In the context of Boko Haram, it is vital to identify how Boko Haram resorted to extreme violent behavior. One theory that provides an understanding of such violent behavior is Frustration-Aggression Theory. This “holds that a group’s relative disadvantage in relation to others, which may be manifested in income inequality or hierarchical class, results in frustration which breeds grievance and aggression” (Iyekepolo, 2213). In the case of Boko Haram, this theory can arguably describe how frustration over Western education led to an increase in its aggressive behavior.
To understand Frustration-Aggression Theory further there must be comprehension on the term “frustration.” Frustration, as described by Berkowitz, is “an unpleasant, aversive stimulus which evokes negative affect by automatically eliciting cognitions that are associated with aggressive tendencies.” This view of frustration can provide insight into group motivations to justify acts of aggression. Recognizing these two important aspects of Frustration-Aggression Theory provides not only a background into Boko Haram,but a broad look into future potential attacks.
Application of Frustration-Aggression Theory
This research applies key aspects of frustration and aggression. First, the act of frustration defined as “blocking someone from gaining an expected gratification” (Dill and Anderson, 360). Second, aggression which is defined as “any behavior which is intended to injure the individual to whom it is directed” (Dill and Anderson, 360). These key aspects of Frustration-Aggression Theory provide in-depth knowledge into the decision-making process utilized by Boko Haram.
Boko Haram continues to feed off the economic conditions and frustrations of the Nigerian people. “The situation of poverty in Nigeria and Somalia, where Boko Haram [and Al Shabab] started, is worsened by the day-to-day paradox of mass poverty in the face of rich human and mineral resources.” (Ani and Ojakorotu, 12) This economic decline only fuels Boko Haram’s legitimacy and power. Not only does this fuel its status among African nations, it also increases the frustration of the Nigerian people against not only Boko Haram but the Nigerian government overall.
The level of poverty pervading the region also proved to be a factor in mobilizing the Boko Haram insurgency, as Mohammed Yusuf, the sect’s leader spoke regularly about it; arguing for devout Muslims to ‘migrate from the morally bankrupt society to a secluded place and establish an ideal Islamic society devoid of political corruption and moral deprivation (Iyekekepolo, 2215).
The economic conditions in which the many of the Nigerian people are still living became the foundational grounds for Boko Haram’s rise. The hardship the Nigerian government and its people have faced bred political corruption and moral deprivation. (Iyekekpolo, 2215)This continuous frustration from current economic conditions has also created more insight into Boko Haram’s increased aggression. Solomon Ayegba states this corruption is at the expense of the Nigerian people, which has resulted in the Boko Haram insurgency. (2015)
Boko Haram continued to gain legitimacy throughout Nigeria and neighboring states, which only increased the frustrations of citizens across West Africa. “The poor development status of Nigeria no doubt breeds an atmosphere of frustrated expectations and foster widespread indignation on the part of those that are trapped in the vortex circle of abject poverty.” (Mbasua, Musa and Fada, 96) Those imprisoned by Boko Haram’s terror are left more vulnerable to continued social and economic chaos. As the chaos continues to manifest, it leaves Nigeria not only socially and economically vulnerable but opens the gateway for political vulnerability.
Boko Haram was able to politically corrupt the Nigerian government by gaining a position of power. “A known senior member of Boko Haram, Late BojuFoi, was actually appointed a commissioner by former Governor Ali Modu Sheriff.” (Vaaseh, 407) The people of Nigeria now had more to fear than the current economic and social conditions. Political figures were now making promises to Boko Haram to provide support to “facilitate the actualization of their ideology.” (Vaaseh, 409)
The increased frustration of Boko Haram only led to more acts of violence. However, the target of Boko Haram’s aggression now turned more toward Nigerian security forces. Vaaseh explains “the inability of the politicians to keep to their promise of monthly salaries to the members angered them and the insurgents reacted severely by attacking security agents.” Boko Haram has used these political conditions to spread its ideology but has also capitalized off the lack of education throughout Nigeria proper. “In contemporary Nigeria, most, if not all, of the existing militant organizations are made up of a large percentage of uneducated and unemployed people who express frustration by the existing unbalanced structure of governance in the Nigerian federation.” (Vaaseh, 406)In an attempt to deal with these frustrations, Nigeria decided to form an organization called the Odua People’s Congress (OPC). However, the efforts to mitigate these frustrations ended in violent actions to pursue the organization’s objectives. Perhaps this is mere coincidence, but it more likely provides insight into the validity of Frustration-Aggression Theory and political/social violence within Nigeria.
There are many different manifestations of terrorism that emerge due to religious and ideological beliefs. In this form of extreme behavior, Boko Haram has been able to convince some of Nigerian society that the government is to blame for the overall social instability. “A number of them also blame the Nigerian Federal Government for poverty in the Northeast, thereby popularizing the idea that Boko Haram represents a symbol of the North’s struggle against political and economic marginalization.” (Ani and Ojakorotu, 20) This frustration has not only bred inequality amongst regional Nigerians but also deep psychological frustrations.
As the people continue to experience the economic and political frustrations of Boko Haram, they also experience their own psychological frustrations. Boko Haram has created a society in which people live in fear. “The populace had been deprived of their means of livelihood and this has become frustrating, resulting in aggression.” (Iyekekpolo, 2215) The people do not have the political and economic stability to combat Boko Haram. A vicious spiraling down cycle continues.
Boko Haram continues to launch attacks to intimidate the government and its citizens. The people of Nigeria attempt to live a normal life. However, the second and third order effects of Boko Haram’s terror impact daily living. “On 16 June 2011, the police headquarters in the capital Abuja was bombed, leading to a city-wide curfew.” (Elden, 416) This curfew was established to protect the Nigerian people and allow Nigerian forces to combat Boko Haram’s attacks. So, while Nigeria continues to strive for peace, education, and hope, the methods used can sometimes also become social chains that bind and constrain them.
Evaluation of Frustration-Aggression Theory
Frustration-Aggression Theory has been applied to explain the behaviors of foreign policymakers and those experiencing the violent attacks of Boko Haram. First, applying the Frustration-Aggression Theory framework, it can be hypothesized that foreign policymakers will be less likely to resort to violence towards Boko Haram. Therefore, not able to rely on external positive interference, Nigerians may also resort to alternative means to stop the spread of Islamic extremism due to their justified frustration with Boko Haram’s behavior and no formal governmental success in hindering it.
There are limitations to Frustration-Aggression Theory to consider, such as not all frustration breeds aggression. This study is also limited to evaluating extreme cases of frustration (i.e. corruption, terrorism). This theory is only used to evaluate Boko Haram and those influenced by the insurgency. Further application of this theory would research how Boko Haram perceives Western education as a threat to religious beliefs. Examination would include how Boko Haram exploits religious beliefs to gain sympathy to recruit members. Frustration-Aggression Theory could utilize the underlying frustration of religious intolerance and perceived colonization by the West to breed aggression.
Frustration-Aggression Theory provides knowledge and insight into the decision-making process of Boko Haram but also political members and citizens of Nigeria. Furthermore, it is imperative to recognize how Boko Haram knew such violent tactics would work. Understanding the efficacy of terrorism tactics can arguably shed light on producing new insights and new counter-measures that might lessen extremism on the ground and provide everyday Nigerians more of a fighting chance to create a stable and secure life amidst the chaos.