OF SYMBIOSIS OR OTHERWISE: AN ANALYSIS OF THE
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE NIGERIAN NEWS MEDIA AND
JAMA'ATU AHL-SUNNATI LIL DA'AWATI WAL JIHAD (BOKO HARAM)
Elor Esin Nkereuwem
I hereby certify that this dissertation, which is approximately 15,000 words in length, has been
composed by me, that it is the record of work carried out by me and that it has not been submitted
in any previous application for a higher degree. This project was conducted by me at the University
of St Andrews from 12/2012 to 08/2013 towards fulfilment of the requirements of the University
of St Andrews for the degree of M.Litt, under the supervision of Prof. Karin Fierke.
Date:……………………… Signature of Candidate: …………………………..
This thesis conducts a discourse analysis of the reportage of Boko Haram’s violent campaign by four
newspapers to test whether the hypothesis put forward by the so-called Symbiosis Theory holds
true. The assertion that a mutually-beneficial relationship exists between the media and terrorists is
backed by the widely accepted phrase, ‘propaganda by the deed,’ which describes the peculiar
communication process of terrorism often portrayed as a linear process from the terrorists through
the media to the target audience. Yet news stories are a product of a framing process and often
imbibe voices from at least three actors—the terrorists, the state, and political elites. Final media
reports, therefore, are often a clumsy amalgamation of these three voices and often result in the
distortion of the ‘pure’ terrorist message, a point often ignored in terrorism literature.
This thesis refrains from accepting the simplistic postulation that this relationship is always
mutually-beneficialand argues that seen as a circular and interactive communication process, in line
with research emanating from Communication Studies, terrorist events can be analysed as dialogues
and terrorists’ perception of satisfaction may be inferred from their reaction to media output. This
thesis argues that news stories are only beneficial to terrorists to the degree that they contribute to
the attainment of the group’s primary objectives. In reality, the notion of an unequivocallymutually-
beneficial relationship which underlies the Symbiosis Theory is simplistic and does not fully explore
the possibilities of a more complex and often nuanced reality.
1.2 Literature Review………………………………………………………..........9
1.2.1 Communicating Terror………………………………………………9
1.2.2 Historical Perspectives………………………………………………10
1.2.3 Propaganda by the Deed…………………………………………….12
1.2.4 The Media and Terrorism: The Symbiosis Theory…………………...12
1.2.5 Terrorist Objectives………………………………………………….17
1.2.6 The Communication Process of Terrorism…………………………..18
2 RESEARCH OBJECTIVES AND METHODOLOGY………………………………...22
2.1 Research Scope and Relevance of Study……………………………………...22
2.2 Critical Approach…………………………………………………………….23
2.2.1 Discourse Analysis…………………………………………………....24
2.3 Theoretical Framework………………………………………………………25
2.4 Selection of Case Studies……………………………………………………..26
3 CONTEXTUAL BACKGROUND OF BOKO HARAM........................................................29
3.1 The Emergence of Boko Haram………………………………………………29
3.2 Ideology and Strategy………………………………………………………...31
3.3 Boko Haram and Publicity……………………………………………………..34
3.4 Key Incidents………………………………………………………………....34
4 EMPIRICAL ANALYSIS………………………………………………………………...38
4.1 Media Reportage of Boko Haram’s Campaign………………………………….38
4.1.1 Use of Language………………………………………………………38
4.1.2 Representation of Actors (Voices)…………………………………….40
4.1.3 Use of Cover Visuals and Headlines…………………………………...41
4.1.4 Depth of Analysis……………………………………………………...42
4.2 Feedback from Boko Haram……………………………………………………43
4.2.1 The Police Headquarters Bombing…………………………………….43
4.2.2 The ThisDay Office Bombing………………………………………….44
5 EVALUATION AND CONCLUSION…………………………………………………..46
5.1 Communicating Terror………………………………………………………...46
5.1.1 Dialogical Elements of Terrorist Communication……………………..47
5.1.2 Framing the Terrorist Message in the News…………………………...47
5.1.3 Message Fidelity and Effective Communication………………………49
5.1.4 Terrorist Objectives…………………………………………………...49
5.1.5 The Symbiosis Theory………………………………………………...51
For you, Jireh. Thank you.
“Nigerians, our name is not Boko Haram; we are Muslims, Ahlis Sunnah
[people who follow the teachings of Prophet Mohammed],”
Jama'atu Ahl-Sunnati Lil Da'awatiWal Jihad (Premium Times 2012)
On May 1, 2012, five days after launching a massive attack on media houses in two major cities in
Northern Nigeria, Abuja and Kaduna, Jama'atu Ahl-Sunnati Lil Da'awati Wal Jihad, a local terrorist
group popularly called Boko Haram, gave an explanation for the attack in an elaborate video
recording posted on the popular social networking website, YouTube. The attacks, the group
claimed, were in response to several media misrepresentations of the group’s activities. “These are
all lies, and they are many,” Boko Haram said, going ahead to enumerate their grievances with the
said newspapers while simultaneously threatening more attacks (Premium Times 2012).
Terrorist events, like the attacks on the newspaper houses, are described as a form of
communication and the popular expression ‘propaganda by the deed’ is a generally accepted phrase
within academic discourse which aptly describes this peculiar form of communication. Without the
benefit of a follow-up explanation as seen in this case, the events are often perceived to be ‘new’ or
discrete incidents which are merely part of the generic terroristic campaign with the overarching aim
of achieving a set of political goals (Weimann, 2007; Bockstette, 2008; Schmid, 2006). Yet Discourse
Analysis as a method of research which elucidates the significance of the narrative form of
communication provides a channel through which new terrorist events can be understood as part of
an on-going circular ‘conversation’ rather than one of several linear communication attempts (Ross
2007: 219; Van Dijk 1993: 250; Spencer 2012: 394). This paper will approach the communication
process of terrorism as a dialogue in which some new events by terrorists may be seen as a
continuation of an on-going dialogue with the target audience.
Current trends in Critical Terrorism Studies call for a broadened theoretical approach to
understanding the phenomenon. Hence imbibing communication theories in order to explain the
tumultuous relationship between the media1
and terrorism will help to strengthen research in this
area. A discourse analysis approach in investigating terrorism is hardly novel in the academia and
quite a number of work has been done in this regard. Yet although research on the subject has seen
a rapid rise in recent years, terrorism literature churns up a surprisingly low number of studies in
which discursive analysis of reports are conducted.2
The few which have been done have mostly
focused on extracting quantitative data such as the frequency of coverage, number of page
allocation or airtime allocation, number of fatality, and other similar information (Weimann and
Brosius 1991: 349; Bahador 2007: 26). This work seeks rather to extricate qualitative information
and will focus on the narrative content of the reportage in an attempt to discover the more nuanced
messages therein. Recent work in this area have emerged from such scholars as Archetti (2013) and
Holbrook, Ramsay, and Taylor (2013).
This paper starts out with an overview of some of the concepts which have emerged in the literature
over the past four decades. While the general difficulty in theorizing terrorism is taken into account,
some recurring themes and postulations have taken root and have come to be regarded as
foundational concepts. In the research area of terrorism and the media, one deeply held hypothesis
is the perceived mutually-beneficial relationship between the two variables; this has come to form
the basis of the so-called Symbiosis Theory (Schmid 1989: 540; Shurkin 2007: 82; Hoffman 2006:
183). Core terrorism scholars like Walter Laqueur, Paul Wilkinson, Bruce Hoffman and Yonah
1 The media is used in this thesis to imply the news media.
2 See Schmid (1989: 547); Jenkins and Mitchell (1981); Ross (2007: 219).
appear to be in agreement that the media and terrorism feed off each other. Laqueur
(1987: 121) notably characterised the duo as ‘best friends’ and Nacos (2008: 235) says the two
variables are ‘strange bed fellows in a marriage of convenience.’ Other scholars like Wievorka (1993)
have however opined that such all-embracing postulations may not reflect the more nuanced reality.
Next, building on approaches to communication from foundational scholars like Harold Lasswell,
this paper will analyse some of the traditional and contemporary explanations of communication.
The older postulations which see communication as a linear process have gradually given way to the
perception of communication as an interactive process (Conway 2012: 446-447). Corman,
Trethewey and Goodall (2007) elaborate on the concept of ‘message infidelity’ in which external
factors, or noise, influence the message; in the context of terroristic violence as communication,
noise may be compared to additional messages which the media receives from counter-terrorism
narratives of the government or input from political elites. The final media output often turns out to
be an amalgamation of these voices which often distort the ‘pure’ terrorist message (Archetti 2010:
2). This paper will attempt to synchronise some of the theories emerging from Communication
Studies with the idea of terrorism as communication to show the circular nature of terroristic
communication (Archetti 2013: 54; McAllister and Schmid 2011: 247; Corman et al., 2007).
While chapter two provides an overview of the research method, in the third and fourth chapter this
thesis will present an overview and a discourse analysis of media reportage of terrorist events using
the on-going terrorist campaign in Nigeria by Islamist group, Boko Haram, as a case study. To make
for a concise study, four significant events which have occurred in Nigeria’s capital territory, Abuja,
will be analysed. Also, four newspapers, chosen for their significant coverage and geo-political
affiliations will be used for this study. Furthermore, where applicable, an analysis of terrorist
response to media reports will be conducted. The findings of this analysis will then be situated
3 See Wilkinson (1997:52); Hoffman (2006:183); Alexander and Latter (1990: 35); Laqueur (1987: 121)
within the discourse of terrorist objectives in an attempt to see how media content may or may not
contribute to the attainment of these objectives.
In conclusion, this thesis seeks to answer the research question: Does the relationship between the
Nigerian media (particularly newspapers) and Boko Haram fit into the hypothesis of the so-called
symbiotic relationship between the media and terrorism?
1.2 LITERATURE REVIEW
1.2.1 Communicating Terror
Academic discourse on terrorism as a form of political violence is riddled with numerous
controversies chief of which generally refer to the analytical difficulty of the term─ in particular the
definition of the word, terrorism (English 2009: ix). Across the board, however, several distinct
features of the concept of terrorism are generally agreed upon by a broad range of scholars4
There are three main features of terrorism which may be drawn from key terrorism scholars. Firstly,
terrorism is regarded as a politically-inspired act. Secondly, it is carried out for the psychological
impact as opposed to its physical impact. Thirdly, it is a communicative process which is aimed at a
wider audience than its immediate target (Richardson 2006: 20-22; Crenshaw 2011: 23; Wilkinson
2006: 1; Hoffman 2006: 40). In an effort to provide a broad definition of this controversial term,
English (2009:52) elucidates the necessity of avoiding a monocular approach to understanding
terrorism. As a result of the heterogeneity of both key features and methods of expression of this
form of violence, any form of analysis of this concept must therefore embrace a multi-layered
framework (ibid: 22).
4 Due to the broad range of definitional contestations in the field, this essay will not attempt to provide a definition for
the term terrorism but will work with widely accepted features of the concept such as its psychological dimensions and
its political motivations.
In line with this logic, this work draws heavily from the three key features as a bedrock of the main
arguments of terrorism as communication. Understood primarily as a political act, the psychological
element of terrorism is crucial in the attempt to explain the communicative process of the act.
Because terrorism is designed not merely for the immediate effect of its violence but for the far
reaching psychological effect on the larger audience, it is significantly distinct from general criminal
violence in that it does not seek to cover-up the act but requires the publicity of the act in order to
achieve its main political objectives (Nacos 2005:188; Wolfsfeld 2001:236; Freedman and Thussu
2012: 10). Terrorism derives its recognition as a form of psychological warfare precisely from the
sudden episodes of violence which serve, among other things, to incite fear and vulnerability in a
wider population (Brecenbridge and Zimbardo 2007: 116; Chaliand 1987: 11). Consequently, the
epideictic feature of terroristic violence emanates from this inherent psychological feature (Gerwehr
and Hubbard 2007: 88).
1.2.2 Historical Perspectives
One of the aphorisms in terrorism literature is the concept of non-state5
terrorist violence as a form
of political communication (McAllister and Schmid 2011: 246; Hoffman 2006: 198; Schmid and
Jongman 2006: 21). Such postulations, as explained above, emanate from the theatrical method of
terroristic violence which often appears as though designed for an audience with an elaborate
provision for script, cast, sets, and props (Weimann 2007: 28; Vanhala 2011: 1). Brian Jenkin’s
popular use of the expression ‘terrorism as theatre’ in reference to non-state international terrorism
describes the process of terrorism as choreography ‘which is aimed at the people watching, not at
the actual victims’ (Jenkins 1974: 4).
5 This thesis focuses on non-state terrorism.
Jenkin’s phenomenal statement is a cogent description of today’s terrorists with modern-day
explosives and firearms as it is for the Assassins6
who carried out terrorist acts across Iraq, Syria,
Egypt, and beyond starting from around 1090 using mere daggers. Essentially, the methods were the
same; the attacks were calculated, audacious, and often carried out in public places with the after
effect of spreading intense fear (Randal 2005: 16; Wilkinson 2006: 144). But while performance for
an audience has always been a key feature in terrorism, it was not until the development of mass
communication technologies, firstly the steam-powered printing press in 1830 and secondly the
launching of the first television satellite in 1968, that terrorism found its mass audience (Hoffman
Terrorism as modern theatre replete with real time television images, as was powerfully displayed
during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, has its roots in the late 1960s,
an era that is generally regarded in terrorism literature as the starting period of contemporary
international terrorism (Chaliand 1987: 77; Vanhala 2011: 4). Weimann (2007:29) describes the
September attacks as ‘the most powerful, violent, and perfectly choreographed performance of the
modern theatre of terror,’ adding that it was the ‘most watched terrorist spectacle’ in history. This
concept of violence scripted to work hand-in-hand with television was introduced by Palestinian
groups who sought to attract Western attention to their troubles in the late 1960s. The hijacking of
an Israeli airliner, El Al, by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) on July 23,
1968, became the first terrorist airline hijacking which played out to an international audience on
television (Chaliand 1987: 77; Vanhala 2011: 4). Four years later, the 1972 World Olympic Games in
Munich provided what has been described as the ‘second international terrorist spectacular’ this
time by Black September, another Palestinian group, which took Israeli athletes hostage in a venture
that ended as a major disaster (Dobkin 2005: 124; Rohner and Frey 2007: 121).
6 The Zealots (Sicarii) from the ancient times who fought against Roman rule in Palestine and the Assassins, Shia
Muslims who mainly targeted prominent Sunni adherents, from the medieval era are widely regarded as the earliest
forms of terrorism. See Richardson (2006: 43-46) and Hoffman (2006: 177).
Other spectacular events of this nature are enumerated in terrorism literature to depict the concept
of terrorism as theatre; more importantly, the dramaturgical process of terrorism must be
understood as an attempt to pass on a message, a concept often described as ‘propaganda by the
deed’ (Hoffman 2006: 173-199; Schmid and Jongman 2006: 108).
1.2.3 Propaganda by the deed
The usage of the act of violence as a means of communication is traditionally attributed to Carlo
Pisacane, an anarchist historian who died in 1857 (Laqueur 1987: 48). However, the term
‘propaganda by the deed,’ a phrase coined by Mikhail Bakunin in 1868, but popularised by the
French physician Paul Brousse in his call for civic demonstrations, has come to capture the concept
of terroristic violence as communication (ibid.: 48; Dobkin 2005: 122). The terrorist message which
is depicted through violence has been channelled through the media historically by word of mouth;
by traditional means of mass communication such as television, radio, and newspapers; as well as by
more modern computer-assisted communication channels like the internet. Within this context, the
central role of the media7
is brought to the fore and is often described as the vehicle for the
propagation of the acts of terror (Freedman and Thussu 2012: 9-10; Slocum 2005: 1-2; Wilkinson
1990: 26-31). Generally, terrorists are thought to seek three main objectives through the media:
Firstly, to gain attention, secondly to air their grievances, and thirdly, to gain legitimacy or public
support (O’sullivan 1989: 121-123; Nacos 2008:229; Alexander 1979: 162).
1.2.4 The Media and Terrorism: The Symbiosis Theory
Stemming from the well-established acceptance of the centrality of the mass media to terrorist
violence, a number of studies on the communicative dimensions of terrorism have focused on the
7 This paper defines the media in narrow terms to construe national and international radio, television, newspapers,
magazines and other print and non-print news media (See Farnen 1990: 121). In particular, this essay focuses on
relationship between the media and terrorists. According to Finn (1990: 47) two main themes8
emerge from such literature which largely seek to explore how the media have served the terrorists’
objectives. Firstly, the media serves as a conduit. The perception of terrorism as mass-mediated
violence is a pointer to the general perception that the media have proved very useful to terrorists
(Netanyahu 1986: 109; Breckenridge and Zimbardo 2007: 116; Slocum 2005: 11-12). While Jones
(1990: 18) opines that without the media terrorism “would be impotent,” the popular media-as-
terrorist’s-oxygen statement by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher9
while reacting to the 1985
Trans World Airlines hijacking has become a mantra of some sort in academic discourse on the role
of the media in terrorism.
The second theme which runs through the literature follows on from the first; the media’s role as an
amplifier of terrorist violence is rewarded by the audience-attracting content for the media. This
mutually-beneficialrelationship is hence described as symbiotic (Wolfsfeld 2001:228; Finn 1990: 47).
In summing up this relationship, Hoffman (2006: 183) opines that “terrorism and the media are
bound together in an inherently symbiotic relationship, each feeding off and exploiting the other for
its own benefit.”
The use of the word symbiosis in this sense stems from the biological use of the term. According to
Lord (2010), in symbiosis the association is such that “at least one organism receives unique benefits
from the relationship.” In the strictest terms, a mutually-beneficial relationship would only refer to
mutualism, a form of symbiosis defined as “a mutually beneficial relationship in which both
organisms benefit. Each individual provides an advantage to the other, enabling them to exploit
each other and thereby enhance their chances of survival” (ibid.). In Sociology, “the term is taken
to mean relations of mutual dependence between different groups within a community when the
groups are unlike each other and their relations are complementary” (Wilkinson 1997: 52). Thus
8 One other theme which runs through terrorism literature is the concept of the Contagion Theory which tries to link
the media reportage of terrorism spreads terrorism and provides would-be-terrorists with a pattern to copy. See
Alexander and Latter (1990: 3) and Slocum (2005: 12).
9 See Apple (1985).
symbiosis here actually refers to mutualism as defined in biology. Here the media is often seen as a
wilful conduit or merely exploited as a result of their vulnerability especially in democratic societies
Underpinning the symbiosis hypothesis is the assumption that publicity forms a core of terrorists’
objectives. Terrorists will therefore embark on violent acts to the degree that will secure maximum
media coverage; in some cases, the publicity in itself is seen by some scholars as sufficient victory
for the terrorists since it at once ensures attention while impacting fear in the larger population via
the media (Chaliand 1987: 92; Wolfsfeld 2001: 236; Freedman and Thussu 2012: 10). In this regard,
the act of terrorism is a form of advertisement or propaganda and is persuasive in intent rather than
informative (McAllister and Schmid 2011: 246; Alexander 1979: 160-161; Martin 1986: 128).
In response, the quintessential argument of the public’s right to know is the first point often raised
by the media (Laqueur 1987: 121). Terrorist violence indeed contains elements which generally
define newsworthiness, “notable violence, conflict, drama, a threat to public safety, and an ability to
register on the political agenda” and deviance often serves as a pointer to what makes news (Lewis
2012: 258; Weimann and Brosius 1991: 334; Jenkins 1981: 2). Some more cynical references to the
media’s defence include the reference to journalists’ predisposition to negative news and the trend
of violence as entertainment (Jones 1990: 18; Finn 1990: 47; Breckenridge and Zimbardo 2007: 124).
Some scholars however dispute the presumption that terrorist violence has ‘free access to the
media.’ According to Archetti (2013: 95), the “maxim that ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ is dependent on
journalists’ and media organisation’s judgement as well as audience interests.”
A second argument by journalists points to the hazards often faced by the media in the coverage of
terrorism; journalists sometimes become the targets of terrorists (Schmid 1989: 559) For example,
Jose Portell, a newspaper editor in Bilbao, Spain was killed by the Basque terrorist group Euskadi Ta
Askatasuna (ETA) for publishing an article which was critical of terrorism (Laqueur 1987: 121).
Another example is the famed anthrax attack on Robert Stevens, an American photo editor, in a
case which was a ploy to ensure media coverage (Shurkin 2007: 82).
Third, and perhaps more importantly, the coverage given to terrorists is rarely positive which raises
the question of how media coverage provides support for terrorists. Scholars who have conducted
content analysis of terroristic content of media reports find them to be at best neutral and devoid of
the much required propagandist content or at worse derogatory. In the end, terrorists find that
media coverage is often ‘two-edged’ (Schmid 1989: 559; Hoffman 2006: 184-188).
The idea that publicity can be seen as a self-contained accomplishment borrows from the anecdote
that ‘there is nothing like bad publicity’ (Laqueur 1976: 104; McAllister and Schmid 2011: 247). Yet
Jenkins (1981: 3) argues that devoid of the terrorists’ ideological and propagandist content, media
coverage, no matter how wide, provides very little assistance to the terrorists since the “purpose of
winning adherents or sympathizers depends on the communication” of the core message. It is also
notable that terrorists are not often satisfied with bland or unfavourable media coverage which
denies them the legitimacy they seek since they cannot dictate the content of the news reports; they
understand that “unfavourable publicity can damage their cause” (Wilkinson 1997: 55; Schmid 1989:
561; Martin 1986: 127-128). Thus the allusion to a mutually-beneficial relationship is not always as
clear cut as some scholars present and some critiques of this hypothesis have emerged over the
The first of such critiques revolves around the tendency to generalise without empirical backing; this
appears even more inappropriate in a field like terrorism which is riddled with the lack of clear cut
theoretical frameworks. Strangely, the symbiosis hypothesis which is so “tightly compartmentalised”
goes against the grain of the general approach to terrorism research. The very definition of the
phenomenon recognizes the multiple hues that it can take (actors, targets, objectives and
motivations) and its inherently heterogeneous nature requires a broad based multi-disciplinary
approach in order to provide a more wholesome understanding and contribution to scholarly
research (Slocum 2005: 2; English 2009: 22). Farnen (1990: 120-122) whose work seeks to present a
picture of how complex such a relationship can be presents an elaborate diagram10
of his view of the
interactive system between the media and terrorism. Within this view, the process of
communication involves a dynamic back-and-forth involvement of the terrorist, mass media, public,
and state within a political environment.
Another key critique of the symbiosis theory comes from scholars like Michel Wieviorka and, more
recently, Christina Archetti. Archetti (2013: 32) points out, quite correctly, that the popular literature
is “marked by a reliance on the same incidents.” Many times over scholars cite the examples of
spectacular terrorist incidents of the 1970s and 1980s as a basis for the generalisations about the
dramaturgical characteristicof terrorism and the ensuing capitalisation by American television.11
also points out the conflicting claims which emerge from the literature upon close scrutiny of the
widely held claims (ibid: 37). One example may be found in the claim that although media publicity
does not always prove satisfactory for terrorists, and although some groups have made this clear
both by rhetoric and violent actions, scholars dither to make concessions that the relationship may
indeed prove to be more complex than the all-sweeping notion of symbiosis.12
Wieviorka’s seminal proposition remains one of the most lucid critiques of the Symbiosis theory
albeit widely contested by adherents of the symbiosis theory such as Wilkinson (2006).13
(1993:43) starts out his argument by calling for a “systematic examination” and a historical analysis
of both variables. From his analysis, the relationship from the viewpoint of the terrorist presents
four different possibilities ranging from “pure indifference,” whereby the terrorist’s goal is so
limited as not to require media coverage as in the case with Sendero Luminoso of Peru (Shining
Path) in its early stage, to “a total break,” in which the mass media is co-opted into the definition of
10 See Appendix I
11 See Hoffman (2006); Dobkin (2005); Chaliand (1987); Vanhala(2011)
12 Laqueur(1987: 121) Jenkins (1981: 3); Schmid (1989: 561); Martin (1986: 127-128)Wilkinson (1997: 55-58) and
Hoffman (2006: 184-188) all offer conflicting arguments on the benefits terrorists get from media coverage.
13 Wilkinson (2006: 144-149) presents an expansive critique of Wieviorka’s 1993 work.
the enemy. The process, he claims, is often indicative of the various stages in the lifespan of a
terrorist campaign and adds that at the early stages (preterroristic phase) of a campaign, when
violence is largely of a guerrilla-like nature, an elaborate media plan may not always be pivotal (ibid.:
Wieviorka’s second critique ranges in on what he calls “commonsensical ideas” such as the
competition between press organisations and journalists as a factor which drives media coverage of
dramatic terrorist incidents and the arguments which stem from the wider arguments on New vs.
(ibid.) Archetti (2013: 25-28) alludes to the tendency to rely on anecdotal
postulations rather than evidence-based deductions in order to establish the validity of this sort of
hypothesis, a problem which is pervasive in terrorism research. In summary, the Symbiosis Theory
fails, in part, to sync media coverage with terrorists’ primary objectives and thereby show how
beneficial media coverage is to the attainment of those main objectives.
1.2.5 Terrorist Objectives
Terroristic violence is often seen as a tactic used for the attainment of a group’s overall strategic
objective which could be “revolutionary social change, religious transformation, irredentism,” and
others (English 2009:43-48). English (2013) eloquently explains the complexity of terrorist
objectives which he says range from tactical aims (detailed day-to-day activities) which contribute to
the overall strategic objective (using military means to achieve political objectives).
Richardson (2006: 98-99) in addressing the broader argument on whether terrorism works opines
that such debates “must start with an understanding of terrorists’ objectives,” and argues that in
order for Alan Dershowitz’s popular argument that the Palestinian terrorism has worked to be valid,
it must be established that “attention and sympathy” were indeed the main objectives of the terrorist
14 The debate on the concept of New vs. Old Terrorism is beyond the scope of this research.
In line with English’s strategic and tactical goals, Richardson classifies these goals as
“long-term political objectives” and “short-term organisational objectives” respectively (ibid). Like
Richardson (2006:105), English (2013) ranks the communicative objectives of terrorism, publicity or
“very aggressive advertising,” as part of the lower-level tactical objectives of terrorism.
As is widely agreed, terrorist groups have been largely successful in achieving publicity even though
the core political goals have failed woefully (Wilkinson 1997: 54)This objective, which is more easily
achieved and for which relative success can be more readily recorded, has often created the
impression that this formulates the core of terrorists’ ambitions and that relative success may be
measured by the attainment of publicity goals (Richardson 2006: 120). Yet it must be noted, as
mentioned earlier, that references to terrorists in the news are overwhelmingly negative (Jenkins
1981: 3). Nacos (2008: 234), however, argues that while the publicity is most often negative,
terrorists’ objectives are still served by the mere presence in the news “after all, terrorists do not
want to be loved by their targets; they want to be feared.”
Nacos’ assertion is however fundamentally flawed. To argue that terrorists are satisfied with a
negative image is to say that they are uninterested in achieving their overall objective, which requires
the communication of an intended message. Jenkins (1981: 3) notes that by not focusing on the
terrorists’ grievances and objectives, the media helps to obscure the groups’ ideological purposes.
Yet if a terrorist campaign must be sustained, the group must necessarily sell its ideology in order to
recruit new followers and this can only be attained by ‘effective communication’ (Foxley 2013: 61;
1.2.6 The communication process of terrorism
The inherently epideictic nature of terrorism and the generally accepted maxim of ‘propaganda by
the deed’ indicate the importance of communication in terrorism. The physical violence and the
15 Dershowitz (2002: 56) claims that Palestinian terrorists “overcame a quarter-century of neglect and obscurity” in four
years of violent campaign.
propagandist aspect of terrorism are inseparable and the phenomenon is, by and large, discursive
(Alexander and Latter 1990: 35; Zulaika and Douglass 1996: 65). The application of communication
theories will therefore be useful in analysing the relationship between the media and terrorism
As a persuasive process, much like advertisement, the campaign must be well designed and devoid
of “externalities which may interfere with or supersede the persuasion attempt” (ibid: 96). Yet,
framing, an intrinsic aspect of story writing, involves the process of selection and omission through
which journalists include or exclude messages as found suitable (Breckenridge and Zimbardo 2007:
125; Entman 1993: 52-54). Framing therefore defines what message is passed on to the audience
(Lewis and Reese 2009: 85; Woods 2011: 201). ‘Message Infidelity,’ a concept which Corman,
Trethewey and Goodall (2007) elaborate on, alludes to the process in which external factors (or
noise) influence the original message; in the context of terroristic violence as communication, noise
may be compared to additional messages which the media receives from counter-terrorism
narratives of the government or input from political elites. The final media output (news), described
as a ‘manufactured product,’ often turns out to be an amalgamation of these voices, distorting the
‘pure’ terrorist message (Archetti 2010: 2; Vanhala 2011: 37).
Theorization of the communication process of terrorism has grown from Lasswell’s five-point
communication model: who; what; to whom; with what; and to what effect (Lasswell 1948: 117).
These older postulations which saw communication as a linear process have given way to the
perception of communication as an interactive process (Conway 2012: 446-447; Archetti 2010:7).
The idea of a one-way transmission process, which assumes communication as a linear process that
starts with the communicator (the terrorist) and ends with the recipient (the audience) fails to take
into account the fact that a communication process often involves a response (feedback). A two-
way communication process however recognises that communication is more often a dialogue than
a monologue (Leeman 1987: 46; Fawkes 2004: 18). Other models such as Farnen’s Interactive
and Harrison’s adaptation of Shannon and Weaver’s Model17
(See Fig. 1), imbibe this
sensibility of a more robust communication process.
Figure 1.1 Harrison’s adaptation of Shannon and Weaver’s Model (Fawkes 2004: 20).
Fawkes (2004) recognises that although the modified version of Shannon and Weaver’s Model takes
into account the possibilities of external influence (noise) the process is inherently linear. While
Farnen (1990) presents a very elaborate model, it is the Westley-McLean Model that captures some
of the most essential aspects of communication.
Figure 1.2. The Westley–McLean Model of Communication (Fawkes 2004: 23)
The Westley–McLean Model which shows a circular, rather than linear, communication process
captures a more realistic view of communication processes. In showing how the sender of the
message (A) conceives of the message, the model shows that a new message can often be a response
to feedback from mediator (C) or audience (B). To apply this to terrorism, this model can be used to
explain how the terror message is formed. In the same vein, mediator (C) receives information from
16 See Appendix I.
17 Warren Shannon and Walter Weaver created a communication for engineers but the model is now adopted for use in
the social sciences.
both A and other external voices (X1 and X2), which may be interpreted as the process in which
frames are formed based on information from the terrorist, the government, political elite, and
other influential bodies or persons.
Using this process, this thesis will explore the narrative as found in the Nigerian mass media. The
discourse analysis will seek to extract some of the voices which may be found in the reportage of
terrorist events. In the next chapter, this thesis provides a justification for the selected research
method and the case study.
2 RESEARCH OBJECTIVES AND METHODOLOGY
2.1 Research Scope and Relevance of Study
This thesis tackles the research question within a constructivist framework in the sense that it seeks
to explore the social and discursive aspects of terrorism. In much of the literature in which this
relationship is analysed the concluding thoughts are not only tightly compartmentalised but often
follow a problem-solving approach which, seeing the media as the ‘culprit,’ make recommendations
on how to stifle the flow of ‘oxygen’ to the terrorists (Robinson 2009:1).
The tradition of discourse analysis as a research method in terrorism studies is not novel and indeed
several such literature have been produced over these past decade and especially in the years
following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in America (ibid). In following this method, this
paper also borrows from the traditions of Critical Terrorism Studies and Communication Studies
with the view to provide a new voice and propose an alternate way through which the terroristic
content of the media may be put to use. It takes a detour from the more common pattern of
content analysis which seeks to extract the quantitative contents18
and in following the route that
focuses on qualitative content, this paper proposes that seen as a circular process and as a dialogue,
new terroristic events and rhetoric can be further explored to extract indicators of satisfaction or
discontent with the violent campaign, counter-terrorism measures, as well as the overall media
output which serves to amplify the terror message to the final audience. Such analyses may then be
juxtaposed with the broader argument of terrorist objectives to provide a fresh way with which to
rationalise the symbiosis hypothesis. A discourse analysis viewed within the framework of terrorism
as a circular and interactive communication process─ or dialogue─ therefore brings a new
perspective to the existing literature.
18 For example, the widely cited work by Kelly and Mitchell (1981) conducted a content analysis of The New York Times
and The Times of London.
To strengthen this argument, this paper uses a fairly recent terrorist group based in Nigeria, Jama'atu
Ahl-Sunnati Lil Da'awati Wal Jihad, as a case study. The group, popularly known as Boko Haram, is
one of the newer domestic terrorist groups said to be collaborating with wider and more advanced
international groups like the Al-Qaeda network who are seeking to spread into sub-Saharan Africa.
In a recent and dramatic move which points to Boko Haram’s growing influence in the international
scene, the group was named as a participant in the famous conference call with the head of Al-
Qaeda, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, which led to the issuance of the August 2, 2013 travel alert by the US
State Department and the temporary closure of American embassies in over 20 countries across the
Middle East and Africa (Lake and Rogin 2013; Starr et al. 2013). Despite Boko Haram’s growing
influence and increasingly deadly attacks, especially in the past two years, the group’s relatively brief
lifespan has not allowed for robust academic research. Existing scholarly work have mainly focused
on explaining the group’s historical emergence and one research which has sought to discuss the
media relations with Boko Haram has toed the problem-solving research approach and has been
conducted with very limited rigour19
. This work will contribute to the current literature by focusing
on the group’s specific relations with the Nigerian media and how this fits into the Symbiosis
2.2 Critical Approach
Critical approaches to Security Studies, and Terrorism Studies in particular, seek to challenge the
traditional and long-standing paradigms in scholarly research often thought to be constrictive. Latter
approaches that challenge these “narrow meta-theoretical assumptions” are traced to the Frankfurt
School and Gramscian Critical Theory, credited with the emergence of the “critical, post-structural,
constructivist, and feminine challenges” of traditional theories in International Relations as well as
the so-called ‘expansionist agenda,’ which sought to challenge statist view of security (Fierke 2007:
19 See Popoola (2012)
1-2). The word ‘critical’ is understood here to mean an “interrogation of the common-sense
assumptions” that underpin Security Studies (Stump and Dixit 2013:5). This approach thus seeks for
a range of possibilities in explaining politics rather than a single, narrow view and is distinct from
the problem-solving oriented research design by its focus on the continuously shifting trends of the
social world (Salter and Mutlu 2013:31).
Critical research, specifically Critical Terrorism Studies (CTS), is often conducted by inculcating an
inter-disciplinary approach. In the study of terrorism as a form of communication, for example,
Communication or Media Theories may be inculcated for the analysis of terroristic content in film,
books, and other media (ibid: 33).
2.2.1 Discourse Analysis
The study of language and its communicative uses is at the core of discourse analysis as a method of
research. In its elementary form, discourse is seen both as the complex communicative purposes of
a written text or spoken word as well as the interpretation of the text or word by the receiver; in this
sense, communication is said to be effective to the extent that there is an interchange between the
sender and the receiver (Widdowson 2007: 6-7, 54). Because of its ‘relativistic and interpretative’
method of analysis, Discourse Analysis is thought to be less rigorous than other methods by some
scholars. Fierke (2007: 84-85), however, brings to the fore the importance of Discourse Analysis in
constructing ‘social meanings’ by the examination of specific texts.
Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) is concerned with communication within the context of socio-
political power (Widdowson 2007: 70). In this sense, discourse is defined as “any archive of
statements, the institutions and configurations of power/knowledge and truth that condition how
they are sayable.” It may also refer to “relations between concrete communicative events like
conversations and newspaper articles.” CDA seeks to identify “disruptions in a discourse,
institutions and practices” and expounds the notion of ‘intertextuality’, where specifics can only be
understood in relation to other factors (Fairclough 2010: 3; Salter and Mutlu 2013: 5, 18). A
qualitative approach to Discourse Analysis may focus on the extraction of persistent metaphors or
an in-depth content analysis of the narratives within selected texts (ibid: 18). Because of the
emancipatory features of CDA, emancipation here referring to “the removal of unnecessary
structural constraints,” CDA is regarded as a normative approach in scholarly research (ibid.: 109;
In applying constructivist sensibilities to this research therefore, this paper imbibes Critical
Discourse Analysis as a method of research in analysing the relationship between four Nigerian
newspapers the terrorist group, Boko Haram.
2.3 Theoretical Framework
As mentioned earlier, Terrorism Studies is inundated with the absence of definitive theories and has
been heavily criticised for its reliance on secondary data (Özdamar 2008) Even so, scholarly research
has churned out some paradigmatic conjectures which, even though may be technically regarded as
hypothetical conjectures, have come to be accepted and are often referred to as theories in the
literature. In terrorism and the media research, one of such conjectures is the Symbiosis Theory
(Rohner and Frey 2007: 130). This theory forms the central point of this research. In line with the
chosen research method, this paper subjects this central conjecture to critical analysis. In order to do
this, and in line with the practice of inter-disciplinary approaches to research, this work borrows
from themes in Communication and Media Studies to explain the communicative processes of
terrorism. The study areas of communication patterns and the Framing Theory explore the narrative
content of texts and voice messages and in the context of terrorism and the media help to explain
how news stories emerge and how the terrorist message is passed on to an audience through the
media (Entman 1993: 51-52). The Framing Theory from which the concept of news frames is drawn
explains the emergence of news stories as a selection process based on cognitive processes of
journalists, editors, and political elites; this helps situate news as a process which contributes to the
redefinition of, and is embedded in, social and political life (Jackson et al. 2011: 54-55).
CDA is used in this research because of the inherently discursive nature of the research
methodology which fits into the study of terrorism as communication. The emancipatory, and thus
expansionist, dimensions of CDA also fit into the purpose of this work which seeks to challenge the
long-standing conjecture of a tightly defined social interaction between the media and terrorism and
thereby expand the discourse in this research area by providing an alternate way through which this
relationship may be analysed.
2.4 Selection of Case Studies
In selecting newspapers as sources for analysis, it may appear that this research has succumbed to
the general inclinations of popular terrorism and media research (Ross 2007: 219; Conway 2012:
448-449) One may also point to the still emerging and increasingly pivotal role of the electronic
media and the internet in mediating terrorist violence (Tan 1989: 203-204) Realistically, however,
and in this particular context of the crucial need for authenticity and accuracy, the newspapers
provide a fairly reliable collection of factual information compared to the more fluid, unverifiable,
and often ad hoc, information availableon the internet. Furthermore, because this thesis focuses on
discursive content of texts, newspapers may provide extensive material for research as opposed to
broadcast media like television or radio. Within the Nigerian context, compared to the broadcast
media, the print media is regarded as a ‘stronger voice’ in terms of professional development; this is
largely because of the relative number of years in which the print media has been in operation next
to independent broadcast media which only began operation after being able to obtain private
licenses from 1992 onwards (Olorunyomi 2000: 15).
In making a selection out of Nigeria’s large number of newspapers, numbering at least 4320
factors were used to make a sample selection that would provide a fair image of media
representation across the country’s north and south geopolitical divide21
Other factors considered were: ownership, diversity, coverage, readership, political leaning, and
circulation. This thesis makes a selection of four newspapers across the Nigerian media environment
1. Blueprint: The youngest newspaper under review was set up in May, 2011 Abuja. It primarily
represents the interests of northern establishments. The newspaper also became very
popular in 2011 when it consecutively provided exclusive content of the activities of Boko
Haram (Salkida 2011).
2. Daily Trust: Is also thought to be primarily focused on providing content for the northern
audience. It was established in 2003 and is the most widely read newspaper in northern
Nigeria beating other southern22
papers which have been in circulation in the north long
before its emergence (OSF 2012: 22). It is also the 10th
most widely read newspaper in the
country, the only north-focused paper in the category (AMDI 2006: 2).
3. ThisDay: Established in 1995, this newspaper, owned by a southern-born journalist, is
considered a ‘top-quality’ newspaper and one of the country’s most influential (Ette 2012:
48). The newspaper suffered the worst hit in the 2012 media attacks by Boko Haram who
singled the group out for offenses which according the group included “helping the
government in fighting” them (Premium Times 2012).
4. The Punch: is the oldest newspaper under review and the most widely read newspaper in the
country. Established in 1971, the newspaper is published in Lagos, in south-western Nigeria
(Ette 2012: 48). This newspaper has been selected for its well-established influence across
20 In 2005, Nigeria had at least 20 dailies and 23 weeklies (AMDI 2006:3).
21 According to OSF (2012: 21) “many of the national dailies tailor their editions according to the different regions.”
22 ‘Northern’ and ‘southern’ are used here solely to depict ownership and not necessarily bias in content and reportage.
the country where it has maintained wide readership across the north and south divide (OSF
2012: 22; AMDI 2006: 2).
This thesis conducts a discourse analysis of the above named newspapers to compare coverage of
terrorist events. In the next chapter, Boko Haram will be analysed within its historical context;
publicity strategy; their ideological demands and objectives; and some of the momentous attacks
between 2011 and 2012.
3 CONTEXTUAL BACKGROUND OF BOKO HARAM
3.1 Jama'atu Ahl-Sunnati Lil Da'awati Wal Jihad
In analysing the emergence of the local terrorist group, Jama'atu Ahl-Sunnati Lil Da'awati Wal Jihad, a
fitting starting point would be the emergence of its better known nickname, Boko Haram23
, and the
significance of this name. The insistence of the group to be identified by its full name which in
Arabic means ‘People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad’24
to the generic repudiation of the tag, terrorists, by persons and groups who commit acts that are
generally tagged as terrorism.25
The moniker, often erroneously thought to be a short-form of its
rather long Arabic name or the group’s ideologies, is a derisive tag given to the group in its early
(pre-terroristic) days by locals who dismissed the group’s interpretation of Islamic teachings;
according to Walker (2012: 7) “the name is really a succinct critique and implied rejection of [the
Subsequently, having sought, unsuccessfully, to discourage the use of the
epithet, it may be safely concluded that the name Boko Haram, made popular by the mass media27
remains a prickly subject for the group and forms a core of its dissatisfaction with media portrayal
of its campaign.
3.2 The Emergence of Boko Haram
Boko Haram’s history can be traced back to the broader friction that ensued after the imposition of
colonial rule over Muslim aristocracy in Sokoto, the seat of the Caliphate, in 1903. The response to
this occupation was threefold: firstly, hijra, ‘the abandoning of the land of Islam to the superior
23 Boko Haram in Hausa may be translated as ‘Western Education is sin’.
24 See Elkaim (2012: 1)
25 English (2009:20) and Richardson (2006:124) show the IRA’s Marian Price and Osama bin Laden’s disdain for the
26 Boko Haram’s early teachings condemn Muslim elites who have ‘turned away from Allah by corrupting Western
values’. This group collectively referred to as ‘yan boko’ in Hausa, translated ‘child of the book,’ explains the use of the
epithet, Boko Haram (See Walker 2012: 7).
27 See Human Rights Watch (2012: 32).
might of the unbelievers and migrating to safety;’ second, taqiyya, the half-hearted ‘acquiescence to
occupation whilst striving to undermine it;’ and thirdly, jihad, armed resistance against the foreign
occupiers and their local collaborators (Mustapha et al., 2012: 4-6). The last group, the jihadists, was
made up of “radical clerics, disgruntled peasants and fugitive slaves” and this threefold repudiation
of foreign occupation or secular leadership must be understood within the context of the role that
Islam had come to play in the largely Hausa-Fulani ethnicity in that era (ibid). Islam first entered
Borno in 1085 and eventuallyspread through what would become Northern Nigeria. By 1823 when
the first European entered this region, the Muslim state of the Sokoto Caliphate was well established
providing both moral and legal oversight over the population with the view that Islam provided a
higher moral ground than other forms of government or faith. The “British occupation reversed
this presumed sense of Islamic ideological and moral superiority,” and this forms the core of the
religious-inflected violence that have continued to spring up in this region over the years (ibid: 4).
In at least twelve out of twenty states in northern Nigeria28
, elements of this proclivity for religious
moral codes, expressed through the establishment of Sharia courts, have always existed alongside
secular codes first imposed by the colonial occupiers. With the formal abolishment of the Sharia
Court of Appeal in 1967, aspects of Sharia law continued to be practiced in the customary courts
(ICG 2010:15-16). Sporadic agitation for the return to a ‘purist vision of Islam based on the Sharia’
ensued, notably from the late 1970s.
Boko Haram has its roots in some of those reformist groups that emerged in the 1970s. One of
such groups, the Izala movement, became popular in the 1980s. During this same period, a more
radical sect, Maitatsine, led by a young preacher from Cameroun, began to gain ground in Kano,
taking an aggressive stance against Western influence and secular authorities. The preacher,
Mohammed Marwa, was killed in December 1980 during a riot sparked by an open-air rally in Kano
(ibid: 18). A Marwa-styled group, however, emerged in Borno, about 500 kilometres from Kano,
28 See BBC (2002a).
two decades later. In 2002, this new group, initially dubbed ‘Nigerian Taliban,’ emerged from a cell
of worshipers in a local mosque in Maiduguri, Borno. The group initially followed the ancient hijra
tradition and moved to the outskirts of a neighbouring state, Yobe, to establish a “separatist
community run on hard-line Islamic principles” (Walker 2012: 2). A clash with the local authorities
however necessitated a return to Maiduguri in 2003 and the leader, Mohammed Yusuf, after
establishing a special mosque, Ibn Taimiyyah Masjid mosque, began his proselytization campaign
Boko Haram’s launch into violence in 2007 with the killing of a Muslim cleric, Sheikh Ja’afar
Mahmoud Adam, who criticised the group’s ideologies, is the first recorded kill attributed to the
group. A 2009 encounter with security forces recreated the 1980-scenario which led to the death of
leader of the older Maitatsine movement. On July 30, 2009, Yusuf and his father-in-law were
executed by the Nigerian police in Maiduguri; the uprisings led to the death of about 800 persons.
Boko Haram’s full-blown violent campaign is said to have kicked off after these extra-judicial
following a one-year hiatus. Under the leadership of the more ‘radical and extremist’ Imam
Abubakar Shekau, the group is said to have grown to between 5,000 and 8,000 members.
(Mahmood 2013: 2; Forest 2012: 65; Walker 2012: 7).
3.2.1 Ideology and Strategy
The group which emerged in 2002 came with a ‘big idea’ to “set up a state-like organisation
operating parallel to the federal government which would grow to replace the actual state” and
before his death, the founding leader of the group, Yusuf, said “the purpose of the organisation was
to withdraw from a society that had become corrupt and beyond help” (ibid.:8-9). At the start,
Yusuf’s main recruits were “disaffected young people and unemployed university students and
graduates, many of them animated by deep-seated socioeconomic and political grievances like poor
29 See Human Rights Watch (2012: 32-35) and Forest (2012: 65).
governance and corruption,” (Forest 2012: 62-63). Thus the group’s emergence must be explained
within the context of religious fanaticism, economic deprivation, and misrule.
In this light, Mahmood (2013) defines Boko Haram’s central demands as “ranging from pragmatic
to ideological.” Their ideological goal, the core strategic goal, is the establishment of an Islamic
Nigerian state. Other pragmatic, or short-term goals, include “justice for its martyred founder and
other members, and the release of detained sect members, along with women and children”
(Mahmood 2013:2). Although related to the “global Islamist ideology” their ideology departs
somewhat from the broader outlook that “tends to portray the larger clash between Muslim and
Western religions” and often contains strands of objectives such as the expulsion of foreign
occupiers (LeVan 2013: 11; Pav 2010: xxxiii). The centrality Boko Haram’s ideology stems from both
its quest for “a more perfect society” free from corruption and the inherently superior moral view
from which the group sees and presents itself (Walker 2012: 2).
Drawing from the points made earlier on terrorist objectives, and borrowing from English (2013),
we can categorise some of the strategic and tactical goals30
of Boko Haram as follows:
1. Firstly, the group’s central strategic goal may be viewed as the creation of an Islamic pseudo-
state with a fully developed Sharia code and the subsequent replacement of the existing
Nigerian government by this Islamic state.
2. Secondly, some partial-strategic goals include sustaining the violent campaign and not giving
in to the state’s military onslaught; retaliation (often portrayed as fighting the ‘cause of Allah’
and punishing those who have insulted the prophet); setting the political agenda by
announcing their existence via cogent attacks targeted at both domestic and international
audiences (English 2013; Premium Times 2012).
30 English (2013) gives a breakdown on terrorist goals as strategic, partial strategic, tactical, and inherent rewards of the
struggle, like popularity.
3. Thirdly, some tactical goals, short-term goals, include publicity; violence against security
forces, and the implied challenge of the state’s exclusive use of force which in turn
undermines the state’s power calling to question its ability to protect its citizens; pragmatic
demands like the release of women and children, justice for slain comrades, and other forms
of compensation (Elkaim 2012:17-18; Mahmood 2013: 2).
As Figure 3.1 shows, Boko Haram’s violent campaign, largely focused on north-eastern Nigeria has
intensified over the years, rising from 21 events in 2010 to about 526 attacks in 2012 ( Mahmood
Figure 3.1 Nigerian map showing the spread of terrorist violence: 2009-2013 (Mahmood 2013: 3)
3.3 Boko Haram and Publicity
Like many terrorist groups, publicity is central in the proselytization efforts of Boko Haram; indeed
the group’s initial attempts at publicity, mainly through sermons, were geared at calling on Muslims
to return to a more devout life in line with Salafist doctrines and especially in line with the teachings
of 13th century religious scholar Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyya. Yusuf’s publicity attempt would see the
expansion of his group into the neighbouring states of Yobe, Bauchi and Niger (Walker 2012: 3;
Despite the group’s critique of Western education and development, it has not hesitated to utilize
Western technology in its publicity and tactical campaigns (Walker 2012: 7). The 32-year-old Yusuf,
like previous radical clerics before him, was known for his charisma and his radical preaching.
Described as a ‘brilliant orator,’ he attracted a broad base of followership; some of Yusuf’s followers
were “sons of wealthy and influential people in Nigeria’s northern establishment” while others were
jobless youth and refugees from Chad and the Republic of Niger (Rice 2012; Walker 2012: 3; Forest
2012: 62). Following the group’s major clash with the police in 2009, Yusuf’s radical sermons which
were made available on Video Compact Discs (VCDs) became very popular (Walker 2012:4). In a
distinctively new style, a 2012 video released by the group was created with borrowed press videos
of the group’s latest action in addition to its own recording of the moments shortly before and
during the attack on one of Nigeria’s biggest newspapers, ThisDay. Boko Haram’s propaganda video
was made up of video clips made by two different news organisations, Premium Times and Channels
Television, following the attacks (Premium Times 2012a).
3.4 Key Incidents
Starting from 2009 when Boko Haram’s violent campaign began in earnest, the group has launched
over 500 attacks across the northern region of Nigeria as depicted in Figure 3.1. In analysing some
of the momentous incidents, this thesis will focus on four terrorist attacks that have occurred within
Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. These incidents are significant for various reasons and
signal some major shifts in Boko Haram’s evolving tactics and the group’s growing influence
domestically and internationally.
Firstly, the June 16, 2011 suicide attack on the National Police Headquarters. This incidence is the
first recorded suicide attack by the group and was targeted at the Inspector General of Police (IGP),
Hafiz Ringim (Forest 2012: 70; Idris and Ibrahim 2011; Salkida 2011; Mahmood 2013: 2). The
incident which left 8 people dead and about 44 others injured was unsuccessful according to Boko
Haram who said in a statement following the blast that they “did not accomplish their mission”
because their prime target was unharmed (Idris and Ibrahim 2011; Nwankwo et al. 2011).
Secondly, the suicide bombing of the United Nations Office. In bombing the Nigerian office of the
UN, the group announced its emergence in the international scene. This bombing was significant in
two ways; it indicated the incorporation of foreign targets into Boko Haram’s hitherto Nigeria-
focused campaign and the sophistication of the attack pointed to the possibility of a foreign
assistance, especially from al-Qaeda affiliates. The attack which killed 23 persons and injured 80
others was carried out because the group had lumped-up “the US, the UN, and the Nigerian
government as common enemies” (Mahmood 2013: 7; Elkaim 2012: 19; Marama 2011).
Thirdly, the Christmas Day bombing of a Catholic church in one of Abuja’s satellite towns. This
attack is significant due to the selected target─ Christians of mostly southern origin, the impact of
the attack─ 42 deaths, and the widespread psychological impact created by the incident across the
country. It also indicated the vulnerability of ‘outliers’ who were not necessarily part of Boko
Haram’s defined enemies at the time─ the Nigerian government (Oyebode 2012: 5; IRIN 2012).
Fourthly, the suicide attack on one of Nigeria’s most influential newspapers, ThisDay. The attack
which led to the death of three persons is significant in two ways. First, the selection of the media as
a target may be taken as a signifier of the current stage of the lifespan of the campaign. According to
Wieviorka (1993: 44-45) terrorist groups may get to the point, ‘total break,’ in which the “press
ceases to be a medium to be cynically manipulated but rather comes to be viewed as a collaborator
in the system to be destroyed.” In the video release that followed this attack, Boko Haram appeared
to act in line with Wiervorka’s postulation. “ThisDay newspaper is also leading in helping the
government in fighting us, alongside other media houses that we will mention soon,” the group said
(Premium Times 2012a). Secondly, the attack on the media and the details of the corresponding
follow-up press release indicate a cyclical or dialogical process of communication whereby the new
event is a response to the feedback from the target and the wider audience, a point which forms the
core argument of this thesis.
In the next chapter, a discourse analysis of newspaper reports of these four incidents will be carried
out to extract the mediated message which different news organisations have passed on to the
audience. The analysis will explore such factors as the use of language, choice of visuals, the specific
voices that contribute to the overall output, and depth of analysis to depict terrorist objectives and
ideologies in order to explore the patterns that emerge and contestations, if any, between the media
houses. Furthermore, the corresponding response from Boko Haram which helps to depict the
dialogical communication process of terrorism will be examined.
4 EMPIRICAL ANALYSIS
In this chapter, this thesis seeks to do two things: first, a discourse analysis of four newspapers
covering four momentous terrorist attacks in Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and second,
a discourse analysis of Boko Haram’s explanations for two of these attacks. The analysis will take
note of the use of language, visuals, and headlining in the depiction of the different actors
represented in the reports. In studying the feedback from the terrorists, this thesis will analyse the
group’s perception of the media representation of their actions to question whether this depicts
satisfaction or discontent.
4.1 Media Reportage of Boko Haram’s Campaign
gives an overview of the observations made from the reportage of the terrorist events on
the whole by each newspaper. It gives a brief overview of the tone and content of each report. What
follows is a detailed analysis presented using five main variables: Language; Voices; Visuals and
Headlining; and Depth of Analysis.
4.1.1 Use of Language:
As mentioned earlier, Nigerian newspapers are often aligned in accordance with their
regional affiliations. These biases can be deciphered in the choice of language in the
reports; southern papers are overwhelmingly condemnatory while their northern
counterparts have largely chosen more neutral verbs and adjectives.
BluePrint: utilized mostly neutral language in reporting incidents including the
bombing of media houses across two major cities, Abuja and Kaduna, on April
26, 2012. With nine reports on the incidents, the newspaper merely gave various
accounts of the incidents (Adamu et al. 2012; Ogori 2012).
32 See Appendix II
Daily Trust: This newspaper adopted mostly-descriptive and sometimes-
emotive language all through its reports. While keeping from sounding harsh or
condemnatory, most stories adopted stirring language often referring to body
counts and presenting the stories of victims’ families. For example, in reporting
the Christmas Day bombings which claimed 42 lives, mostly Christians of
southern origin, Daily Trust presented the moving story of a man who lost four
children in the blast (Jimoh 2011).
ThisDay: If northern papers were neutral, their southern counterparts were on
the extreme with screaming headlines and blistering, dramatic language. ThisDay
described the event as “possibly the worst Christmas Day killings in the history
of Nigeria” (Nwosu et al. 2011). Twenty-three articles depicting condemnation
across the board─ from the general public to the presidency─ provided a highly
emotive presentation of the incident. The newspaper also played up the religious
connotation of the incident presenting a strong story of the Parish Priest of the
bombed Catholic Church calling his ‘colleagues in the Islamic community’ to
responsible action (Awoniyi 2011).
The Punch: The Christmas Day bombing also provided a highly emotive
subject for The Punch. The language used was emotive and dramatic. The cover
described the Christmas Sunday morning as ‘dark’ caused by a ‘violent Islamist
sect’ (Ademola et al. 2011). The paper also gave ample space for condemnatory
statements following the August 26, 2011 UN house bombing; one of such
statements from President Goodluck Jonathan described the act as ‘barbaric,
senseless, and cowardly’ (Chiedozie 2011).
4.1.2 Representation of Actors (Voices): Terrorist events are often presented as a mixture
of the actual act suffused with input from several other actors like government agencies
and security sources.
BluePrint: For all but one of the reports, BluePrint published terrorist using
different voices with very few lines given to the real terroristic message or
the terrorists. Some ‘voices’ which contributed to the stories include the
Police, the Nigerian Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), and Boko
Haram’s spokesman, Abu Zaid33
(Salkida 2011; Adamu et al. 2012; Ogori
Daily Trust: created stories using different sources and ‘voices’. Some
common actors mentioned are: the Police, NEMA, Boko Haram, victims,
victims’ families, government officials, the president, and clergy (Jimoh 2011;
Bashir et al. 2011).
ThisDay: ThisDay’s sophisticated coverage of events inculcated numerous
voices and used different angles to tell the stories. Cogent ‘voices’, often
offering condemnatory statements, were quoted copiously in the numerous
reports. For the UN House blast for example, ThisDay quoted international
heavyweights like Ban Ki-Moon, Hilary Clinton, the Commonwealth
Secretary General and a representative of the European Parliament (Adedoja
et al. 2011).
The Punch: adopted a sophisticated reporting approach, using a wide range
of sources, including doctors, Civil Society Groups, religious organisations,
members of the parliament, and others to report terrorist events (Babablola
et al. 2011; Chiedozie 2011).
33 This is believed to be a pseudonym.
4.1.3 Use of Cover Visuals and Headlines: From alarmist, screaming headlines to toned-
down, clinical images, different newspapers, much like in the choice of language, played
the ethnicity card in reporting terrorist events.
BluePrint: BluePrint’s most dramatic cover image was the exclusive story of
the June 16, 2011 Police Headquarters attack. The headline, ‘The Story of
Nigeria’s First Suicide Bomber’ was followed by the picture of the man on the
suicide mission; with a Kalashnikov in one hand and a smile on his face,
Mohammed Manga waved goodbye from the driver’s seat of the car used for
the suicide attack (Salkida 2011).
Daily Trust: in all instances provided descriptive, apathetic headlines with
equally clinical pictureson its cover pages. One headline which deviated the
norm, simply announced Boko Haram’s threat: ‘UN Headquarters bomb: more
attacks under way-Boko Haram’ (Weekly Trust 2011).
ThisDay: showed no restraints in the depiction of the horrors of the blasts.
In covering the UN House blast, the newspaper published the cover image
of a bloodied body being crudely lowered down a make-shift ladder by
emergency agency staff through a blown-out wall of the UN building. The
Christmas Day blast had another stirring image of a victim in a body bag
being wheeled away by staff of the Nigerian Emergency Agency, right above
was the screaming headline ‘Nigeria’s Blackest Christmas…Ever!’ (Thisday 2011a;
Adedoja et al. 2011).
The Punch: This newspaper provided a more temperate headlining than
ThisDay. For the highly emotional Christmas Day Bombings, however, its
headline screamed: ‘Bloody Christmas: Boko Haram Bombs Churches in Plateau and
Niger, kills 36’ (Babablola et al. 2011).
4.1.4 Depth of Analysis (provision of background and terrorist’s ideological message):
The first major incident in Abuja, the August 16, 2011 Police Headquarters bombing,
appeared to have inspired a more robust, and largely balanced, reportage. All newspapers
provided background information and quotes from Boko Haram.
BluePrint: The most significant report from BluePrint came a few days after
the incident with the exclusive photograph and details of ‘Nigeria’s first suicide
bomber.’ The report gave a copious background of Boko Haram’s emergence
as well as the reason for the attack (Salkida 2011). Subsequent reports from
BluePrint on other incidents have largely followed this style depicting
journalists’ access to Boko Haram sources (Ogori 2012).
Daily Trust: As with BluePrint, this newspaper provided coverage of terrorist
background and sometimes presented copious quotes from the terrorists
including threats. In reporting the December 25, 2011 attacks, Daily Trust
provides a stand-alone story following a telephone interview with Boko
Haram’s spokesperson (Idris 2011).
ThisDay: This newspaper provided background information on group and
in the first major incident in Abuja. Subsequent stories, however, recorded
almost no mention of the group except to attribute blame. Astoundingly,
ThisDay published 23 articles over a five-day period following the Christmas
; apart from cursory mentions of Boko Haram as the culprits,
no more information on the group’s demands or explanations were
published (Nwosu et al. 2011).
The Punch: Much like ThisDay, The Punch provided some background
information on the Police Headquarters bombing. Subsequent reports were
overwhelming silent and largely referred to Boko Haram to attribute blame.
34 See ThisDay (2011a, 2011b, 2011c, 2011d).
Out of the 24 stories published by The Punch following the United Nations
House attack, the newspaper inserted three paragraphs to give a voice to
Boko Haram who claimed responsibility (The Punch 2011a, 2011b, 2011c).
4.2 Feedback from Boko Haram
Viewed as discrete events, the terrorist attacks analysed in the section above may be interpreted as
‘new’ terroristic ‘violence-as-communication’. However, upon analysing Boko Haram’s post-event
press statements, where available, these events begin to resemble a conversation between two
parties with the media as the go-between. Two case studies will be used for a discourse analysis
which seeks to bring out some useful concepts from this peculiar communicative process: the Police
Headquarters bombing and the ThisDay office bombing.
4.2.1 The Police Headquarters bombing: On the same day that the first recorded incident of
suicide bombing by Boko Haram occurred, June 16, 2011, Boko Haram in a release signed by the
group’s spokesperson, Abu Zaid, claimed responsibility for the act. Three main points emerge from
The mission was a response to the government’s counter-terrorism actions and rhetoric
depicted in the news. With the Inspector General of Police (IG) making tough statements
and the signing in law of an anti-terrorism law by the legislators, the bombing, was the
“Of recent, he [the Police IG] has been making unguarded utterances to the
effect that he will crush us in a number of days…We attack his base in order
to show him that action speaks louder than words...We want them to clearly
tell us who the terrorists in Nigeria are”(Idris and Ibrahim 2011).
The mission was unsuccessful since the main target escaped death. In other words, the
mission was a revenge mission. According to Daily Trust, Boko Haram ‘said they did not
accomplish their mission because their prime target was the Inspector General General
Hafiz Ringim’ (ibid).
In a more elaborate communication attempt, made nine days after the attack to a journalist
said to have won the trust of the Islamist sect35
, the group provided more details on the
suicide bomber seeking to interject heroic-sounding words to describe the mission. Manga,
the group said, was a ‘martyr, not a suicide bomber’ and ‘showed no fear.’ Furthermore, the
group was overly concerned with countering specific details about the attack and the group
made availableto the public by security forces. “I was surprised when the police said the car
was a Mercedes. It was never a Mercedes, it was an ash-coloured Honda,” the group said.
4.2.2 The ThisDay Office Bombing: The April 26, 2012 bombing of media offices, especially
of ThisDay’s main office in Abuja, is the most significant terrorist response analysed in this thesis.
This is because the terrorist group’s feedback following the attacks gives explicit reference to their
perception of the Nigerian media which is the central theme of this research. In the exclusive report
by an Abuja based Online medium, Premium Times, a report which was quoted by the four
newspapers under review, Boko Haram’s narrative on the group’s relationship with the media brings
up the following points:
The use of the moniker, Boko Haram, is offensive to the group and the group blames the
media for the now widespread use of the name (Premium Times 2012).
The attack on ThisDay and other smaller newspaper houses in Kaduna, a town about
200km from Abuja, was a purported revenge based on long-standing grievances for the
media’s portrayal of Islam, case in point, a ThisDay article that caused an uproar in 2002 for
its reference to Prophet Mohammed and the plan to host a Miss World Beauty Pageant in
35 See Rice (2012).
Kaduna (BBC 2002b). According to the group, as a punishment ThisDay “is supposed to
be driven out of existence whenever there is a chance to do so” (Premium Times 2012).
The media houses, with ThisDay ‘leading’ are aiding the counter-terrorism effort of the
The media houses have often published content from government sources, content which
the group insists are lies and detrimental to their image and activities.
“Some of the offences of ThisDay and other media outlets include: firstly, during
the botched attempt to rescue some kidnapped foreign nationals in Sokoto; these
media houses asked us if we have anything to do with the kidnap and we said we
have nothing to do with it, yet these media houses reported that we were
responsible for the incident, that was a lie against us…
“Thirdly, on the purported arrest of Abu Qaqa by the SSS [State Security Service],
we have come out to tell them that the person arrested was not Abu Qaqa, yet the
media continue to portray us as liars…These are all lies, and they are many.”
(Premium Times 2012).
In summary, Boko Haram’s central offense with the Nigerian media starts with the attributed name
which the group has from the onset tried to repudiate. As early as August 2009, shortly after the
death of the pioneer leader, Yusuf, a temporary leader, Sani Umar, irked by the media’s use of the
pseudonym and its implied mockery of the group, published an elaborate ideological statement
which, among other things, tried to correct the misperception which was being spread by the
(HRW 2012:32; Premium Times 2012; Cook 2011: 13-15).
Having provided an overview of the discursive contents of both media portrayal of Boko Haram’s
activities as well as the feedback from the group, this thesis will now make deductions from this
discourse analysis and relate it to the broader terrorism and the media research. In the final chapter,
the deductions made in this chapter will be synchronised with the main conjectures seen in the
literature, such as the concept of framing, the process of communication, terrorist objectives, and
the Symbiosis Theory.
36 Cook (2011: 13-15) reproduces a copy of this statement.
5 EVALUATION AND CONCLUSION
In this final chapter, this thesis seeks to fit the case study of the relationship between the Nigerian
media and domestic terrorist group, Boko Haram, into the so-called Symbiosis Theory and other sub-
themes in the broader terrorism literature. It sets out to do this by analysing the case study within
four main frameworks, themes which emerge from the literature on the relationship between the
media and terrorism from the study areas of Terrorism Studies and Communication Studies: the
communication process of terrorism, the concept of message fidelity and effective communication,
terrorist objectives, and the Symbiosis Theory.
5.1 Communicating Terror
The centrality of publicity to terrorism is what, in fact, classifies certain forms of political violence as
terrorism. The need to propagate its acts of violence as a tactic to, among other objectives, coerce
the government into giving in to the group’s demands, win the sympathy or support of the general
public and thereby recruit new members, underscores the value of getting the message of terrorism
out. It is important to note that the terror message is both in the act and in the rhetoric. These
communication themes which emerge from the literature align perfectly with Nigeria’s local terror
group, Jama'atu Ahl-Sunnati Lil Da'awati Wal Jihad, referred to in this work by its better known
nickname, Boko Haram. From the onset of the group’s violent campaign in 2009, the group devised a
publicity strategy outlined in Chapter Three. Yet Boko Haram has had a turbulent relationship with
the media, a problem stemming from the derisive connotation of the nickname (HRW 2012:32;
Premium Times 2012; Cook 2011: 13-15). Another factor which has contributed to the friction
between the media and the group emanates from the actual media output which follow terrorist
events. Contrary to the depiction in scholarly literature, terrorist content in the media are not merely
negative, they are overwhelmingly submerged in a cacophony of stories and narratives very little of
which refer to the ‘real’ terroristic message. In the Nigerian media, three of the four main events
under analysis were presented to the public as acts carried out by deviants, the stories often well-
padded with condemnation from cogent ‘voices’ ranging from government officials to both
Christian and Muslim clerics. In other words, the terrorists’ message is often barely in the news and
all that is left is the shell, the act of violence itself which often comes across to the public as baseless
especially in the light of the insufficient ideological explanations for the act in the media; this is
much in line with the assertion by Jenkins (1981:3) that the media “helps to obscure the group’s
5.1.1 Dialogical elements of terrorist communication
As seen from Section 4.2, terrorists monitor the media to obtain feedback on previous events and
indeed tailor ‘new’ events sometimes as a response to the feedback. A profound example of this
process is seen in the attack on ThisDay and the ensuing release from the terrorists which did not
merely explain the attack on the media but borrowed video clips from the media to produce its own
. A simple way to understand this communication process is to call it a dialogue. The
Westley-McLean Model of Communication38
presents a fascinating way to view this communication
process (Fawkes 2004:23). This thesis adapts this model to explain the communication process of
terrorism where A represents the terrorist; C, the media; and B, the audience. This circular
communicative process, depicted by the arrows, show that the terrorists A, are constantly taking in
input from the media and the audience, forming ‘new’ messages which are again circulated via the
media to the audience.
5.1.2 Framing the terrorist message in the news
The Framing Theory aptly explains news frames as not just a selection process based on the
cognitive processes of journalists and editors but as the “imprint of power since it registers the
37 See Section 3.3
38 See Section 1.2.6
identity of actors or interests that compete to dominate the text” (Entman 1993: 55; Jackson et al.
2011: 54-55). This concept of power and influence can be clearly seen in the voices represented in
the news stories under analysis. ThisDay, a widely influential organisation, was able to introduce
strong voices including world leaders from the US, UK, France, the Vatican as well as top
politicians within the country like the president, the leaders of the parliament, top opposition
leaders. These voices effectively drowned out the cursory mentions of the terrorists. For much
smaller newspapers like Blueprint, their access to the terrorists was apparent in their reportage. This
brings up a factor often overlooked in scholarly research: news stories are often created based on
the journalists’ access to primary sources. In general, the newspapers conveyed “other actors’
individual and collective narratives” (Archetti 2013: 122). The actors, referred to in this thesis as
‘voices’ thus play a very crucial role in the mediation process of terrorism and consequently on the
overall perception of the group by the public.
Figure 5.1 An adaptation of the Westley-McLean Model of Communication to depict media
relations between the Nigerian media and Boko Haram.
As seen in Fig. 5.1, the message M3
from Boko Haram is influenced by feedback, F1
, from multiple sources. The same applies to the media. The final message, M4
propagated to the audience, therefore, is often an adulterated version of M3
5.1.3 Message Fidelity and Effective Communication
What effect does the existence of ‘external voices’ have on the terrorist message? This thesis argues
that the existence of these voices impairs the ‘pure’ terrorist message. In line with Karber (1971:
532) who, albeit in the sense of the technical process of communication, points to how background
noise affects communication, it may be inferred that the existence of competing narratives do not
only dilute the ‘pure’ message but can often distort it. Karber’s analysis therefore brings to the fore
the concept of ‘message infidelity’ whereby the mediation process distorts the original message.
Under these conditions, the challenge of achieving successful communication goes beyond merely
getting into the news.
The psychological element of terrorism which is interlinked with its communicative elements
underscores the connectivity between the propagation of its ideological messages and successful
communication. Simply put, the terrorist’s aim of using violence for communication must not
merely frighten, it must win over recruits; winning over recruits in turn requires the propagation of
the ideological message. Effective communication may then be said to have occurred if the media
amplifies this ideological message (Hoffman 2006: 225; Crenshaw 1989: 7-8). In this case study,
Boko Haram’s ideological message is under-reported in the news which brings up the question of
how effective the terror message has been.
5.1.4 Terrorist Objectives
In analysing the effectiveness of Boko Haram’s publicity strategy, it is also useful to relate this to the
overall strategic goal of the group. As stated earlier, publicity is merely a tactical (short-term) goal of
the group and, as with many terrorist groups, is designed to serve the strategic (long-term) goal of
the group, the creation of an Islamist state in Nigeria which will overthrow the secular
. The question of effective communication in relation to terrorist objectives stems
39 See Sections 1.2.5; 3.2.1; 3.3
from the broader question in terrorism literature about whether terrorism works and how to
measure the success of terrorism as a form of political violence.
English (2013) and Richardson (2006: 98-99) both argue that the success of terrorist groups must be
measured in comparison with their stated objectives. The attainment of these objectives, which
English says are four-fold40
(strategic, partial-strategic, tactical, and the inherent rewards of struggle),
can then be used to define success. In the case of Boko Haram, while it is apparent that the central
strategic goal is yet to be attained, other lesser goals may have been:
Firstly, one major objective which may be ranked as a partial-strategic goal, retaliation, has been
achieved on several notes by the group. Another partial-strategic goal, sustenance of the violent
campaign, has so far been achieved as the group has mounted strong opposition to the
government’s counter-terrorism measures.
Secondly, some tactical goals have also been achieved by the group. The first is that the group has
succeeded in provoking violent response from the state which in turn serves to sustain the cycle of
violence. Another is that the group’s sustained violent campaign has served to undermine the
authority of the state especially with regards the legitimate use of violence. For the third tactical goal,
publicity, defining success is not so straightforward.
In measuring the success of the publicity strategy of the group, it is not sufficient merely to do this
by determining media mention of the group’s activities. Because the publicity goal serves a multi-
pronged purpose (announcing the group, creating terror in the larger population via violence,
legitimising the group, winning sympathy or admiration, and recruitment), a judgement on its
success must take into account how these multiple factors have been achieved. As argued in this
essay, seen as a dialogue, terroristic rhetoric, especially as seen in the follow-up message from the
40 According to English (2013), Strategic goals are the central objectives of the group; partial-strategic goals may include
sustained violent campaign, retaliation, and agenda setting; tactical goals may include day-to-day organisational activities,
publicity, delegitimising the state, provoking violent response from the state; and inherent rewards of struggle can
include prestige, comradeship, or financial gains.
terrorist group after the execution of violent acts, can be indicators of the level of satisfaction with
publicity. As seen in Section 4.2.2, Boko Haram has been largely unsatisfied with the media
portrayal of the group and one may conclude that its publicity strategy has been quite unsuccessful
insofar as it has not served to grant legitimacy, sympathy from the public nor served to help recruit
more members. It must be noted that rather, the group’s violent campaign has alienated members of
its core community where an on-going collaboration between the military and civilian-militia is
helping to fight the terrorist group (Washington Post 2013).
5.1.5 The Symbiosis Theory
The Symbiosis Theory offers a simplistic look at the relationship between terrorist groups and the
media; according to this ‘theory’41
, the media and terrorist groups share a mutually-beneficial
relationship (Wilkinson 2006: 144; Hoffman 2006: 183). As seen in this study, this relationship does
not quite fit into such a clear-cut definition. In analysing the elements of this conjecture discretely,
one may see how the case study under review fits into the underlying assumptions of the theory;
contrariwise, one may also find that viewed through another framework, the case study does not
align with other assumptions made by proponents of this theory.
The first way to analyse this relationship is from the viewpoint of the media. Within the Nigerian
context, two themes emerge. Firstly, the media has suffered losses from the terrorists as seen in the
April 26, 2012 attack on media houses. Indeed, journalists who have reported the group claim that
there has always been friction between the two groups, journalists and Boko Haram, the former
never being assured of their safety as a negative report could have repercussions (Al Jazeera 2012;
Mabuse 2012). Historically, terrorists have often turned on journalists (Schmid 1989: 559; Laqueur
1987: 121). Secondly, terrorist events have provided dramatic content for newspapers and some
have indeed taken advantage of the opportunity. With screaming headlines and attention-grabbing
images, all the newspapers under review have grabbed higher readership. Of these four, ThisDay and
41 The word ‘theory’ is used here provisionally.
The Punch lead the pack. The media houses did not merely provide dramatic cover pages they
churned up dozens of reports often spread over several days following each terrorist event. For the
Christmas Day bombing in 2011, both newspapers produced more than 20 separate stories
The second way to analyse the Symbiosis Theory is to analyse it from the viewpoint of the terrorists.
In this way, one may want to see if the media has contributed to terrorist objectives either on a
whole or compartmentalised as tacticalor strategic objectives. In line with the argument put forward
by Wiervorka (1993) the media portrayal of terrorist groups do not always contribute to or aid the
attainment of the primary goals. And while media mention may sometimes earn them some
elements of their publicity goals, it must be conceded that within the literature and as seen in the
case study, the Symbiosis Theory has failed to synchronise terrorist objectives with media portrayal
and truly show how beneficial this relationship is. Indeed proponents of the so-called Symbiosis
Theory have often lamented how by excluding the ideological message of terrorists from their
publications, the media inadvertently hurts the terrorist cause (Martin 1986: 127; Wilkinson 1997:
55) In addition, as our case study shows, Boko Haram is both unsatisfied with the frequency of
coverage and with the content of the coverage (Mabuse 2012; Premium Times 2012).
In analysing this tumultuous relationship therefore, it may be useful to dismiss any simplistic
depiction. According to Wiervorka (1993: 47), “we must, from the onset, reject the idea of a single,
linear process” which the Symbiotic Theory represents. Congruently, Farnen (1990) argues that “all
forms of terrorism cannot be defined or described simply, nor can their relationships to different
news media be generalised.”
42 See Sections 4.1.3; 4.1.4
That there is a relationship between the media and terrorism is not in doubt; indeed, the media is in
a ‘relationship’ with virtually every social phenomenon that is newsworthy, from man-made
conflicts— like crime and war— to natural disasters— like tsunamis. Terrorism, however, is a
subject of interest because the dramaturgical nature of this form of political violence is designed to
ensure media attention without which the cycle of terrorism is incomplete. News media, often in
need of dramatic content, are therefore said to sustain this form of criminality by amplifying
Yet the description of this dynamic relationship as ‘mutually-beneficial’ may not fully capture the
inflections that exist in real life cases as seen in the case study of the Nigerian terrorist group, Boko
Haram. This thesis makes three key arguments to support this point. Firstly, it argues that by
analysing terrorist violence as a dialogue, one may infer, through the terrorist’s response, the degree
of satisfaction or discontent. This brings a fresh and crucial angle to the Symbiosis Theory discourse
since it questions the generally accepted assumption that the publicity goal of terrorism is fulfilled
even when the publicity is overwhelmingly negative. Secondly, this thesis argues that news stories
are the ‘imprint of power.’ The framing process is one of omission and inclusion, often reflecting
the dominant actor within the text43
. Terrorist content is often in competition with the counter-
terrorism narratives which complement the state’s use of force44
. This point, often overlooked by
scholars, plays out in the case study where the text is dominated by voices from key government
players thus drowning out Boko Haram’s voice. The third point raised in this thesis is the discourse
on terrorist objectives.
Terrorism is a means to an end; it has objectives and the act of violence in itself is not a self-
contained end (Jenkins 1974: 3). A short term goal, for example publicity, is therefore designed to
43 See Entman (1993: 55)
44 See Javier et al.2013:99