lagos in the south and school attendance in general is 75% less in Borno than Lagos. Less than 5% of women can read or write there. Income per capita is 50% less here than in the south. All of this within Africa’s largest nation, economy, and oil producing state.
The difference between north and south in Nigeria is that of two completely different nations. It is no surprise then that the great bulk of Boko Haram’s recruits have come from the north’s frustrated youth, unemployed graduates and Islamic school graduates.
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Many analysts both within and outside of Nigeria note the country’s military is reputed to be as corrupt and violent as Boko Haram in many instances, insofar as the perspectives of the northern population is concerned. Although Boko Haram has boasted of targeted attacks upon Christians, Muslims have carried the overwhelming brunt of the attacks. In 2013, according to Human Rights Watch, more than half of the deaths in the Boko Haram conflict had by that time come at the hands of Nigeria’s military.
All of this leads to a culture of distrust within the nation so that a culture full of conspiracy theories abounds. Even at the height of the Boko Haram crisis in 2014 many Nigerian people reported they did not even believe Boko Haram existed or if it did exist it was the product of the government, a newly formed political expression.
The aims of such conspiracies vary according to where the beliefs are coming from in the nation. In the north a common belief was that Boko Haram was a concoction by the south to form a basis to separate from the nation and horde Nigeria’s oil all to themselves. In the south some believed Boko Haram was merely an effort by the north to cause (then president) Goodluck Jonathan to lose face before the international community. Still others believed it was all an elaborate plan to boost oil prices and further line the pockets of political leaders.
Indirect consequences of corruption in Nigeria’s short history since independence have led to the government being very poorly prepared or trained to challenge these types of insurgents and terrorist groups. Although possessing a strong army the Nigerian military has been kept small relative to the nation’s population. This was part of a deliberate effort to prevent military coups against ruling political leaders as has happened so frequently in the not too distant past.
A Nigerian analyst noted in a 2015 Long War Journal piece:
The military and security forces were designed to protect the head of state and his government from coups, not protect national security. That continues to paralyze our response to security issues.
Even when successes are achieved against Boko Haram, the people do not trust their own government enough to consider issues truly resolved. President Buhari promised to conquer Boko Haram by November 2015 but that deadline has been repeatedly moved to accommodate the reality on the ground in Nigeria. Former President Goodluck Jonathan promised a swift resolution to Boko Haram after the attacks increased in 2010.
Every promise has proven hollow. After towns conquered by Boko Haram are regained by government forces they remain empty in spite of government urgings for residents and refugees to return home. Among the 1.5 million population of displaced people in the conflicts, few dare to return home on the mere basis of assurances from their political leaders.
This history and more are covered in explainers and backgrounders through my in depth look at Everything You Need to Know About Boko Haram.