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The Root Causes of the Crisis in Northeast Nigeria: Historical, Socioeconomic and Environmental Dimensions

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Abstract

Nigeria is confronted with numerous conflicts throughout the country. In the northeast part, a humanitarian crisis has been playing out for the past ten years, mostly caused by the insurgency of the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram. In this paper, we examine the root causes of the crisis based on its historical, socioeconomic and environmental dimensions. We examine available literature and draw conclusions and recommendations based on interviews that we conducted with experts in Nigeria. The results show that even though poverty may constitute a strong reason for many youths to join the insurgency, it is not a sufficient factor to explain the conflict. Furthermore, the results also show that the historical legacy of northeast Nigeria as well as the socioeconomic neglect of the region and its harsh environmental conditions may have created favorable conditions for the current crisis. We recommend a reinforced education system that significantly increases school attendance and that aims at educating young individuals on the historical legacy of the region. The identification of the various conflict actors in order to better understand the reasons behind their involvement is also recommended. In conclusion, the causal link between poverty, environmental change and past history contributing to the region’s crisis is not easily drawn, but the evidence suggests that the lack of economic opportunities and the lack of education may contribute to the development of the conflict that leads to the crisis.
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.
Research Article
© 2020 Kamta et.al..
This is an open access article licensed under the Creative Commons
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The Root Causes of the Crisis in Northeast Nigeria:
Historical, Socioeconomic and Environmental Dimensions
Frederic Noel Kamta
1,2
Hossein Azadi
1
Jürgen Scheffran
1
1
Research Group Climate Change and Security (CLISEC),
Institute of Geography, Center for Earth System
Research and Sustainability (CEN),
University of Hamburg, Germany
2
School of Integrated Climate System Sciences (SICSS),
University of Hamburg, Germany
Doi: 10.36941/mjss-2020-0033
Abstract
Nigeria is confronted with numerous conflicts throughout the country. In the northeast part, a humanitarian
crisis has been playing out for the past ten years, mostly caused by the insurgency of the Islamist terrorist
group Boko Haram. In this paper, we examine the root causes of the crisis based on its historical,
socioeconomic and environmental dimensions. We examine available literature and draw conclusions and
recommendations based on interviews that we conducted with experts in Nigeria. The results show that even
though poverty may constitute a strong reason for many youths to join the insurgency, it is not a sufficient
factor to explain the conflict. Furthermore, the results also show that the historical legacy of northeast
Nigeria as well as the socioeconomic neglect of the region and its harsh environmental conditions may have
created favorable conditions for the current crisis. We recommend a reinforced education system that
significantly increases school attendance and that aims at educating young individuals on the historical
legacy of the region. The identification of the various conflict actors in order to better understand the
reasons behind their involvement is also recommended. In conclusion, the causal link between poverty,
environmental change and past history contributing to the region’s crisis is not easily drawn, but the
evidence suggests that the lack of economic opportunities and the lack of education may contribute to the
development of the conflict that leads to the crisis.
Keywords: Crisis, Conflict, Insurgency, Historical, Socioeconomic, Environmental, Nigeria, Climate Change, Poverty
Introduction
1.
Over the past decade, northeast Nigeria has been subject to a humanitarian crisis that has caused
millions of people to seek humanitarian assistance (WHO, 2018). The states of Borno, Adamawa and
Yobe are the most affected (UNHCR, 2018). Since September 2018, based on UNHCR estimations, 1.8
million people were internally displaced, and further 5.8 million people were in need of assistance.
Furthermore, over 80 % of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) were in Borno State, the epicenter of
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the crisis and over 60 % of them were living in host communities, exerting pressure on the already-
stretched resources of these communities (UNHCR, 2018). These numbers of IDPs have been
constantly increasing since 2014 as it has been impossible for them to return to their communities
(Sydney and Onwuemele, 2019). The study by Sydney and Onwuemele (2019) found that around a
third of IDPs in northeast Nigeria had tried to return to their homes, only to be displaced again by
further violence. The UNHCR (2018) further reported that from November 2017 to mid-August 2018,
nearly 153 000 new IDPs and 36 000 returnees were numbered in Adamawa and Borno states, keeping
the overall population of IDPs in the region on the rise.
In this paper, we seek to examine the root causes of the crisis in northeast Nigeria. Such root
causes include the historical legacy of the region, its socioeconomic conditions and the gradual
environmental degradation in the region. We consider lessons from past studies and provide
recommendations for policy makers. Such policy may seek to address the root causes of the current
crisis, which will prevent future crisis in the region. We draw on the results of qualitative interviews
that we conducted with research experts in Nigeria, and supplemented by a review of available
literature to validate findings.
The crisis in northeast Nigeria owes its origins mostly to the insurgency of Boko Haram, a
terrorist group responsible for attacks on local communities across Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and
Niger (UNHCHR, 2015). The activities of this terrorist group and the counter-insurgency by the
Nigerian state caused the worse humanitarian crisis in the history of Nigeria (Hamid et al, 2017). The
precarious socio-economic conditions of this region caused by its sensitive climate conditions and
neglect by the central government are suspected to have created a fertile ground for Boko Haram to
prosper (Rizzo, 2015). The strategic location of the area occupied by Boko Haram’s troops did not
only provide them with shelter away from state security forces, but also available manpower from the
desperate youths that struggled to make a living. Boko Haram recruits its members mainly amongst
disaffected youths, unemployed high school and university graduates, and destitute children, mostly
from but not limited to northern Nigeria (Onuoha, 2014).
The debates on the underlying causes of the rebellion have revolved around climate and
environmental issues, poverty, Islam, community allegiance, poor governance, and corruption
(Magrin and de Montclos, 2018). Furthermore, although the work by Magrin and de Montclos (2018)
failed to reach shared conclusions, it has largely inspired the responses of civilian and military
authorities, including at international community level, where antiterrorist experts have opted for a
religious interpretation of the conflict by promoting a “deradicalisation” strategy to get Muslims back
into mainstream Islam. It is believed that the history of the region occupied by Boko Haram today
played a key role in the genesis of the crisis and that Boko Haram draws, among other things, upon
historical references to the Islamic empire of Dan Fodio’s Sokoto Caliphate in the 19th century (Cold-
Ravnkilde and Plambech, 2015) which is said to have introduced and institutionalized Islam in
northern Nigeria. To a certain degree, the emergence of Boko Haram can be traced back to the
historical antecedent of a Muslim state controlling northern Nigeria during the 19th century
(Torbjörnsson and Jonsson, 2017).
Northeast Nigeria and the Lake Chad basin in general once hosted a kingdom that served as the
center of trade in the region and where a pure form of Islam was practiced (Hiribarren, 2016; Doi,
2006; Seignobos, 2015). The fall of this kingdom marked the end of its long-lasting influence over the
region and somehow the end of good Islam practice as it was claimed by its successive leaders
(Seignobos, 2015). It is therefore important to understand the role that the historical legacy of this
region along with environmental and socioeconomic factors played in the current crisis.
While violence in this region is still causing a lot of harm to the local populations, there is very
little research available on the causes of violence in the region. Several studies have previously
assessed the environmental change in the region and its socioeconomic condition, while many have
also narrated the history of the region and its influence up until the 19th century. So far to our
knowledge, only few studies have attempted to link the historical legacy of the region to the current
crisis. In this study, we attempt to create a link between the daily living conditions of the people in
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the region in relation with their socioeconomic and environmental conditions, and the history of the
region to the current crisis.
Historical Dimension
2.
Northeast Nigeria was once home, or rather partially home to one of the longest-lasting and
influential empires Africa has ever known, the Kanem-Bornu Empire. First known as the Kanem
Empire (700 AD – 1617 AD) and later came to be known as the Kanem-Bornu Empire (1617 – 1893 AD),
this empire existed over a thousand years (Singh, 2017). The Kanem-Bornu was extended on the areas
belonging to today’s southern Chad, northern Cameroon, northeast Nigeria, eastern Niger, and
southern Libya.
1
A royal artefact of the Kanem Empire called the ‘Girgam’ has provided a written
historical record of the Empire, which includes the names of Kings and Queens, the length of their
reigns and the major events within the Empire. The Girgam claims that the Kanembu people, the
main tribe in the kingdom, moved from their land to the land around Lake Chad for two key reasons.
First, the lands around Lake Chad were fertile unlike their previous lands, which suffered from
dryness and second, because there was political pressure. The lands around Lake Chad were also
attractive because of the existing infrastructure and walled cities that belonged to the Sao civilization
(Singh, 2017). The Kanem kingdom was first ruled by the Sayfwa dynasty for 771 years, the longest
known reign in the history of the empire (Bilow, 2008).
Throughout its existence, the Kanem-Bornu or the Kanem Empire shifted geographically quite
significantly. These shifts were triggered by events such as war or changes in environmental
conditions. Between c. 700 – 1376, the empire occupied an area corresponding to Chad, Nigeria and
Libya (Sindima, 2017). The Sayfawa Dynasty and their subjects later fled to Birnin Gazargamu when
the Bilala or Bulala people attacked them (Abubakar, 2017). Birnin Gazargamu remained as capital
even after the reclaiming of the city of Njimi in the 16
th
Century. However over the years, towns and
cities like Monguno, Kukawa, Dikwa, Old Maiduguri and now Yerwa (Maiduguri) were all capitals of
the Kanem-Bornu Empire at different times since the last 1000 years back (Abubakar, 2017).
On its socio-economic structure, the Kanem-Bornu gathered agriculturalists and pastoralists,
from various ethnic groups and ruled by the Duguwa, an aristocracy who chose a king among
themselves (Hiribarren, 2016). The Kanem-Bornu became very powerful due to its strategic location
at the crossroads between northern Africa and Sub-saharan Africa (Hiribarren, 2016). In the 13
th
century, due to deteriorating climate conditions and the continued progress of the Sahara Desert, the
center of the empire shifted from the north of Lake Chad to the west of Lake Chad in the Bornu,
where the land was more fertile. The Bornu was already the economic center of the empire by the 14
th
century despite the fact that the Sayfawa still reside in Njimi, north of Lake Chad. They will finally
leave Njimi in the second half of the 14
th
century after this old capital being captured by the Bulala
warrior aristocracy (Hiribarren, 2016).
Table 1 summarizes some of the major events and achievements in the Kanem-Bornu Empire
between the 11
th
and the 19
th
century. Such achievements and events illustrate the economic, religious
and military domination of the empire over the region and subsequently its downfall. It is later
shown how such events relate to the current crisis in the region.
1
Kanem-Bornu Kingdom: New World Encyclopedia http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Kanem-
Bornu_Kingdom Retrieved 05 April 2019.
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Table 1: Major events and achievements in the Kanem-Bornu between the 11
th
and the 19
th
century
Period Major event/achievement
End of the
11
th
century
Islam was accepted for the first time by the Kanem ruler, Umme-Jilmi, through a scholar
named Muhammad B. Mani, credited for bringing Islam to Kanem-Bornu (Doi, 2006).
Around
1460
Ali Gazi, the leader of the Bornu, traditionally called the Mai, after a major victory, built a
fortified capital at Ngazargamu, to the west of Lake Chad at present Nigeria (Lovejoy, 2011).
16
t
h
centur
y
The Sayfawa had conquered the Bornu and reconquered the Kanem, hence the name Kanem-
Bornu (Lovejoy, 2011).
Late 16
t
h
century
The Sao merged with the Kanembu giving birth to the Kanuri tribe that became the largest
tribe in the Kanem-Bornu (Hiribarren, 2016). Today, the Kanuri still form the majority ethnic
group in northeast Nigeria.
Early 19
t
h
century
The practice of pure Islam was subject to controversy and conflict in the region. In 1808,
Osman dan Fodio who was the sultan of the Sokoto caliphate, carried on a Jihad that failed to
conquer and integrate Bornu within the Sokoto caliphate (Hiribarren, 2016).
Late 19
t
h
century
The Kanem-Bornu Empire had the reputation of a powerful Islamic empire, known for
religious piety and unity. Its remarkable cohesion over a millennium is said to partly have
been forged through a commitment to Islam (Hiribarren, 2016).
1893 The influence of this long-lasting empire ended after its invasion by a Sudanese warrior. The
kingdom was then divided between Cameroon that was under German administration and the
British colony of Nigeria (Hiribarren, 2016).
The Agence France Presse (AFP, 2015) reports that Boko Haram in its propaganda sometimes
mentioned the legacy of the empire to justify attacks on targets that were considered to be un-
Islamic. Boko Haram claims to embody the authentic legacy of the early Muslim community (al-salaf
al-salih, or “pious predecessors,” the phrase from which the term “Salaf-ism” derives) and as such,
they reject several aspects of mainstream Sunni identity, such as adherence to recognized legal
schools, which refers to western civilization (Thurston, 2016). Although the kingdom of Bornu has
disappeared, its symbolic grandeur and founding pedestal, namely Islam, remains unique in a largely
animist world (Seignobos, 2015).
P. Gwaza, a researcher from the Institute of Peace and Conflict Resolution in Abuja interviewed
by the authors on May 15,
2019 states that the area where Boko Haram mapped its caliphate
corresponds almost perfectly to the area occupied by the ancient Kanem-Bornu empire’.
This correlates with the assumption that Boko Haram leaders are driving towards the formation
of the old Kanem-Bornu Empire. Furthermore, most Boko Haram soldiers are recruited from the
Kanuri tribe, the same tribe that was dominant in the Kanem-Bornu Empire. Testifying on the
complexities of the genesis of Boko Haram, P. Ochogwu also from the Institute of Peace and Conflict
Resolution interviewed on March 21, 2019 argues that societies in northeast Nigeria are formed on
a specific social networking system generated from the Kanem-Bornu Empire and conflict
evolves from this traditional networking system which is different from the modern
networking system that we understand’.
The Kanuri intellectuals and the Kanembu-Kanuri in the broader sense had earlier dreamt of a
Bornu Empire, reinvigorated by a new wellspring of faith around Lake Chad that could encompass
the former Bilad al-Sudan to lead the Umma (all Muslims) (Seignobos, 2015). Seignobos (2015) further
argues that the Kanuri and the Kanembu-Kanuri experienced a kind of religious surge, a veritable
conflagration of which Boko Haram is only the most visible and violent component.
Situation Analysis
3.
3.1 Socioeconomic dimension
In Nigeria, income inequalities between rural communities and urban communities are suspected to be
very high. Agriculture as the main source of income in rural communities is today not a thriving sector
due to the fact that oil has taken over the economy of Nigeria (Ucha, 2010). As such, uneven distribution
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of natural resources, difference in climate across the country and a weak institutional capacity all
contributed to inequalities between regions of the country (Raheem et al., 2014). Furthermore, Raheem
et al (2014) explain that regional problems get manifest through several symptoms such as difference
among capital development, access to education, property acquisition and so on.
A study by Akpoilih and Farazibi (2012) found that the northeast of Nigeria had the highest
poverty index in the country of about 49%. Meanwhile, the south presented the lowest poverty rates
in the country between 21.5 and 26.6%. Such disparities between regions of the same country can
partly be explained by the uneven distribution of natural resources in the country (Raheem et al.,
2014). Also, the role of education on development especially for a highly populated country like
Nigeria cannot be dismissed. Ada and Ojone (2018) state that education certainly is one of the ways
through which a nation develops. One of the objectives of education is to adequately equip learners
with the necessary skills and knowledge needed for effective participation and contribution to
national development (Chima, 2006). Northeast Nigeria is characterized by a very low access to
education. According to the Nigeria National Population Commission (NPC, 2016), the literacy rates
were 56% for secondary school attendance in 2015 for the whole of Nigeria, and 31% across the
northeast states (Borno, Yobe, Gombe, Bauchi, Taraba, and Adamawa). Northwest (32%) and
northeast (31%) show the lowest national school attendance ratio.
The correlation between education and poverty cannot be dismissed. Statistics on employment
in Nigeria show categorization of unemployed persons on the basis of age groups, educational
qualifications and occupation (Danaan, 2018). Unemployment according to Danaan (2018), has a
strong correlation with poverty. This may explain the fact that in northeast, northcentral and
northwest Nigeria where education rates are very low, the poverty rate is higher (JICA, 2011). With
regards to the analysis, it is safe to assume that the rate of poverty in a region at least for the Nigerian
case, is a function of the education attendance ratio.
Based on an economic analysis report of the World Bank (2016), it can be noticed that in 2004,
northern Nigeria was the poorest region of the country, widening the gap between north and south in the
last decade (2006-2016) (World Bank, 2016). Within the same period in the northeast, poverty reduction
stagnated, while poverty levels remained particularly high at 47.6% (World Bank, 2016). It is also noticed
by the World Bank (2016) that 75% of households that are in chronic poverty reside in the north, while
only 25% are found in the south. Furthermore, chronic poverty is very rampant in the northeast at 22.2%,
making northeast the second highest in the country followed by north central (19.3 %). Meanwhile, all
southern regions show much lower chronic poverty rates, below 10% (World Bank, 2016).
Peace can be achieved by addressing the structural imbalances in the socio-economic conditions
of the people (Hettne, 2010). Furthermore, Katsina (2012) emphasizes that root causes of conflict such as
inequality and poverty should be identified and removed from the society. To establish a clear nexus
between development and security, there is a need to remember that it is impossible to establish peace
and order in any society in which there exists fundamental contradictions in its economic structure
(Katsina, 2012). Such contradictions are suspected to sustain feelings of alienation, marginalization,
frustration and resentment among the poor class of the society, with the potential of translating into
anger, radicalization and violence (Oyeshola, 2005). While the latest statement may still be subject to
argument among researchers, the evidence suggests that economic factors (such as poverty and low
income) that lead to rebellion have a greater impact on the occurrence of conflict than those associated
with political grievances (Braithwaite et al., 2014). Among causes of terrorism, poverty and
unemployment have frequently been identified (Ayegba, 2015). However, several studies have found no
link between poverty, unemployment and terrorism (Krueger and Maleckova, 2003), the general belief is
that people who are economically disadvantaged are more prone to resolve to violence as a way to
express their grievances (Adelaja et al., 2018). A. Garba, a senior officer at the Ministry of environment in
Nigeria, interviewed by the authors on May 7, 2019 stated that while the government has not been
comfortable talking about issues related to youth allegiance to Boko Haram and poverty in
northern Nigeria, civil society organizations have been able to put to light such issues. It then
came to light that many people join the insurgency because of the poverty level’.
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The demography of northern Nigeria is also seen by some experts as a factor contributing to the
poor socioeconomic conditions of the region and to the crisis. Dr S. Onazi from the ministry of Labor
in Nigeria, interviewed by the authors on May 6, 2019 addresses the demographic pressure in
northern Nigeria in the following terms: ‘Nigeria is highly populated. According to the World
Bank, poverty indices in Nigeria indicate that the poorest people in Nigeria are in the north.
As such, poverty can be considered as a push factor for the crisis.
The CLEEN Foundation (2014) argues that the sympathizers of the Islamist group in northeast
Nigeria are usually unemployed youths who live in hostile environment and suffer economic, social, and
political deprivations. A study by Ewi and Salifu (2017) also shows that most Nigerians believe that many
youths join the insurgency in the northeast of the country for financial reasons. Basically, they do so as
they lack economic opportunities and want to make money by all means. Ewi and Salifu (2017) found
that the majority of those who joined Boko Haram voluntarily were significantly influenced by financial
incentives, and not by religion. Furthermore, a survey conducted by Adelaja et al, (2018) found that the
leading personal causes for joining terrorism in Nigeria were poverty, unemployment, extreme religious
ideology and ignorance. Socioeconomic factors with their potential to trigger conflict can be
accentuated with poor environmental conditions leading to resources scarcity which in turn will have
direct implications for the functioning of the economy and the cost of essential products (ISSA, 2014).
3.2 Environmental dimension
In Nigeria, the majority of rural populations are employed in the agriculture sector and as such, the
dominant role of agriculture makes it obvious that even minor climate deteriorations can cause
devastating socioeconomic consequences (Olaniyi et al., 2013). The Sahara Desert is observed to be
expanding to all directions with an annual expansion of 1-10 km, engulfing the Sahelian region of
Africa (Odjugo, 2010). This makes northern Nigeria the most climate sensitive region in the country.
Northeast Nigeria therefore faces the issue of how to reduce desert encroachment that renders most
land unusable for agriculture (Agbebaku, 2015). These challenges directly impact on the activities of
the local populations that are either forced to migrate or to seek for alternative sources of income. C.
Nwanelo from the National Commission of Refugees, Migrants and Internally displaced Persons,
interviewed by the authors on April 4, 2019 declares: ‘desertification is approaching faster and
wider into northern Nigeria. The side effect is that drought hits these communities and in
terms of sustaining themselves, they would embark on gradual movement from one
community to another community. This movement could also be international in the sense
that this region of Nigeria shares borders with Cameroon, Chad, Niger and some of them
could easily cross borders and sometimes becoming asylum seekers in these countries’.
Crop production in northern Nigeria is heavily vulnerable and affected by climate change
through droughts (Dahiru and Tanko, 2018). The World Bank Group (2017) estimates that the
regional concentration of poverty in northern Nigeria is likely explained by factors such as the poor
climate condition characterized by low rainfall and high temperatures, distance from the sea, and
poor and dilapidated infrastructures. It was also found that migrating sand dunes have buried large
expanses of arable land, thus reducing viable agricultural land and crops production in northern
Nigeria (Odjugo, 2010). Scarcity of land and water in areas where agriculture is the principal activity
and source of income can have direct impacts on the quality of life. Dingyadi, (2012) estimates that
over 154,725 people in five frontline states in northern Nigeria lost their farm land within seven years.
Local populations consisting mostly of farmers and nomad herdsmen largely depend on these land
and water. As a result of resources scarcity, the young generation is despondent and frustrated, hence
abandoning farming for alternative activities (Nwokoema and Kingsley, 2017).
In response to environmental degradation, young people in northeast Nigeria begin by
migrating from rural to urban areas in search of a better life (Onyia, 2015). However, their lack of
formal education and skills necessary to integrate the urban life system, added to the poor
institutional capacity and sovereignty across the country makes it quasi impossible for them to gain
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employment in the blue collar sector (Onyia, 2015). The induced poverty according to Onyia (2015)
forces them to turn to mosques and their resident imams who provide them with basic needs,
including shelter, food and clothing, thus presenting themselves as their only hope for survival. This
fortune situation presents ample opportunities for discontented religious bigots to indoctrinate these
poor people with anti-state, anti-western semantics (Onyia, 2015).
A Garba, believes that as northeast Nigeria is characterized by high humidity and lower
rainfall due to global warming, agriculture as the highest employing sector in the region has
become less and less rentable. As a result, young people involved in agriculture tend to
abandon this sector to join the Islamic insurgency to reduce their poverty level. Furthermore,
P. Gwoza emphasizes that across northeast Nigeria, impacts of environmental change are
visible through animal’s carcasses and dryer land, which deems many people jobless and
turning many into street beggars. These people, according to S. Onazi, ‘easily fall under the
temptation of making some money by joining Boko Haram as farming is no longer profitable.
Discussion
4.
4.1 On the historical dimension
This study found that in northeast Nigeria, the historical past of the region coupled with the strong
Islamic ideology portrayed by the insurgent group may have contributed to the current conflict
situation. It was also found that the charismatic leader of the Boko Haram group Abubakar Shekau at
times exploited the legacy of the former Kanem-Bornu Empire to reinforce his ideology. The region’s
Kanuri language born from the merge between the Sao and the Kanembu in the Kanem-Bornu has
also been used by the leader of Boko Haram as a tool for his propaganda. P. Gwaza goes a step further
and emphasizes that when Abubakar Shekau took over the leadership most fighters were
recruited among the Kanuri tribe to which he belongs himself.
Under the leadership of Abubakar Shekau, the group has carried out most of its attacks in a
region that corresponds to the territory of the former Kanem-Bornu Empire (Barkindo, 2018).
Furthermore, Barkindo (2018) argues that Abubakar Shekau presented the Kanem-Bornu Empire as a
perfect Islamic state, governed on the principles of sharia, equity, and justice. He further emphasized
the socio-economic and political dominance of the empire and constantly referred to the influence of
the Kanem-Bornu’s Islam outside the empire. It can therefore be strongly assumed that the historical
legacy of the region as claimed by Boko Haram is relevant in the context of the current crisis, even if
the relevance is limited to a propagandistic level.
4.2 On the socioeconomic dimension
This paper showed that northeast Nigeria being the poorest region of the country with
underdeveloped and decaying infrastructures, has a high concentration of unemployed youths. This
region also presents low school attendance rates among male and female household members. While
the nexus between poverty and conflict is very complex, areas with most people living under the
poverty line can be more vulnerable as the survival instinct may create tendencies of violence.
Braithwaite et al. (2014) finds a causal relationship between poverty and conflict. Sub-Saharan Africa
is quite illustrative with many conflict frontlines. In 2002, 38 low-income countries identified in sub-
Saharan Africa were all curiously involved in conflict (Draman, 2003). In Somalia for example, Somali
clans had often clashed over resources such as water, livestock and grazing land, long before Somalia
became a sovereign country (Lewis, 2002). In the Horn of Africa in general, the spatial distribution of
conflict indicates that poverty and youth unemployment are predominant in areas with conflict
(Mengistu, 2015). Although, poverty may not be the only reason behind radicalization in northeast
Nigeria, the evidence suggests that poverty may have played as an important factor for young people’s
decision to join the insurgency, given the subsequent financial reward.
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4.3 On the environmental dimension
Opinions on the nexus between climate change and the resulting impact on resources and conflict or
instability are still very variable. While media and NGOs have easily proclaimed such a link, none of
the studies finds a simple causal link between climate change and societal instability. However, this
paper showed that in northeast Nigeria where most youths are uneducated and depend on
agriculture for survival, environmental change that rendered most of their land unusable and water
unavailable can actually be a push factor for them to seek for other sources of income. In an area with
less economic opportunities, these youths can easily become soft targets to Islamist ideologists who
offer them small stipends in exchange of their manpower. This may explain why the insurgent group
in the region managed to enroll a large number of fighters (Ewi and Salifu, 2017).
The causal link between environmental change through its economic effects and conflict is
often dismissed by many scholars, arguing that poverty may lead to conflict when other factors are
present and that poverty alone is not a sufficient condition for conflict (Goodhand, 2001, Ganepola
and Thayasingam, 2004, Scheffran et al., 2019). A two-way causality between poverty and conflict
exist in the sense that poor countries have a greater disposition to conflict and poverty is also a
probable outcome of conflict (Ganepola and Thayasingam, 2004). This is because different factors
matter in different regions of Africa and the overall link between climate change (and the adjacent
poverty) and violent conflict in Africa is likely to be indirect, complex, and related to multiple
political, economic and social factors (Scheffran et al., 2019).
Conclusion
5.
The aim of this paper was to determine whether the history, the socioeconomic status and
environmental changes in northeast Nigeria significantly contributed to the development of the
current crisis in the region. The causal link between poverty, environmental change and past history
as factors of conflict in this region is not easily drawn, but the evidence suggests that the lack of
economic opportunities and the lack of education may contribute to the development of conflict
hence accentuating the crisis. It is often argued by scientists that the reasons for joining arm groups
are usually external, rather than internal to the individuals and that a reason why people join conflict
may differ from county to country. In the case of northeast Nigeria, it is safe to assume based on
findings in this paper that the historical heritage of the Bornu, the low socioeconomic standard of the
region and the existing poverty may have created a good breeding ground for an insurgent group.
The findings in this paper also highlighted the opportunistic nature of the Boko Haram group.
They are opportunistic in the sense that even though the historical heritage of the region might not
have been the principal cause for their radicalization, they make use of it in a propagandistic manner
to indoctrinate young people. They are also opportunistic in their ability to enroll economically
vulnerable people in their troops in exchange of small stipends. Finally, in an area where school
attendance is the lowest in Nigeria, Boko Haram found uneducated youths that can easily be
manipulated and indoctrinated, and given weapons to fight for a reason they often do not understand
themselves. This may explain why most attacks by this group have been turned against local
communities, churches and mosques alike.
The need for further studies in understanding the driving factors of insurgency in Nigeria and
around the world arises. A throughout assessment of the various conflict actors can significantly
contribute in giving a better understanding of the conflict drivers and its root causes. In addition, the
following policy recommendations can be essential in preventing future crisis of the same nature in
the region:
- Education: the education system in the region needs to be improved significantly in order to
increase attendance among young men and women. This can be achieved through the
creation of schools in all local communities. The education system should be able to educate
young pupils on the historical legacy of the region.
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- Agriculture: a throughout transformation of the agriculture system is necessary, given the
current environmental conditions in the region. New crops with a shorter cycle should be
introduced and local communities are to be trained on new farming techniques. It is also
very important to create seed banks where farmers will deposit their seeds for the next
sowing season.
Acknowledgement
6.
This publication contributes to the Cluster of Excellence `Climate, Climatic Change and Society’
(CLICCS), funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG).
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