Academic journal article Africa Security Briefs

Mitigating Radicalism in Northern Nigeria

Academic journal article Africa Security Briefs

Mitigating Radicalism in Northern Nigeria

Article excerpt

HIGHLIGHTS

* Boko Haram and other violent Islamist groups have been able to tap grievances over widespread poverty, government corruption, ethno-religious divides, and abuses by security forces to fuel a rise in Islamic radicalizaron in northern Nigeria.

* Active engagement of youth and communities in peacebuilding programs that facilitate interactions among individuals of disparate backgrounds, teach values of tolerance, and promote nonviolent conflict resolution have been effective in diminishing prejudice and mitigating the appeal of radical ideologies.

* Countering radicalization requires a full spectrum of initiatives, including apprehending extremist leaders, sustained development investments in marginalized communities, promotion of values of inclusivity to mitigate the spread of extremist ideology, and the rehabilitation of radicalized former fighters.

Northern Nigeria has been the locus of an upsurge in youth radicalization and virulent militant Islamist groups in Nigeria since 2009. Nigeria's ranking on the Global Terrorism Index rose from 16 out of 15 8 countries in 2008 to 6 (tied with Somalia) by the end of 2011.1 There were 168 officially recorded terrorist attacks in 2011 alone. Bombings across the northeast prompted President Goodluck Jonathan in May 2013 to declare a state of emergency in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe States. Many Nigerians have come to question whether the country is on the brink of a civil war.2

Prime among the groups behind this spike in violence is Boko Haram, a militant Islamist sect that seeks to impose shariah law throughout Nigeria. An air of apprehension now pervades daily life in northern Nigeria. Many are afraid to openly mention "Boko Haram," whose name has become synonymous with violence and destruction. The group has launched hundreds of coordinated attacks across the northern region since July 2009 that have resulted in the deaths of over 6,000 people and the displacement of tens of thousands more. Boko Haram's targets include the security forces, Christians, and Muslims accused of cooperating with the government.3 It bribes children to report neighbors who are unsympathetic to the group and forces prisoners it frees from jail to join regardless of whether they share the group's ideology.4 Its numerous attacks have struck police stations, military facilities, churches, schools, beer halls, newspaper offices, and the United Nations building in the capital, Abuja. Ordinary citizens fear both Boko Haram and the state security forces, with the latter accused of human rights abuses. With each battle between security forces and Boko Haram insurgents, civilian casualties mount. When security forces redeploy elsewhere claiming to have repelled Boko Haram, the militants return, regroup, and seek revenge. As a result, social and economic activities in the northern states are diminishing markedly, communities are fracturing, and general anxiety is growing.

The insurgency in northern Nigeria is a security concern not just for Nigeria but for the broader Sub-Saharan region and the international community. Boko Haram's violent campaign has grown in terms of capabilities (the use of suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices), membership (which now includes foreign fighters from Chad, Mauritania, Niger, Somalia, and Sudan), and the formation of splinter factions. The most prominent of these is Ansaru (its full Arabic name is Jama atu Ansarul Muslimma Fi Biladis Sudan and means "Vanguards for the Protection of Muslims in Black Africa"), which was formed in January 2012 and targets Westerners in Nigeria and neighboring countries. The frequency and sophistication of attacks have steadily grown, signifying enhanced planning and funding. Boko Haram's February 2013 kidnapping of French tourists, Ansaru's killing of seven foreign constmction workers in northern Nigeria, and the participation of fighters from these groups in the conflict in Mali, moreover, reveal their international outlook. …

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