Boko Haram: Recruited by Friends and Family

London – A recent study supported by the government of Finland has found widespread misconceptions regarding what drives people to join Islamist militant groups like Boko Haram.

Boko Haram is Nigeria’s militant Islamist group, wreaking havoc across the nation through a series of abductions, bombings, and assassinations. The group opposes anything associated with Western society, including any social or political activity. Its military campaign’s sole focus is to wipe out any “non-believers” from the Nigerian state.

Boko Haram’s official name is Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, which in Arabic means “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”.

The group’s unlawful actions became a topic of international concern in April 2014 when 276 schoolgirls were abducted by the extremists in Chibok, Nigeria. News of the girls’ abduction went viral and the “bring back our girls” social media campaign spread rapidly across the world. Today, 219 of the girls are still missing.

Whilst the majority of mainstream media outlets continue to associate the growth of radicalised groups like Boko Haram with the “perils” of Islam and religious extremism, the study set out to understand what drives people to extremism on a deeper level.

According to Mahdi Abdile, Director of Research at Finn Church Aid (FCA) and at the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, before the 9/11 terror attacks, religious motives could be drawn back to engagement in extremist practices, as widespread recruitment for militant groups like Boko Haram frequently took place in mosques and madrasas. Today, that has changed.

“There’s a widespread tendency to oversimplify what drives Nigerians to join a group that advocates such extreme violence like Boko Haram,” said Anneli Botha, an  independent consultant on radicalisation, deradicalisation, reintegration and terrorism in Africa and co-author of the study.

“It’s easy to place the blame on religion without delving any deeper into the subject. Our empirical research has shown that there is, in fact, a web of complexities behind the recruitment process that we as a global community need to acknowledge and accept.”

For many, it may come as a shock that the primary factor for joining Boko Haram has little to do with following true “Islamic practices”. The study shows that 60 percent of Boko Haram fighters are recruited by their own family or friends.

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By Rose Delanay