Anxiety has gripped Nigeria over the likely response of the Islamist terror group Boko Haram after the army killed 20 of its members on Sunday after an intelligence report revealed their location.
The Nigerian army told AFP that it acted on intelligence that a number of Boko Haram members were holding a gathering at a location in the north-east of the country before launching the attacks. “Our men mobilised, leading to a shootout,” an army commander was quoted as saying. “Twenty suspected terrorists were killed while a soldier died in the operation and two others sustained injuries.”
So what next for Boko Haram? Mike McCullough professor of psychology and a Cooper Fellow at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida argues that members of terrorist groups, like every human being have a psychological system that motivates them to take revenge when another group or person has imposed an unacceptable degree of harm.
But whether the Islamist group considers the Sunday attack as an attempt to put an end to its violent campaign or not remains to be seen. Boko Haram increased its campaign of vicious attacks on the Nigerian government, security establishments and Christian churches after the Nigerian military arrested and killed its former leader Mohammed Yusuf in 2009.
More than 1,400 Nigerians have been killed in brutal attacks since 2010 across northern and central Nigeria, according to statistics released this week by Human Rights Watch. Despite the horrors they have become known for, Boko Haram leaders and members believe that they are ethical and competent in their ability to win this ideological, albeit radical, warfare.
Elliot Aronson, a social psychologist argues that when people hold any strong commitment to a person, group, or cause, they will feel dissonance when evidence challenges the wisdom of that commitment. And in this case evidence on the ground suggests that Boko Haram’s wish to Islamise Nigeria is farfetched.
McCullough argues in his book: Beyond Revenge: The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct argues that revenge is not just for an embittered group to let off some steam, or even to teach an offender a lesson so that others in the future will benefit from the offender’s mended ways. It is a standard feature of the human behavioral repertoire, which Boko Haram evidently possesses.
But if revenge attacks are inevitable, how will the Nigerian government guard against them? While McCullough argues that attacking Boko Haram only results in revenge attacks meant to deter future attacks, diplomacy, the seemingly remaining option, has proven difficult with the Islamic group.