Preventing and countering violent extremism among the youth

Sunday Dare and Theophilus Ekpon

By Nwamaka Chigbo

THE Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development in collaboration with the office of the National Security Adviser, ONSA, on December 21, held a one-day sensitization workshop on Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism, PCVE, among youth. The theme of the workshop is “Engaging Communities and building Resilience – Strengthening Community structures in the prevention of violent extremism in Northern Region of the country”.

Sunday Dare, minister of the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sport Development,  in his keynote address noted that ‘violent extremism is one of the terrible security challenges facing the world today, and attributed them to some human factors, such as socio-economic inequality, ethnic jingoism, religious fundamentalism and fanaticism, and political ideological differences. 

Although, it is a global phenomenon, Nigeria has, however, been bedeviled with violent extremism in recent years, which is being sponsored or executed by some ethnic bigots or religious fundamentalist.’ He averred that the federal government is very concerned about the state of insecurity and extreme violent extremism prevalent all over the Country with particular reference to Youth restiveness, which has led to the synergy with the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) to the President and collaboration the ONSA on this all important and timely programme.

He further noted that what could have been regarded as genuine and lawful agitations have been hijacked by some unscrupulous individuals, sponsoring misguided youth to foment violent destructions and killings in the name of seeking for being marginalized out of the scheme of things. Hiding under this pretext to attack, vandalize and destroy public facilities as has been witnessed in some states of the country.

He also deplored the infamous attitude and conducts of some religious bigot who feeds some gullible individuals with negative religious ideologies and fundamentalism that could instigate them to take up arms against their fellow human beings particularly people with divergent views of their beliefs.

This issue which was previously addressed as mere religious intolerance has snowballed into violent extremism with its global dimension of terrorism, with regards to the dreaded Boko Haram sect, which has ravaged the country, particularly the North East of the country in the last 13 years when they launched several attacks by burning places of worships, public buildings, security formations, police headquarters including united nations and at a point almost overwhelming the whole of the north-east to the point of hoisting its flags in some local government areas in the north-east, Borno State in particular.

It is with this violent extremism by the gullible and misguided youth in mind and the urgent need to curb it that the Federal Ministry of  Youth and Sport Development has embarked on this workshop as it has done in the past to engage Communities and build resilience, strengthening community structures in the prevention of violent extremism in the northern region of the country in collaboration with the office of the National security adviser through a one-day sensitization workshop on preventing and violent extremism among the youth.

The event which was well attended had various traditional/community heads, several youth organizations, and other community stakeholders in attendance, including imams and pastors. 

There were presentation of salient lectures/ topics stating the problems and ways of tackling violent extremism hands on, to prevent its occurrence or reoccurrence.

The moderator/lead facilitator of the occasion, Theophilus Ekpon, executive director, Sustainable Development, setting the tone and pace of the discussion of the day,  introduced the workshop on engaging communities and building resilience-strengthening community structures in the prevention of violent extremism in the northern region of the country.

He stated that the workshop on Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism, PCVE, is designed to strengthen resilience in communities among youth with the aim of forging responsive, responsible, engaged and tolerant citizens who are less vulnerable to violent extremism. We wish to understand what the youth are doing on PCVE in terms of early warning and response multi-stand what the youth are doing on PCVE in terms of early warning and response multi-stakeholder engagement and social cohesion, and countering terrorist narratives and ideologies. We are hopeful that the information on what the youth are doing on PCVE will help the government and stakeholders to support them technically and financially to ensure peace and security in Nigeria. This workshop is also part of the implementation of the UN secretary general’s Plan of Action to prevent violent Extremism.

He stated that Nigeria continues to face profound terrorism challenges, the third highest in the world according to the Global Terrorism Index 2020. From the advent of Boko Haram in 2009 to the infamous kidnapping of the Chibok schoolgirls in 2014 and the growth of the Boko Haram splinter group, Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), Nigeria-based terrorist groups have risen to international prominence. Moreover, the terrorist threat originating in Nigeria has evolved into a transnational terrorist challenge threatening the security of civilian populations in Nigeria and its neighboring countries, especially Cameroon, Chad and Niger. In May 2014, Boko Haram was added to the Security Council’s Al-Qaida Sanctions list and, in 2015, Boko Haram pledged alliance to ISIS/ISIL. 2. Since Boko Haram rose to prominence, the Government of Nigeria has been working to address the challenges posed by the terrorist threat through counter-terrorism legislation and related action plans. In 2011, the Terrorism Prevention Act was passed, followed in 2013 by its Amendment Act. In addition, the Nigerian government has also developed a National Counter-Terrorism Strategy (NACTEST) which was adopted in 2014 and revised in 2016, and a National Countering Violent Extremism Programme in 2016, with a Policy Framework and National Action Plan for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism launched in 2017. Both documents address a broad range of areas which are important to countering terrorism and addressing the conditions conducive to terrorism. 3. It is pertinent to note that the Ministry is a member of the Steering committee on Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism, thus the onus is on us to contribute our quota through ensuring the implementation of the National Action Plan for PCVE through well thought-out program which will promote youth inclusiveness in affairs that affect them, most especially in maintenance of peace and security.

 Notable speakers and lecturers on the thematic expression on Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism  include: Rear Admiral Yem Musa ( coordinator, National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC),Office of the National Adviser (ONSA), ably represented Muhammad Auwal Aminu (NCTC,  ONSA) who while denoting the efforts of the and its measures to engage and change the behavior of violent extremists (VEOs), rehabilitate and reintegrate them back to society) espoused the FGN’S Policy Framework and National Action Plan for the smooth running of the PCVE, dwelt on countering terrorist narratives and ideologies: ONSA perspectives;  delivered a lecture aimed   at acquainting  participants with  contributions and the role youths can play in countering the narratives and ideologies of the terrorists group in Nigeria. While taking a look into what Preventing and countering violent extremism PCVE is all about, its objectives as well as the approaches applied to achieve success in the implementation of the PCVE activities.  

He talked on how to use the proper teachings of the Prophet (SAW) to disabuse the misguided mind of the youth who due to wrong perception of Islamic religious ideologies and its narratives launched by the Jama’atu ahlissunnati  Lidda’ awati wal Jihad – a group of young men from the North Eastern part of the Country popularly known as Boko Haram, which wrong narratives have often becloud their reason and blocked them from learning and assimilating positive values from western education. He noted that The proper teaching and inculcation of the examples of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) is of paramount importance citing examples of alternative narratives to reason taken from the origin of the System, For example;

“It was reported that the Prophet (PBUH) had once commissioned Zaid bin Thabit ( a companion of the Prophet PBUH, to go and learn the Jewish Language from the Jews even though they were not Muslims”

“The captives of Badr, were commanded by the Prophet PBUH to teach some  Muslims the art of reading and writing to free themselves from captivity.”

“The Prophet PBUH was convinced to implement a borrowed idea of digging a ditch during the battle of the Ditch.”

Dr. Dayo Oluyemi – Kusa an independent conflict transformation strategies, gender specialist, and former director of ICPR adequately handled the presentation and the methodologies for dispute resolution, social tolerance, and strengthen resilience, speaking at the occasion she maintained that there was a need to make a paradise shift from social tolerance to social cohesion siting how Nigerian youth did so well through soccer and other sport feistier and that youth should be thought early in time to learn cohesive relationship, understand one another and coexist with another other than merely tolerating one another while presenting a graphic mediation and reconciliation exercise.

Other speakers at the occasion were Chidozie Douglas Acholonu, Principal Researcher, Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (ICPR) made a presentation on the role of youth in early warning and early response mechanisms in preventing radicalization and violent extremism, Ikponmwosa Davide Omogiade, West Africa Coordinator, Tearfund, who dealt on engaging in multi-stakeholder community dialogues, police/security community relations and people’s security. Damaris Uja, Monitoring and Evaluation Manger, Women Engaged Programme (WEP) made a presentation on the examples of youth projects aimed at preventing and countering violent extremism.

It was concluded that successfully countering extremist ideology and narratives requires a strong political will and commitment from all concerned parties and stakeholders, most especially youths being the most vulnerable and also the contemporary of insurgence.

It was a very successful workshop that gave hope to all present to a foreseeable end to violent extremism if all hands were on deck to make the policy framework and national action plan work. It means that all state actors and well-meaning members of the community and all stakeholders including the youth who are the target audience have to get work by taking the lessons learned from the well-structured lectures to heart.