The focus of this article is on the prevalent narrative of an ungoverned territory in Nigeria’s northern region, where informality and socioeconomic inadequacy shaped everyday behavior, under the hypothesis that radical jihadist and non-jihadist movements, as well as criminal-armed gangs, are ideologically driven by localism and informal networks, particularly in areas where the state is disorderly.

What’s more, this study will demonstrate how ungoverned zones in northern Nigeria have been braver and more confident in recruiting criminal and terrorist organizations. It analyzes the Nigerian state’s complex security paradoxes, as well as the Boko Haram insurgency, Fulani militancy, and banditry within the ungoverned communities’ territories, which continues to increase the establishment of terrorist organizations and criminal networks, endangering the lives of innocent people.

In today’s Nigerian society, Various security threats, include the “Boko Haram jihadist revolt,” Fulani  militancy, and the ongoing terror campaign by rural gangs. As a result, more than two million people have  been displaced, forced migration has increased, and a long-term humanitarian crisis has increased security  dangers.




The Boko Haram Islamist organisation is primarily a terrorist organization that was founded on the ideological basis of fighting Western education, modern science, and Western culture. The fight between Nigerian security forces and Boko Haram has exacerbated the country’s current state of underdevelopment and regional disparities, particularly in the area of education. Children, women, and youths are among the most vulnerable demographic groups. Boko Haram’s violent activities are carried out through kidnappings, suicide bombings, sexual abuse against women, and the recruitment of young men.

Despite the Nigerian government’s recent declaration that Boko Haram has been defeated, the rebels continue to operate in the North East. The gang pledged allegiance to ISIS in March 2015, and it was integrated into a transnational terrorist cartel known as ISIS-West Africa (ISWA). President Muhammadu Buhari made a similar declaration about the international dimension of terrorism during his address to  the 73rd United Nations General Assembly Session, saying:

“The terrorist insurgencies we face are fueled in part by local factors and dynamics, but increasingly by the international Jihadi movement“.


Let’s explain this:

A crime is transnational, according to the Palermo Convention, if it is committed in more than one country.

2. It is committed in one state, while a significant portion of its preparation, planning, direction, or control occurs in another.

3. It is committed in one state but is part of an organized group that conducts actions in multiple states.

4. It is committed in one state but has significant consequences in another.


The Boko Haram operations transcend religion and political views, as they were against the previously accepted philosophical rationale of having a religious identity, which was accepted by some political scientists and analysts.  Others have viewed its most recent manifestations as the compass of terrorism,  a worldwide belief that no one is safe in the global arena.

Because Boko Haram was unable to be defeated in the North-East, battles between Fulani militants and farmers erupted, posing a new dilemma for the country’s politicians. Fundamentally, Fulani belligerence against agrarian populations began in the Middle Belt/North Central regions of Nigeria, resulting in the murder of hundreds of innocent Nigerians. Kidnappings, raids in villages, damage to crops, and the abduction of women are all common tactics used by Fulani militias.



In 2018, the centuries-old struggle between herders and farmers was reignited, and the security thralldom in the northern region continues to worsen. Human Rights Watch estimates that over 1,600 innocent Nigerians were slain and over 300,000  were displaced.

Despite the fact that farmers carried out fewer revenge assaults against Fulani communities, it is suspected that some terrorist groups were secretly involved in the fight to increase insecurity in the country. The Fulanis’ constant attacks on civilians forced the implementation of a law prohibiting open grazing in some states in the North-Central area, such as Benue.

A new organization known as bandits has arisen in the Middle-Belt/North-Central region, adding to  Nigerian states’ struggle with a plethora of security issues. They primarily conduct their fatal attacks on villages in states including  Zamfara, Kaduna, Kastina, and Sokoto, using the cover of kidnapping and livestock rustling. “.bandits are provided as the motif for a terrible carnage, and the unfathomable haplessness” in many sections of the North-West, from Birnin-Gwari in Kaduna to Tsafe in Zamfara.  Boko Haram has turned the Northeast into a battleground, with states like Sokoto, Zamfara, Kaduna, and  Kastina becoming hotbeds for bandits, kidnappers, and other hoodlums. It has been suggested that  Nigeria’s current security difficulties are the result of a culture of corruption that has spread across the country’s government. This is exacerbated by an economic condition that is luring the teeming youth population into criminal activity.

Nigeria has evolved as a nation-state into:

It is enslaved by new inertia and old momentum, and it is affected by immense corruption. It is overwhelmed by coordinated underdevelopment by many geopolitical zones.

Insecurity has been exacerbated by persistent social injustice and unequal distribution of wealth across geographical zones. The few wealthier people are becoming wealthier, while the ever-increasing number of poorer people are becoming increasingly deficient.

Unfortunately, the globalization period, in which the entire planet has become a borderless ecological abode, has only added to the chaos. The young adult population has access to the internet and can follow the governance landscape in other countries.  They recognized the social injustice in their home nation,  where the government ignores people’s health.

While Boko Haram insurgents continue to struggle for control of the north-east, and killings by various armed militias and ranchers continue in the north-central, scores of bandits are progressively acquiring control of the north-west, putting the entire northern region at risk.

Nigerians’ lives are now at the mercy of criminal gangs, who frequently offer their victims the choice of paying the ransom or being killed. Insecurity is escalating to the point that it has taken on polygonal dimensions, trapping people in a state of permanent burden.  That’s why we need to examine the changing face of insecurity, provide contextual and theoretical explanations for ungoverned zones, and explain why northern Nigeria has become a breeding ground for terrorist groups and organized criminal networks. 



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Now, let’s speak about how, around the world, operational actions and state policies aimed at combatting violent extremism are cloaked in theoretical justifications rather than empirical evidence that energizes an individual’s motivations and structural dynamics that encourage violent extremism.  In the context of socioeconomic development, political disenfranchisement, poverty, and social marginalization, several theories for why some places become attracted to Islamic terrorist groups are presented. Others claim that there is no link between socioeconomic level and terrorism; part of their arguments was based on several case studies in which persons from high socioeconomic backgrounds were found to be involved in terrorist attacks. Other country-based characteristics that make people prone to terrorism have begun to be recognized in places such as Africa. The variables that motivate people in Western or civilized societies differ from those in developing countries, particularly in Africa. Both external and internal elements have been explored in this regard while evaluating intriguing aspects that have motivated individual citizens to participate in terrorism.

Internal elements are perceived in Africa within the context of poverty, ethno-religious persecution,  deprivation, political marginalization, and socioeconomic inequalities, but external influences such as globalization and international policies beyond national or continental control must also be considered. 

More than 350 apprehended extremists from Nigeria, Uganda, Somalia, Niger, Cameroon, and Kenya were interviewed for a research project sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)  aimed at tracing the root causes of extremism in Africa, and they all claimed that religious doctrines had no influence on them. They were enthused by their long experience of deprivation, claiming that they had not received a positive contribution from the government to help them out of poverty, nor had they received a basic provision from the state in terms of secular education or health. These young people saw themselves as victims of a failed state, and their homes became a breeding ground for terrorist recruitment and abuse. According to the report, 78 percent of extremists have no faith in politicians, law enforcement, or military organizations.

The study also discovered the following:

The ideology behind violent extremism is delivered with a flexible marketing strategy, where extremist groups tailor their message for potential recruits. For the unemployed or the poor, they offer paid jobs; for marginalized ethnic and religious minorities, they offer recourse through violence; and for the middle class,  they offer an adventure, a sense of purpose, and an escape from mundanity. The ideology mutates to exploit its intended recruit’s vulnerabilities. 

The following dynamic description of ungoverned territories is provided by Taylor:

A place where the state or central government is unable or unwilling to extend control, effectively govern,  or influence the local population, and where a provincial, local, tribal, or autonomous government does not fully or effectively govern, due to inadequate governance capacity, insufficient political will, gaps in legitimacy, the presence of conflict, or restrictive norms of behavior. Ungoverned areas should be assumed to include under-governed, ill-governed, contested, and exploitable areas. 

Clunan also presented a more comprehensive explanation of the phenomenon. She maintained that ungoverned spaces are more important than state failure or the absence of government in a certain area.  It could mean:

  • An ancestral life of ethnic and tribal hierarchies, with their embedded norms and laws
  • A land inhabited by historic nomadic tribes
  • Informal businesses
  • Criminals
  • Religious authorities

It’s also worth noting that ungoverned zones are the result of political decisions made by state managers with the intention of managing such an environment through informal networks. The following are some  of the indicators that make the ungoverned territory more vulnerable to extremists:

  • A lack of physical infrastructure connecting the region to the state’s centre.
  • The prevalence of informal economic organizations faces social and cultural pushback.
  • The existence of organized armed groups and criminal networks related to terrorist groups.
  • Interaction with external/foreign entities
  • Access to weaponry and ammunition through porous  borders

Ungoverned spaces in Sub-Saharan Africa, including Nigeria, are primarily the most remote outlying areas bordered by many countries with little or no governmental presence. It is thought that the more isolated they are, the more exposed they are to radicalization and extremism. 25 Some terrorist groups operating in the African environment, such as al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, and  the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), have a history of operating without the support of the general people.  Rather, they spread their radical ideology in areas that are not governed.



The term Boko Haram is derived from the Hausa language, and it means “forbidden” or “sinful.” It is a  radical Islamic organization known as “Jama’atu Ahlus-Sunnah Lidda Awati wal Jihad”  in its official name.  Its origins can be traced back to Mohammed Yusuf in Maiduguri, Borno State, in Nigeria’s north-east, in  2002. Yusuf instilled in the organization extremist Islamic views that were incompatible with the region’s  Western education. Western education has been labeled as incompatible with Islamic religious beliefs.  Despite the country being led by a Muslim president, Boko Haram first considered Nigeria as a country run by unbelievers, and they made government facilities a main target.  The group espoused the idea of establishing an Islamic state based on Sharia law, with Sharia law as the style of governance and legal principles. They hoped to replace the present system of governance, which fostered corruption, social injustice, and deprivation. All of these things were deemed immoral by the group, and they went against the main foundation of Islamic doctrines.




The Boko Haram insurgency, Fulani militancy, and rural armed banditry in Northern Nigeria have all contributed to the country’s complicated security difficulties. Until recently, ungoverned places that were not regarded particularly vital became breeding grounds for violent radicals and the operative domain of criminal gangs. Ungoverned spaces add a new layer to our knowledge of the Boko Haram insurgency and the emergence of armed militias in Nigeria’s north. The state is oblivious to the insecurity and security dangers posed by ungoverned regions. At the moment, radical Islamists are largely active in the region’s more remote areas.

Terrorist groups have sought refuge in some of the globe’s least controlled and lawless areas, which combine difficult terrain, weak authority, space to hide or receive supplies, and low population density with a town or city close enough to allow vital interaction with the outside world. 

In this study, the lack of governance in these domains is explored as a contributing reason to the rising security concern. To spread their beliefs and expand their territory, Islamic terrorists used the existing predatory governing structure. The development of Boko Haram, Fulani militancy, and banditry is seen as an outgrowth of an unresolved government breakdown that has failed to address the long-overdue socioeconomic divide between the wealthy and the poor. This has offered a normative platform for extremists to recruit adult youths for suicide bombings and other operations in order to achieve their goals.



International Crisis Group, Herders against Farmers: Nigeria’s Expanding Deadly Conflict (International  Crisis Group, Brussels, Belgium, 2017).

See N. Dunia, “Abuja Bomb Blast: Senate takes Decision Today,” Daily Sun Newspaper, October 6, 2010,  p. 6.

See Azad Abdul, Crawford Emily, and Kaila Heidi, Conflict and Violence in Nigeria Results from the North  East, North Central, and South South zones Preliminary Draft Report (Nigeria: World Bank and National  Bureau of Statistics, 2018).

The Guardian Newspaper, “Buhari blames terrorism on Iraqi,” Syrian fighters, September 26, 2018. Cilliers, “Terrorism and Africa,” African Security Review 12, no. 4 (2003).

A. Botha, “Relationship between Africa and International Terrorism: Causes and Linkages” (A Paper  Presented for the conference on Southern African and International, Tswalu, South Africa, 2007).

V. Comolli, Boko Haram: Nigeria’s Islamist insurgency (Oxford University Press, London, United Kingdom  ,2015).

O. Adagba, S. C. Ugwu, and O. I. Eme, “Activities of Boko Haram and insecurity question in Nigeria,”  Arabian Journal of business and management review 1, no. 9 (2012): 77–99.

Human Rights Watch, “World Report 2019/Nigeria,” Human Rights Watch (2019). The Punch Newspaper December 28 2018, Banditry in Nigeria: A brief history of a long war.

D. Babarinsa, “The Political Restructuring that Nigeria Needs,” in Idea for Development: Proceedings of Iju  Public Affairs Forum Series, 2006-2009, ed. L. Adamolekun (Ibadan: Caligata Publishing Company, 2011).

This Day Newspaper, Insecurity in the North West, January 23, 2019.

See A. W. Kruglanski, X. Chen, M. Dechesne, S. Fishman, and E. Orehek, “Fully Committed: Suicide  Bombers’ Motivation and the Quest for Personal Significance,” Political Psychology 30, no. 3 (2009): 331– 57; M. Sageman, Understanding Terror Networks (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004).

K. Otiso, “Kenya in the Crosshairs of Global Terrorism: Fighting Terrorism at the Periphery,” Kenya Studies  Review 1, no. 1 (2009): 107–32.

A. Lee, “Who Becomes a Terrorist?: Poverty, Education, and the Origins of Political Violence,” World  Politics 63, no. 2 (2011): 203–45.

UNDP, Africa’s Unique Vulnerability to Violent Extremism (United Nations Development Programme, New York, USA, 2017).

A. Taylor, (2016): 6 A. J. Taylor, “Thoughts on the Nature and Consequences of Ungoverned Spaces,” SAIS  Review of International Affairs 36, no.1 (2016): 5–15.

J. Keister, “The Illusion of Chaos: Why Ungoverned Spaces Aren’t Ungoverned, and Why that Matters,”  Cato Institute Policy Analysis, no. 766 (2014).

Chloe Diggins, “Ungoverned Space, Fragile States, and Global Threats: Deconstructing Linkages,” Inquiries  Journal 3, no. 03 (2011).

See A. Rabasa and J.E. Peters, “Dimensions of Ungovernability,” in Ungoverned territories: Understanding  and reducing terrorism risks, ed. A. Rabasa, S. Boraz, P. Chalk, K. Cragin, & T. W. Karasik (Rand Corporation,  Califonia, USA, 2007).Ibid. 17.

A. Clunan, Ungoverned Spaces: Alternatives to State Authority in an Era of Softened Sovereignty (Stanford:  Stanford University Press, 2010). Ibid. 20.

R. I. Rotberg, “Failed States in a World of Terror,” Foreign affairs, (2002): 127–40.

F. Ali, Winning Hearts and Minds in Ungoverned Spaces (United Nations Development Programme, New  York, USA, 2017).

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