State Legitimation Crisis and Violent Extremism among Young People in Nigeria

Dr Adejoh Pius is a lecturer in the Department of Sociology, University of Lagos, Akoka, Nigeria. Dr Ottoh teaches in the Department of Political Science, University of Lagos, Akoka, Nigeria. Dr Onah Emmanuel is a lecturer in the Department of Political Science, University of Lagos, Akoka, Nigeria. Dr Agugua Augustine is of the Department of Sociology, University of Lagos, Akoka, Nigeria.


This article assessed the perceptions of youth towards perceived failures of the Nigerian State and their resulting disposition towards violent extremism as a response. The subjects for the study were drawn from, and representative of Lagos, Delta and Plateau States of the Country. The article adopted an eclectic theoretical approach and utilised a crosssectional survey design to generate quantitative data from 2 106 young people aged 18 and 35 years. The chi square statistical test was used to analyse the quantitative data. The results indicated among others, that although most young people feel disenchanted by the failure of the state to fulfil its contractual mandate of delivering the public good, they are 

however, unwilling to personally accept acts of extremism/terrorism as legitimate means of pursuing desired goals, and are not positively disposed towards the use of violence or terrorism as a means of actualising their goals. However, the study revealed a positive relationship between young people’s belief that it is incumbent on citizens to use violence to oppose underperforming government and their willingness to adopt violence or terrorism to achieve desired goals at P-value of 0.000. The article, recommends a re-doubling of efforts by the political state to fulfil her contractual obligations of improving the socioeconomic well-being of her citizens, among others.

1. Introduction

Extremism of the violent hue is fast becoming a major part of Nigeria’s internal security nightmare. Though not entirely new, the phenomenon has continued to experience a crescendo since the country’s return to civil rule in 1999. From the South-South through to the North-East, the North-Central, the South-West and then to the South-East of the country, groups have sprung up which have challenged the State’s monopoly over the use of violence, attacked state targets, and instilled fear in the minds of citizens. A few of such radicalised non-state actors are: the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), Niger Delta Liberation Front (NDLF), Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF), Niger Delta Vigilante (NDV), and Egbesu Boys, in the South-South; the Boko Haram, Ansaru, and ‘Kala-Kato’ in the North and the O’Odua People’s Congress (OPC) in the South-West. Others are the Ombatse in the North Central state of Nasarawa; the separatist Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the Biafra Zionist Movement, and the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), among others, in the South East. The groups in the Niger Delta are resource-based, and use the demand for the control of oil found in their domain as their platform, knowing that about 90 per cent of Nigeria’s revenue comes from that natural resource; while those in the North such as the Boko Haram, use religion as their platform, employing such tactics as suicide bombing, organised attacks on police and military installations, terrorising rural communities, etc. (Dambazau 2014). In the North Central, the issues are identity based. In the South East, the cry is that of marginalisation and exclusion. 

The emergence and continued ossification of these mostly violent nonstate actors have continued to define and redefine Nigeria’s internal security landscape, stretching the country’s intelligence community to their wits end, and creating a regime of fear and uncertainty among the citizenry. Besides, they represent grave threats to the social, economic and political stability of the country. The newest form of violent extremism in the country, marked by suicide bombings involving Nigerians (males and females inclusive), is particularly perturbing – and it puts the lie to the thesis that the average Nigerian is too cowardly and in love with life to wilfully surrender to death in pursuit of change, no matter how well deserved. The development also indicates that rather than being people- or culture-specific, suicide bombing and, indeed, inclination for terrorism, are products of wide ranging elements that bear no link to skin colour and geographical location. Anybody can become radicalised to become a terrorist given certain conditions, including the supposedly happy and pleasure loving Nigerians.

While the different militant non-state actors have evolved and transformed over time, and have engaged equally in different forms of violent activity, what is common among them is the role of the youth as critical actors. The contention in literature is that many of these groups leverage the vulnerability of the Nigerian youth to drive recruitment and radicalisation. There is also the belief that the sympathisers of these various groups are mostly disaffected and unemployed youths who live in this hostile environment, with challenges spanning economic, social, and political deprivations (Onuoha 2014:14).

The government of Nigeria very well acknowledges the threat posed by youth radicalisation and terrorism to the country’s development and even continued survival as a corporate entity. Accordingly, it has adopted various strategies to contain the various groups, including appeasement, dialogue and – what is essentially – repression. Unfortunately, rather than abatement, extremist ideologies and violence appear to be worsening. In the Niger Delta region for example, over a decade long implementation of a federal government amnesty programme that was developed to placate the restive youths has not succeeded in curbing militancy in the region. Instead, we have more virulent militant groups periodically springing up-whose aim is to cripple the nation’s economy by threatening and actually blowing up oil infrastructure. In the North East, a full scale war has been ongoing against the Boko Haram insurgents for years, while in the rest of the country, various military operations are ongoing against militants and extremist groups. It is on record that the Nigerian military are currently in active deployment in no fewer than 30 states of the federation to tackle various internal security threats currently plaguing the country. Many of these deployments are against non-state actors while in some other cases, the deployment deals with organized crime. In others, military forces are in ongoing battles to reclaim Nigerian territories or to pacify reclaimed territories (Mac-Leva, Mutum and Bivan 2016).

There are different perspectives on the growing problem of radicalisation and disposition to violence in the country. However, there is a commonality of views that the country’s descent into violence and extremist tendencies is largely because the Nigerian state consistently erodes its own legitimacy – by failing to fulfil the most rudimentary obligations of a modern government. This failure opens the door for malcontents across the political, ethnic and religious spectrums to challenge the state’s juridical, territorial, and constitutional authority, hence the tendency by groups in both the North and the South to portray the state as illegitimate in order to justify their efforts to undermine it (Ochonu 2017). In other words, the various groups unleashing terror and deaths, whether in the Niger Delta, in the East, in the South West, or in the North of Nigeria, are bound by a common factor of deep dissatisfaction with the Nigerian State, even though these groups may have emerged under different historical circumstances. 

This article reports on the outcome of a study which was conducted in three states of Nigeria, to validate the supposed nexus between the perceived performance of the Nigerian state and the disposition of young people to terrorism and extremist ideologies. The study covered the three states of Lagos, Delta and Plateau in the South-West, South-South and North-Central geopolitical zones of the country, respectively. The article is divided into six sections. The following second and third sections engage the problématique of the study and provide a theoretical explanatory framework of the study. The fourth section discusses the method of the study, while the fifth section reports and discusses the results of the work. The last section concludes the article and draws out the policy implications of the study.

2.  Statement of the Problem 

Nigeria currently ranks as the third most terrorised country out of a total of 135 countries, coming behind only Afghanistan and Iraq – who are first and second respectively (Institute for Economics and Peace 2020) . This comes after a mere twelve years (2008–2020) when the country was ranked 16th by the same body (Institute for Economics and Peace 2008). Interestingly, the bulk of these attacks wore the signature of domestic terrorism and involved the youth as critical actors. Onuoha (2014:13–14) argues that non-state actors who are bent on undermining the country’s internal security environment, recruit and use young men and women as foot soldiers because of their hostile social, economic and political realities and vulnerabilities. Young people’s vulnerability is further heightened by content found on the internet which in recent years has become a hub for exposing them to radical ideas. Terrorist groups rely on mass communication, and due to the autonomy of the internet and its relative anonymity, it is easy for terrorist groups to engage mass audiences (Yörükoğlu 1993). Many young people are also in a search for meaning, which may leave them open to making big changes in their lives, including potentially sacrificing themselves for a cause.

Nigeria has a young population with more children and youth than adults (National Population Commission 2006). While this could have easily become an opportunity for economic development, successive governments have not been able to harness and unleash the potential of the country’s youth. According to available statistics, youth unemployment stood at 42% in 2016 (National Bureau of Statistics 2018). Over 10 million children of school age are out of school with no knowledge and skills (UNICEF 2018). Of the 188 countries that were considered for the 2016 Human Development Index, Nigeria was ranked a distant 152 globally; it was ranked 22 out of 53 countries in Africa, behind Libya (5th), South Africa (9th), and Ghana (15th). The Human Development Index is a comparative measure of life expectancy, literacy, education, and standards of living for countries worldwide. It is a standard means of measuring well-being. On the specific issue of poverty, the country was ranked the third poorest in the world in 2014 by the World Bank, coming only after India and China as the first and second poorest nations on earth (Omoh Vanguard April 11 2014 ) During the same period, a total of 112 47 million Nigerians (about 70%) were reported to be living with income below $1.00 per day, suggesting that they could barely afford the minimal standards of food, clothing, health care and shelter (National Bureau of Statistics 2014). This gloomy outlook of the economy, speaks directly to the precarious realities of the Nigerian youth who, expectedly, are among the worst affected.

It was perhaps in this light that Yoroms (2007:3–15), regards the [Nigerian] state as an agent provocateur because it provokes frustration, discontent and disenchantment for the gullible majority, who are readily waiting to be recruited and trained to fight the ‘enemy state’. The failure of the state provides opportunities for the emergence of parallel alternative groups – ethnic self-help unions, non-governmental organisations, religious movements, black market networks, secret cults, and the like, to whom citizens turn for survival, refuge, reproduction and empowerment. Jegede et al (2015:3) observe that many of these parallel social, cultural, economic and political groups, including faith-based organisations, are involved in good work within their communities, filling the gaps created by the state’s retreat or inability to perform its essential social functions to her citizens. But some sinister groups among them capitalise on any ethnic, religious or tribal conflict to fuel group grievances.

This article examines the influence of this crisis of legitimation on the disposition of the youth in the country towards violent extremism and terrorism. It sets out to describe the nature and extent of the legitimation crisis of the Nigerian state, the effect of this crisis on the perceptions of the Nigerian youth about extremism/terrorism, and the overall impact of all these on the disposition of the youth to terrorism in Nigeria. It arose against the backdrop of the persisting wave of disenchantment and violence in parts of the country and the seeming crisis of legitimacy of the Nigerian state. The study interrogates the situation in the three states of Lagos, Delta and Plateau in the South-West, South-South and North-Central geopolitical zones of the country respectively.

3. Theoretical Explanation of Youth Disposition towards Violent Extremism in Nigeria

This study adopted an eclectic theoretical approach. First, it relied on the social contract theory of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau, among others (Laskar 2013). The theory contends that the state is a conscious creation of a people who willingly surrender part of their sovereign rights to a government or other authority that would serve their collective interests and guarantee their liberty. This agreement imposes on the state both direct and indirect responsibility for enhancing the socio-economic well-being of the citizenry by delivering those tangible but hard-to-quantify services such as security, physical infrastructures – medical and health care, education, communications, roads, electricity; and a beneficent fiscal and institutional context within which citizens can pursue personal entrepreneurial goals and potentially prosper. The state should promote civil society, provide predictable, systematised methods of adjudicating disputes and regulate both the norms and the prevailing mores of a particular society or polity. On their part, the citizenry under the terms of the agreement, becomes obligated to reciprocate the gestures of the state by paying taxes, levies and discharging other national or communal obligations. A legitimation crisis occurs when there is a breach of the terms of this contract by the political state, as has become true of Nigeria. This often results in the withdrawal of loyalty and allegiance by the citizenry. 

Within the premise of the Marxian theory of social class, it is argued that these situations would naturally engender contestations and conflicts, including violent extremism and terrorism that would ultimately bring about the overthrow of the bourgeois class and of capitalism. Marx recognised, however, that this may not come to be if the oppressed class lives in false consciousness. False consciousness is a concept derived from the Marxist theory of social class (Allahar 2004:95–123). The concept refers to the systematic misrepresentation of dominant social relations in the consciousness of subordinate classes. While Marx did not use the term “false consciousness,” he paid extensive attention to the related concepts of ideology and commodity fetishism. Members of a subordinate class, including workers and peasants, suffer from false consciousness as their perceptions of the social relations around them systematically conceal or obscure the realities of subordination, exploitation, and domination. False consciousness entails the blindness of members of a subordinate class to their own interests. It is an instance of people being bound and blind to their own oppression. Meyerson (1991:124) notes that genuine consciousness depends on the proper assessment of one’s position within the class system by members of the different members of the social class. The false consciousness of the subordinate class is compounded by religion, culture and protracted military rule – all of which have combined to engender a culture of silence among Nigerians. This position is further strengthened by the muted group theory of social anthropologists Edwin and Shirley Ardener where they argue that language is primarily a creation of the dominant group in society and serves to maintain and perpetuate their specified worldview, which is then established as the correct and proper language for all of society’s remaining members (Ardener 1975:1–27). They add that the views of minority groups are often muted because of their inability to fully and properly articulate themselves or designate their unique experiences due to the difficulty of translating their individual views and opinions into what is essentially a language of the dominant group (Wood 2008, as cited in Turner & West 2009). In other words, subordinate groups are rendered mute as the mainstream structures of communication echo the dominant groups’ perceptions. 

Within the prisms of the aforementioned theories, the feeling of being let down by the state would naturally provoke withdrawal of loyalty to the state, and even a possible recourse to violent extremism by young people, depending on their level of consciousness and comprehension of their realities of subordination, exploitation and domination. Young people’s responses, as espoused by Ardener (1975:1–27), will also depend on their ability to fully and properly articulate themselves or designate their unique experiences., In between the extreme options of violence and total surrender to conditions of deprivation, however, are the options of democratic elections and the building of social movements as vehicles for engendering whole scale social change (including regime change). Unfortunately, the prospects of the former in Nigeria is undermined by a disconcerting level of youth apathy towards the political process. In a 2019 report, the International Centre for Investigative Reporting revealed that Nigeria had only a 34.75 per cent rate of voter turnout in the 2019 elections, the lowest rate in Africa (International Centre for Investigative Reporting, 2019). The figure is even more depressing when we understand that this low voter turnout is particularly lowest among young people. Their reasons for lack of participation are diverse, but often include, their lack of faith in the integrity of the electoral process and a general absence of (in Marxian parlance) genuine consciousness. With respect to the latter, there had been attempts by young people to leverage on the opportunities offered by the social media to build and mobilise for social movements. One of these attempts culminated in the recent nationwide protests under the hash tag “ENDSARS” that saw to the near total burning down of the entire country in late 2020. Although the protests which were organised to bring an end to police brutality and to catalyse a holistic reform of the police was mismanaged by the organisers and subsequently hijacked by the state and street urchins, the national spread and intensity of the protests may also have spoken to a growing level of consciousness among the subordinate class. This phenomenon, however, is still being undermined by ethnic, religious and related primordial considerations.

4. Method of the study

This is a descriptive study and utilises the survey method to collect quantitative data from young people aged 18–35 years in three Nigerian states. The states are Lagos, Delta and Plateau in the South-West, South-South and North-Central geopolitical zones of the country respectively. Lagos was purposively (intentionally) sampled because of its strategic economic importance to the country. It is also a cultural and linguistic melting pot, representing virtually all Nigeria’s diverse ethnic groups. Delta and Plateau states were also purposively sampled because of their histories of conflict and violence. The three states also provided a semblance of geographical balance, cutting across South West, South-South and North-Central or half of Nigeria’s six geo-political zones. A total of 2106 respondents were sampled through the multi- stage sampling technique across Lagos, Delta and Plateau states of Nigeria, with funding support from the Central Research Committee of the University of Lagos, Nigeria.

5. Results

Table 1: Socio Demographic Characteristics of Respondents

  TotalPer cent
Age18–22681 32.3
 23–27595 28.3
 28–32510 24.2
 33–35237 11.3
 No Response83 3.9
 Total2 106 100.0
SexMale 1330 63.2
 Female776 36.2
 Total2106 100.0
Marital StatusSingle1 59775.8
 Married476 22.6
 No Response0.4
 Total2 106100.0
ReligionChristianity1 63477.6
 Islam429 20.4
 Traditional17 0.8
 Others 0.2
 No Religion211.0
 Total2 106100.0
Level of EducationNo Formal Education26 1.2
 Less than Primary Education26 1.2
 Primary School Certificate1708.1
 Secondary School education94044
 Post-Secondary School education6406
 Post Graduate education25812.3
 Quranic school0.4
 No Response371.8
 Total2 106100.0
Employment StatusEmployed950 45.1
 Unemployed414 19.7
 Student/Apprentice652 31.0
 House wife53 2.5
 No Response37 1.8
 Total2 106 100.0

Table 1 shows that a total of 2 106 respondents, aged between 18–35 years, were studied. The respondents were made up of 1 330 or 63% males and 776 (37%) females. 

Table 2: Respondents’ Assessment of Government’s Performance

 OptionFrequencyPer cent
Performance of Nigeria’s federal /central governmentHigh365 17.5
 Average658 31.5
 Poor1 063 51.0
 Total2 086 100.0
Performance of state governments in NigeriaHigh400 19.2
 Average742 35.7
 Poor939 45.1
 Total2 081 100.0
Performance of Local governments in NigeriaHigh173 8.4
 Average680 32.9
 Poor1 215 58.8
 Total2 068 100.0
Performance of security agencies in NigeriaHigh29514.3
 Poor1 15456.1
 Total2 056100.0

Table 2 shows respondents’ assessment of the performance of the various tiers of government and related institutions in Nigeria. As seen, more than half (51%) of the respondents adjudged the performance of the federal government to be poor while another 32% rated the federal government’s performance as average. Only about 18% of the respondents believed the government at the centre has performed in the high category. Similarly, over 45% of the respondents thought that governments at the state level have performed poorly; about 36% adjudged the state governments’ performance to be average, while the remaining 19% thought the performance of the state governments was high. The governments at the grassroots level (local governments) received the poorest ratings with majority (59%) of the respondents adjudging their performance to be poor; 33% thought their performance was average; while 8% gave their performance a high rating. About 56% of the respondents gave poor ratings to the country’s security agencies; about 30% thought their performance was only average; while only 14% thought their performance deserved a high rating. 

Table 3: Respondents’ Assessment of the Government and allied 

AssessmentResponseTotalPer cent
How well respondents believe Nigeria is functioningVery well37418.0
 Not very well1 70582.0
 Total2 079 100.0
How much respondents believe the government is serving their interests or that of their parents.Very well21410.3
 Not very well1 87389.7
 Total2 087 100.0
How satisfied respondents are with the way Nigeria is being managedVery well21010.0
 Not very well1 88090.0
 Total2 087 100.0
How well respondents believe the states where they reside are functioningVery well52925.4
 Not very well1 55474.6
 Total2 083100.0
How satisfied respondents are with the management of their states of residenceVery satisfied43420.8
 Not very satisfied1 65379.2
 Total2 087100.0
Respondents’ assessment of the economic situation of NigeriaGood 26412.6
 Not good1 82587.4
 Total2 089100.0


Table 3 shows a further assessment of the Nigerian government by the respondents. As is seen, over 80% of them thought that Nigeria was not working well while only 18% believed that Nigeria was working well. About 90% of them believed that the government was neither representing their interests nor those of their parents. Ninety per cent of the respondents were not satisfied with the way the country was being managed; 76% thought that their states of residence were not working well while 79% expressed dissatisfaction with the management of those states. Over 80% of the respondents considered the country’s economic situation not good.

Table 4: Respondents’ opinions regarding the use of violence or terrorism by some people to achieve desired goals

AssessmentResponseFrequency Per cent 
Some people in Nigeria using violence, in the name of religion, to protest or to achieve their goalAlways right1356.4
 Sometimes right, sometimes wrong40619.3
 Always wrong1 39966.4
 Don’t know1356.4
 No response 311.5
 Total 2 106100
Some people in Nigeria using violence, in the name of resource control, to protest or to achieve their goalAlways right1768.4
 Sometimes right, sometimes wrong66131.4
 Always wrong1 07050.8
 Don’t know1567.4
 No response432.0
 Total 2 106100
Some separatist groups in Nigeria advocating or using violence to protest or to achieve their goalAlways right1326.3
 Sometimes right, sometimes wrong48122.8
 Always wrong1 22758.3
 Don’t know2059.7
 No response612.9
 Total 2 106100
Some political campaigners in Nigeria writing and making hate speeches that encourage violence towards different ethnic groupsAlways right1276.0
 Sometimes right, sometimes wrong34316.3
 Always wrong1 41367.1
 Don’t know1919.1
 No response321.5
 Total 2 106100
How right or wrong is it for people to use violence to protest against things they think are very unfair or unjust in Nigeria?Always right1205.7
 Sometimes right, sometimes wrong50824.1
 Always wrong1 18056.0
 Don’t know22310.6
 No response753.6
 Total 2 106100

Table 4 shows respondents’ opinions, acceptance or endorsement of the legitimacy of extremist/terrorist acts. As shown by the survey, most of the respondents do not consider or accept acts of extremism/terrorism as legitimate means of pursuing or trying to achieve desired goals. 

Table 5: Respondents’ Personal Disposition towards the use of extremism/terrorism to achieve desired goals

AssessmentResponseFrequencyPer cent 
To what extent do you believe it is incumbent upon citizens to use violence or terrorism to oppose the government if they believe it is not performing its duties to the people?Very much28914.0
 Not very much70834.3
 Not at all1 07051.8
 Total 2 067100
Considering the situation of your ethnic group in Nigeria, would you personally consider the use of violence or terrorism to achieve your goal?Yes904.3
 No 1 99394.6
 No response231.1
 Total 2 106100
Considering the situation of Nigeria, would you personally consider the use of violence or terrorism to achieve your goal?Yes1065.0
 No1 96693.4
 No response341.6
 Total 2 106100
If opportunity presented itself  now, would you employ violence  or terrorism to pursue  your goal?Yes1095.2
 No1 71481.4
 No response 24911.8
 Not applicable341.6
 Total 2 106100
Whether or not you think that using violence or terrorism for religious or political reasons is justified, do you personally have any sympathy for people who adopt this means?Yes, a lot23811.3
 Yes, a little21010.0
 No, not at all1 04449.6
 No, not much25212.0
 Indifferent 30314.4
 No response592.8
 Total 2 106100

Table 5 shows respondents’ personal dispositions towards extremism/ terrorism. The table shows that most of the respondents are not positively disposed towards the use of extremist/terrorist means to pursue goals.

6. Test of Hypothesis

Data were subjected to the chi square statistical test to establish the relationship between young people’s belief that it is incumbent upon citizens to use violence to oppose an underperforming government and their actual willingness to personally adopt violence or terrorism to achieve desired goals. Young people’s belief that it is incumbent upon citizens to use violence to oppose an underperforming government is the independent variable while their actual willingness to personally adopt violence or terrorism to achieve desired goals is the dependent variable. The results are presented in table 6 below.

H0: There is no relationship between young people’s belief that it is incumbent on citizens to use of violence to oppose underperforming government and their willingness to adopt violence or terrorism to achieve desired goals? 

H1: There is a relationship between young people’s belief that it is incumbent on citizens to use violence to oppose underperforming government and their willingness to adopt violence or terrorism to achieve desired goals? 

Table 6: Relationship between young people’s belief that it is incumbent upon citizens to use violence to oppose underperforming government and their willingness to adopt violence or terrorism to achieve desired goals

 YesNoTotalχ2P. valueDf
Very much49 (17.1)238  (82.9)287 (100)93.604.0002
Not very much43 (6.1)658  (93.9)701  (100)
Not at all24 (2.3)1 041 (97.7)1 065  (100)
Young people’s belief that it is incumbent upon citizens to use violence to oppose an under-performing government vs young people’s willingness to personally adopt violence or terrorism to achieve desired goals

With a calculated value (χ2) of 93.604 and a ‘p’ value of 0.000, much below 0.05 level of significance, table 6 above reveals a clear association between young people’s belief that it is incumbent on citizens to use violence to oppose underperforming government and their willingness to personally adopt violence or terrorism to achieve desired goals. That is, the more young people believe that citizens have the right to remove underperforming governments through violence, the higher the likelihood that they would subscribe to personally taking to violence or acts of terrorism to achieve their goals.

7. Discussion

As are evident from tables 2 and 3 above, there exists an overwhelming feeling of disenchantment among respondents over the evident inability of the various tiers of government in the three of the states that were covered by this study, to fulfil the terms of the social contract by way of promoting or enhancing the quality of life of the citizenry through improved security and the provision of the good things of life. Kukah (2012:36) captures the failure of the Nigerian state in this regard thus:

[…] after over 50 years [of independence], we are unable to generate and distribute electricity, supply water to our people, reverse the ugly and avoidably high infant mortality, set up and run an effective educational system, agree on rules of engagement of getting into power, reverse the circle of violence that attends our elections, contain corruption, instill national discipline and create a more humane and caring society.

It is also this failure of the Nigerian state vis-à-vis the delivery of the terms of the social contract that explains the countries poor global development indices. For instance, the country was ranked a distant 152 out of 188 countries in the 2016 Human Development Index (UNDP 2016). In Africa, it stands as the 22nd out of 53 countries. 

Interestingly, the study found that despite the foregoing, most of the respondents would not personally advocate the use violence or terrorism to achieve desired goals nor are they personally disposed towards the use of extremist/ terrorist means to pursue goals (see tables 4 and 5). 

However, a chi square statistical test as seen on Table 6 suggested that a clear association does exist between young people’s belief that it is incumbent on citizens to use violence to oppose underperforming governments and their willingness to personally adopt violence or terrorism to achieve desired goals. In other words, young people’s likely recourse to extremism or terrorism to achieve desired goals can be influenced or predicted by the extent of their belief that citizens reserve the right to violently remove underperforming governments. Extremism and terrorism will most likely fester where belief in the use of violence to overthrow incumbent regimes is high.

The result of this study finds robust support in literature. As Ninalowo (2010) argues, the failure of the government or the political state to fulfil its part of the social contract potentially engenders a legitimation crisis, marked usually by loss of legitimacy or loss of authority by the state or the ruling class to command the loyalty and allegiance of the citizens. Rotberg (2002:86) argues further that once the state’s capacity to secure itself or to perform in an expected manner recedes, there is every reason to expect disloyalty to the state on the part of the disenchanted and aggrieved citizens. This perhaps explains the palpable feeling of disenchantment and protestations across the country. It may also be the reason for the clear association between young people’s belief that it is incumbent on citizens to use violence to oppose underperforming governments and the willingness to adopt violence or terrorism to achieve desired goals. 

The seeming reluctance of the young people who took part in this study to personally accede to the adoption of acts of extremism/terrorism as legitimate means of pursuing desired goals is also not entirely surprising. First, terrorism is a criminal act in Nigeria and this may have hindered the open admission by respondents of a willingness to use extreme violence to pursue personal goals. Furthermore, from the Marxian thesis of false class consciousness earlier alluded to, it may just be that as typical of marginalised groups – many Nigerians suffer from false consciousness. Thus, their perceptions of the social relations around them systematically conceal or obscure the realities of their subordination, exploitation, and domination. Meyerson (1991:124) had observed that false consciousness entails the blindness of members of a subordinate class to their own interests. For most of Nigeria’s marginalised groups, false consciousness is heightened by religion, culture and protracted years of military rule, all of which have combined to engender a culture of silence. In his work on The Nature of Mass Poverty, John K. Galbraith had earlier argued that culture encourages the poor and marginalised to accept their situation as God given (Mcintosh 1979). He adds that for the marginalised in most developing nations, culture allows little or no room for risks or mistakes. 

The above positions find support in the muted group theory (of Edwin Ardener (1975:1–27) in which he tried to explain the muteness of women and all marginalised groups, including the poor. Because their languages are subordinate and not recognised by the dominant group, the marginalised live with a negative attitude towards their own abilities to voice opinions. They remain mute and mostly choose to adapt to the situation. The negative disposition of the respondents in this study, most of whom are marginalised, towards violence and terrorism may simply be indicative of the characteristic attitude of the subordinate class to adapt to their realities, sometimes or often with only the hope that their salvation will come through some divine orchestration. Importantly, this study may just be a confirmation of the new thinking in the security sector that weak and failed states are not in themselves sufficient conditions for the incubation of terror. Indeed, as Newman (2007:463– 464) argues, terrorist organisations operate in weak and failed states, but it is not necessarily the condition of weak or failed statehood which explains their presence. As a matter of fact, it is not necessarily the weakest states which do host terrorist groups, as some more relatively stable and prosperous states including those in the Middle East have been seen to do. As is seen here, recourse to terrorism may depend on some other variables.

8. Conclusion

The key conclusion from this study is the fact that young people are palpably unhappy with the poor performance of the three tiers of government in Nigeria. They may not personally endorse the use of violence or terrorism to achieve desired goals for some of the reasons discussed above. However, the chi square test establishing a clear association between belief in the right of citizens to violently remove underperforming governments and young people’s willingness to adopt extreme violence or terrorism to oppose such governments is noteworthy. This is because even though the relationship between state failure, weak states, and terrorism is inconclusive, there is no lack of literature indicating that situations of weak or failed statehood – in conjunction with other factors – may form an enabling environment within which terrorist groups can operate. Indeed, studies suggest that the existence of other vulnerabilities such as horizontal inequalities and intergroup conflict, as are common in Nigeria, may lay the foundation for broader conflict which would likely employ terrorism as a tactic (Newman 2007). The popularity and spread of the ENDSARS protests and the crystallising orgy of violence across the country may as well be clear pointers to this. 

9. Recommendations

Against the backdrop of the clear disenchantment of the young people who took part in this study with the Nigerian state, this article makes the following recommendations. 

  • Government at all levels must double efforts at fulfilling their constitutional responsibilities towards their citizens, especially the young people, many of whom feel neglected and abandoned.
  • Citizens, on their part, must wake up to the necessity of constantly keeping their governments at all levels, on their toes. Until now, most citizens have been passive on issues of governance. This has only enabled the government to run roughshod over the people, and to act as if the people do not matter.
  • A new relationship between the government and the people must be cultivated, whereby the people pay their taxes and other supports as required, and at the same time, monitor the government to ensure that the government is doing what is required of it by the people. 
  • Importantly, further studies should be undertaken by researchers on the influence of Nigeria’s multicultural character on young people’s willingness to personally adopt terrorism as a tactic to change the status-quo.


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Adejoh Pius Enechojo
Lecturer in the Department of Sociology, University of Lagos, Akoka, Nigeria
Ottoh Ferdinand
Teaches in the Department of Political Science, University of Lagos, Akoka, Nigeria
Onah Emmanuel
Lecturer in the Department of Political Science, University of Lagos, Akoka, Nigeria
Agugua Augustine