1. bookVolume 13 (2021): Issue 1 (December 2021)
Journal Details
First Published
20 Jul 2021
Publication timeframe
1 time per year
access type Open Access

State Bastardisation And Terrorism In Nigeria: A Discourse

Published Online: 30 Dec 2021
Volume & Issue: Volume 13 (2021) - Issue 1 (December 2021)
Page range: 37 - 46
Journal Details
First Published
20 Jul 2021
Publication timeframe
1 time per year

This paper seeks to unearth and analyse the variables which promote and sustain primordial groups’ identities and their linkages to the emergence and sustenance of terrorist groups in Nigeria. Grounded in the pluralist theory of sovereignty, the study adopts historical research design. It relies solely on data from secondary sources, which are presented qualitatively, and the finding is analysed using content analysis techniques. The study reveals that the promotion of primordial identities above national identity for political advantage by the political elites leads to state bastardisation in Nigeria. Besides, it identifies the apostolical promotion of some neoliberal values without corresponding citizenship education, as responsible for the emergence of Boko Haram and other such groups that challenge the sovereignty and legitimacy of the Nigerian state. It also questions the continuous promotion of religion in the public domain in a secular state and concludes that genuine integration policy is an urgent imperative. The study recommends that ethno-religious politics be buried; religion should be returned to the private lives of the citizenry. Besides, citizenship education and societal development should be prioritised in order to strengthen the state, and weaken the capacity of primordial groups to challenge the Nigerian State with violent outbursts.



The Nigerian State has been a theatre of violent confrontations between primordial groups and government. The current Boko Haram menace is one in a series which has generated many comments and great concern across the globe. Many scholars link the emergence of the sect to the widespread poverty in the northeastern states in comparative terms, where the sect evolved and perpetuates most of its atrocities. Others blamed it on the worldwide revival of Islamic fundamentalism and ‘protest against the west’ in response to threatening globalisation. The discourse, however, traces its emergence to the historical context and processes of state formation and the ‘divide and rule’ policy of the colonialist, which facilitated the construction and subsequent utilisation of primordial civil society organisations (CSOs) as structures for political engagement and party formation. It laments that the neocolonial nature of the state makes it vulnerable to the manipulation of the global capitalist system. Besides, the rapacious character of the local compradors bastardises the state and encourages the transfer of loyalty to primordial CSOs as alternatives to the Nigerian state. Specifically, the founding of the sect is traced to northern wishes for ethno-regional political differentiation, grounded in Islamic religion, as manifested by the adoption of Sharia legal code in a secular Nigerian state in 1999 and the dynamics of Borno politics in 2003. This matured into the current menace, unleashing terror and enjoying condominium with unprecedented consequences. This paper focuses on answering the following questions: (a) Is Nigeria a state, a nation, or a nation-state? (b) What are the variables that bastardise the Nigerian state project? (c) What is the linkage of these variables to the founding and thriving of the Boko Haram sect and other terrorist groups in the country? The body of the essay consists of parts 2 through 6. Part 2 outlines the theoretical framework used in the discourse; part 3 highlights the methodology adopted in the discourse; part 4 discusses the process of bastardising the Nigerian State by exogenous and endogenous variables; part 5 reviews the emergence of Boko Haram and its condominium of the state with terror; part 6 concludes the discourse with recommendations for the resolution of the conflict.

Theoretical framework

This discourse rests on some basic axioms of the pluralist theory of sovereignty (PTS), which is a critique of the Westphalian concept of sovereignty with its tenets of absolute, universal, perpetual, indivisible, and inalienable power over persons and groups (Akiboye and Attoh 2005). PTS identifies other loci of power within and outside the state which command loyalty and dedication of citizens more than does the state, as well as the internal political structure and normative imperatives of these competing loci. PTS theorists aver that citizens’ membership in religious bodies, family, and trade unions, as well as the principle of separation of power and the power sharing concoction of federalism, continuously challenge monistic sovereignty; so also does the internationalisation of certain practices by international society (Dahl 1959; Gauba 2003). Besides, the society in which the state finds itself is heterogeneous, with members expressing diverse interests which may be inconsistent with those upheld by individuals or sovereign institutions of the state. Some proponents of this theory include Harold Laski (1893 – 1950), Robert MacIver (1882 – 1970), and Robert Dahl (1915 – 2014).

Philosophically, the pluralist theory of sovereignty draws its foundation from political pluralism, which assumes that certain groups in society are ruled by social values prioritised to be more important than the state’s authority (Gould and Kolb 1964). Other assumptions common to this theory include: the heterogeneous or pluralistic character of society; the obligation of state as co-coordinator; the essentiality of decentralisation of authority; the imperative of the state to justify its claim to authority; and the internationalisation of civil society (Dahl 1959; Gauba 2003; Laski 1925; McIver 1965).

Given these seeming realities, absolute sovereignty does not reside in any person or group of persons in a state. Rather, a state has become the co-coordinator and regulator of other associations’ or groups’ activities. Accordingly, a state itself becomes an association of associations; and an instrument of ‘common good’ in resolving and harmonising claims and counterclaims, as well as demands by these groups as dictated by their interests (Gauba 2003, 155). This reality in Nigeria and other developing states forced the pluralists to adapt their postulations to the practices, which lead to the differentiation between elite behavior in the matured liberal democracies of Western Europe and America, and the primordial pluralism model associated with the new states, where ethnicity, religion and other primordial variations form the basis of pluralism (Dahl 1982).

The relevance of this framework to the current discourse lies in its capacity to explain the nexus between state bastardisation and the thriving of terrorism in Nigeria, as illustrated by the Boko Haram insurgency. This can enhance our understanding of the interaction between the variables which promote the current security challenges in the country.


The study adopts historical research design – which deals with the systematic and objective location, interpretation, evaluation and explanation of past events, essentially for the purpose of gaining a deeper and clearer understanding of the present. This type of research can also address why a past event occurred and the process by which the past became the present, in order to make a more reliable prediction of the future (Idaka and Anagbogu 2012, 65; Obasi 1999, 60-61). The preference for this design arises from its capacity to identify the historical cum politico-economic dynamics and developments which leads to state bastardisation in Nigeria and the emergence of Boko Haram and other primordial civil society organisations (CSOs) in the country. The study relies solely on secondary data, which are sourced from extant literature such as textbooks, magazines, newspapers and scholarly journals. The data are presented qualitatively and the content analysis method is used in analysing the findings.

State bastardisation in Nigeria

State bastardisation is the weakening of a sovereign state’s politico-military, socio-economic and structural capacity to optimally perform its functions of providing human security for its citizenry. It is a prelude to state failure, as experienced in many Third world countries (Melliken and Krause 2002). State bastardisation is sourced from every factor that reduces a state to a caricature, or which leads to the emergence of caricature states when compared to the Westphalian and modern states in Europe and North America. Factors promoting state bastardisation are both endogenous and exogenous in the state; they are rooted in the historical, structural and normative foundations of the affected states. For proper understanding of the concept, it is imperative to make a brief comparison of a state as envisioned in the Treaty of Westphalia, which characterised Western states, and Nigeria. This comparison clarifies the differences between a legitimate and a bastardised state, and enhances our understanding of the Nigerian state as presently constituted. According to Max Weber (2015), a state has the monopoly power to deploy physical force within its territory. The monopolistic possession of instruments of violence and their deployment coercively to enforce the state’s will on individuals and groups legitimately in the best interests of the community differentiates a ‘state’ from other institutions. This is further explained by Yaqup (2006): ‘as the only organ of the society that has the monopoly of coercive apparatuses – such as army, the police force, prison, the judiciary system, etc., - instrumentally used to ensure citizens’ conformity to an ordered conduct of the common affairs of the community’. It must be added that the conduct of the common affairs so envisaged, must generate public goods, including the safety of human persons and property of the citizens, so as to enhance their wellbeing and increase their capacity to engage in productive ventures voluntarily. Arising from these expectations of a state, Jeng (2012, 1) submits that:

Looking at it from these two angles then it seems like the most important characteristic of the state is that it must have a definite territory over which effective legitimate control is exercised; not only that but a state must also have and maintain the capacity to provide for the welfare of its public. The presence of these features is important if a state is to be termed functioning effectively.

Jackson and Sorensen (2012, 9) concurred with this description, describing the essence of a state as a territorially based social organisation founded to fabricate, strengthen, and defend basic social norms and values: specifically, security, order, freedom, justice and the wellbeing of its citizenry.

It is also important to express the nexus between a state and a nation, as it is the goal of every state to be seen as a nation, due to commonality and societal cohesion leading to nationalism and patriotism, the twin virtues necessary for collective action and defense of the institutions and sovereignty of a modern state. Hence, Rustow (1970) posits that a nation is a self-contained group of human beings who place loyalty to the group as a whole above competing loyalties; while a nation-state is an independent state whose membership coincides with that of a nation. Ottaway (1999, 300) further expatiates:

Nations… are human beings belonging to natural group which share common ancestry and which provide their members with sense of common identity. These natural groups are not political entities, but they often are and many believe should be the basis of the formation of a state. In nineteenth century Europe, the natural groups called ‘nations’ were expected to become the basis for the formation of the political nation–state. Nation–state then came to be regarded as the model of the modern state in any meaningful sense of the word.

The big questions therefore arise thus: (1) Does Nigeria at any time meet these basic criteria of a state, a nation, or a nation-state as outlined above? (2) What variables lead to deficiency in the ingredients outlined above? Answering these questions remains the focus of the remaining part of this section.

Nigerian statehood is anchored on the generosity of the International System’s recognition and accordance of juridical sovereignty by the United Nations and other prominent actors within the system, given the enormous contradictions which trailed its conception, delivery and weaning. These have continued to bastardise its statehood, as Akinyemi (2007) described it ‘as a classic case where…. the system has failed’ and sometimes has ‘failed state’ status. Empirically it does not have absolute control over its territory; neither has it enjoyed the monopoly use of coercive instruments within the system. It has been challenged by various groups, as seen in the Boko Haram menace in recent years. Details of these are discussed in subsequent sections. In essence, therefore, the ‘Nigerian nation-state is more of a super state (akin to commonwealth) which is made up of many ethnic nations all of which command some form of rickety autonomy at least as manifested by some of these ethnic groups’ (Akaruese 2007, 54).

Given this reality, it is a truism that if the United Nations and indeed the ‘Big Five’ transferred the juridical paraphernalia to the component nationalities, as was done at the height of the Balkan crises in Eastern Europe in the 1990s, Nigeria will go the way of Yugoslavia, producing at least six states, and Lugard’s edifice will become history. This is because there are more centrifugal forces within the state waiting for opportunity to be freed from the British-fabricated bondage.

Evidently, Nigeria is not a nation, as it is made up of about 300 ethnic groups and several more dialects (MDG Report 2010). Neither is it a nation–state, as ‘the refusal of the different nations within the nation–state to dissolve into one confirms the superficiality of the state as presently constituted’ (Odukoya 2006). After all, a ‘nation–state demands assimilation to create homogeneity inside the national borders, and tries to maintain already essentialised national thinking outside these borders to extend the national sphere’ (Wicker 1997, 11). The failures of the Nigerian state to harmonise different ethnic groups and interests, as well as to integrate and assimilate divergent cultures and values, vehemently challenge its project of nation–statehood. Hence the validity of the ‘super state’ thesis of Akaruese (2007) cited above.

The subject of the Nigerian state has been discussed in myriad fora across the world. Its birth is sarcastically captured by Ikeazor (1999, 5) thus:

…with the protectorates, hundreds of hitherto independent and autonomous ethnic groups were lumped together in a joint form of coexistence they had never experienced or consented to. Within a few years, unable to run the Northern Protectorate without massive injection of funds from Westminster, Lugard looked southwards at the economically buoyant southern Protectorate and then had a brain wave: ‘if I joined the two together and they become one, then what one side had before to itself can be shared out’! So he proposed to Westminster the amalgamation of Northern and Southern Nigeria. By January 1, 1914, his dream came true and the nightmare began with the amalgamation.

Sociologically, therefore, the enforcement of ‘non-consensual marriage’ of these hitherto autonomous sociopolitical and economic structures was an aberration bound to generate illegitimacy, which the Nigerian state is synonymous with right from its foundation. To legitimatise the structure, ‘the colonial authority through its officials controlled the new state at the macro level of the urban life, and through the antics of the indirect rule system, the colonial hegemony was instituted at micro level (traditional/rural existence) through manipulation and castration of traditional authorities in obedience to imperialist logic’ (Odukoya 2006, 239). In reviewing the British fabrication of the Nigerian state, Yaqup (2006, 26) submits that:

The essence of the indirect rule system was to give the impression to the colonial subjects that it was not the white man that was at the helm of affairs (the one actually ruling, which they were) but the erstwhile rulers or leaders of the traditional and indigenous system of administration. In short, the traditional institutions were seriously turned into the appendages of the colonial system. [And he added that] the underlying problematic of legitimacy in governance in Nigeria was laid during this period of the emergence of the Nigerian State.

These fraudulent structural and politico-normative variables at its foundation, necessitated by the imperatives of colonial domination and exploitation, continue to generate the bastardisation of the state by generations of Nigerian leaders and scholars at every opportunity, with various descriptions unworthy of an object of adoration and loyalty. Hence, Awolowo (1947) described it as a mere geographical expression; Douglas and Ola (2007) see it as a geopolitical matter, a state-to-be; it is an enterprise of possible nation-state, an enterprise (Ake 1996); it is an uncaring and illegitimate institution (Babawale 2007); it is ‘an idea still begging for relevance’ (Faseun 2007). These views were summed up in Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa’s earlier observation that ‘since the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern Provinces in 1914, Nigeria has existed as one country on paper’ (as cited in Kirk-Greene: 1971, 428).

Given the ignominiousness associated with Nigeria’s statehood, it is desirable therefore to unveil the variables which continue to interact and reproduce the process of bastardisation of the state. These variables are both exogenous and endogenous to the Nigerian state. Exogenous are the activities of international organisations and Great Powers of world politics, while endogenous are the structure and normative imperatives of the state itself, and the activities of the operators of the state as well as the actions and reactions of the constituent units or groups within the state.

Exogenous factors

Judging from numerous literatures, Nigeria, like most African states, is the product of exogenous forces. The Berlin conference of 1884 – 1885 which set the stage and conditions for the balkanisation of the continent among European powers was exogenous; so also was the creation of the two protectorates – Northern and Southern Nigeria. Even the name and eventual amalgamation was the product of British imperialism and politico-economic engineering. Similarly, the political process, normative imperatives as well as the bureaucratic structures and other state machineries, owe their origins to forces outside. Most of them are essential features of the modern state, no doubt, but the over-dependency on the erstwhile colonial power and its neoliberal partners for trade and investment, aid, grants and national development strategy remain one of the greatest variables, which questions not only the state’s sovereignty but also its capacity to understand the exploitative tendency of such partnership in the management of its affairs as an independent nation. This makes Nwabueze (2006, 56) ask ‘whether the state is aware that the primary interest of international capitalism in Nigeria economy is oil… handled mainly by multinational companies of western origin’. This indeed explains the involvement of western companies in effecting numerous regime changes in Nigeria because of oil, as dictated by their home countries’ interests (Meredith 2005, 284; Clarke 2009). For instance, General Murtala Mohammed’s regime, adjudged to be the most legitimate by its actions in addressing the needs of the governed and pragmatic in all aspects of the national life, was a victim of such western machination. This was not only an irreparable setback in nation- and state-building within the first decade of post-war reconstruction, but a terrible sabotage by these powers of the Nigerian state effort to overcome bastardisation. Consequently, Reid (2014, 157) trenchantly observed that:

many outsiders declared that African governments were squandering their resources; but the outside world was entirely complicit and added that ‘indeed the unfavorable global terms of trade dating back to the early twentieth century (and indeed earlier) made it almost impossible for Africa to deal with outsiders on anything like an equal footing’.

This leads to unequal exchange and its spiralling effects on the state economy.

Even more, the involvement of neocolonial agencies in managing the economy worsens the precarious situation. According to Shiva (2001, 2) political and economic agendas are synonymous with one another in a functioning democracy, and once the economic agenda is dictated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and World Trade Organization (WTO), democratic values are dead. Their gaps are filled by primordial values such as ethnicity and religion, which lead to extremism and fundamentalism in electoral contests and the management of the state’s affairs. For instance, the Bretton Wood institutions fabricated the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP), which contributed so much to state bastardisation, not only in Nigeria but in the whole of Africa and other third world countries. Introduced in the mid-1980s, with the neoliberal policies of open competition, privatisation, currency devaluation, economic liberalisation, and subsidy removal, along with deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry amongst others, this program killed most domestic industries, which obviously could not compete due to poor infrastructural facilities and technology. Indeed, the economy stagnated, and a heavy external debt burden was negotiated, calculated according to the terms and conditions set by the same western institutions. By the turn of the millennium, Nigeria’s external debt was over 30 billion dollars, which required a huge percentage of annual budgets for its servicing. This further deprived other critical sectors the needed funds for development. The violent protests which followed these policies were only surpassed by pro-democracy protests over the cancellation of the June 12, 1993 Presidential elections. The gullibility and vulnerability of the state to external manipulations alienates it from the citizens. Most of the policies emanating from such interactions prove counterproductive to the wellbeing of the citizenry. According to Nwabueze (2006, 53), ‘with the signing of the WTO Trade Liberalisation Agreement in 1997 and its ratification… Nigerian manufacturing industries have receded and swelled unemployment levels. The textile industry is worst hit. Between 1997 and 2005 over 100 textile companies closed down’.

These developments continuously erode the confidence in the state to govern, and facilitate the transfer of loyalty to socio–cultural and religious-cum-ethnic groups, which sometimes provide succor to the harsh policies exogenously fabricated and forced on them by the state.

Endogenous factors

The Nigerian state, as pointed out earlier in the discourse, is a product of forceful and nonconsensual marriage between the North, dominated by Hausa/Fulani Muslims, and the South, dominated by Igbo and Yoruba Christians and Traditional worshippers. It has about 300 ethnic nationalities, which hitherto were strangers. More complicating is the ethnic mix and location of economic resources: while the Hausa / Fulani-dominated north enjoys massive land mass and a slight demographic advantage, they have very little strategic resources and as such contribute very little to the national income in terms of geographic derivation of extractive resources, which sustains the economy. This region also boasts the highest scores of negative development indexes in the country, in comparison to the southern region dominated by Yoruba, Igbo, and other minority ethnic nationalities who are majority Christian and who occupy the forest belts running down to the Niger Delta with its opening to the Atlantic Ocean. Southern Nigeria enjoys the privilege of hosting strategic extractive resources, which accounted for about 95% of the national income, and enjoys a more positive development index. This skewed structure of the Federation itself has a fundamental impact on ethno–regional relations, and sets the pace for issues such as: North-South dichotomy, marginalisation, national questions, resource control, and state secularism. All these issues contribute to the bastardisation of the state, as every ethnic nationality withdraws its loyalty from the state and gives more allegiance to their respective groups, leaving the state as a bastard unfit to be adopted by anybody except those in charge at a particular time. For as soon as most of them leave office, the music changes. These attitudes are generated because:

The state and its development policies are very distant from the people. Exclusionary, not participatory, not production oriented, but expenditure centered, [no one] bothers about inter-economy linkages as attraction of Foreign Direct Investment (but) promotes externally oriented domestic economic activities. (Nwabueze 2006, 57)

Others attributed the attitude to dictatorial and faulty economic systems designed for the benefit and interest of a few, which have impoverished the citizenry and which promote unemployment and crime, thereby creating insecurity in the state (Shiva 2001). Ake (1985) added that Nigeria as a state is institutionalised in a manner that limits its autonomy from the hegemonic social class and which forces the state to be a party in the class struggle. To Ola and Douglas (2007, 67), the bastardisation process is ‘due to the non-atomisation of the state, as it immersed in the existing system of production and exchange, (thus) lacks the capacity for building consensus in the society’. The outcome is that it is ‘bedeviled with ethnic strife and political violence’ (Anifowose 2011). Besides, it is being ‘overwhelmed by waves of deep-rooted mutual suspicion, acrimonious struggle for political power, quest for domination between primordial groups, to the point that leaders openly assumed the roles of ethnic messiahs at the expense of the nationhood’ (Akaruese 2007). These create the spiral waves of negative indices, as Nigeria ranks high on inequality in the world; which is a reflection of yawning gaps in income between groups and locations, as well as gender access to economic and social opportunity (MDG Report 2010).

Many scholars had blamed the years of military rule for all the maladies of the country, with such theses as ‘militarisation of the state’. Akinyemi (2007) even argues that the military was an institution hijacked to promote and protect the interest of the North between 1966 and 1999. In other words, before the return to Civil Rule in 1999, the Nigerian Armed Forces were parties to ethno-regional, as well as constitutional and institutional politics (Anifowose and Aiyede 2004, 55). Whatever opinion prevails, the military is a Nigerian institution which participated in the political process due to the exigency of the period of the state development and was not an occupying force exogenous to the system and was bound to be influenced by the prevailing attitude and orientation of the ruling class and the global environment within which it operated. After all, Nwankwo (1990, 96) has established the common denominator between Civilian and Military elites, both are ‘fundamentally exploitative ruling class commonly denominated in exploitation, but differentiated merely by modes of dressing and professional/ethical considerations, (as they) explore minor cleavages between its civilian-military members for holding the entire society to ransom’. Hence, the need to situate leadership and policies within the context of the Nigerian State; and not in a particular institution, in as much as the same pattern of input and output are obtained irrespective of the group opportune to run the state. Comparatively, Falola and Ihonvbere (1984 as cited in Ologbenla 2003, 73) lamented:

While their counterparts in the West and Japan have long realised that to ensure exclusively comfortable life for themselves, concessions have to be made to the masses, the Nigerian bourgeoisie thrives on inefficient power supply. Luxurious cars on bad roads, ultramodern airports … highbrow areas surrounded by filthy slums …. the efforts of the Nigerian bourgeoisie have been concentrated on winning access to political power and national resources. Looting them and storing same in foreign bank accounts.

In sum, successive governments and leadership bastardised the state through their collaboration with Western Compradors, ruthless ‘kleptocracy’ and negligence of the wellbeing of the citizenry; thus failed to meet the minimum obligation expected of the state and therefore force the citizens to withdraw their loyalty and seek alternative primordial centers for human security which evidently lead to further bastardisation of the Nigerian State.

The second endogenous factor apart from the structural defects and normative deficiencies is the emergence of civil society organizations (CSOs) and their responses to the unholy alliance of the global and local compradors, an exploitative duo. The structures and responses of these CSOs were predetermined by the dominant powers in the world capitalist system. They constructed the state and chose the bourgeois class to run the affairs of the country over time. Historically, the dynamics of Western democracies give rise to civil society organizations (CSOs). They are seen as units of sovereignty in the modern state; and they include ‘the trade unions, the students’ organisations, women’s organisations, business and professional bodies, religious groups, and all similar organisations that the state does not have a hand in organising, financing or directing’ (Yaqup 2006). CSOs work as instruments by which society checks the excesses and totalitarian tendencies of the state (Bayart 1986, 111).

In Nigeria as elsewhere in Africa, the colonialists did not provide a realistic platform for the emergence and development of broad-based engagement across the country for effective articulation of national aspiration by the CSOs along professional bodies, trade unions, women’s groups and student organisations; rather the ‘divide and rule policy’ of the colonial overlords favored the emergence and concretisation of ethno-regional and religious organisations as the CSOs.

Ugoh (2008) asserts that this began the moment the colonial administrators romanticised ethno-cultural identities and the socio-political systems of different ethnic groups. Thus, in the absence of functional and legitimate alternatives, socioeconomic and political activism was organised along this line, as illustrated by the Aba women who protested over British taxation in 1929. The potency of such grassroots movements and sentiment in checking the excesses of the colonialist and enhancing the wellbeing of members of the groups was exploited and politicised for socio-political mobilisation by opportune elites; these elites had no precedence but rode on their championing of ethno-regional identities for political relevance. In the process, they sowed the seeds of ethnic division and hierarchical binary division between members of the respective regions that make up the country. Alluding to this, Ugoh (2008, 141) specifically explains:

The politicization of ethnicity in Nigeria has been linked in the context of intra class struggle for hegemony within a fractional ruling class or political class. Motivated by the desire to make quick political fortunes, the emergent political elites of Nigeria’s ethnic groups spared no efforts at politicizing ethno linguistic and regional identities. They transformed ethnic organizations into political parties, converted ethnic organizations into a recruitment base for party loyalists and split existing national parties into ethnic factions. The ethnic rivalry between the two Nigerian nationalists, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo, is widely cited in this regard. This provided ethnic groups a new awareness of their political significance, hence they aspire for cultural self-determination and liberation which often results into conflict.

Thus, leading to independence, the most effective civil society organizations were the primordial political parties divided along ethno-regional boundaries, which have made it difficult for the center to hold whenever any of the constituent units feels aggrieved. Indeed, subsequent socio–political engineering, from Major Nzeogwu’s coup of 1966 until the present date are tailored toward uprooting that seed sown by the colonialists and nurtured by the nationalists, which continues to bastardise and ‘delegitimise’ the Nigerian state. For instance, the Unification decree of General Ironsi, widely criticised, created a stronger central government as the pillar to hold the failing state in 1966. Similarly, General Gowon hastily created states to break monolithic regional arrangements and to check Biafran secession; other subsequent creation of states and local governments has continued to accentuate heterogeneity. These generate more conflict and differences, rather than satisfying the constituent parts and enhancing stability, as envisioned in the exercises. It is the actual or perceived marginalisation of these primordial CSOs, mobilised for political relevance over time and which have increased in strength and sophistication, that has transformed into the perpetual threat of insecurity, challenging the legitimacy of the state. This derails any effort at state and nation building. Such incidences are numerous; they include: the Civil War in 1967; the annulment of June 12, 1993 Elections; constitutional crisis over acting capacity of then–Vice President Jonathan during the incapacitation of Late President Yar’ Adua in 2010; the Niger Delta conflict, Islamic jihadism and the renewed call for the Biafran State, among others (Onuoha and Ugweze 2014). The next sections highlight the linkage(s) between these variables and the founding of Boko Haram, as well as its challenges to the sovereignty and legitimacy of the Nigerian state.

State bastardisation and terrorism in Nigeria: Boko Haram as an archetype

Boko Haram is one in the series of primordial CSOs. It has a revisionist agenda towards the reinvention of Islam, as practiced in the Kanuris’ Kanem Borno Empire before its adulteration by subsequent developments: colonisation and subsequent inclusion in the Nigerian state. Hence, the Nigerian state is seen as a western institution which has made it possible for infidels to rule over the Islamic faithful. They are thereby seen as corrupting and subjugating the Islamic Caliphate. Boko Haram, the nickname for the Islamic terrorist sect, is interpreted as ‘Western Education is forbidden’ but the real name of the sect is ‘Jama’atu Ahl as-Sunnah li-Da’awatiwal-Jihad’ (People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad). It was founded by a coterie of Islamist worshippers who gathered at the Al-Haji Muhammadu Ndimi Mosque in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State, in the 1990s (Walker 2012). The movement was popularised by one Yusuf Mohammed (now late) in Maiduguri, around 2001, who later moved to settle in Kanamma community in Yobe State, where the sect flourished in the absence of urban life, and was assumed to be infectious and polluting the Salafis’ Islam. It is believed that the sect members were trained to disregard mundane existence but laid emphasis instead on the metaphysical; therefore, wealth and other luxuries of life are useless since adherents are ready to die at any time (Alao and Atere 2012). However, many scholars see it as the revival of the Maitatsine Sect led by late Mohammed Marwa, which was quite violent and antagonistic to the state in the late 1970s and early 1980s (Felter 2018).

Obviously the foundation for the sect and other radical Islamic movements was laid by post-Cold War religious revivalism in Northern Nigeria, marked by the declaration of the Islamic legal system by Northern States Governors, who were led by Sani Yerima of Zamfara State at the birth of the Fourth Republic in 1999. The motive for the adoption of Sharia law in a constitutionally secular state was unclear, but it was indeed an affront to the state, its sovereignty and legitimacy, at a time when Muslims in the country were neither harassed nor intimidated. Besides, Part II Section 10 of the Fourth Republic Constitution has affirmed the secularity of the Nigerian state, and therefore forbids any state from adopting any religion as state religion. The Sharia legal system, as introduced by those governors, was indeed a tool for political mobilisation and legitimacy as well as differentiation, to emphasise the uniqueness of the region in the Nigeria project. It was arguably a revival of the ‘One North, One People’ consciousness of the First Republic, given the opium-like effect of religion on the masses.

This must be understood against the background that Islam is the most unifying factor across northern Nigeria where the common use of Arabic makes it convenient for Fulanis, Hausas, Kanuris and other minority groups to communicate and act as a primordial CSO. This dated back to the pre-independence period, as recounted in this paper. One of the greatest developments in Islamic revivalism in northern Nigeria has been the rejection of the authority of the secular state by the Salifis. Radical preachers organise and mobilise their followers to withdraw from secular life (Paden, 2015). Specifically, Yusuf Mohammed was part of the implementation committee of the Sharia legal system in Borno state under Governor Kachalla between 1999 and 2003; his staunch defense of Koranic injunctions challenging the government on electronic media endeared him to a large followership. The followership includes the youths and other disadvantaged groups such as women and Almajiris (street boys – a by-product of a long-ago Islamic education system) who were not employed and had to turn to charity organisations for support in the absence of any state-sponsored welfare and social security machinery. However, it was the partnership of Senator Modu Sherriff with Yusuf over the 2003 Governorship election which facilitated the sect’s rise to prominence with financial muscles.

A commander of a military unit at the time in Maiduguri hinted that Modu Sheriff turned to Yusuf Mohammed in his desperate move to hijack Borno politics from Governor Kachalla in the run-up to the 2003 governorship election in the state (a relationship denied by Sheriff). A deal was struck between the two, providing for effective implementation of Sharia legal codes in the state, in exchange for political support by the sect. Many believe that the support of Yusuf and his followers was a major variable in Sheriff’s victory over Kachalla in the gubernatorial poll in 2003. This may well explain the choice of Buji Foi (an ardent follower of Yusuf) as the Commissioner for Religious Affairs in Sheriff’s cabinet. However, the honeymoon did not last long, because Governor Sherriff failed in strict implementation of Sharia law, as had been agreed with the sect leader. Therefore Yusuf commenced the criticism of Sheriff and his government. The preacher referred to the governor as an apostate with status similar to an infidel. In 2007, Buji Foi resigned as Religious Affairs Commissioner in protest (Crisis Group 2014). The resignation was indeed after Foi has acted as a link between the then-Governor and Yusuf to increase the sect capacity to set up micro finance facilities for its members. Deepening disagreement and radical messages resulted in the invitation of the Federal Government security operatives, who harassed the sect leadership intermittently. The harassment by security operators angered Yusuf and his followers, who by now had spread to neighboring states. Thus, by late July 2009, a five-day confrontation between the state and the sect broke out in some northern states, namely: Bauchi, Kano, Borno and Yobe. The leader of the sect was killed in the process by security operatives, purportedly in police custody, which many believe led to the escalation of the conflict.

At this point, it is worthy to clarify that the patronage of religious parochialism by politicians is not restricted to the North or Islamic leaders alone. Indeed the journey to and the birth of the Fourth Republic has seen leading Presidential candidates and even sitting Presidents visiting leading Pentecostal churches and other Christian gatherings for this purpose. The spending of billions of naira on pilgrimage to the Holy Land by federal and state government staff in a secular state is another instance, given the privacy of religion and the understanding within religious circles that such ventures are meant for individuals who have the means and conviction to do so, and are not the responsibility of the state. This leads to the question of Nigerian state involvement in religion beyond regulatory activities. The topic is beyond the scope of this discourse.

Arguably, Boko Haram’s existence was encouraged by a regional conspiracy against the Nigerian state through the contravention of the secularity provision of the constitution and nurtured by Bornu state political gladiators, who later betrayed the sect by declaring it an outcast requiring annihilation by the Nigerian state. The politics of ethno-regional and religion CSOs boomeranged, as the creature hunts even the creators, and in the process evinces a spiral wave of terrorism and condominium which attracted global attention.

The exploits of Boko Haram have been documented severally by scholars. It is indeed a recurring point in Nigeria, as attested to by Ploch (2015): ‘Boko Haram’s attacks have since increased substantially in frequency, reach, and lethality, now occurring almost daily in northeast Nigeria, and periodically beyond. Attacks attributed to the group since 2010 have increasingly featured improvised explosive devices (IEDs), car bombs, and suicide attacks’. Paden (2015, 3) painstakingly highlights ten of the sect’s attacks in the Second Quarter of 2014.

Besides these, the abduction of about 300 Chibok School girls from their hostel in 2014 marked the climax of Boko Haram terror, attracting unprecedented global attention and worldwide protest, asking for their release/rescue, which is coming in piecemeal, even up to the present date. Similarly, the abduction and release of about 200 Dapchi schoolgirls within the first quarter of 2018, and recurring attacks across the North East in recent months illustrate the capacity of the sect to strike, in spite of the Nigerian state’s claim to have decimated the group.


The emergence of Boko Haram is traced to the historical context of state development in Nigeria, which encouraged primordial loyalty and differentiation. This facilitated the formation of civil society organizations along primordial ethno-regional and religion divides which continuously challenge the state’s sovereignty and legitimacy. This is accentuated by the obnoxious economic policies foisted on the Nigerian state by the global capitalist system, which perpetuates micro poverty and forces the citizens to seek welfare from their respective primordial CSOs, given the failure of the state to fulfill these obligations. The promotion of religious CSOs over economic and development genres in the North at the return to civil rule in 1999 revived ethno-religious politics and Islamic fundamentalism. This develops into Boko Haram and other extremist groups harassing the state and enjoying accommodations comparable to Islamic states in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Somalia. Given the quagmire brought about by the insurgency, the following recommendations are made as a suggestive panacea for the resolution of the conflict:

The Nigerian state must embark on ethno-regional and religious deconstruction and restructuring;

The secularity of the state must be upheld at all levels of governance, with leaders observing their religious practice privately. So also must the state desist from the sponsorship of religious activities, including pilgrimage to the Holy Land and the utilisation of social assets as venues for religious worship;

Politicians must desist from employing religious slogans in the public domain; indeed, politics must be separated from religion;

The nourishment of pan-Nigerian civil society organisations capable of uniting and mobilising diverse ethnic and religious groups for national aspiration should be encouraged through citizenship education on individual and groups rights and obligations;

Equally important is the review and implementation of the report of the 2014 National Conference, especially as regarding the National Question and development, so as to give the citizens a sense of belonging and reduce primordial and separatist fervor presently flowing throughout the country. The concretisation of the six geo-political zones as the administrative units needs to be encouraged given the unviability of the micro states in the north where poverty is endemic;

In all, genuine integration policies must be implemented, including region/state of residence, as against the present state of origin practiced across the Federation.

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