The Gap

Terrorism: Definition, causes, types, solutions

Terrorism: definition, causes, types, solutions/Skabash

The slaughtering in the City of Light was not even the most fatal of the week, which saw about 2,000 people massacred in Northern Nigeria by Boko Haram and up to 40 people killed by what was likely an al-Qaeda car explosion in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen.

You may never come close to such an attack, but you have probably read about similar terrorist acts occurring in some parts of Nigeria. But not just in Africa’s most populous country; the world, it seems, is infatuated with violence. In movies, music, news, video games and on websites. On the streets, more and more people resort to violence, commonly referred to as terrorist acts, to achieve their goals.

In his book Crime in London, Gilbert Kelland, a former head of Scotland Yard’s CID, said: “Crime is a reflection of the society in which it occurs and the moral and social climate that prevails at any given time.”

What is terrorism?

According to researcher Mark Juergen Meyer, “Whether or not you use ‘terrorist’ to describe violent acts depends on whether you think the acts are justified. To a large extent, the use of the term depends on the worldview: if the world is perceived as peaceful, violent acts appear as terrorism. If the world is thought to be at war, the acts of violence can be considered legitimate.”

There are often political implications when ‘terrorism’ and ‘terrorist’ are used. Boko Haram considers themselves freedom fighters – freedom from western education – not terrorists. However, that shouldn’t stop us from trying to define the term. Terrorism involves 1) acts directed against non-combatants and 2) the use of violence for dramatic purposes, i.e., to sow fear. Therefore, militants – a group of bandits, Fulani herdsmen, Boko Haram, unknown gunmen, Niger Delta Avengers, or the Eastern Security Network – often use terrorist tactics like anything from assault weapons or explosive devices. Their attacks are unpredictable, as they may occur at any time or place.

Causes of terrorism

It is hard to comprehend why a person or a group would walk up to total strangers and kill them. In their book, ‘The Will to Kill – Making Sense of Senseless Murder’, Professors James Alan Fox and Jack Leven stated: “Some individuals are more prone to violence than others, yet free will still exist. The will to kill, though governed by numerous internal and external forces, still includes choice and human decision making, and thus accountability and culpability.”

Many things trigger acts of terrorism, but its primary root lies within ourselves. When we feed wrong inclinations, when we repeatedly look at, listen to, or think about bad things, our heart reasons: mugging, murdering, coveting, loose conduct, an act of wickedness, unreasonableness. 

Although we may be born with certain wrong inclinations, some external forces aggravate the situation. Here’s a list and brief notes on the secondary causes:

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Breakdown of family life

  • A turbulent relationship between parent and child
  • Parents who do not recognise their children’s problems
  • A lack of closeness
  • Parents who place few or no limits on a child’s conduct
  • Extremely reserved children who lead a double life and therefore hide part of their life from their parents
  • Parents who don’t give their children the attention they need

People’s inability to cope

  • Learning and social disabilities
  • Adverse effects of physical or sexual violence
  • Antisocial characteristics
  • Hatred of a certain group
  • Absence of remorse when doing wrong
  • Desire to manipulate others

Exposure to actual violence

This time, we are not talking about TV or YouTube. Witnessing an act of terrorism as a survivor or a trainee terrorist could scare you or embolden you. The path you embrace is entirely up to you.

Hatred and jealousy

This may be borne out of oppression and the need for revenge, which might not be your experience. Rather, brainwashing and manipulation by leaders of a sect personalise the ‘fight’ for you.

A mob spirit

A social worker quoted in the book Gangland – A Global History of Gang War, Gangsters and Criminal Culture, written by Michael Johnstone, said: “The kids who end up getting involved in the gang scene are often growing up in fatherless homes with no role models apart from the flashy image of local gangsters who flaunt their expensive cars and gold jewellery with pride.” 

They feel that the only way they will ever get something for themselves is to copy them. However, once that decision has been made subconsciously, it’s a quick step to drug dealing and running with the gang in charge of the area.”

Drug and alcohol abuse

According to the World Health Organisation, substance abuse refers to the harmful or dangerous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs. The abuse can lead to dependence syndrome – a cluster of behavioural, cognitive, and physiological phenomena that develop after repeated substance consumption and which typically include a strong desire to take the drug, difficulty in controlling its use, persistence in its use despite adverse consequences, a higher priority is given to drug use over other activities and obligations, increased tolerance and sometimes physical withdrawal.

Lack of trust in the police and the justice system

If people feel society is unfair and that the judicial system is crooked, they are less inclined to play by the rules and more likely to be violent.

Poor-quality law enforcement

Many police forces lack the resources to deal with the epidemic of criminal activity. But is that the case in Nigeria? Yes! The accepted police to civilian ratio is 1:450, or approximately 225 police officers for every 100,000 people. Nigeria falls short.

There is no written or recommended ratio because societies differ in crime levels, but a highly volatile community needs more police officers than a relatively peaceful one. So, jurisdictions must have a good balance of police per capita to avoid straining the police service or leaving citizens unprotected.

The Vatican, the Pitcairn Islands, and the Palestinian Authority are jurisdictions with a high number of police officers per population.

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Poverty, inequality, austerity

According to a 2021 report by the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, around 91 million Nigerians live below the poverty line. They termed it a ‘poverty virus’, which is as deadly and infectious as Covid-19.

Religious motivations

In his book Holy Hatred: Religious Conflicts of the 90s, author James A. Haught observed that: “A great wrong of the 1990s is that religion – supposedly a source of kindness and human disquiet – has become the main contributing factor to hatred, war and terrorism.”

The cycle of hate progresses ever more quickly, fed by ignorance, bigotry, and brainwashing. “Violence committed in the name of religion is never about religion, it’s about money,” said Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Muslim and six-time NBA champion.

“Poverty, political oppression, systematic corruption, lack of education, lack of critical thinking and general desperation is the spark.”

Role of the media

“If it bleeds, it leads” is usually the guiding principle for many newspapers, TV stations, and other media/entertainment outlets. And this is how the choice of news and entertainment influences our attitude toward violence.

Types of terrorism

There are six types of terrorism, according to an international body. They all have tendencies toward acts that claim lives, destroy property, and create fear.

Civil disorder

Civil disorder should send a message to a political group or government that “enough is enough” and the masses desire a change. An example is the EndSars protest, which was non-violent but took a violent form when hoodlums hijacked it.

Political terrorism

This is a common practice by Nigerian politicians. Here, the opposition party intimidates the ruling party, and vice versa, by pointing out what they promised to do and what they have failed to do. The ultimate target of this attack is the citizens.

Non-political terrorism

Think of Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) or the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) then you will understand this type of terrorism. Its desired goal is religious but uses similar tactics to others but in a more subtle manner.

Quasi terrorism

Suppose you have seen the series Money Heist. In that case, you are aware of this type of terrorism – heavily armed thieves trying to escape from the police and other law enforcement agents using civilians as hostages to aid their getaway. Terrorism is not their goal, but they inadvertently use similar tactics as terrorists.

Limited political terrorism

This is a one-off act by a group to make an ideological or political statement not aimed at dislodging a government but to make their stand known.

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State terrorism

It usually happens during a conflict with another country between Russia and Ukraine. Here, the country starts many violent acts against the other country to achieve a particular goal, in this case, to prevent its neighbour from joining NATO.

Terrorism in Nigeria

In a February 2022 report published by Doris Dokua Sasu titled, ‘Terror-related deaths from attacks by Fulani extremists in Nigeria 2019’, 325 people died from the attacks. It represents a 72 per cent decrease from 2018 figures, which was 1,158 deaths. Nigeria has one of the highest terrorism threat levels globally despite the decline.

In a related report by the same author titled, Number of people kidnapped in terrorist attacks in Nigeria 2017-2019, 390 people were kidnapped during several attacks. Militant groups are active in the northern part of the country, and they go to both civilian and military targets. The 2014 kidnapping of 276 students from a girls’ secondary school in Chibok was a critical news item worldwide. About 112 girls were still missing, and six students were believed to have died as of January 2021.

Borno State remains the headquarters of Boko Haram, and it has the highest number of deaths from terrorism in Nigeria.

Solution to terrorism

We cannot end terrorism anymore; we can end crime. However, the European Union (EU) proffers solutions to stopping terrorism. Here’s a list; you can read the full text here.

  • Temporary border controls
  • Securing external borders
  • Stopping foreign terrorist fighters
  • Making use of air passenger data
  • Strengthen the exchange of information
  • Cut off terrorist financing
  • Reducing access to dangerous weapons
  • Preventing radicalisation


In the fight against terror, Nigeria is left chasing shadows, and it makes one wonder if the federal government is both arsonist and firefighter in the war on terrorism.

“If insurgency lasts more than 24 hours, the government has a hand in it,” the late Sani Abacha said. Can you blame us if we arrive at such a conclusion? However, there’s still room for redemption.

Suppose Alfred Nobel, who amassed great wealth selling weapons of mass destruction and is now associated with the betterment of humanity, can move from an advocate of war to a promoter of peace. In that case, the FG can show the leadership that has gone missing in the fight against the terror groups.

They should start by calling Boko Haram terrorists and not insurgents. The two are not the same.

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