How To End Boko Haram: A Theory, By Collins Uma
On the 14th of April 2014, one month ago, over 200 young school girls were kidnapped at Chibok, Borno state, North-East Nigeria. We still do not know the exact number kidnapped but, for the parents, it has been one month of agony and uncertainty about the welfare of the girls. At times they weren’t even sure their daughters were still alive. This led to the #BringBackOurGirls campaign which has seen the international community stand as one in condemnation of the senseless act and in solidarity with the government and people of Nigeria. This attention on the girls’ plight is welcome even though it is not the first – or last – time innocent girls would be abducted in North-East Nigeria.
I have been looking at different ideas for a project that is focused on how to curtail the current trend of terrorism in Nigeria with intentions of arriving at a permanent solution. In the course of this, I have looked at different theories that could explain the origin and reasons for the existence of Boko Haram. Robert Merton’s Strain Theory is one I have considered.
Strain, according to Merton, refers to the discrepancies between culturally or societally defined goals and the institutionalized means available to achieve these goals. Most societies have goals of wealth and power and legitimized means of achieving these. The theory states simply that social structures may pressure citizens to commit crimes.
Merton listed 5 types of deviance in a society: Conformity, Innovation, Ritualism, Retreatism, Rebellion.
Conformity involves individuals accepting the culturally defined goals and the socially legitimate means of achieving them. Merton suggests that most individuals, even those who do not have easy access to the means and goals, remain conformists.
Innovation occurs when an individual accepts the goals of society, but rejects or lacks the socially legitimate means of achieving them. Innovation explains the high level of criminal activities involving the educationally less developed.
Ritualism involves the acceptance of a lifestyle of hard work, but rejection of the cultural goal of monetary rewards. This individual goes through the motions of getting an education and working hard, yet is not committed to the goal of accumulating wealth or power. Like some civil servants.
Retreatism involves rejecting both the cultural goal of success and the socially legitimate means of achieving it. The retreatist withdraws or retreats from society and may become an alcoholic, drug addict, or vagrant.
Rebellion occurs when an individual rejects both culturally defined goals and means and substitutes new goals and means. Shekau and his band of brigands exhibit this type of deviance. They have totally discarded the wider society’s goals and have introduced their own goal and means of achieving this goal.
How do we make a group like this accept society’s culturally recognised goals and legitimized means of achieving these goals?
How do we end Boko Haram?
A military option, especially with the assistance of foreign troops in the country now, could #BringBackOurGirls but, what happens after the rescue? Boko Haram is an amorphous group, not an army in one location. Killing all of its members is an unrealistic expectation. Abubakar Shekau emerged after Mohammed Yusuf’s death. Another is likely to come up if Shekau is killed.
A senior friend, Dr Noel Ihebuzor (@naitwt), has recommended Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). He suggested having some credible and respectable leaders of thought in Northern Nigeria meet and dialogue with the leaders of Boko Haram. There will be some trade-offs but this will be for the general good. This option has been tried before but the reason it failed was due to insincerity on the part of the federal government. There were expressed intentions to arrest the representatives of Boko Haram that came for the meeting. There was also no sincere commitment to cessation of hostilities from Boko Haram. I agree with Dr Ihebuzor that this option be tried again with greater assurances of sincerity and let it be a more remarkably clandestine affair.
Shekau has, in his latest video, indicated his willingness to negotiate. This is good. But it is dangerous to let a terrorist dictate to you the terms of a ceasefire. It is time to meet with him, physically or by proxy, and make him an offer he cannot refuse. Every man has a price, the trick is in discovering what the price is. It is time for Nigeria to recruit her best brains that will come up with this offer. The ball is in your court, Jonathan.
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