Group Aggression;A Way of Understanding the Boko Haram Menace in Nigeria

Studies show from the UK Government’s Foreign Service on Nigeria, that terrorism is the primary threat Nigeria faces as a country today.[1] Plethora of studies debates on the nature of the Boko Haram menace, majority of scholars regards them as terrorists, while a new minority contends with such notion and regards them as Islamic extremists. The justification of the latter is, by utilizing the definition of what terrorism means. By way of definition, terrorism has been defined according to the conduct of the Federal regulation for the FBI as the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.[2] Likewise, The United States Code defines terrorism as premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.[3] Basically it is the unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims. Based on the evidence in the above assertion, the Boko Haram menace cannot, therefore, be regarded as terrorism for they have no political aim but religious and this can be justified with their objective, which is to establish Islamic rule in Nigeria through the imposition of Sharia law throughout the country.[4] The group’s official name is not Boko Haram but Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad, which means “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad.” [5]

Having created a vivid understanding of the nature of the Boko Haram Menace, it is evident that the Nigerian Government has been fighting the wrong battle. This is not a War on terror and it could be asserted that such anti –terrorism strategies from the defense ministry are reasonably flawed, for Boko Haram and their violent acts have left the Nigerian government and its citizens perpetually demoralized. Strategies should be channeled at addressing group identity based violent acts.

This article is stimulated by the Frustration — Aggression Theory and therefore places paramount focus on frustration and aggression of groups and how such group aggression is the main issue with the Boko haram menace we see today in Nigeria. This theory expounds that the occurrence of aggressive behavior always presuppose the existence of frustration and contrariwise, and therefore the existence of frustration always leads to some form of aggression.[6] Frustration in this context is any interference with the satisfaction of some basic needs, thereby creating a build up of provocation.[7] However, with passing decades, scholars such as Horowitz and Berkowitz, broadened the understanding of frustration to be a state of objective deprivation, it is also the thwarting of people’s expectations whether they think they are deprived or not.[8] Scholars such as Dollard argue that such displaced aggression occurs mainly because the frustrated cannot revolt over a more powerful target, or the true source of their frustration seems not to be apparent,[9] thus explaining why Boko Haram targets innocent civilians.

The truism remains that, people become discontented and rebellious when they perceive an incongruity between the standard of living they are currently enjoying and the standard they believe they should be enjoying, and this has always been the motion force for collective violence. [10] Sadly there is no difference with the Boko haram menace we see today in Nigeria. They believe they deserve a better standard of living with the establishment of an Islamic state, but they have no one to act out their aggression so they target innocent citizens. This, however, does not justify the lives lost in this predicament.

So how can this menace be stopped? The Nigerian government suffers the inability to transcend the extrinsic motivations on which inter-religious solidarity is sought, i.e frequent external factors, such as the need to fight crime and deadly conflict, or damage control that provides the impetus for inter-religious dialogue. It is not to say that these extrinsic motivations are not helpful in getting inter- religious dialogue started, but they are insufficient to sustain the movement in the longer term. Leaders of the Nigerian government do not recognize this. And therefore it is highly recommended that extrinsic motivations for peace building be abolished, instead, the Nigerian Government should seek intrinsic measures of faith and identity, only then, can the Boko Haram be ascertained.

[1] ‘Terrorism’, <> accessed 24 July 2016

[2] Sage Publication, ‘WHAT IS TERRORISM?’ (2007) <> accessed 24 July 2016

[3] ibid



[6] J Dollard et all, Frustration and aggression (12th edn, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner 1980)


[7] Rupert Brown, Group processes: Dynamics within and between groups (3rd edn, Blackwell Publishers 2006) p. 228

[8] Leonard Berkowitz, ‘Frustration-aggression hypothesis: Examination and reformulation’ (1989) 106(1) Psychological Bulletin 59–73 &Donald L. Horowitz, ‘Direct, displaced, and cumulative ethnic aggression’ (1973) 6(1) Comparative Politics 1

[9] Rupert Brown, Group processes: Dynamics within and between groups (3rd edn, Blackwell Publishers 2006) p.230.

[10] Rupert Brown, Group processes: Dynamics within and between groups (3rd edn, Blackwell Publishers 2006) p. 235.