Violent extremism is an area of security concern to a lot of governments and policy makers in different states across the world including Nigeria. The drivers of violent extremism are numerous. However, three main drivers are briefly discussed with a suggested way forward in this article.
Poverty: Poverty is a common denominator in Nigeria especially in the north where it is reported that majority of the population are twice poorer than their counterparts in the south. The armies of unemployed youths living within the region, including other trans-border vagrants who effortlessly stream into the states of northern Nigeria, constitute ready recruits for the sect which promises them redemption from their state of hopelessness and endemic poverty in return for martyrdom. Messages of hope, consolation and redemption are being communicated to the youths on a regular basis and promptly in a region where government has failed completely. It is said that when a lie becomes consistent it becomes true especially when there have not been any counter claim. There is little or government security presence in most villages in northern Nigeria. This is why it has been easy to kidnap school girls or sack an entire community without any intervention from government security forces.
Porous Borders: The porous nature of Nigeria’s borders especially around the northern states is another important driver of violent extremism. Nigeria has contiguous borders with three Sahel states totaling about 4047km. The Republic of Niger bordered Nigeria in the North-West part of the country through a 1,500 kilometer long border between the two countries. Culturally, the center and west of this border bisects the northern section of Hausa land: the home of the Hausa people. Prior to the turn of the 20th century there was no formal border between these people. Zinder, a city in Niger, was part of the old Nigerian Bornu Empire with the Beriberi tribe, a subset of the Kanuri, as inhabitants. The same situation is applicable with Maradi-Niger, which was previously part of Katsina. The cultural affinity between the peoples of the bordering communities makes border security difficult in the area. Arms and ammunition taken by loyalists of ousted Libyan president, Moammar Gaddafi, have found their way through the Agadez region of Niger Republic into northern Nigeria. The vast landmass and the weak central governments that characterize most of the Sahel states bordering Nigeria mean that Nigeria will continually struggle to prevent criminal-minded terrorists from slipping across its borders.
Climate Change: Climate change phenomenon has become a front burner issue globally. We have witnessed persistent drought, desert encroachment and water stress/scarcity in the north. The changing rainfall patterns have devastated the rain-fall agriculture on which so much of the population of northern Nigeria depends to survive. Already, the increasing desertification process affects agricultural yields. Consequently, the agriculture for which the north was known for has been stolen away by environmental degradation. Most of the people who depend on agriculture as the means of livelihood are left with nothing to fall back on. The youths are now bike riders, truck pushers, beggars among other dehumanizing jobs. Under this kind of atmosphere, the youths are easily lured into any kind of criminal activity including terrorism in so far as they could eke out a living from it.
The Way forward: In addressing the foregoing, the government must rally around the religious leaders and bring them into mainstream P/CVE programmes. Instead of inviting them as mere observers and participants in P/CVE programme, they could be made to be at the forefront of all P/CVE programmes with close supervision from government. We must appreciate the fact that the religious leaders are a body of strong force in the socioeconomic and political affairs of Muslim societies. They could be clearly divided along sectarian affinity, but they often work closely and respond to perceived threats or interventions. The government could begin to use them to explain to the youths their environmental realities by providing support for them and integrating them in government P/CVE programmes. There is therefore the need for the Nigerian government at all levels to consider collaborations with the religious leaders to provide solutions to the issue of violent extremism in Nigeria.
–Mahmud is an expert on security issues