Mercy Corps: Inequality and Grievances Central to Boko Haram’s Recruitment of Youth

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New research illuminates motives behind participation in extremist group

Mustafa, 15, stands in front of a half-constructed house in Bajoga, Nigeria, where his family has lived since Boko Haram violence forced them to flee their home. Corinna Robbins/Mercy Corps

Frustrations with weak governance created some level of community acceptance of Boko Haram, allowing the group to infiltrate villages in northeast Nigeria and recruit youth, according to the global organization Mercy Corps. A new report investigates motives for youth to join Boko Haram, based on interviews with dozens of former members through research funded by the Ford Foundation.

“Efforts to reduce extremism must start with improved trust between government and Nigerian communities, which can be accomplished in large part by engaging community members and meeting their self-identified needs,” says Lisa Inks, Peacebuilding Advisor for Mercy Corps and the report’s author. “Civil society should also develop mechanisms for youth and government to address grievances together.”

Peer influence and business support were other leading motives for joining Boko Haram. Many youth interviewed said they joined after receiving financial support for their businesses or promises of business loans in exchange for membership. In some cases, Boko Haram lured youth with a loan before forcing them to join if they were unable to repay it.

“Boko Haram is tapping into the yearning of Nigerian youth to get ahead in an environment of massive inequality,” says Inks. “There are other ways to help youth achieve the status they desire through peaceful means.”

Mercy Corps also found that although some communities initially embraced Boko Haram, support waned as tactics became increasingly brutal and promises went unmet. Counter narratives about the corruption and hypocrisy of Boko Haram are now flourishing and persuading youth not to join. Mercy Corps recommends civil society actors work with influential community leaders to continue spreading anti-radicalization messages.

The report is based on interviews conducted in fall 2015 in Nigeria’s Borno, Yobe and Gombe states. Mercy Corps interviewed 47 former Boko Haram participants, family members and friends of current members, community members and young people who resisted participation.

Boko Haram’s violent insurgency in northeast Nigeria has killed nearly 17,000 people, displaced 2.2 million and devastated thousands of communities. Mercy Corps has worked in Nigeria since 2012, helping communities resolve conflicts peacefully, assisting those affected by violence and connecting marginalized girls and young women to resources to improve their educational and economic opportunities.

Read or download the report, “Motivations and Empty Promises”: Voices of Former Boko Haram Combatants and Nigerian Youth.

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Lynn Hector
Mercy Corps
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Amy Fairbairn

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