By: Ephraim Bassey Emah

Is Nigeria’s Government truly succeeding in countering violent extremism? Or, is it a political camouflage? Even after a decade long-campaign against violent extremism, Nigerians differ, depending on their demographics, on the real agenda of insurgents and other armed groups perpetrating violence across the country.

While many people in the Christian-dominated South maintain that insurgency is a religious war, many others in the Muslim-dominated North view Boko Haram and other armed activities of groups such as herdsmen, banditry as a device of the political class to proliferate violence, establish rhetoric of government neglect of the north, impoverish the region, and advance political interests.

Although these various perspectives have shaped the response of the Federal Government to insecurity, it is essential to assess the impact of military efforts to prevent and counter violent extremism. I believe that the Federal Government’s over-reliance on the use of force provides a one-sided approach to countering extremism.

A more systemic, holistic, and sustainable method that incorporates a preventive strategy is an urgent imperative.

Violent extremism among the youth in Nigeria, especially in the north, arise from some deep local issues that appear to be unresolved, but fuels dissatisfaction among citizens. Because the Federal Government has overlooked divisions between the Muslim-dominated North and Christian-dominated South, it has under-estimated the role that deep-rooted ethnic, linguistic, and class conflicts play as drivers of extremism.

The upswing in the manipulation of religion and the weaponisation of historical narratives to justify mass atrocities and criminality is indeed disconcerting. While it is incumbent on the Federal Government by law to protect citizens, its ‘reactive’ approach to violent extremism has led it to neglect the role that preventive strategies play in reducing further radicalisation of youth. It is noteworthy that both reactive and preventive methods are crucial for Nigeria to win against violent extremism.

Thus, the concern about extremism in the country should not be limited to the physical manifestation of different acts of terror. However, the understanding of this violent agenda should also focus on answering different questions: the deeper roots of extremism, its sources and drivers, the influence of different levels of leadership, and the social resources available for its prevention. These assessments and responses require the development of hybridised approaches that incorporates ‘elite-top’ and ‘local-bottom’ methods to achieve sustainable hybrid peace.

The deterioration of security and the increased radicalisation of youth across the country, thus, requires a thorough rethinking of the Government’s approach to the dilemma of violent extremism. The current militarisation of the society appears to favour radicalisation as many pieces of evidence reveal that many youth prefer to die as martyrs for their religion or ethnicity.

Also, identities groups continue to mobilise violence to advance radical ideologies, as attacks on military camps have continued, allowing weapons to be stolen by extremists. Careful consideration of the role that the integration of community-level and political strategies can play as a preventive strategy for violent extremism portrays a paradigm shift from the current efforts being adapted to a long-term measure that is sustainable and cost-effective.

Reactive methods are expensive, they require increased funding for the security services, causes increased causalities in the line of battle, perpetuates human rights violations, and could further divide Nigerians along ethnic and religious lines. Conversely, preventive strategies present sustainable, cost-effective, and collaborative methods for preventing and countering violent extremism because it will rely on available social resources and multi-stakeholders’ capacity and actions to build peace.

Consequently, the adaption of hybridised methods for curtailing extremism and overall peacebuilding across the country, therefore, creates a collective responsibility on all citizens to be active participants in the achievement of strategic peacebuilding and security.

The adaption of Collaborative Safety Plans will be instrumental in developing a culture of peace in youngsters and facilitate collaborative problem-solving of issues associated with the drivers of violent extremism and radicalisation. This model will expose youth to the dangers of violent extremism in the society, inculcate values that enhance social responsibility and a positive commitment to the Nigerian state, and promote collective efforts by different stakeholders, including security services, to curbing insecurity.

This approach also provides an entry point for de-radicalisation of already radicalised youths who seek rehabilitation, reintegration, and transformation. This hybrid model will reduce the cost incurred by the Government in the use of aggressive approaches to preventing and countering extremism in Nigeria, in the long-term.

Violent extremism could be contagious; therefore, to fight it, we need to respond to angry shouts with other respectful offers. While this model may feel unnatural to Nigeria’s Federal Government and many Nigerians, considering the availability of military resources, the prevention of violent extremism is a non-violent way of dealing with youth radicalisation. It prevents violation of human rights and promotes collaboration among Nigerians to address a common problem. Like shoes, no one size can fit all.