The Conflict between the Government and Boko Haram in Nigeria

Subject: Political
Type: Compare and Contrast Essay
Pages: 7
Word count: 1946
Topics: Political Science, Army, Military Science


The portrayal of Africa as a hopeless continent is one that most media houses have taken, and this representation is informed by a variety of factors that include the constant state of violence in the African continent. McGowan (2003) points out that there has been a generalization of this state of violence in the African continent, but this does not take away the fact that there are exceptions. As an example, South Africa, Mauritius, Botswana, and Senegal all have stable governments and have had multiparty democracies since their independence. More so, there has been constant economic growth for these countries with stable democracies. McGowan (2003) gives the perspective that the decline in Sub-Saharan Africa may be attributable to internal as well as external factors. External factors may be such as the decline in trade and Cold War intervention, while internal factors may be such as corruption and authoritarian rule causing decay and general deterioration.

Among these Sub-Saharan states facing internal challenges and decline is Nigeria. The country was modeled as a stable country after receiving its independence in 1960 with any likelihood of a coup de’tat being minimal. Despite this, the country’s military initiated the era of praetorianism after it took part in a successful military coup. Since then, there has been a dominant problem of ensuring the institution of a legitimate and effective form of governance and a viable political order (Ojo, 2009). Among the challenges that Nigeria has been facing is the rise of Boko Haram which is an Islamic sect focused on political dominance within the country. Founded in 2002, Boko Haram has expanded exponentially in Nigeria, and successive governments have failed in the bid to curb the insurgency. The paper that follows analyzes the situation in Nigeria based on the argument that the political situation in Nigeria created an avenue for the emergence of the insurgent group. The analysis also involves a comparison to the conflict taking place in Mali between the government and the Islamic Maghreb. 

The Rise of Boko Haram

For Nigeria and most countries in the world facing insurgency, coups have been part of the countries past, and this praetorianism creates a weak political order that allows the proliferation of rebels. McGowan (2003) points out that within 46 years, there have been 80 successful military coup d’etats and 180 failed attempts. Importantly, while the coups seek to impose a political order following the failure of the existing order, they are rarely successful within the political circle and are sometimes worse than civilian leaders. Military rule is usually authoritarian and corrupt, and the inability to create a political order means that they are part of the problem. For Nigeria, the country’s army has contributed to an unstable political order on various occasions following different attempted coups. According to Ojo (2009), the military in the nation engaged in attempted coups in January 1966, July 1966, July 1975, February 1976, December 1983, August 1985, April 1990, and November 1993. Six of these coups have been successful, and this shows the high level of praetorianism within the country. Decalo (1990) points out that military involvement in political affairs through coups is meant to be a way of rescuing the nation from self-seeking, corrupt, and inept individuals, but this conception fails to account for state/political failure in some states that have undergone military interventions. Although the military coups in Nigeria did not directly influence the emergence of Boko Haram, the coups point to unstable internal processes and politics that become the breeding ground for insurgencies. With Nigeria having undergone through 8 attempted coups in 27 years, this praetorianism created instability allowing the rise of Boko Haram.

Boko Haram was founded in 2002 by Mohammed Yusuf who opened a religious complex in Maiduguri, with the compound also being an Islamic school that was used in converting and recruiting future jihadists. The school mainly attracted young individuals coming from impoverished backgrounds which Yusuf indoctrinated and even opened up another base in Yobe state. The Muslim sect was not involved in political affairs in the beginning until 2009 when it sought to overthrow the Nigerian government. During this period, there was a series of attacks and open conflicts between Boko Haram and the law enforcement. Following the ascent of President Goodluck Jonathan to the presidency, there was increased violence and attacks from Boko Haram that was at the time carrying out bombings. Walker (2012) points out that, conflicts within Nigeria, when viewed from the outside, are characteristic of religious differences between the Christians and Muslims. On the other hand, the religious differences incline towards the control of the government. For Boko Haram, the belief is that politics in the northern part of the country are under the control of false and corrupt Muslims and hence the need to wage war against such Muslims as well as the Nigerian government in general. As such, the rise of Boko Haram and as one of its essential goals is political control within the Northern region and in the republic through the installation of genuine Muslim leadership.

The need for political control by the Boko Haram links their emergence to the military coups that have been part of the country’s historical past. Both the military coups and insurgency created by the terrorist organization are directed towards ensuring political control in the country. Although the military is currently not engaged in any coup, its previous involvement in taking political power means that their goals at that time are in alignment with the goals of Boko Haram at the moment. The need to gain political control comes about from the dissatisfaction that various groups may have with the existing governance. The broader implication is that the greed for power may be one of the major determinants in the rise of Boko Haram who feel dissatisfied with the Christian led government of Nigeria and the ‘false’ Muslim leadership in the Northern region.

Another critical linkage between military coups in the country and the emergence of Boko Haram comes from the association between the coups and broader instability in the country. As previously highlighted, while military coups take effect with the need to change civilian leadership depicting ineptness and failure, the military does not always succeed, and the leadership is sometimes ineffective. Ojo (2009) identifies some of the scenarios that facilitate the taking the place of military coups; a corrupt and inept government, the breakdown of law and order, sectionalism and primordial sentiments. All these scenarios may facilitate the emergence of a military coup, but the coup is also likely to exacerbate such situations and therefore create the leeway for rising of the insurgency. Nigeria is a country that has been under corrupt governance where it falls within the list of the most corrupt nations in the world. With such corruption, this means that governance issues are not always above board. On the other hand, there has been constant sectionalism coming about from the conflict between Christians and Muslims. The implication is that the country has all the likely scenarios for the development of a coup, and most importantly the emergence and proliferation of insurgency. With the country having suffered some coups in 27 years, there has been the creation of greater instability that creates the spread of insurgency looking towards control of the government.

A Comparison with Mali

The situation in Nigeria is not a unique one since Mali faces the same problem of the insurgency as brought about by years of instability in the country. For Mali, the country has been facing a series of uprisings coming about from its Tuareg members in the northern part of the country. While Nigeria may be facing the problem of dealing with one insurgent group in its northern region, Mali faces a complicated situation coming about from the multiple armed groups that have competing agendas. Mali has at least four major and one minor group that has created the instability in the northern region. The groups include the MNLA movement, Ansar ad-Din, AQIM, MUJAO, and FLNA (Cline, 2013). The government has been incapable of entirely dealing with terror due to the complexities and competing goals of all these groupings that each want to exert control in the northern region. Further complicating the situation is the fact that these groups have military individuals that came from the war in Libya and thus have access to sophisticated weapons previously belonging to the Libyan government.

For Mali, the emergence of these uprisings in the Tuareg region is no different from the reasons behind the insurgency in Nigeria. In 1966, the same year that Nigeria underwent a military coup, Mali also faced a coup under Lt. Moussa Traore (Decalo 1990). The coup in Mali came about from the perception of weak governance in the country and the interference on the army by corporations. The situation also points to the three principal reasons likely to bring about the emergence of a coup that includes corrupt and weak governance, sectionalism, and the breakdown in law and order. Such factors also facilitate the development of insurgent groups because they thrive within environments of weak governance and a breakdown of law and order. The major reason behind the onset of uprisings in Mali is sectionalism brought about by the separation of the Tuaregs from the rest of the country. The Tuareg movement is on fighting for more control and resource management, and this has led to its integration with the AQIM movement that has close linkage to the Alqaeda. From this perspective, it is evident that the conflicts in these countries are driven by the need to gain power and control with religious differences and sectionalism playing a substantial role in the growth of insurgencies.

The governments’ ability to deal with the resistance in the two countries has been limited by the years of weak governance as well as the corruption that inhibit the creation of robust institutional frameworks that can establish long-term solutions. Much of this weak governance emanates from the history of coups in the two countries that weakens the existing institutions and opens a pathway for the growth of insurgencies. On the other hand, a general breakdown in law and order is also to blame for the situations in the two countries, and this is also affected by the lack of stable institutional frameworks to help in the formulation of solutions. The same characteristic factors facilitating military coups in the country also promote the growth of insurgencies. Such implies that the solution to the insurgent problem lies in the ability to develop strong governance and strong institutions capable of coming up with long-term solutions. Important aspects that the country needs to deal with as part of the solution is sectionalism that has driven the need for control by the different insurgent groups.                      


In conclusion, Nigeria and most other countries within Sub-Saharan Africa are facing the problem of insurgency coming about from the past bouts of violence linked to these nations. While some countries have been prosperous in the creation of multiparty democracy, other such as Nigeria are reeling under the problem of insecurity brought about by the insurgent groups that have thrived in the same conditions that allowed the rise of military coups. As such, Nigeria’s problem with Boko Haram lies in the sectionalism in the country and the weak state of governance that has been incapable of coming up with solutions to a pertinent issue. Mali faces the same problem where different groups have come up to challenge the country’s leadership and similar to Nigeria, the problem lies in governance structures and the breakdown of law and order.  

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  1. Cline, L. (2013). Nomads, Islamists, and soldiers: The struggles for Northern Mali. Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 36(8), 617-634.
  2. Decalo, S. (1990). Coups and Army Rule in Africa, 2nd edition, Ch. 1, pp. 1-32. 
  3. McGowan, P. (2003). African military coups d’état; 1956-2001: Frequency, trends, distribution.  Journal of Modern African Studies, 41(3), 339-370. 
  4. Ojo, O. (2009). Guarding the ‘guardians’: A prognosis of panacea for evolving stable civil- military relations in Nigeria. Armed Forces and Society, 35(4), 688-708.
  5. Walker, A. (2012). What is Boko Haram? DC: USIP. 
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