On the Brink? The Nigerian State and the Making of Boko Haram

  • John-Mark Iyi


The rise of Boko Haram as a terrorist group in Nigeria has been attributed to different factors ranging from poor governance, poverty and socio-economic deprivation, to struggle for political power at the centre as a means to Nigeria’s oil wealth. In this chapter, I briefly sketch the several layers of interconnected local, regional and international factors that have combined to produce one of the deadliest terrorist groups in the world. I argue that just as international law has struggled to grapple with the challenges posed by international terrorism as a legal phenomenon, combating the local manifestation of this phenomenon by states such as Nigeria has been constrained by the international legal lacunae as much as by a confluence of domestic social, economic, religious and political fault lines, the most threatening of which, in the case of a deeply divided country like Nigeria, is the dangerous mix of religion and politics, which have combined to produce Boko Haram and have brought the most populous black nation on earth to the brink.


  1. Abi-Saab G (2004) The proper role of international law in combating terrorism. In: Bianchi (ed) Enforcing international law norms against terrorism. Hart Publishing, Oxford, pp xiii–xxiiGoogle Scholar
  2. Agbiboa DE, Maiangwa B (2014) Nigeria united in grief: divided in response: religious terrorism, Boko Haram and the dynamics of state response. Afr J Confl Resolut 14(1):63–97Google Scholar
  3. Ahmed A (2013) At least 37 hostages killed in Algeria gas plant standoff, says Prime Minister. CNN, 23 January 2013. Available at Accessed 12 May 2016
  4. BBC News (2012) Nigeria’s ThisDay Newspaper hit by Abuja and Kaduna blasts. BBC News, 25 April 2012. Available at Accessed 24 Sept 2016
  5. BBC News (2015a) Charlie Hebdo: gun attack on French magazine kill 12. BBC News, 7 January 2015. Available at Accessed 20 Sept 2016
  6. BBC News (2015b) Tunis attack: gunmen kill tourists in museum rampage. BBC News, 18 March 2015. Available at Accessed 10 Feb 2016
  7. BBC News (2015c) Kenya attack: 147 dead in Garissa University assault. BBC News, 3 August 2015. Available at Accessed 14 Jan 2017
  8. BBC News (2016a) Brussels attacks: Zaventem and Maelbeek boobs kill many. BBC News, 22 March 2016. Available at Accessed 6 Jan 2017
  9. BBC News (2016b) Somalia Parliament attacked by al-Shabab in Mogadishu. BBC News, 24 May 2016. Available at Accessed 21 Jan 2017
  10. BBC News (2016c) Orlando nightclub shooting: how the attack unfolded. BBC News, 15 June 2016. Available at Accessed 18 Jan 2017
  11. BBC News (2016d) Ivory Coast: 16 dead in Grand Bassam attack. BBC News, 14 March 2016. Available at Accessed 18 Jan 2017
  12. Begorre-Bret C (2006) The definition of terrorism and the challenge of relativism. Cardozo Law Rev 27:1987Google Scholar
  13. Blum YZ (1986) The legality of state response to acts of terrorism. In: Netanyahu B (ed) Terrorism: how the West can win. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York, pp 133–138Google Scholar
  14. Bluy T, Searcey D, Callimachi R (2015) At least 20 killed in siege by militants in Burkina Faso. The New York Times, 15 January 2016. Available at Accessed 19 Feb 2017
  15. Bonner R, Perlez J (2005) Bali bombing kill at least 25 in tourist spots. The New York Times, 2 October 2005. Available at Accessed 4 Jan 2017
  16. Burleigh M (2010) Blood and rage: a cultural history of terrorism. Harper Collings, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  17. Byers M (2002) Terrorism, the use of force and international law. Int Comp Law Q 51(1):401–414CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Cassese A (2006) The multifaceted criminal notion of terrorism in international law. J Int Crim Justice 4:933–958 at 934, 942CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Chaliand G, Blin A (eds) (2007) The history of terrorism: from antiquity to Al Qaeda. University of California Press, Berkeley. (Trans: Schneider E, Pulver K and Browner J)Google Scholar
  20. Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism adopted at Warsaw on 16 May 2005. Available at Accessed 23 Aug 2016Google Scholar
  21. Cowell A (2005) Subway and bus blasts in London kill at least 37. The New York Times, 8 July 2005. Available at Accessed 28 Jan 2017
  22. Duffy H (2005) The ‘war on terror’ and the framework of international law. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Dupuy P-M (2004) State sponsors of terrorism: issues of international responsibility. In: Bianchi A (ed) Enforcing international law norms against terrorists. Hart Publishing, Portland, pp 3–16Google Scholar
  24. Flory M (1997) International law: an instrument to combat terrorism. In: Higgins R, Flory M (eds) Terrorism and international law. Routledge, London, pp 30–39Google Scholar
  25. Franck TM (2004) Criminals, combatants, or what? An examination of the role of law in responding to the threat of terror. Am J Int Law 98:686–688CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. French SE (2003) Murderers not warriors: the moral distinction between terrorists and legitimate fighters in asymmetric conflicts. In: James Sterba P (ed) Terrorism and international justice. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 31–46Google Scholar
  27. Gasser H-P (2002) Acts of terror “Terrorism” and international humanitarian law. Int Rev Red Cross 84(847):547CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Greenwood C (2003) War, terrorism and international law. Curr Leg Probl 56(1):505–530CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hana J, Payne E, Almasy S (2015) Deadly Mali hotel attack: ‘They were shooting at anything that moved’. Available at Accessed 18 Jan 2017
  30. Heinz EA (2009) Non-state actors in the international legal order: the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict and the law of self-defense. Glob Gov 15(1):87–105Google Scholar
  31. Higgins R (1997) The general international law of terrorism. In: Higgins R, Flory M (eds) Terrorism and international law. Routledge, London, pp 13–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Human Rights Watch (2016) They set the classrooms on fire: attacks on education in Northeast Nigeria. 11 April 2016. Available at Accessed 23 Aug 2016
  33. Imre R (2008) Terrorism: causes and curses: the socio-politics of terror, poverty, evil statecraft and modernity. In: Imre R, Mooney B, Clarke B (eds) Responding to terrorism: political, philosophical and legal perspectives. Ashgate Publishing, Aldershot, pp 7–18Google Scholar
  34. Institute for Economics and Peace (2016) Global terrorism index 2016. Available at Accessed 20 Dec 2016
  35. Laqueur W (2001) A history of terrorism. Transaction Publishers, PiscatawayGoogle Scholar
  36. Luck EC (2004) Tackling terrorism. In: Malone DM (ed) The UN Security Council: from the Cold War to the 21st Century. Lynne Rienner, London, pp 85–100Google Scholar
  37. Okafor OC (2005) Newness, imperialism and international legal reform in our time: a TWAIL perspective. Osgood Hall Law J 43(1&1):171–191Google Scholar
  38. Okpaga A, Uwgu SC, Eme OI (2012) Activities of Boko Haram and insecurity question in Nigeria. Arab J Bus Manag Rev (OMAN Chapter) 1(9):77CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Onuoha FC (2010) The Islamist challenge: Nigeria’s Boko Haram crisis explained. Afr Secur Rev 19(2):54–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Ranstorp M (2009) Terrorism in the name of religion. In: Howard RD, Sawyer RL, Bajema NE (eds) Terrorism and counterterrorism: understanding the new security environment, 3rd edn. McGraw-Hill, New York, pp 209–219Google Scholar
  41. Robinson J, Landauro N (2015) Paris attacks: suicide bomber was blocked from entering Stade de France. Wall Street Journal, 15 November 2015. Available at Accessed 2 Apr 2016
  42. Saul B (2008) Defining terrorism in international law. Oxford University Press, OxfordCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Sciolino E (2004) Bombings in Madrid: the attacks, 10 bombs shatter trains in Madrid killing 192. The New York Times, 12 March 2004. Available at Accessed 13 Mar 2017
  44. Slaughter A-M, Burke W (2002) An important constitutional moment. Harv Int Law J 43(1):1–21Google Scholar
  45. The Arab Convention for the Suppression of Terrorism, adopted by the League of Arab States on 22 April 1998 at Cairo. (Translated from Arabic by the United Nations English translation service (Unofficial translation) 29 May 2000). Available at Accessed 12 Jan 2016
  46. The Convention defines terrorism by reference to the definitions adopted in eleven other instruments on terrorism listed in the Appendix to the ConventionGoogle Scholar
  47. The Convention of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference on Combating International Terrorism, Annex to Resolution No: 59/26-P, adopted at the Twenty-Sixth Session of the Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, 1 July 1999. Available at Accessed 23 Aug 2016
  48. The Organisation of African Unity Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism, adopted at Algiers on 14 July 1999. Available at Accessed 23 Aug 2016Google Scholar
  49. Walker A (2012) What is Boko Haram? Special Report 308. United States Institute of Peace, Washington, DC, pp 1–16Google Scholar
  50. Zelin AY (2014) The war between ISIS and al-Qaeda for supremacy of the Global Jihadist Movement. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy No. 20, p 1. Available at Accessed 24 Oct 2016

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • John-Mark Iyi
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Jurisprudence, School of LawUniversity of VendaThohoyandouSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations