Nigerian Researchers Unpack Resilience to Boko Haram, Downgrades the Poverty Thesis

Researchers in Nigeria studying the nature and pattern of resilience to Boko Haram insurgency have concluded on the note that breakdown of social cohesion, unemployment, leadership at local levels, crisis of trust between the people and security agencies, poverty and geography were the most decisive factors which shaped resilience to the Boko Haram insurgency in the north. At the two-day “National Conference on Community Resilience to Boko Haram Insurgency” which ended today, Friday, May 12th, 2017 in Abuja, the preliminary research report explained how each of these factors worked out in such a way that resilience was low in some places, high in some others and simply indeterminate in yet others in the 20 settlements/communities studied in four states in the north east and Kano and Jigawa in the north west.

But it argued against the analogy that poverty made people align with Boko Haram or undermined resilience, saying that if that were so, then Jigawa State should have been the hub of insurgency rather than Yobe. Both states have basically the same cultural, religious and economic constitution. Or that Kano should not have seen much Boko Haram attacks at all, being the wealthiest of the three states –Kano, Jigawa and Yobe. It didn’t dismiss extreme poverty in the north, both as an instigator of violence and undermining factor of resilience. But it draws attention to how income inequality could be the dangerous dimension, citing how low income inequality gap helped resilience in Gombi contrary to how high income inequality gap undid resilience in Mubi where a few rich people co-existed with the rest.

Relating to unemployment, it said the situation whereby government forces would say that a thousand Boko Haram terrorists had been killed and another thousand turns up the next day spoke to how unemployment undermined resilience. It linked this to the success of Boko Haram’s strategy of loans, motorcycles and underwriting of marriage for those who could not afford it, mainly unemployed elements.

In the case of how communal cohesion favoured or undermined resilience, it cited Bama where historical disaffection between original and new settlers was a factor against community cohesion and Gwoza where Christian/Muslim disunity was at issue.

It gave the example of how geography as a factor worked for resilience for Biu in Borno State whose elevated location denied the insurgents advantage of sneaking into the area unlike Gwoza with its undulating space and hiding places for attackers. While leadership, especially of the Emir of Ningi in Bauchi State and leadership broadly in Gombi was a factor in the successful mobilisation and coordination of the local hunters as well as galvanising the Civilian Joint Task Force, (JTF), it was the opposite in some named towns and communities. It cited as a classic case of community trust crisis the celebration of Boko Haram in Yobe initially when attacks were concentrated on security forces and how the police looked a bit lukewarm when Boko Haram turned the gun on the generality of the people later. The preliminary report mentioned how things developed to a point where who to trust in sharing information about impending danger became a problem as no one trusted anyone, including security elements. This is contrasted to the community trust level which enabled everyone –Christians, Muslims, security operatives, etc in Azare in Bauchi, for example, to confront and overwhelm Boko Haram at great risks.

Making its recommendations, the research singled out incomplete resolution of conflicts as a major threat to community cohesion, stressed the primacy of developing local leadership, undermining hate speeches, strengthening Police –Community relations and entrenching inter-face between groups in the society.

It is a data rich report whose ranges can hardly be captured well very quickly. It had been two days of intense checking and cross-checking of data against conceptual and methodological claims, the end result of which could be a groundbreaking study of resilience in the African setting. In other words, the study of resilience strictly in terms of the subjective propensities of the people in the communities studied, resilience that has been completely outside of the influence of big business or market terms.

The first day saw a lot of attention and reflexivity on the question of when is it resilience, resistance or preventive measures and how might desperation activities be distinguished from the actions of what some scholars of resilience call the autotelic subject: the self-governing individual who has come to grips with the inevitability of disruption or uncertainties definitive of the age of rapid transnationalism and learnt adaptive skills that enables him or her or the community to turn insecurity into self-actualisation and even opportunities. A key question in this regard was, therefore, that posed by Professor Ogoh Alubo of the University of Jos, a session chair, regarding whether there are local terminologies for the concept of resilience.

Other key questions posed along the line includes that of what form of leadership emerged when official leadership abdicated; the gendered character, (women warrior) of ‘resilience’ in certain specific communities in Adamawa State, for example and the whole question of what notion of community the research was dealing with. Other questions included whether resilience is all about community reaction/responses/survival in certain ways and bouncing forward or about how resilience was organised and managed and with what successes or failures? How does resistance fit in if the dominant notion of it in the literature is as a critique of resilience in favour of attention to what some academics of resilience have called the macro-structures that give rise to risks.

A number of empirical questions also attracted attention such as the geography of Boko Haram’s insurgency, why Jigawa State, for instance, recorded very few attacks even though it is within the belt and how did Kano suffer so much losses even as it is not in the North-East. These questions might make the study harmonise or disentangle coping strategies, desperation activities, preventive measures, resilience and resistance.

Prof Jibrin Ibrahim speaking at an earlier session of the research on resilience

Prof Attahiru Jega

Professor Jibrin Ibrahim, the Coordinator of the “National Conference on Community Resilience to Boko Haram Insurgency” who provided an insight at the opening and closing sessions confessed that the study started with k-leg but had made the journey. He said it is a potentially important study for Nigeria which has, in his words, been undergoing shocks, from kidnapping to rural banditry and full scale insurgencies tasking for the national security establishment. He spoke of how sceptical he was about the study initially. That is not so anymore, he said, going further to harp on the differences in coping with the insurgency observable among different communities. While some responded to attacks with different defensive mechanisms, other communities were shattered. The issue is getting at the characteristic features of each pattern of response, with particular reference to the linkage to agency/leadership.

Declaring the conference open yesterday, Professor Attahiru Jega, immediate past Chairman of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) and Bayero University, Kano Professor of Political Science stressed the importance of the study. Pointing out how disasters and emergencies, be they Tsunamis, conflicts, have devastated communities, Jega, however, drew attention to how such communities must pick up the pieces and get on with life. For that reason, said Jega, it is of importance to understand how communities cope with such social, economic and political upheavals.

Y Z Y’au, Executive Director of CITAD

Mallam Y Z Y’au, Executive Director of the Centre for Information Technology and Development, (CITAD) which organised the research spoke of how problematic methodology was for the study that the workshop on it had to be repeated. He spoke not just to the question of how to determine and access the information needed for the study but also to what many of the senior academics at the conference regarded as the crisis of methodology in Nigerian scholarship.

Aside from Professors Jibrin Ibrahim and Attahiru Jega, there were Professor Ogoh Alubo of the University of Jos, Professors Sam Egwu and Pam Dung Sha of the Department of Political Science at the University of Jos, Professors Hauwa Biu and Pat Donli, both of the University of Maiduguri,, Asmau Joda, the Yola based gender activist and member of the Presidential Committee on the North East, Dr. Aminu Aliyu of the Department of Economics in Bayero University, Kano, Ene Edeh from Search for Common Ground, (SFCG) and Mallam Yunusa Zakeri Y’au, the Executive Director of the Centre for Information Technology and Development, (CITAD) which is running the resilience research with support from the United States Institute for Peace.