MALIK Samuel, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), South Africa, has provided firsthand perspectives on the primary factors driving the recruitment of new members by the Boko Haram terrorist organisation in Nigeria’s North-East.
Samuel, who also worked as a journalist, told The ICIR in a phone interview on Thursday, June 7, that while there could be other factors, the group’s recruitment strategy was primarily based on religious ideology and the conscription of new members.
Shedding more light on the group’s recruitment strategy, he noted that at its early stages, people were given two options: being killed or joining the terrorist group.
“Beyond the preaching by the organisation, Boko Haram also got many of its members by force,” he said.
“During the peak of the crises, when they were chased away from Maiduguri into communities and remote villages, the raids and attacks on these affected places also saw people forcefully recruited. People were given the option of either joining or getting killed. And in many instances, young men saw their parents being slaughtered either because of their refusal to join or their parents refusing them to. In many cases, some of these fighters had no choice but to join the group.”
He stated those young men were not the only ones conscripted, children in their early teens and primary school ages were also forcefully taken away from their parents and villages into the Sambisa forest for radicalisation by Boko Haram.
Samuel listed other factors, such as economic prosperity and protection from being killed by Boko Haram and security operatives, as reasons people join the dreaded terrorist group.
“Apart from religious preaching and forceful adoption, the prospects of economic prosperity drove the recruitment exercise of Boko Haram. People were being incentivised- a lot of young boys were given money and motorcycles. And for people, who had no jobs or money, they were employed and given money. Some were given N200,000, N50,000 and then motorcycles. People saw these economic prospects and voluntarily joined because the group met their basic needs.”
“Protection was another reason. Some of these people joined the group to protect themselves and their loved ones from being killed by the group. I had mentioned earlier that people were given the option of either joining or getting killed. And those who have seen people killed for refusing to join had no option but to join. Usually, when the terrorists carry out raids on communities and villages, they spare families of their fighters, who are usually in the bush or somewhere else fighting.”
“Similarly, people also joined to seek protection from security operatives and the government’s responses to Boko-Haram’s activities. Initially, when the conflict started, many people, including young men, were arbitrarily raided by security operatives and tagged Boko Haram members. Families and friends of those that were extra-judicially killed by Nigerian security operatives had to join the Boko Haram to seek revenge and for their personal protection.”
Samuel cited an example of a young man that fled to Cameroon after the terrorists had made several attempts to force him to join. The young man, whose name he did not give, later joined the group after the Nigerian military raided his village and extra-judicially killed his friend, who, until his death, had refused to join Boko Haram.
He also noted that some others later joined the group to avenge injustices done to them after they regained their freedom, having been wrongfully accused and detained by Nigerian security operatives.
“Some of these arbitrarily arrested people were kept in military detention without any access to their family members or tried in any law court. So, when some of them were released, one could still feel the anger of being unjustly arrested and detained. And they vowed to take revenge against the military,” he added.
Samuel called on the government to engage in a holistic dialogue involving religious leaders, parents of young people in villages and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), towards peacebuilding to end the war.
He also commended the various initiatives, including the Operation Safe Corridor of the immediate administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Operation Safe Corridor is a Nigerian government-led initiative to rehabilitate and reintegrate former members of extremist groups, particularly those associated with Boko Haram. Read a detailed report here.
Samuel called for more community engagement before integrating the deradicalised former members of the group into the society.
“The programme is a good initiative, but the government needs to do more in engaging communities where these former terrorists have lived and wreaked havoc to forgive and accept them in their midst. The government must carry the communities along and ensure they were healed from the pains caused by these now repented terrorists.”
Meanwhile, in its latest report, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), has drawn attention to the escalating peril of violent extremism in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in Nigeria. The report noted that the threat can undermine the progress achieved by governments in combating terrorism in the region.
It identified unemployment and human rights abuses perpetrated by security forces as significant contributors to the recruitment efforts of terrorist organizations in the area.
Based on interviews with 2,200 men and women in eight countries, including former voluntary and forced recruits, the report sought to identify the most influential factors that persuade people to join extremist groups in the region.
The report revealed that work and economic factors significantly motivate individuals to join these groups.
It stated that one-quarter of voluntary recruits cited job opportunities and the urgent need for livelihoods as the primary reasons. In contrast, only 17 per cent mentioned religious ideologies as their primary motivation, compared to 40 per cent in a previous study conducted in 2017.
The report also highlighted gender differences in the reasons for joining extremist groups. Women were less likely to join for ideological reasons and tended to join with their spouses, while male recruits often joined with friends.
Another noteworthy finding was that an additional year of schooling decreases the likelihood of voluntary recruitment by 30 per cent, indicating the importance of education as a preventive measure.
UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner cautions against overemphasizing security-driven militarized responses to counter violent extremism, as they can exacerbate the problem. The report revealed that nearly half of the respondents cited specific trigger events that pushed them to join violent extremist groups, with 71 per cent of them citing human rights abuses conducted by state security forces as a tipping point.
Steiner stated that violent extremism is not solely a localised issue but also has a geopolitical dimension, as groups like Wagner, Boko Haram, ISIS, and Al-Qaida gain footholds and contribute to larger geopolitical competitions.
The report recommended greater investment in basic services, child welfare education, quality livelihoods, and investing in young men and women to counter and prevent violent extremism.
Investing in incentives for disengagement was highlighted as a crucial aspect, as research shows that individuals who disengage from violent extremism are less likely to rejoin or recruit others.