By David Onmeje

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This paper is an attempt to explore the various roles that Nigerians based abroad can play in the counter-terrorism campaign as the country grapples with the Boko Haram insurgency. The paper examines how the intellectual, professional and financial resources of the greater number of Nigerians in diaspora can be harnessed to give impetus to the fight against terrorism. The paper concludes that the Nigerian Diaspora have a vital role to play in the counter-terrorism effort of the country and that given the platform, coordination and motivation can have a significant impact on the country’s effort to overcome terrorism.
In 2019, the conflict in North-eastern Nigeria entered its eleventh year. Since 2009, the Boko Haram insurgency has resulted in the death of tens of thousands of civilians and displaced millions across the Lake Chad region, which straddles Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria. Although major military campaigns in 2015–2016 succeeded in degrading the group’s territorial control, Boko Haram has proven remarkably adaptable in its guerrilla tactics.
Since the early years of the crisis, Nigeria’s international partners have cautioned that Boko Haram is unlikely to be defeated on the battlefield alone. They have stressed the need for a multidimensional response/approach that tackles the drivers of insecurity in the region, including chronic weaknesses in service delivery, corrupt governance and environmental degradation. However, the perception of limited leverage over Nigerian counterparts, restricted access to the country’s Northeast, and a response to the crisis shaped by the U.S.-led Global War on Terror limited donors’ focus on these governance dimensions on the ground.
In practice, international assistance came late, and donors struggled to identify viable national counterparts for stabilization programs. As a result, their efforts centred on supporting regional military efforts and responding to the large-scale humanitarian crisis.
Since early 2017, military gains and improved security in parts of north-eastern Nigeria have spurred a greater focus on conflict stabilization measures. At the international level, key donors set up the Oslo Consultative Group on the Prevention and Stabilization in the Lake Chad Region to coordinate their response activities. The Lake Chad Basin Commission and the African Union Commission have adopted a regional stabilization strategy, which highlights short-to-medium and long-term stabilization, resilience, and recovery needs.
In parallel, donors have also begun expanding bottom-up stabilization programs aimed at addressing the drivers of insecurity at the local level. These efforts have generally fallen into three main categories: programs aimed at strengthening local conflict prevention and mitigation systems, programs aimed at restoring local governance and essential services, and programs aimed at fostering social cohesion and ensuring the reintegration of former combatants.
However, one area that has not been given much attention is bringing the considerable personnel and skills of Nigerians in the Diaspora in the current counter-terrorism measures in Nigeria. This paper will explore the possible role this important stakeholder can play in Nigeria’s counter-terrorism efforts.
Boko Haram is a militant organization based in North-eastern Nigeria and also active in Chad, Niger and northern Cameroon. The group was founded in 2002 by Mohammed Yusuf upon the principles of the Khawaarij advocating Sharia law.
It turned into a violent extremist group in 2009 and has been responsible for the loss of lives in many parts of Northern Nigeria. Boko Haram previously existed as Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihād. One of the goals of the Boko Haram group is to champion for the establishment of an Islamic State, ruled by strict sharia law primarily in the Northern part of Nigeria where the majority of the populations are Muslims.
Boko Haram believes that democracy is too lenient and violates Islam. It also opposes the Westernization of Nigerian society and also the concentration of the wealth of the country among members of small political elite, mainly in the Christian south of the country. The roots of Boko Haram lie in the Islamic history of northern Nigeria, in which for some 800 years powerful sultanates centred on the Hausa cities close to Kano and the sultanate of Borno (roughly the region of the states of Borno and Yobe together with parts of Chad) constituted high Muslim civilizations.
These sultanates were challenged by the jihad of Shehu Usuman Dan Fodio (that lasted from 1802 to 1812), who created a unified caliphate stretching across northern Nigeria into the neighbouring countries. Dan Fodio’s legacy of jihad is one that is seen as normative by most northern Nigerian Muslims.
The caliphate still ruled by his descendants (together with numerous smaller sultanates), however, was conquered by the British in 1905, and in 1960 Muslim northern Nigeria was federated with mostly Christian southern Nigeria. The Muslim response to the Christian political ascendency was the move during the period of 2000-2003 to impose Sharia in 12 of the northern states in which they predominated. For the most part, the imposition of Sharia brought the previously feuding Muslim groups together, and there was no further use of takfiri (accusations of being non-Muslim).
While the imposition of Sharia did satisfy the official manifestations of Islam in the north (both Sufi and Salafi), it is clear that radicals who were takfiris doctrinally such as members of Boko Haram were left outside. There is no doubt that the suppression operation of 2009, and the killing of Muhammad Yusuf by Nigerian security forces in July of that year, was a turning point for Boko Haram.
The group was frequently said at this time to be defunct. In September 2010 (coinciding with Ramadan), however, Boko Haram carried out a prison break (said to have released some 700 prisoners). After that, the group began operations again. The targeted assassinations are the most revealing, involving political figures, such as Abba Anas bin `Umar (killed in May 2011), the brother of the Shehu of Borno, and secular opposition figures (Modu Fannami Godio, killed in January 2011), but also prominent clerics such as Bashir Kasahara, a well-known Wahhabi figure (killed in October 2010), Ibrahim Ahmad Abdullahi, a non-violent preacher (killed in March 2011), and Ibrahim Birkuti, a well-known famous preacher who challenged Boko Haram (killed in June 2011).
The shootings of these prominent clerics seem to be in accord with Boko Haram’s purification agenda concerning Islam. Boko Haram related violence has mostly been confined to Nigeria’s Northeast, in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states. It has been most heavily concentrated in Borno, with the brunt of the violence borne by Maiduguri, Gwoza, and Kukawa.
Violence has also become common south and east of Maiduguri, along the border with Cameroon’s Far North Region, and around Lake Chad. There have been sporadic incidents in places such as Nigeria’s Middle Belt and the capital of Abuja that have been attributed to Boko Haram.
Boko Haram has adopted suicide attacks as an essential tactic in its struggle against government authority. Over the past seven years, Boko Haram has demonstrated flexibility. It remains a formidable threat to the Nigerian state despite losing much of its territory. Though the group is undoubtedly less potent than it was in 2015, there is no sign that the government will defeat it in the foreseeable future without bringing on-board inputs from various quarters such as the Nigerians in the Diaspora.
Understanding Insurgency and Terrorism have become one of the most security challenges for many countries in the world. Due to the threat terrorism poses to international peace and security, it has attracted much attention globally. Although there are international instruments which condemn terrorism and call for its suppression and elimination, there remains the primary challenge of a lack of a universally accepted legal definition for terrorism. The lack of specificity in definition has continued to pose the risk of non-standardized, insufficient or incorrect application and implementation of counter-terrorism measures.
There is a long-standing consensus in the academic community over the disagreement surrounding the conceptual and operational definition of terrorism. Both the theoretical conceptualization and the empirical manifestation of terrorism are highly contested based on state, national, political, geopolitical, religious and even ideological constellations, giving rise to not one but many manifestations of terrorism, differing from one region to another, one sub-region to another and one country to another.
However, even though there is still a lack of agreement on what terrorism is, attempts at arriving at a definition have been made. At the 1999 Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) defined an act of terrorism as “any act which is a violation of the criminal laws of a State Party and which may endanger the life, physical integrity or freedom of, or cause serious injury or death to, any person, any number or group of persons or causes or may cause damage to public or private property, natural resources, environmental or cultural heritage”.
Similarly, the 2015 Global Terrorism Index (GTI) report defines terrorism as “the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by non-state actors to attain a political, economic, religious or social goal through fear, coercion or intimidation”.
Also, Forest and Giroux, defined terrorism as a tactic that uses violence or threat of violence as a coercive strategy to cause fear and political intimidation. Insurgency, on the other hand, is a strategy adopted by groups which cannot attain their political objectives through conventional means or by a quick seizure of power.
Insurgency could also be defined as any kind of armed uprising against an incumbent government.
It is characterized by protracted, asymmetric violence, ambiguity, the use of complex terrain (jungles, mountains, and urban areas), psychological warfare, and political mobilization which are all designed to protect the insurgents and eventually alter the balance of power in their favour. In his book titled ‘Globalization and Insurgency’,
Mackinlay defined insurgency as the actions of a minority group within a state who are intent on forcing political change utilizing a mixture of subversion, propaganda and military pressure, aiming to persuade or intimidate the broad mass of people to achieve their aim. Insurgency could start as a social protest, from a given group of people, who feel continuously marginalized in the affairs of government. From the preceding, terrorism and insurgency generally arise from similar causal conditions, terrorism often being employed as a tactic within a broad framework of an insurgent campaign. For example, groups like Al-Shabaab in Somalia and Boko Haram in Nigeria are known to employ a mix of insurgent and terrorist tactics. It is also clear that terrorism can stand alone, as in the case of known terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and Islamic States (IS). 
Faced with the complex and sophisticated terrorist attacks, stakeholders in the Sahel region have responded by deploying troops aimed at combating terrorism. Given the level of terrorist activities, it comes as no surprise that the region as a whole has undergone a process of securitization in recent years, which has resulted in a multitude of forces on the ground.
The current deployment in the Sahel includes G5 Sahel Joint Force, Operation Barkhane, Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) and United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and well as the national armies of the respective countries. The trends in terrorist activities and counter-terrorism efforts observed in the Sahel is somewhat not encouraging. Counter-terrorism response has been fraught with a lot of difficulties and challenges leading to the worsening and deterioration of the security situation in most countries of the Sahel.
This has the potential of spreading to other neighbouring countries. Some shortcomings could be cited. Undermining the success of the counter-terrorism efforts, is the discontent among troops, as exemplified by instances of military personnel refusing to take part in operations or abandoning their posts.
This is further compounded by the mistrust among troop-contributing countries with some troops always in a hurry to announce victory without crediting the entire force. This has often led to disagreements among countries contributing troops to the counter-terrorism efforts, thereby derailing the progress of the force.
Counter-terrorism operations require specific training, equipment, intelligence, logistics, capabilities and specialized military preparation. It would seem unrealistic to expect any significant improvement on this front in the short and medium terms, partly because of funding constraints and delays in deployment for some of the missions, such as G5 Sahel Joint Force.
Lack of financial capability of troop-contributing countries to adequately resource personnel has resulted in logistical constraints of deployed troops. Corruption within government and state security apparatus has also contributed to the logistical constraints of the troops as there have been cases of politicians and senior military personnel misapplying funds meant of equipment and retooling of troops.
Lack of coordination, cooperation, and collaboration among the many deployed troops in the Sahel is a significant setback confronting the fight against terrorism. There have been cases of some deployments refusing to share intelligence with other contingents operating in the same theatre, thereby undermining their military capability to curtail the scourge of terrorism. The delay in the response of some non-national contingents to distress calls from national authorities of the member states in which they are deployed is also another challenge.
Besides, it has become apparent that the ever-growing focus on counter-terrorism, underscored by significant international (Western) efforts, seeks to abandon the implementation of peace accords and agreements such as the 2015 Algiers Peace Accord in Mali, which is crucial not only for a security solution but also for a political resolution of the conflict.
In some cases also, the security situation has made it difficult for governments to implement reforms needed to address root causes fuelling the spread of terrorism. Similarly, the influx of foreign support and resources to address security challenges such as terrorism and human trafficking appears to fail to address much-needed reforms in state behaviour, governance and justice, which are significant factors in driving violence and radicalization.
In order to organize themselves, and to plan and carry out attacks, terrorists need recruits and supporters, funds, weapons, the ability to travel unimpeded, other forms of material support (e.g., means of communicating, places to hide), and access to vulnerable targets. Therefore, effectively countering acts of terrorism requires a comprehensive and strategic approach, relying on a broad range of policies and measures.
An all-inclusive approach to counter-terrorism often encompasses several objectives, addressing different chronological stages in the occurrence of terrorism. These objectives can be broadly categorized as:
• Preventing men and women from becoming terrorists;
• Providing opportunities and support to individuals on a path to, or involved in, VERLT to disengage;
• Denying terrorism suspects the support, resources and means to organize themselves or to plan and carry out attacks;
• Preparing for, and protecting against, terrorist attacks, in order to decrease the vulnerability of potential targets, in particular, critical infrastructure;
• Pursuing terrorist suspects to apprehend them and bring them to justice; and
• Responding to terrorist attacks through proportionate measures to mitigate the impact of such attacks and to assist victims.
Countries have an obligation to protect against acts of terrorism, and this requires that they put particular emphasis on preventing terrorism. This is reflected in their international legal obligations and political commitments.
The UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy notably defines a holistic approach to counter-terrorism that includes:
• Measures to address conditions that are conducive to the spread of terrorism;
• Measures to prevent and combat terrorism; and
• Measures to ensure respect for human rights for all and the rule of law as the fundamental basis of the fight against terrorism.
UN Security Council resolution 1373 (2001) imposes a legally binding obligation on all states to establish appropriate legislative, regulatory and institutional frameworks, including, to:
• Refrain from providing any form of support, active or passive, to entities or individuals involved in terrorist acts;
• Prevent and suppress the financing of terrorism;
• Suppress the recruitment of members of terrorist groups;
• Eliminate the supply of weapons to terrorists;
• Prevent the movement of terrorists or terrorist groups;
• Deny safe havens to those who finance, plan, support or commit terrorist acts, or provide safe havens;
• Ensure that any person who participates in the financing, planning, preparation or perpetration of terrorist acts or in supporting terrorist acts is brought to justice; and
• Afford each other the most significant measure of mutual legal assistance in connection with criminal matters related to terrorism.
UN Security Council resolution 1456 (2003) and subsequent resolutions oblige states to ensure that any measure taken to combat terrorism complies with international law, in particular international human rights law, refugee law and humanitarian law.
Counter-terrorism requires a multi-faceted approach that is all-inclusive and addresses not only the manifestation of terror-related activities but also its underlining causes while also carrying everybody along. The Nigerian Diaspora community can be beneficial in every stage and facet of the strategy to counter insurgency and bring about the much-needed peace to the Northeast of the country.
One of the most effective counter-terrorism measures which can address the problem from its root cause is education. Education does not only help this potential terrorist a chance to get out of poverty but also help in reshaping perception. Nigerian Diasporans can help to mobilize and provide both human resources and educational material needed to help educate the children in this region that are prone to the insurgency.
Counter-terrorism has a significant international dimension and it’s impossible for a country to go it all alone. Significant pressure and lobby is needed to draw support of countries with the expertise and resources to help as well as other international partners. The Nigerian Diaspora community can play a role in lobbying and pressuring international organizations and the big countries to provide much-needed assistance.
Rehabilitation of victims of terror activities is an essential area in counter-terrorism. This required a lot of human resources and resources as the insurgency has displaced more than a million people. The Diaspora community can get actively involved in the rehabilitation effort using their connection to mobilize resources from charity organization all over the world and providing their expertise in rehabilitation and counselling.
The Nigerian diaspora community are significant players all over the world in the area of information and communication technology. They can help the counter-terrorism campaign in the area of gathering information and analyzing them. Getting the right information will help in proffering the correct solution to the problem of terrorism.
Technology can help give significant efficiency and effectiveness to both military and civilian operations in the counter-terrorism campaign. The Nigerian diaspora community can involve Nigerian inventors all over the world to help in providing proprietary technologies and other technological solution that will give precision to both military and political solution to the insurgency in Nigeria.
The counter-terrorism campaign can also draw many volunteers from Nigerians in the diaspora. Volunteers with diverse skill sets and professional background can be drawn from all over the world, which will have a significant effect on the fight against terrorism.
There is no doubt that the counter-terrorism campaign has not been effective enough to have a significant impact. There is a great room for improvement in every front, either in terms of finance, people, technology, ideas, and collaboration. The Diaspora community can help to bridge the gaps in this area significantly. The Diaspora community should be given the platform to bring in their significant resources, professional experience, inventions and exclusive contacts to help in giving the much-needed impetus to the counter-terrorism campaign. Nigeria has professionals in different field of endeavour all over the world; it will be astute to draw on the knowledge to bring terrorism to an end.
The Diaspora community should explore the possibility of bringing inventors, especially those in the military industry to help in the modernization of the Nigerian army. Israel leans significantly on its diaspora population in strengthening its security forces against insurgency in that country.
The Diaspora community should become a vanguard for countering fake news against the country’s military with facts that are available on government website.
The Diaspora community should maximize the significant population of Nigerians all over the world to draw attention and support to the fight against terrorism. The state of Israel actively engaged their citizens abroad to lobby for both financial and political support for its fight against insurgency and terrorism.
The Diaspora community in international media circles just like nationals of other countries do should use their mediums to promote efforts by the Federal Government and its military.
 The Diaspora community should begin the process of mobilizing volunteers from abroad for much needed humanitarian effort as part of the counter-terrorism effort.
Indian has used the ICT knowledge of it Diaspora in the gathering of information in gathering information in its fight against insurgency. Nigeria can do the same by taping on Nigerians ICT experts abroad.
The Diaspora community using its proximity to the International Criminal Court should form pressure groups that will ensure that sponsors and promoters of terrorist groups in Nigeria are arrested and prosecuted.

  1. Adepoju, A., 2003, ‘Continuity and Changing Configurations of Migration to and from the RepublicofSouthAfrica.
  2. Kenneth Omeje 2007, The Diaspora and Domestic Insurgencies in Africa.
  3. Bonn International Center for Conversion Diasporas and Peace, A Comparative Assessment of Somali and Ethiopian Communities in Europe, (2010).
  4. Maxim Worcester: Combating Terrorism in Africa.
  5. Akanji, O. O., 2019. Sub-regional Security Challenge: ECOWAS and the War on Terrorism in West Africa.
  6. Banunle, A. & Apau, R., 2018. Analysis of Boko Haram Terrorism as an Emerging Security Threat in Western Sahel; Nigeria in Focus.
  7. Organization of African Unity (1999). 1999 OAU Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism.
  8. Forest, J.J. & Giroux, J., 2011. Terrorism and political violence in Africa: Contemporary trends in a shifting terrain. 


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