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Engaging Religious Leaders In Countering Violent Extremism



The term violent extremism is not new to us in Nigeria. It is a major national security concern to all of us living in Nigeria,  the federal government, various states and citizens irrespective of location. The FGN, through its various security agencies involved in internal security operations across the northeast is no doubt determined to counter violent extremism. Since 2009 when open combat with the Boko Haram sect started, we have witnessed a lot of engagement on the part of the FGN to bring to an end to the menace of Boko Haram through open combat. However, the issue is are they doing it right?

I acknowledge the fact that various legislations, strategies and programmes have been put in place to win the war against terrorism and violent extremism. We are all aware of the promulgation of the 2011 Terrorism Prevention Act and the Anti-money-laundering Act amended 2013, the development and adoption of the National Counter Terrorism Strategy (NACTEST) 2014 and the Policy Framework and National Action Plan for Preventing Violent Extremism 2017 among others. These form part of the FGN framework of engagement designed to end violent extremism in Nigeria. Specifically, the Policy Framework and National Action Plan for Preventing Violent Extremism 2017 paved the way forward for a multi-faceted approach to effectively diminish and end violent extremism and terrorism within the confines of the law in Nigeria. However, CVE remains a significant part of military operations and this is not the global best practice.

Despite the claim of adopting a multi-faceted approach to P/CVE, I must confess that it does not go beyond providing rations to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) Camps. The entire P/CVE framework of the FGN seem to be located and dominated by military operations and combats. We have been killing and shooting the Boko Haram group since 2009. How many more are we ready to shoot? Can’t we see that they (Boko Haram) will keep coming and we will keep shooting and they will keep dying while new members continue to join the group in an endless vicious cycle of savagery? If after almost 10 years of active engagement with Boko Haram, and the multiple combat assaults unleashed on them have not deterred these people, I doubt if the current operational strategy (hard power approach) will ever be a potent deterrence strategy against this mindless group. It is for this reason that I suggest a swift change of this hard power strategy.

Let us look at the kind of violent extremism in the northeast. I am happy many of us are gradually accepting the fact that it is not necessarily about religion as many insinuated in the past. However, studies have shown that religion is the social mobilizer.

Violent extremism is fueled by many complex factors, including psychological, socio-economic, political and ideological elements depending of the location. Any effective solutions to CVE must address the multiple complex factors which I call local realities. Incidentally, religious leaders are known to be able to address many of these factors, particularly psychosocial factor. Therefore I think when we purposively engage them in our CVE programmes, they can easily identify the local realities and substitute them with soothing narratives that can help to CVE.

When we look at all our programmes in retrospect, we will clearly appreciate the fact that our religious leaders are never in the forefront of our P/CVE programmes. Even when the National Action Plan for Preventing Violent Extremism 2017 proposed for an all inclusion and multifaceted approach, we are relying on our armed forces to deal with the problem.

We only bring our religious leaders on ad hoc basis to fill up conference halls and seminars. They hardly contribute to the discussions and I think this is not the global best practice. The exemplary move by the Sultan of Sokoto in trying to fill up this gap is highly commendable. However, he must be encouraged alongside other religious leaders. At this point, what we need to do is to adopt a systematic framework for inclusion of our religious leaders in our CVE programmes so that they drive it.

We could start by formalizing the Almajiri educational system. By this action, the states where Almajiri education exists need to draw up a curriculum for them. The Mallams who run the schools should be allowed to run them in their traditional mode. The Mallams could be made to receive support and supervision from the state governments where they exist. The FGN need to channel its support to the actors (religious leaders) from behind and engage them in identifying the problems and proffering solutions, rather than engaging them on ad hoc basis and forcing them to support programmes that do not reflect local realities. The FGN need to support the state governments to organize skills and knowledge training to these religious actors. Through this interface, they can be tasked to draft P/CVE programmes that is culturally and religiously relevant to them and reflects their local realities.


–Mamud  sent in this piece  from Abuja



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