Running against time, a time to rethink

Dr Yusuf Abubakar Mamud is the author of In God’s Name we Fight and Turning Forty. He works on studies related to countering violent extremism (CVE), de-radicalisation and counter-terrorism, as well as critical thinking studies as the solution to the huge ignorance that continually beclouds reason and civil conversation in Nigeria.

Running Against Time, a time to rethink is serialized articles that interrogates existential issues. The articles are written to challenges our intellect so that we can begin to ask the right questions. It will help us rediscover our being, who we are. The entire narrative is deliberately conceptualized within the framework of time. Time is used as the compass that guides the reconstruction of our being and existence.

A Time to revisit Families Against Violent Extremism

Our reflections on time continues, instead of concentrating on the philosophy of time as a concept which was the focus last week, I am taking the discourse to something more practical about time which I have deliberately dubbed ‘real-time’.

This time I am not taking us into the boring metaphysical adventurism of the likes of Stephen Hawking in A Brief History of Time, or the model of time created by Galileo and his friends.

Instead, I want us to examine something more closely about our collective insecurity caused by growing threats of violent extremism and try to situate it within the Hegelian dialectic.

I lean on an earlier paper by Isel van Zyl of the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) titled “Time to rethink the prevention of violent extremism in Africa” to say, indeed it is time to begin to take a different approach to preventing/countering violent extremism.

This is a time for us to think again about the future of this continent-Africa-and specifically this country-Nigeria. Following the unfolding events in the country, have you taken time to ask yourself this question: “can we survive the current level of insecurity in the country”?

I am concerned because I am a patriotic citizen of this great nation. It is my civic responsibility to support all efforts of government geared towards a better and prosperous Nigeria. It is this notion I bear in mind for writing this epistle.

Today, I am going to focus on prevalence of violent extremism leading to terrorism in the country. Whether you call it banditry, Boko Haram or insurgents, my suggestion is that we must look back and ask ourselves the most difficult but imminent question, are we doing it right?

I had a firsthand experience with the process an individual could unintentionally embrace violent extremism in 2003. I am sharing that experience in today’s epistle because it could help us find answer to my earlier question-are we doing it right?

I started following issues relating to violent extremism and terrorism in North East Nigeria since 2003. After three years of observing how it evolves, I began to carry out studies and research on the unique features of this mindless behaviour with optimism to help young vulnerable youth towards its denouncement. Apart from the fact that the act destroys the fabric of community cohesion, it equally leads to the destruction of the individual who embraces it because such an individual remains perpetually disillusioned and may eventually wallow into oblivion. I saw it happened to some persons early in 2000 and I swore never to allow it happen to even my enemy.

It was this vision about preventing/countering violent extremism that culminated in the writing of my first book titled In God’s Name We Fight published in 2019. On the day the book was launched, I told the world that I was bringing a new approach to preventing/combating violent extremism in Nigeria. The style is anchored on bringing families to the fore to form the crusader of preventing/countering violent extremism. As unconventional as it may sound, it remains the most effective strategy in contemporary literature.

The book precisely gave a narration of a young student who embraced violent extremism while in the university and how family intervention and community resilience helped him to eventually denounce it. In summary, the book stated equivocally that preventing/countering violent extremism starts from the family unit and that preventing/countering violent extremism is sustained through family support and community resilience.

My personal engagements with Quilliam International (a United States based international NGO focused on countering violent extremism) during the Tafakhur Nigeria projects (2017-2020) sponsored by the United Stated Department of State further scaled-up my interest in preventing/countering violent extremism and expanded my access to network of experts in the field from the Washington, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Cairo, Malta, London, etc.

In all of my endeavours both as a facilitator during workshop training sessions and as a researcher on the field, I found that families and civil society organizations (CSOs) act as primary and secondary intervention providers to detect and prevent the process of radicalisation leading to violent extremism and terrorism.

Families are critical actors to preventing/countering violent extremism all over the world. Aside the fact that they shape attitudes toward non-violence, they also serve as a front-line actor in identifying signs of possible radicalization to violence, preventing such radicalization’s onset, and intervening in the radicalization process.

This was well captured in my book titled In God’s Name we Fight. The book suggested that families represent key actors in preventing/countering violent extremism. It however noted in the most satirical form that families were often under-utilized in government programs aimed at preventing/countering violent extremism.

Even though most scholars acknowledged the family as a major actor in preventing/countering violent extremism, finding credible family partners may not be easy in our communities especially in our Northern communities with its peculiarities of sending the boy child to the street to beg for support.

I have not witnessed any government programme that accommodated families at the centre of its programs in Nigeria. I however understand that the government may be constrained by the high risk involved in bringing families together for preventing/countering violent extremism.

While I agree that there are risks involved in family intervention in preventing/countering violent extremism, I want to state also that there are even higher risks when we refuse to involve families in our preventing/countering violent extremism.

The reason for the foregoing conclusion is because the family is a conduit of culture and beliefs. It plays a central role in shaping attitudes toward non-violence. Social networks and peer groups in general play a profound role in facilitating, or undermining processes of radicalization to violence.

Positive social networks are important in reinforcing non-violent norms and resilience to violent extremism. Some research has found family to be more important than other kinds of social networks in shaping individual perspectives on nonviolence. Parental influence appears to be particularly important. Where parents have less impact on their children’s decision-making, they are less able to guard against radicalization to violence.

In many contexts, “parent-son” relationships represent a particularly important gap. Where programming can strengthen family influence on youth, and increase links between individuals and the broader community, this may reduce the appeal of violent extremism.

Mothers are situated at the heart of the family, and are often best-placed to identify, predict, and respond to potential vulnerabilities to violent extremism. In many cases, women are also well-positioned to offer meaningful counter-narratives: they can humanize the impact of terrorism, or highlight the hardships, economic and otherwise, that may be imposed on a recruit’s own family if he/she leaves.

The voices of women need to be amplified by government institutions involved in countering violent extremism. For mothers to play a significant prevention role, they must be informed and empowered, within the home and the broader community.

Mothers may identify an emerging violent extremism risk, but may not have the tools or support to stop children from committing a crime.

In many cultures, men act as the chief family and community leaders, and their cooperation is necessary for a family-based program to succeed. Fathers and male family members are also central in shaping notions of masculinity that violent extremism have proven adept at manipulating and militarizing. Fathers, brothers, and other men in the community can work to blunt such narratives – including by calling attention to the falseness of violent extremism propaganda, or by emphasizing culturally relevant, non-violent values of protection of, and provision for, family. While there are some programs to support mothers as preventing/countering violent extremism actors, fathers are a missing link. The same tools and programs that help support mothers should be extended to fathers to help build their capacity and skills-including how to communicate with children.

Time to Defeat Violent Extremism

There is nothing that will interest us as a nation today like the news that we have finally defeated violent extremism in the country. I know it is not an easy feat given the nature, drivers and dynamics of violent extremism all over the world. But we must be seen to be on the path of defeating these misguided violent extremists obstructing our way of life.

Most reputable organizations have publicly consented that families are vital to preventing/countering violent extremism. When I try to review the efforts of our government in the bid to preventing/countering violent extremism, all I see is guns, guns, guns and shooting, shooting, shooting! I hardly see much involvement of families and communities and provision of psychosocial support. The reason is because there are no more communities anymore as most of them now live in IDPs.

It is most embarrassing to see how politics has continued to play a role in prolonging this threat of violent extremism in North East Nigeria. The situation has inspired different conspiracy theories. Families have been broken apart, women and children killed in thousands, residential buildings shattered and economy ruined just for some paltry profit by some few greedy individuals who benefit from the proceeds of warfare.

Everyone is pointing accusing fingers at each other yet provisions for IDPs continue to get missing from stores and find their way in open market. Meanwhile, it is our kinsmen that are the storekeepers and our uncles the policy makers. In the fact of the current realities, I wonder how we hope to rebuild trust and confidence in a people whom we have forsaken.

In 2003 when it all began; the group currently known as Boko Haram was called Nigeria Taliban. The Nigerian Taliban was made up of group of students who emigrated from their campus in the University to the hills of Gwoza (Yusuf, 2019). After a while, the students had encounter with the locals which later turned into conflict (Thurston, (2018). The conflict escalated into violent clash with some members of the Nigeria Police Force. These students were linked with Muhammed Yusuf (1970-2009), who eventually was the founder of Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihād locally dubbed Boko Haram (Western Education of Forbidden). It was the Nigerian Taliban that transformed to Boko Haram.

When they started, they engaged in a number of insurrections in 2003, 2004 and 2005 in Kanamma and Gwoza before the large-scale attacks that took place in Bauchi in July 2009. It spread to Maiduguri and other important town in North East Nigeria including Wudil in Kano state. However, the Federal Government of Nigeria through the combined efforts of the Nigeria military and Police crushed the uprising by the end of July 2009 (Adam, 2015).

Unfortunately, the 2009 military attack did not see to the end of the insurrection in North East Nigeria. Instead, the extrajudicial execution of the captured Muhammed Yusuf (leader of the Boko Haram Sect) created the impetus for the group members to coalesce into a united front against the Nigerian state (Federal Government of Nigeria). Ellen Einterz aptly described the violent rage that followed as thus: “In rampages reminiscent of old Kanem-Bornu Empire, bands of men-on motorcycle now rather than horseback and wielding Kalashnikovs and grenades rather than machetes and spears-began raiding villages” (Einterz (2018: 174).

They captured several villages and hoisted their flag, especially in Gwoza Local Government Area (LGA) making thousands of villagers to sought refuge in Cameroon, Niger and Chad. They also attacked other villages in Michika LGA in Adamawa state where it was reported that the villages were burned to the ground. The incident that took place in Gamboru-Ngala in Borno state in 2014 remained graphic because they used the Amoured Personnel Carrier (APC) stolen from the Nigeria Army to murder over 300 villagers (Alvin, 2016: 87). By April 2014, the group succeeded in the kidnap over 200 girls from a secondary school in a village called Chibok. As at this time, Boko Haram Sect had made inroads into several other Local Government Areas in Borno such as Magumeri, Gubio, Abadam, Monguno, Nganzai, Kaza among others.

Grave ignorance drives violent extremism in northern Nigeria. The social cohesion in most northern Nigeria societies is held strongly by religious dogmas. The teeming young population lack the capacity to think critically and ask questions or participate in constructive conversation. Young people are forbidden from challenging the status quo. This helps to encourage the spread of extreme ideologies by the preachers.

These youths accept whatever they are told because they lack knowledge. The sordid situation in North East perhaps inspired the Voice of America (VOA) documentary, Boko Haram: Journey from Evil. The documentary narrated the conditions of the people in Maiduguri, highlighted the issues that enabled Boko Haram to gain a foothold in the North East Nigeria.

At the early stage, as soon as Boko Haram found that its narrative had been accepted by a significant youth population, the group subsequently began to bomb Churches and all structures that represents secularism.

The northern leaders did not come out very strong and vehement as one voice to condemn these ignorant acts under the name of Islam. Instead, it was politicised which further polarized the national polity along religious lines.

Boko Haram enjoyed the division among the politicians as it gave them opportunity to spread and reposition their structures and pursue their agenda. The Boko Haram narrative was later translated to messages in order to reinforce their commitments to sharia.

The Boko Haram ‘message’ is the combination of actions, activities to interpret the narrative. Message can also be understood as the implementation or enforcement of the narrative.

So, the message “Western Education is forbidden” only resonated an already existing stereotype against the Western values which is the narrative. This message is interpreted through bombing of structures that seem to represent Western values (bomb blast, suicide bombings, internet posts, commentaries and broadcasts) and kidnapping of girls in schools. When the message gets to public domain it creates fear and makes the group hero image.

The use of internet platforms attracts a great many viewers and supporters. The YouTube videos uploaded reveals the extent of the group creativity with its “African Magic” styled backgrounds.

They use these videos to send message of heroism. No young person within the environment they operate will doubt their dexterity and resolute to establish the Islamic state especially with the successful kidnapping of school girls again in Dapchi.

Mamud writes from Abuja and can be reached on: [email protected]

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