I propose that the case of Boko Haram confirms Fearon and Laitin’s argument that political conflict can not be explained by merely pointing to ethnic/religious conflicts due to a number of more significant factors. State weakness, instability, and chronic poverty are better predictors of civil conflict than indicators of ethnic or religious diversity. The civil wars and insurgencies of the 20th century were the end results of decolonization that left fragile states with limited administrative control (Fearon 88). Indeed, this was true in the case of Nigeria where regional differences between the north and the south under colonial law resulted in a highly decentralized state (O’Neil 734). Since Nigeria’s independence, the country has witnessed a number of regime changes that have contributed to the country’s instability.
According to Fearon, countries “deriving at least one-third of export revenues from fossil fuels is estimated to more than double a country’s odds [of civil war]” (Fearon 85). This follows in the case of Nigeria because crude Petroleum oils make up over 79% of Nigeria’s exports (The Atlas of Economic Complexity). “Unfortunately much of the oil that is produced within Nigeria is stolen by militias like Boko. “Corrupt national and local politicians steal or squander the lion’s share of revenues from the oil that is not stolen” (O’Neil 776). Insufficient government control of natural resources and corruption have greatly contributed to the political conflict. This proves that Boko Haram is as financially motivated as it is politically motivated. Not only this, the fact that Boko controls much of the economy (local fishing and rice industries) near Lake Chad makes joining the militant group attractive to young men.
Dependence on the military has also been constant throughout the Nigeria’s history. “This avenue has been particularly important for the ethnic Muslims of northern Nigeria, who have been educationally and economically disadvantaged compared with southern Nigerians” (O’Neil 753). Regional inequalities in wealth as well as chronic national poverty have contributed to the high level of political conflict in Nigeria. “Per capita income (measured as thousands of 1985 U.S. dollars and lagged one year) is strongly significantin both a statistical and a substantive sense: $1,000 less in per capita income is associated with 41% greater annual odds of civil war onset, on average” (Fearon 83). Nigeria’s GDP per Capita ranks 179th in the world at just $2,800, which helps explain why there is such a high level of civil conflict.
To sum it up, the case of Boko Haram follows Fearon and Laitin’s logic. Ethnic/religious differences do contribute to some of the countries problems but Fearon understands that there are other factors at work here. Nigeria’s weak central government marked by its inability to control oil production could be the most significant reason for the rise of political conflict. Multiple regime changes have left the state in an unstable condition that have laid the foundations for internal conflict. Lastly chronic poverty has pushes young men, especially in the north, to join Boko for financial reasons.
Fearon, James & David Laitin. 2003. “Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War” American Political Science Review 97(1): 75-90.
O’Neil, Patrick S. Cases in Comparative Politics. 5th ed. W W Norton and Company, Inc, 2015. Print. (727-777)
Center for International Development; Harvard University; The Atlas of Economic Complexity http://atlas.cid.harvard.edu/country/nga/