The wide-scale kleptocracy of the Nigerian government, which is accused of pilfering billions of dollars of oil revenues and having spawned a massively corrupt civil service, may have played a role in giving birth to Boko Haram, the group behind the kidnappings of nearly 300 schoolgirls, experts say.
Sarah Chayes, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, studied the links between systemic corruption in governments around the world and the emergence of extremist insurgencies. She said all those countries, including Nigeria, were run by a kleptocratic clique.
“Many Nigerians suggest the emergence of Boko Haram was in part a reaction to this systematized corruption,” Chayes wrote in an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times.
“Corruption, in other words, has security implications."
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And corruption permeates throughout the Nigerian bureaucracy. The U.S. State Department's 2013 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices found that in Nigeria, "massive widespread, and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government and the security forces."
Money from oil revenue, supposed to go to programs like health and education, instead ends up in the pockets of senior government officials and civil servants.
'Massive procurement fraud'
“One of the biggest means of siphoning money into government pockets is the civil service. And so what happens is just massive massive procurement fraud," Chayes said in an interview with CBC News.
As recently as February, questions were raised about Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan's firing of the central bank governor who was investigating the disappearance of $20 billion in oil revenue over an 18-month period.
"I don’t see any public policy focusing on that issue," Chayes said. "I see all the repression aimed at Boko Haram and none of it aimed at Goodluck Jonathan and what happened to the $20 billion."
Chayes made it clear that none of this excuses Boko Haram for its violent actions and that she's only observing that its emergence is in opposition to a system, something that has repeatedly occurred throughout history.
"If we don’t like Boko Haram or al-Qaeda or their methods then we better look at the cause."
Founded in 2002 , the name itself translates to “Western education is a sin.” But this was not necessarily meant as a Taliban-like medieval rejection of critical thinking that the West automatically assumes, Chayes said.
Instead, Nigerians say it was meant more as a rejection of a corrupt and elitist school system that is thought to be linked to the corrupt civil service.
In order to get a job in the Nigerian civil service, one must go to school. But Nigerians say the educational system is a leftover institution from British colonialism.
When Nigerian students went through this system, they were able to get jobs in the civil service because of their school connections. This deeply corrupted educational system has persisted, with students having to buy their way in, and buy their way through exams.
“That is the context in which people said, at least initially, the notion of 'Western education is sinful' is understood. The whole education system was seen as part of the crystallization of the government into an abusive corrupt system.”
But while this may have been the genesis of Boko Haram, it has certainly morphed over the years into a violent extremist organization. Darren Kew — a professor of conflict resolution at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and executive director of its Center for Peace, Democracy, and Development — said, in the beginning, there was an ongoing debate over whether the movement should become more violent.
But as the movement grew, the Nigerian police began to crack down on members. Many were beaten or killed by security officers.
"During the growth of the movement, an essential part of their adoption of violence as the solution was the fact that they were themselves victims of government violence in the early stages," Kew said.
"There was a spiral violence that took place that certainly pushed Boko Haram on the road to violence."