Terrorism is currently on the lips of Nigerians, and not as a random topic of discussion. It is a reality for citizens, especially in the North Eastern part of the country. From the first attack in 2009, the region has been plagued with attack after attack, leaving pain, anguish and destruction in its wake. Men, women, children, Christians and Muslims, no one has been spared the devastation by the insurgents under the auspices of Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihād, popularly known as Boko Haram. Amnesty International said in 2015 that Boko Haram had over 15, 000 soldiers fighting to create an Islamic Caliphate.
An increasingly resounding sentiment is that beyond the warfare staged by the military to reclaim captured towns, unearth and safely dispose of land mines and other improvised explosive devices, there is the ideological and mental warfare that is just as, maybe even more important, for two reasons.
The first reason revolves around the fact that these insurgents are the sons and daughters of the community, and are known to them. Stronger relationships between the communities and the security forces will build trust and help to generate greater intelligence.
The second reason focuses on recruitment of new insurgents online and offline, which Boko Haram seem to have had a lot of success with. The Nigeria Army, through its Director Army Public Relations Officer, Brig. General Sani Usman Kukasheka, revealed that Potiskum in Yobe state is the epicentre for recruitment, saying, “The Boko Haram terrorists group have always perfected survival tricks to continue their nefarious activities through enticement, deceit, concealment and outright propaganda.”
So, how does a country slow down or halt the recruitment of other misguided youths into what has become the most wanted terrorist group in the world?
Enter the North East Regional Initiative (NERI), an organisation sensitive to the debilitating problem of violent extremism and the growth of violent extremist groups in the northeast. NERI believes in open discussions as a means of discouraging conversion and radicalisation by violent extremist groups.
Who else to lead these discussions and host conversations on building community and shunning the activities of insurgents than the members of the community themselves? This thinking led to the creation of the North East Intellectual Entrepreneurship Fellowship (NEIEF), a think-tank focused on countering violent extremism, promoting religious tolerance, dialogue and reintegration, as well as promoting support for gender and social inclusion. The NEIEF Fellows are concerned mainly with online practices that can significantly reduce, if not completely eviscerate the threat of violent extremist propaganda and campaigns across online networks.
Using the hashtag NotAnotherNigerian, the Fellows host tweet chats and other social conversations but also opens spaces for youth to ask questions and debate along political or religious lines.
The NEIEF Fellows made a debut appearance at Social Media Week Lagos 2018, and sparked a lot of interest and engagement, especially with retinue of events scheduled for the week-long event drawing youth from different parts of the country and beyond. Attendees thronged all four events as issues of the North East were examined in great detail, and NEIEF Fellows shared live accounts of incidents encountered, provoking further conversations on solutions.
A master class on Deploying Social Media to Counter Violent Extremism was particularly subscribed to thanks to the demographic of attendees at Social Media Week.
As we count down and eagerly anticipate the demobilization of the extremists and the rehabilitation of affected areas, there is a call to constant monitoring of young people to ensure that while we’re working to reduce the activities of one group, another isn’t silently breeding.
-Joy Mamudu wrote in from Abuja
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