Leadership, Youths, and Domestic Terrorism in Nigeria By Omorodion, Martina O.

Leadership, Youths, and Domestic Terrorism in Nigeria By Omorodion, Martina O.

NAME:               Omorodion, Martina O.

Email:               Omorodion.martina@gmail.com

PHONE NO:       08028716336

INSTITUTION: Federal University, Oye Ekiti. Ekiti State.

 Department of Theatre and Media Arts.

Leadership, Youths, and Domestic Terrorism in Nigeria: An Interrogation of Ahmed Yerima’s Heart of Stone and Esiaba Irobi’s Nwokedi.

A paper presented at the 3rd LASU/GEORGIA Conference on Terrorism, Identity Politics and African’s Development in the 21st century.

July 21-25th, 2019.

Leadership, Youths, and Domestic Terrorism in Nigeria: An Interrogation of Ahmed Yerima’s Heart of Stone and Esiaba Irobi’s Nwokedi.


Since the independence of Nigeria in 1960, the country has been plagued by ethnic, religious, socio-economic and political crises. Post-Independent Nigeria thrived on regionalism and inter –ethnic rivalry that culminated in a civil war in 1966. The socio-economic root of ethnicity and identity politics in Nigeria cannot be over emphasized. The struggle for limited and scarce resources has led to discontent, rivalry, electoral violence and struggle for political power. The unequal infrastructural development of the regions in Nigeria has also been traced to corruption and poor leadership. The teeming mass of unemployed youths has provided a steady stream of foot soldiers and miscreants for politicians and misguided radicals. This paper interrogates the positon of the youths in society and traces the relationship between poor leadership and the development of domestic terrorism. The two plays depict the anarchy that arises from the distortion of truth and abuse of power by the leaders. Esiaba Irobi’s Nwokedi advocates an atmosphere of terror against political tyranny, while Ahmed Yerima’s Heart of Stone depicts the resulting senselessness that emerges from a failed generation. The study adopts a qualitative research methodology and is based on the Relative Deprivation Theory and the Theory of Social Criticism. The paper posits that the youths have an active role to play in the society and that the untapped human resource is a potential time bomb. 

Keywords- Youth, Leadership, Identity Politics, Terrorism, Violence.


 Terrorism may be motivated by political, religious or ideological objectives. According to Isharat and Mukesh,the history of terrorism most likely emerged from political violence and is mostly backed by political action (103). Although generally agreed that there is no one accepted definition of terrorism, several attempts have been made by scholars to give meaning to this concept. Whittaker (5), in search of an explanatory definition of terrorism states that:

“Terrorism, in the most widely accepted contemporary usage of the term, is fundamentally and inherently political. It is also ineluctably about power: the pursuit of power, the acquisition of power, and the use of power to achieve political change. Terrorism is thus violence.   

Bruce Huffman quoted in Isharat and Mukesh, notes that, Terrorism is an act of violence for the achievement of political interests, it has sweeping psychological implication and is committed mostly by non- state entities as well as revolutionary groups (103). Terrorism can be driven by political or religious influences. Okoye, in offering a theoretical understanding of terrorism quotes different definitions of terrorism as offered by scholars. Of particular interest to us is the definition by Weinberg which explains how terrorism transforms the victims of injustice into the perpetrators of injustice. He defines “Terrorism as the deliberate creation and exploitation of fear through violence or the threat of violence in the pursuit of political change” (Okoye, 37).

It is worthy to note that not all radical or proscribed political organisations are terrorist as the use of violence or violent tactics is one of the differentiating features. Whittaker captures this point succinctly, when he states that, the terrorist is a fundamentally a violent intellectual, prepared to use and committed to the use of force for the attainment of his goals (9). Despite the problematic nature with the definitions of terrorism, scholars are in agreement that terrorism is a serious global security threat.

In proffering counter terrorism strategies and a deeper understanding of acts of terrorism, Whittaker (11) makes a distinction between corrigible terrorism and incorrigible terrorism. In the former, there exist the possibility of finding a “political/ diplomatic” pathway out if the conflict by addressing underlying root causes, while the incorrigible terrorism group holds absolutist and maximalist ideology that the only solution is to suppress the group to prevent it from wrecking more havoc.

Violence in Nigeria is diverse and ever occurring. A culture of violence envelopes the country. The country is wrecked by tales of havoc in the troubled North East and stories of unrest in the oil rich Niger Delta region. The other regions are not left out as pockets of violence are recorded almost on a daily basis. Violent conflict in Nigeria ranges from civil unrest, cult clashes, farmer/Herdsmen crises, kidnapping, oil theft, ethno-religious crises, communal clashes, electoral violence, the Boko Haram insurgency and others. 

The social economic realities in post independent Nigeria creates an enabling environment for domestic violence. Violence is mostly youths related (Abudullahi et al 41, Samuel 2, Winton 117) as young people are both the perpetrators of violence and the victims of violence. Corruption, poverty and socio-economic disparity creates a germinating ground for violence and radicalisation. The various factors that influence the development of domestic terrorism include, poor governance, absence of justice, marginalisation of rural area, porous borders, poverty, unemployment and proliferation of arms (Bamidele, 112).

The continuous exploitation of the resources of the country by corrupt politicians has led to economic break down and social instability. Poor leadership has created a vacuum in the Educational system leading to poor educational development especially, in the Northern region of Nigeria. Human capital development entails education and viable employment. However, corrupt leadership has led to socio-economic breakdown leading to a teeming mass of unemployed, under employed and unemployable youths. Some of these youths have at one point served as a political thugs and societal riff raff to politicians and have tasted the lure of power and violence. These youths have in the words of Samuel (1) “become ‘sacrificial lambs’ for the sustenance of the interest of bloody political demagogues under the umbrella of ‘Democracy’ in which in most cases, they are given the impression that they are fighting for their rights”.  Hence, used, frustrated and faced with a bleak future the disadvantaged youths in the dramatic texts under study pick up arms in revolt against a state that has failed them.

 The Nigerian nation is made up of an estimated 200 million people (World population review) of which over 60 percentages are youths under the age of 30. The National Bureau of Statistics reports a 55.4% unemployed/underemployed youths in Q3 of 2018. These mass of dissatisfied youths are seen in the two texts under study; Nwokedi by Irobi and Yerima’s Heart of Stone. A prevailing theme of violence runs through both text. Violence, thus becomes a stage upon which they act out their frustration and aggression at a system that has robbed them of a future and hope.  According to the Fanonian theory of violence, “Violence frees the native from his inferiority complex and from his despair and inaction, it makes him fearless and restores his self respect” (63). In similar fashion, Nwokedi the protagonist, in Irobi’s Nwokedi views violence as a cleansing force, one that is liberating and cathartic in nature. Violence, as a word encompasses a wide range of activities from mere use of words, self-directed action to large scale terrorism (Otun 1). Violence is “the threat, attempt, or use of physical force by one person or more persons that results in physical or nonphysical harm to one or more other persons (Neil et al xii quoted in Otun1)”

The World Health Organisation (4), defines violence as

The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual against oneself, another person or against a group or community that either results in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.

Violence can be interpersonal, self-directed or collective violence. Self-directed violence includes suicides and self-mutilation. Interpersonal violence encompasses violence between family and intimate partner while community violence is between persons who are not related. Community violence incorporates youth violence, random acts of violence and institutional violence. Collective violence which is a subset of community violence is the use of violence by a group against another group to achieve political or socio-economic goals. It ranges from armed state conflict, genocide, organised violent crimes and terrorism (WHO,5). According to Kane (5) “Organised violence is a purposeful and systematic use of terror and brutality to control individuals, groups and communities”.  It includes terrorism, reprisal attacks, armed conflicts and others. Organised violence captures the extent of insecurity in society due to armed conflicts. It carries a lure of power that is intrinsically rewarding to the perpetrators (Karstedt and Eisner,7).

It is the lure of power in the struggle against political tyranny and betrayal that sets the tone of actions in the play texts under study.  Sandhu, posits that “violence has its socio-political roots in poverty, racism, sexism and homophobia (xxvi)”. An understanding of the existing socio- economic, religious and ethnic sentiments of Nigeria post independent era aids our understanding of the prevailing culture of corruption that tilts the exploited and the frustrated youths on a path of violence and terror.


The two dramatic text serving as primary data are drawn from the Nigerian society. The playwrights use their text as social commentary and social criticism of the corrupt post independent Nigeria society. The African playwright is a critic of social ills, an advocate for justice and a social reformer. The playwright draws from his immediate environment and his lived experiences, the social and political issues troubling the society. He creates this with characters, action, dance, lights, costumes, music and others to produce a fictional world that is a microcosm of the society. The play text becomes “the playwright’s eye and voice of social conscientisation” (Binebai n.p).

Based on the Relative Deprivation Theory (RDT) which is a sociological theory embedded in the Frustration- Aggression theory, RDT refers to the dissatisfaction persons may feel when deprived of something desirable which is relative to other persons or groups. It is the disenchantment people feel when they compare their positions to others and realise that others in the group possess something that they do not have. When this feeling persists, it may lead to Frustration, aggression and stress which may result to violence (Abudullahi et al, 54). It is further noted that the perception of deprivation and marginalisation leads people to rebel especially when frustrated by “social economic and structural inequalities” that aggravates their existence as members of a society (47). RDT has been cited by scholars as the cause of social movement and deviance. It can lead to collective actions such as riots, gangsterism, cultism and terrorism. In the two primary data, we see the protagonists identify with social groups that form part of their social identity. The fire spitting Nwokedi is the leader of the Unemployed Youth Association in Osisioma; who go on a violent rampage against the political elites. While, Musa joins the extremists as a rebellion against an unjust society. 


  Esiaba Irobi’s Nwokedi (1991), employs revolutionary aesthetics and indigenous Igbo ritual festival in his chant against oppression, corruption and abuse of power by the political elites. It depicts the ritual cleansing of the land by the Ekumeku age grade on the occasion of the Ekpe festival. The Ekpe festival is a ritual Igbo festival of the Ngwa people used to symbolically drive out the old year and usher in the new year. The ritual involves the spilling of the blood of a ram by a singular stroke of the machete by the leader of the age group at the shrine of the gods. Nwokedi’s family is the only empowered to slaughter the sacrificial ram. His father had done it and his grandfather had played the role too. For the past six years, Nwokedi had played the role for the past six years but this year he demands a blood more potent. Human blood, preferably the blood of a corrupt politician. However, the closest available politician is his father Nwokedi snr and his brother- in-law, Arikpo. Two corrupt politicians who have mortgaged the future of the youths for their own selfish lust for power. Nwokedi, possessed by the spirit of the mask, raises the machete to strike off the head of Arikpo, whom he had instructed the Ekumeku to present, his father Nwokedi snr, rushes in to save Arikpo but falls under the descending machete, the machete rise a second time and Arikpo is beheaded too. It is on this image of terror, violence and youth rebellion, Nwokedi is based on. 

 The Ekumeku age grade comprises of the youths of the village. This age grade also make up the cream of the Unemployed Youths Association with Nwokedi as the president. In Osisioma village they are known as the Ekumeku, which means Whirlwind, while in Arikpo’s village Ugep, they are called The Devil’s Brigade. The members of the unemployed youths, truly live up to their alias. Wreaking havoc and mischief. Although the Ekumeku is charged with the duties of the Ekpe masquerade cult- a secret cult that carries out ala propitiation rites against the earth mother when an abomination has been committed or when the earth goddess is perceived to have been offended- they transform into a group of young revolutionaries, fighting against selfish leaders and eradicating abuse of power. In their quest for better life and equal participation in governance, Nwokedi, the leader of the Ekumeku transforms into the very monster he seeks to eradicate. Nwokedi, a youth corp member serving in the North is a fearless, headstrong young man with lofty ideals for the future and a strong hatred for the ruling class. Nwokedi, is a self-acclaimed revolutionary who believes in trying to change the status quo rather than watching it deteriorate further. Nwokedi, demands a share of life, of the future of his generation from wasteful and selfish leaders. In his interaction with his fellow corp members he states,

NWOKEDI: …have you asked yourselves what vision they have for us. What vision they ever had? What is the vision of a grey haired generation that ruptured the future of their offsprings and tore it into shreds… we must seize the reins of power in this nation. Every generation comes and goes. But each must leave change. Each must have a destiny. A destiny to hand over to posterity. Where is our destiny?…                                                                        (30)

Nwokedi’s anger is directed at the system manipulated by the politicians and corrupt leaders. His radical stance against the exploitative generation of his father leads him to declare a “cleansing” against their corruption and selfishness. The youths of Osisioma in agreement Nwokedi decide that the younger generation be given a chance at governance. Thus, they vote against Nwokedi snr, a former member of senate who is running for a second term. In Ugep, the Unemployed Youth Association, warn senator Arikpo not to contest again as his previous term in the senate had done nothing to combat unemployment or provide jobs for the graduates. Senator Arikpo defiles the order of the youth as he has no concern nor shows interest in the plight of the youth. He goes ahead with the campaign and the youths go on a violent riot against him. They burn down his new house, destroy his car and attack him with machetes and axe. The violent attack against Senator Arikpo is sustained in Osisioma where the Youth have no respect for all politicians. They aim of the unemployed youth movement is to change the system to one that is beneficial to them. They recourse to violence to pass across their message as they have been frustrated to the point of aggression and despair by the senseless exploitation of the ruling class. Senator Arikpo describes the youths as:

ARIKPO: The Devil’s own brigade! A miserable mob of jobless young men and women. A menace of unemployed chimpanzees. A harvest of political illiterates. Nonentities. Pieces of dirt. Most of them graduated from the universities. Others from polytechnics. Louts who cannot find jobs for themselves. The only job they could find was to shatter my house into fragments.                                                                (3)

The Unemployed Youths Association given their grievances and tactics of airing them are at risk of metamorphosing into a terrorist group. Although their concerns are justified and they are fighting for a noble cause- the removal of the corrupt ruling class- their methods are crude and violent. They employ the use of bombs, arson, mob action and murder to show their frustration. Although, they had other means of over throwing the politicians, such as at the election and voting massively for a younger and smarter candidate, they are guilty of the abuse of power which they accuse the politicians of.

According to Whittaker, “the fundamental aim of the terrorist’s violence is ultimately to change ‘the system’. Nwokedi in the ritual possession of the Ekpe masquerade mask does not kill the sacrificial ram which has been made available, rather he slaughters his father and Arikpo, two corrupt politicians. Nwokedi’s defiance to established authority is captured in his altercation at the Youth Corps orientation ground with Awado. The revolutionary army of Esiaba Irobi is made of frustrated and disconcerted youths, who strike blindly in rage at anything in their path when social deprivation as led them to frustration. For them violence becomes a cathartic tool of self-expression and the restoration of self-esteem.

Offering insights on the playwright’s dramatic occupation, Diala (235) states that Irobi recognises “unemployment as a latent revolutionary factor” and recognizes that “segment of society as potential revolutionaries” against self-centred corrupt leaders who wish to remain in power perpetually.

In Ahmed Yerima’s Heart of Stone the playwright explores the gory tale of religious fundamentalism fuelled by distrust, fear and intolerance. The social reality and intricacy of life in the troubled North East of Nigeria is the focus of this play. Musa, a young borehole digger goes on a suicide mission against the “infidels” who are his family gathered for the wedding of his cousin. Musa’s choice is influenced not only by radicalism and religious fundamentalism but also by the monetary gains he makes as a member of the rebels. The play tells the havoc that is wrecked on the family by violence and exposes the enabling factors that makes terrorism the last resort of the social deviant. The play is set in the contemporary times in Northern Nigeria. Musa is a young orphan, having lost his mother to death eighteen years ago and his father not too long after. He is brought up by his grandmother Kaka Patu, who does all she is able to send him to school before enrolling him at an Arabic school. In Heart of Stone, the playwright tries to depict the psychological state of a young boy who accepts to be a suicide bomber. Musa, is concerned about caring for his family but at the same time, he is ready to defend the faith. Kaka Patu, Achief and Kaka Vera at different times speak of the apparition of death that they see hang around Musa. Musa erroneously believes that to die for the faith is to die a hero. Hence, when his uncle Achief speaks of the vison of death foreseen, Musa is all too happy as he believes he will die a warrior like his great grandfather. Youthful exuberance, ignorance, illiteracy, poverty, disillusionment and an ingrained sense of grievance are the undoing of the young man. Ali, the young man who recruits Musa tells him not to think or rationalize as the course they have chosen is their “respite”.

Musa believes he is the “true believer”. His motivation stems from a deep dissatisfaction with his life, the society and a bleak future. On return from the terrorist training ground he asks Amina his pregnant fiancée “how many boreholes do we need to feed our children?” It is obvious that financial enticement is a contributory factor to the recruitment of young men into terrorist groups. Apart from that, is the early radicalisation and indoctrination of the Alamajiri boy. Musa speaks to Sheik Sani of the rejection he and his fellow Alamajiris faced from the society, the politicians and even from the Mallams. In desperation and anger they lash out at all and everything, venting out an anger that has been internalised for long. Musa is the psychologically motivated terrorist. The one with the ‘we versus them’ outlook. For the psychologically motivated terrorist violence is an avenue to relieve the constant and burning anger as well as to gain group acceptance. Musa rage against the Christians that have gathered to pray for his cousin Glady’s marriage shows the level of his hatred and depravity. The lines between family and enmity is blurred due to religious intolerance and extremism. The lines between logic and irrationality is distorted. The rebellion goes out of control and the ‘wretched of the country’ the social misfit revel in the violence that gives them a ‘voice’. For Musa and many other ‘rejects of the earth’ “life does not matter anymore. What matters is eternal life in the hereafter” (59).


In Heart of Stone we see the resulting absurdity that emerges from a society that does not consider the future of its youths. Left un-provided for and exploited by the politicians, the religious rulers and the society itself, the young adult may exhibit deviant behaviour such as violence, drug abuse, criminal tendencies and restiveness. It goes without say that the would-be terrorist may be recruited from this mass of disenchanted youths. Whatever, the case may be, when the grievances of the citizens are not addressed they may turn out to be problematic for the country. In Nwokedi and Heart of Stone, we experience the socio-economic challenges faced by the youths which has been brought on by corruption and poor leadership. The resulting effect of this is a breeding ground for acts of violence, cultism, and domestic terrorism. Ethno-religious crises flourish in the midst of ignorance and fear. Insecurity destabilises a nation and does not encourage foreign investment. To mitigate these factors, there is need for increased political participation by the youths. A share in governance ensures that their interests are safe-guarded and considered in policy formulation. Better governance, increased political participation and the development of human capital should be key drivers of government. Special attention should be given to the youths in the form of formal and informal education, skill acquisition, technical knowledge, and micro credit for young entrepreneurs. Increased human capital development will contribute to the fight against domestic terrorism by reducing the available pool of recruits and social misfits. Good governance will lead to social and economic development thereby producing a nation that is truly democratic and beneficial to all.     

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