Nigerians woke up this morning to the news that Federal security agencies claim the Islamic State in West Africa, a branch of ISIS, is responsible for what we call the Fulani Herdsmen killings.
Over the past few weeks, Fulani herdsmen have been held responsible for a random spate of killings usually involving farming communities in the Middle Belt, and for a short while, the North.
This new claim implies that the problem may be more serious than was once thought; that one of the world’s most feared terrorist groups have now set up shop in Nigeria.
It could also imply that the men behind these killings, young men, are actually members of a terrorist group and not simply herdsmen, as once thought.
As new as it may sound, this is not the first time terrorist groups and young Nigerians are entering the same discussion.
In 2009, a young Nigerian by the name Umar Farouk Mutallab was linked to Al-Qaeda when he attempted to detonate plastic explosives hidden in his underwear while on board a Northwest Airlines Flight, from Amsterdam to Detroit, Michigan, on Christmas Day.
Mutallab’s situation, and the new threat of the Islamic State in West Africa makes one wonder why anyone, particularly young Nigerians, would want to join the Islamic State.
It sells extreme religious ideals
The most obvious reason is extreme religious views. ISIS operates on a warped version of basic Islamic principles.
As such, it tends to target and attract young people who have highly extreme religious views and a desire to change a world that grows more secular by the day.
You could call it brainwashing but the respect that religion commands coupled with messengers who know how to manipulate the message to their own effect can convince the most stringent young person, given the right circumstances.
For these vulnerable young people, the promise of that ideal life can be too strong to resist.
Vulnerable youth and a lack of alternatives
Many of the young people who join terrorist groups like ISIS or ISWA, as the case may be, come to terms with the reality of a violent, strict life sooner rather than later.
However, this fear or reluctance that stems from this is often mitigated with the assurance of an ideal life under conditions that would fit that person’s desires.
For a country like Nigeria, the conditions are also more delicate. Millions of unemployed, disengaged youths roam the streets with no sense of purpose.
In the North, this heavy unemployment as well as other factors like a lack of infrastructure have already proved fertile ground for a drug problem.
The youth wander in discontent; where there are jobs, the reward for hard work is hardly commensurate what is required. It leaves an entire demographic disillusioned with life and the conditions around them.
Such persons are vulnerable and groups like ISIS or ISWA recognise this.
They would put mechanisms in place to target these persons and recruit them with the promise of purpose and remuneration.
Goebbels, is that you?
All of this boils down to its use of propaganda, the group runs a heavy propaganda machine that runs through all forms of social media. It uses tools from audio sermons to videos of decapitations to sell the idea of strength and a proximity to reaching its goals.
The use of propaganda is so important that groups like these teach their members to relay the messages to others. As soon as members are indoctrinated, they are taught to recruit other members.
The result is that one individual can be responsible for recruiting hundreds or thousands more.
For young men, it is an alluring message that, combined with the circumstances, can prove too much to resist.
Naturally, there are other reasons that may motivate an individual. Persons with psychopathic tendencies would feel comfortable throwing themselves into such situations.
In other cases, disillusionment and just misdirected curiosity could throw a person into the group and its a slippery slope from there.
The threat of ISWA may be over-exaggerated but that doesn’t change the fact that it is real. In a country with over 70 million people aged less than 25, understanding why people might be interested in joining such groups will be very important.