Boko Haram Recruitment Strategy: How they lure and recruit fighters

According to reports by Mercy Corps (a global team of humanitarians working together on the front lines of crisis, disaster, poverty, and climate change to create a world where everyone can prosper), Boko Haram insurgents use a variety of tactics, including promises of safety, to entice and recruit hundreds of young people and students as fighters.

Insurgencies, according to the research, are personnel-intensive, and an insurgent group’s capacity to maintain its supply of combatants is critical to its survival.

Boko Haram recruitment strategy
Boko Haram child soldiers In training.

Boko Haram, one of the deadliest terrorist group in world recruits its members in a variety of ways.


The group’s repertory includes enticement, compulsion, and a combination of both.

Fighters that join the organisation voluntarily may do so for ideological, religious, or social reasons, but many are likely to do so because of the financial incentives put in place by Boko Haram.

Poverty and high unemployment afflicts Northern Nigeria. This two conditions may encourage uneducated and unskilled youths (Boko Haram’s core target demographic) to join the ranks of Boko Haram for a relatively stable income.

Studies seeking to understand why young Nigerians join Boko Haram reveal that a wide range of factors act to push and pull teenagers towards the organisation.

When it comes to who joins, there is a lot of variety. Recruits appear to be children, men and women of various ages, nationalities, and different backgrounds. Most notably the uneducated and the financially unstable. Promises of economic incentives, as well as offers of loans and assistance to the recruits’ businesses appear to have tempted many to join the dreaded Islamic insurgency group.

Furthermore, a lack of trust and faith in the Nigerian government appears to be a significant motivator for joining the terrorist organization. The use of excessive force and harsh tactics by security agents has also contributed to alienate and antagonize many uneducated and unemployed youths who are within the reach of the terrorists.

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Furthermore, the country’s extensive corruption problem plays into Boko Haram’s narrative, which says that the state’s secularism contributes to the country’s high degree of corruption.

Friends and relatives, as well as religious and ideological motivations, have been identified to be major factors in embracing the jihadi cause. The bulk of evidence on this subject comes from reports that look into which variables Nigerian residents, teachers, security officers, preachers, and others believe are the most important drivers of recruitment into Boko Haram.

The most common motivation for joining Boko Haram in Nigeria is economic factors (that is, unemployment and povery). Other causes include youths’ lack of theological knowledge, illiteracy, peer pressure, parental influence during childhood, and a desire to be a part of a movement or group.

Community infiltration is a popular strategy used by Boko Haram to recruit fighters. Recruiters from Boko Haram have been known to infiltrate communities in order to find, befriend, and radicalize people who are the most mentally and financially weak.

Other typical methods include open preaching and propagation, financial enticement through loans or payments, recruiting of members’ friends and family, and jail breaks, in which the group, in addition to liberating imprisoned members, aims to attract escaping convicts.

There is also a lot of use of forced recruitment. During raids on villages and towns, the gang has routinely kidnapped people and forced them to fight or serve the group in other ways. In some cases, it’s difficult to tell the difference between forced and voluntary recruitment, as several former Boko Haram fighters claim that they saw Boko Haram as the least bad option given their circumstances at the time they joined.

boko haram recruitment strategy

Furthermore, Boko Haram can entrap potential recruits by progressively entangling them in the group’s activities to the point where they ‘know too much’ to refuse to join.

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Boko Haram recruits its fighters mostly from the Kanuri ethnic group, which is the majority in the area surrounding Lake Chad, encompassing north-eastern Nigeria. Despite Kanuri fighters reportedly being given preferential treatment within the group, such as not being chosen for suicide missions, the group does recruit people of other ethnicities.

Foreign fighters, particularly from the Tuareg population, are said to have been used by Boko Haram.

Much suggests that Boko Haram’s capacity to attract members is largely contingent on its ability to give economic incentives and, as a result, financial gain. Because the group’s geographical grip is eroding and the northern Nigerian economy is drying up as a result of the insurgency, this might be considered as a potential vulnerability for the group’s capacity to bolster its ranks.

Following Boko Haram’s loss of land in late 2016 and early 2017, reports of hundreds of defections in the Lake Chad region indicate that reinforcements are urgently needed.

One thing is for sure, economic factors are not the only element driving Boko Haram recruitment. What this means is that, if Boko Haram’s money runs out, don’t anticipate recruitment to stop totally.

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Although it may be difficult for Boko Haram to threaten the Nigerian state and its neighbors’ territorial control, less personnel-intensive techniques such as suicide attacks can be just as deadly.

boko haram recruitment strategy

Because the anger towards the Nigerian government and the fear of Nigerian security forces are deeply rooted in segments of northern Nigeria’s populace, boko haram recruitment will almost certainly continue, albeit at a slower pace.

Providing narratives that effectively refute Boko Haram propaganda has been beneficial in deterring people from joining, indicating that religious leaders are critical in exposing the Boko Haram movement’s dishonesty and therefore reducing religious recruitment.

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The Difference Between Isawp’s and Boko Haram recruitment strategies.

In terms of the differences between Boko Haram and ISWAP strategy for recruiting fighters, Shekau’s (late and former Boko Haram leader’s) violent tactics may have tainted the Boko Haram brand for a long time.

What I’m saying is this; “Shekau’s Boko Haram was brutal in their attacks. They attack and kill anyone that crosses their paths, including women and children, not minding if you are a Muslim or not. This appears to have greatly restricted voluntary recruiting, implying that Boko Haram were basically reliant on coercion to replenish its ranks.

However, on the other hand, Al-Barnawi (late ISWAP leader), before his death, was able to re-spark voluntary recruitment for the ISWAP side by recovering popular support by delivering a consistently different insurgency model. He was more lenient in his approach. His group’s main targets are the Nigerian security forces, government officials and NGOs. They even provide palliatives for Nigerian communities that are outside the reach of the Government. They do not attack civilians, and this has earned them the support of some residents in the affected area.

boko haram recruitment strategy

The Boko Haram insurgency has been violent, and the populations of north-eastern Nigeria have suffered greatly as a result. It has resulted in a humanitarian disaster, with a major portion of the people displaced within the country. We have no idea when this battle will finish; all we can do is hope for God’s intervention.

This article was sourced from special reports on Boko Haram by Mercy Corps and United States Institute of Peace.

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