Combating Terrorism In Nigeria; How Effective are the Legal Solutions.


Terrorism has been a persistent problem in Nigeria for so many years. The country has faced numerous attacks from various terrorist groups, including Boko Haram and the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP).

The Nigerian government has implemented various legal solutions to combat terrorism, including the Terrorism (Prevention) Act of 2011, which criminalizes acts of terrorism and provides a legal framework for prosecuting terrorists.

However, the effectiveness of these legal solutions has been mixed. While some successes have been recorded in the fight against terrorism, such as the release of some kidnapped chibok girls, the Nigerian government has also faced criticisms for its handling of the situation.

Some experts have argued that the government’s response has been too slow and that it has not done enough to address the underlying issues that contribute to terrorism, such as poverty and unemployment.

This paper seeks to explore the legal solutions that have been implemented in Nigeria to combat terrorism, how effective those solutions have been in practice, the reasons why terrorism remains a persistent problem in Nigeria as well as steps to be taken by the government in addressing and mitigating these issues.


  • Legislations on Terrorism in Nigeria

The legal framework for the prevention of terrorism in Nigeria is essentially embodied in two enactments: Terrorism Prevention Act (TPA) 2011 and Terrorism (Prevention) (Amendment) Act 2013. The two laws shall hereinafter collectively be referenced to as Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2011 (as amended) or TPA 2011 (as amended), as the context so admits. ¹

Before the enactments of the TPA (as amended) the Criminal Code (in the south), the Penal Code (in the North) and other statutes dominated the criminal justice system in creating, defining and prescribing punishments for criminal acts.

Significantly, while both the criminal code and penal code do not contain specific provisions for counter terrorism, they criminalize specific acts of violence e.g. murder, homicide, rape, riot etc.)²

The meaning ascribed to the word ‘terrorism’ reflects a person’s perspectives, background and philosophy. The definitional ambiguities embedded in the word ‘terrorism’ are encapsulated in the popular cliché; one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, which immediately suggests the lack of consensus in determining who should be designated a terrorist or what should be considered terrorist acts.

While it is agreed that there is no globally accepted definition of terrorism, it is to be stated that many countries have proceeded to provide definition in their Statutes.

The TPA (as amended) carefully avoids the definition of terrorism as a concept. Rather, it defines ‘acts of terrorism’. Section 1(3) of the TPA (as amended) defines an ‘act of terrorism’ as an act which is deliberately done with malice aforethought and which may seriously harm or damage a country or an international organization.

Any act also amounts to terrorism when it is done deliberately with malice aforethought and is intended to unduly compel a government or international organization to perform or abstain from performing any act.

A terrorist act is committed when done with the requisite intent; it seriously destabilizes or destroys the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structure of a country or international organization by intimidation or coercion.³

It also amounts to a terrorist act where it involves or causes an attack upon a person’s life that possibly results in serious bodily harm or death. Intimidating or coercing a government or international organization is a terrorist act where it involves or causes: the kidnapping of a person, or destruction of a government public facility, or private property amongst others. This is particularly so where the act is likely to endanger human life or result in major economic loss.

By section 2 (b) (I), which defines terrorism as acts which are done to unduly compel a government or international organization to perform or abstain from performing any act, the definition of terrorism is confined to non-state actors thereby excluding state terrorism from the ambit of its definition.⁴

In terrorism studies the onus has traditionally been on the sub-national actor as a perpetrator of violence directed at civilian populations or state apparatus.

Definitions of the term reflect this direction of inquiry, with given examples of terrorist acts exclusively vindicating non-state actors. The result of this phenomenon is that traditional definitions of terrorism have often failed to recognize the state as a perpetrator of terrorist acts, or at least to label their actions as terrorism.

Hoffman, for example, seeks to draw a firm line in the sand between what he sees as ‘terrorism’, ‘perpetrated by a sub-national group or non-state entity’, and ‘terror’, that which is perpetrated by the state or those already in power.

Other ‘orthodox’ scholars such as Jenkins (1980) and Wilkinson (1981) also chose to recognize this distinction. I see no reason why there should be a difference in terminology, I believe that a definition of terrorism should be action based, rather than actor based.

There is an omnibus provision which criminalizes and treats as terrorist act ‘any act or omission’ in or outside Nigeria which constitutes an offence within the scope of a counter-terrorism protocols and conventions duly ratified by Nigeria.

An act which disrupts a service but is committed in pursuance of a protest is also a terrorist act. However, strikes and demonstrations are excluded from the definition of terrorist acts, provided they are not intended to result in any harm referred to in subsection (2) (b) (i) (ii) or (iv).

The harm referred to in the section includes seriously intimidating a population, influencing a government or international organization by coercion or intimidation.⁵


  • Solutions Implemented to Combat Terrorism in Nigeria

Despite the limited amount of legislations put in place to combat terrorism in Nigeria, there are some solutions that have been adopted by the Nigerian government to ensure that the ills of terrorism is combatted and adequately dealt with.

Firstly, and as earlier established, the implementation of the Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2011, which criminalizes acts of terrorism and provides a legal framework for prosecuting terrorist have been an amazing solution to mitigate the rate of terrorism or terrorist activities in Nigeria.

By so doing, this law that clearly spells out the offence of terrorism together with its punishments deters prospective terrorist from engaging in this heinous crime.

Secondly, the establishment of the Counter-Terrorism Centre (CTC) in 2013 to coordinate the government’s response to terrorism, the creation of the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) in 2015, which brings together troops from Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Cameroon, and Benin to fight Boko Haram are all drastic solutions taken by the Nigerian government in the fight against terrorism.⁶

Ever since the adoption of these measures by the Government, it is safe to say that the terrorism rate has been reasonably mitigated.⁷

Thirdly, the implementation of a “soft approach” to counter terrorism, which includes efforts to address the underlying issues that contribute to terrorism, such as poverty and unemployment as well as the establishment of a de-radicalization program to help former terrorists reintegrate into the society are solutions that the government have taken to combat terrorism in Nigeria.⁸

It should be noted that the Nigerian Government has also implemented other measures to combat terrorism in the Country. For instance; the government has increased the funding for the Military and Security agencies in other to enable them carry out their operations effectively.⁹

Also, the government has also improved intelligence gathering and sharing among security agencies to improve their ability to prevent terrorist attacks¹⁰, and in furtherance of this objective, the government has also implemented measures to control the flow of arms and ammunition into the country, which has helped reduced the availability of weapons to terrorists.¹¹

Additionally, the government has also worked to improve border security to prevent terrorists from entering into the country and has further established a National Intelligence Agency (NIA) to coordinate intelligence gathering and sharing among security agencies.¹²

Also, the government has worked with international partners to combat terrorism, including the united states, the United Kingdom, and France, among others.

All these are measures that have contributed to the fight against terrorism in Nigeria. However, despite these efforts, terrorism remains a significant threat in the country, particularly in the North East region. The reason why terrorism remains a persistent problem in Nigeria shall be addressed in the succeeding paragraph of this paper.


  • Causes of Terrorism in Nigeria

Studies have examined the root causes of terrorism in Nigeria and these causes can be grouped as social, youth unemployment, economic, religious, political, corruption, foreign link or connection, poverty and ethnic politics. The above root causes of terrorism were discussed in the succeeding paragraphs below;

Poverty and unemployment have been identified by some studies as common causes of terrorism. However, several studies have found no link between poverty, unemployment and terrorism.

The general belief of security and intelligence community is that people who are economically deprived are more likely to resort to violence as a way to express their grievances. That is poverty and unemployment create terrorism. The theory of relative deprivation explains that when people feel deprived of something they are expected to have, they become discontent, hence could use violence to express their grievances.

Although, it is argued that poor economic conditions such as lack of employment opportunities and poverty create the condition for people to join terrorist organizations.

A study by Kavanagh (2013) found out that poor but highly educated people were the ones likely to participate in terrorism. In a research carried out by Shehu (2015) he found evidence that the greater the income inequality there is in a country, the greater the incidence of domestic terrorist attacks.¹³

Krieger &Meierrieks (2014) cited in (Shehu, 2015) sampled 114 countries between 1985 and 2012, both found out that income inequality is correlated with terrorism. But, other empirical studies have found no support to suggest that the income distribution of a country is related to terrorism.¹⁴

In northern Nigeria, there is the common perception that violent extremism is entrenched in the socioeconomic problems of the country. For example, Ayegba (2015) argued that poverty and unemployment are the driving forces behind the insurgency in Nigeria.

Further in the study, Ayegba (2015) claimed that the high rate of youth unemployment has resulted in poverty and insecurity in the country.¹⁵ Adebayo (2014:480) argued that, “socio-economic indices such as poverty, unemployment, inequality, economic underdevelopment, low education, brought about the emergence and persistence of Boko Haram terrorism in Nigeria.”

These assertions suggest that the pervasive poverty and unemployment in northern Nigeria create the condition for young people to be manipulated and recruited by Boko Haram.

Similarly, Kamta, Azadi & Scheffran (2020) are of the view that though, poverty is the reason why youths become terrorist in Nigeria, it is not enough factors, and rather the neglect of the socioeconomic region of the North is the key cause for the cause of terrorism in the country.

Although, some studies have found no link between poverty and terrorism, the vicious cycle of poverty and unemployment make it easy for people to become prey for Boko Haram recruitment.¹⁶

It is common belief that religious tension and religious fundamentalism is another cause of terrorism in Nigeria. With respect to Boko Haram, religion plays a vital role in their discourse. The group holds extreme religious ideology, which they use as the basis to commit their heinous crimes. Omale (2013:98) argued that the rise of Boko Haram is embedded in Islamic fundamentalism, which they use to justify their actions.

According to Omale (2013:98) the group aims to promote Sharia law and create an Islamic state in Northern Nigeria. As a result, it has waged war on any group or western idea, which they believe is against Islam. This has created the notion that terrorism is linked to religious fundamentalism.

In the study, why do people join Boko Haram? Onuoha (2014) found out that, “ignorance of religious teaching is the leading factor influencing the adoption of extreme religious views, especially among youths” in all the northern states surveyed. Onuoha (2014) added that, religious and ethnic tensions are found to cause terrorism.¹⁷

Historically, Nigeria has experienced recurrent ethno-religious clashes. Although, it is hard to claim that the emergence of Boko Haram is related to religious or ethnic conflict, some studies have found a positive relationship between religious, ethnic tensions and terrorism. This implies that societies experiencing religious tension can become a breeding ground for terrorists to operate (Akinyetun, 2017).

Journal of Public Administration, Finance and Law Issue 22/2021 320 with respect to the political root causes of terrorism, several studies have indicated that the lack of civil liberties, corruption, weak political institutions, political instability, weak government, high level of repression, civil wars can foment the incidence of terrorism.¹⁸

In addition, a study by Adesoji, Labo & Penar (2018) shows that societies with large complex multiparty systems are more prone to terrorist incidence than those with few homogeneous systems.

Also, democratic countries, which are assumed to be in a better position to stop terrorist attacks, are more prone to terrorist attacks than autocratic countries. Krieger &Meierrieks cited in
(Udama, 2013: 112) argued that democratic countries are prone to terrorist attacks due to the promotion of democratic ideals like respect for civil liberties and free press, which open doors for terrorists to operate and also hinder counter terrorism measures.

On domestic terrorism in North-East Nigeria, some studies blamed the emergence of Boko Haram on the country’s elite politics. Kamta et al., (2020) argued that “Boko Haram is a political construct, sponsored by politicians.”

According to Udama, 2013:113), Boko Haram emerged from the struggle among northern and southern political elite to gain control of state political power, especially after the death of President Yar’Adua. The re-election of Jonathan in 2011 led to the use of Boko Haram as an instrument of destruction by northern political elite.

However, these claims cannot fully explain the emergence of Boko Haram, since other political and social phenomenon could contribute to the rise of the group. For instance, some scholars have argued that emergence of the group could be linked to bad governance, corruption and economic deprivation in northern Nigeria, which has fostered the rise of radical extremist groups (Udama, 2013).¹⁹

In Nigeria, the vicious cycle of poverty that happened is due to youth’s unemployment which approximately over 64 million youths’ are unemployed and 1.6 million are under employed. Unemployment causes social frustration, dejection, dependency on family and desperation that forced youths to embark on bad social attitudes of violent crimes, assault, burglary, extortion, kidnapping, militancy, destruction of lives and more recently is terrorism (Kamta, et al., 2018).

According to Awogbenle (2010:833), unemployment became a great problem on Nigerian youths and juxtaposed a terrible risk and fear to the society. The economical and psychological pressure of youth unemployment is a disaster to both individual and society (Awogbenle & Iwuamadi, 2010).

Nigeria is a country with almost 200 million people and approximately 500 ethnic groups speaking different languages and culture with about fifty percent Muslims, forty percent Christians and ten percent belonging to other religious groups (Shehu, 2015: 45).

The country has abundant of human and natural resources and number six in terms of oil wealth global ranking, and an OPEC member. Despite all these endowment of human and natural resources, Nigeria has currently been ranked as 161 out of 189 poor economies by Human Development Index (Oluwabunmi, 2020).

According to International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD, 2007), that despite the Nigerian resources of human and natural endowment as well as oil wealth, the country ranked as one of the poorest countries in the global ranking with 70 percent of its population as poor and 30 percent in absolute poverty (Kester, 2012).

This problem of poverty caused many of Nigerian citizens to engage in social violence.²⁰

According to Shettima (2009), the Almajiri (child pupil) scattered all over the streets with calabash in their hands for alms begging looking very dirty, hungry, and thirsty and in traffic hazards.

In northern Nigeria, the Almajiris were seriously neglected and this made them willingly join Boko Haram and engage in violent Journal of Public Administration, Finance and Law Issue 22/2021 321 aggression and other social and criminal activities of Boko Haram.

As reported in Saturday Tribune of 14th July, 2012, a fifteen year suicide-bomber (an Almajiri) attacked the Maiduguri Central Mosque and killed ten innocent Nigerians with the narrow escape of the Emir (Shehu) of Borno and the Borno State Deputy Speaker (Sampon, 2011:4).²¹

The high number of poverty is caused by high level of corruption in Nigeria as it was ranked among the most corrupt country in the world in 2001 (the Transparency International Corruption Index, 2001).

According to Adetoro 2012 cited in (Suleiman, 2011), the majority of Nigerian agencies and ministries were found guilty of corruption and the police was ranked as the most corrupt agency among them which gives chance to Boko Haram insurgency to expand its militant activities. Utebor, (2012) reported that illegal public executions of Boko Haram sects and hundreds of extra-judicial killings by Nigerian police as depicted on the Al-Jazeera TV, were allowed to “go un-investigated and unpunished.

Due to high number of police corruption and injustice, Utebor (2012) stated that the former president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo categorized the National Assembly political office holders as ‘rogues and armed robbers’ due to their oil scandal in Nigeria.

This confirms the allegation of the Central Bank of Nigerian Governor against the Nigerian political office holders (that are less than one percent of the population) for sharing more than twenty five percent of the national budgets to themselves (Sanusi, 2010).

Again, Boko Haram is a representative of the movement of Islamic Jihad Propagation in northern Nigeria, but it is being questioned that there is a signal of foreign intervention or influence from other foreign countries or organization that finance it with money and weapons to discharge its insurgency accordingly and continue with its daily violent activities, kidnapping, raping, assault, burglary, extension, terrorism, militancy and other social violence.

According to United Nations reports (2011), Boko Haram has a connection with Al-Qaeda Islamic Movement (AQIM) in the Maghreb region in order to expand its mission (Nossiter, 2012).

Also, the link between the Boko Haram, AQIM and Somalia’s Al- Shabaab are considered the similarities of their violent activities of suicide bombing attacks and contacting the outside terrorists with an intention to relate with one another in order to threaten the United Nations and its allies due to the suicide bombing of United Nations House in Nigeria in August, 2011 by Boko Haram.


  • Recommendations

There are several recommendations that could help to address the issue of terrorism in Nigeria which are;

Firstly, the government should continue to address the underlying issues that contribute to terrorism, such as poverty, unemployment, and lack of education. This could include initiatives to create jobs, improve access to education, and provide economic opportunities in areas affected by terrorism.

Secondly, the government should improve its intelligence gathering and sharing capabilities to prevent terrorist attacks. This could include investing in training for security agencies, improving communication between security agencies, and using technology to improve gathering intelligence.

Thirdly, the government should work to improve border security to prevent terrorists from entering the country. This could include investing in technology to monitor borders, increasing the number of border patrol agents, and improving collaboration with neighboring countries.

Fourthly, the government should strengthen its legal framework for prosecuting terrorists. This could include amending the Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2013 to make it more effective, and ensuring that terrorist are prosecuted to the full extent of law.

Additionally, the government should continue to work with international partners to combat terrorism, including sharing intelligence and collaborating on counter-terrorism operations.

Lastly, the government should invest in programs to help rehabilitate and reintegrate former terrorists into the society. This could include providing education and job training, and working with communities to reduce stigma and discrimination against former terrorists.

Conclusively, it is submitted that if these recommendations are implemented effectively, it could help to address the issue of terrorist in Nigeria. However, it will require a sustained effort from the government and the international community to make lasting progress.

Municipal and international laws prohibit killing a human being except where it is excused by law. However, the unfortunate monster of terrorism, which is currently ravaging the world, has turned many human societies within the global environment into slaughtering grounds where human lives are terminated with reckless abandon almost daily, especially in Nigeria. Though there are laws enacted to curb this heinous act, it has remained unabated. It has been established that a defective state policing system, poverty, illiteracy, and bad leadership are the causes of the current increase in terrorism in Nigeria. This study therefore concludes and recommends that the Nigerian government’s reliance on legislation and the battle of arms may prove to be effective in tackling terrorism in the short run, but it will not completely subdue it. In this regard, eradication of extreme poverty, state policing effective policing system, and good leadership will aid in curtailing the monster of terrorism in the long run.


About the Author 
Greatness Eyonsa Essien is a 300 level law student, University of Calabar and is currently serving as the Attorney General Law Students Association of Nigeria, Southern League. He has an unwavering passion for writing, reading and court room advocacy and this is evidenced in his participation in about ten national moot court competitions in Nigeria and made him clinch the award of Best Advocate, South South Lawsan and a “moot god”. He is concerned with his personal development.


1. retrieved 25th July, 2023.
2. Ibid
3. retrieved 25th July, 2023.
4. ibid
5. retrieved 25th July, 2023.
6. retrieved 25th July, 2023.
7. retrieved 25th July, 2023.
8. retrieved 25th July, 2023.
9. retrieved 25th July, 2023.
10. retrieved 25th July, 2023.
11. retrieved 25th July, 2023.
12. retrieved 25th July, 2023.
13.—pu retrieved 25th July, 2023.
14. retrieved 25th July, 2023.
15. retrieved 25th July, 2023
16. retrieved 25th July, 2023.
17. ibid
18. ibid
19. Ibid
20. Ibid
21. ibid

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