Violent extremism comprises a set of beliefs and actions of a person or group that decides that fear, terror, and violence are justified to achieve ideological, political, or social change, according to Living Safe Together, a document by the Australian Government.
This anomaly has been closely associated with radicalisation which experts have defined as the process by which an individual or a group comes to adopt increasingly radical views in opposition to a political, social, or religious status quo.
Other than socioeconomic conditions and the lack of democracy, many observers point to the role of injustice in driving violent extremism. Some propositions have explored issues of economic marginalisation and social alienation as factors that lead to radicalisation.
A study conducted in the United Kingdom and published in 2013, showed that the internet had a significant influence on the radicalisation process of violent extremists and terrorists whose cases were examined.
Highlighting five reasons behind this influence, the study noted, “First, the internet creates more opportunities to become radicalised. Second, the internet acts as an ‘echo chamber,’ i.e., a place where individuals find their ideas supported and echoed by other like-minded individuals.
“Third, the internet accelerates the process of radicalisation. Fourth, the internet allows radicalisation to occur without physical contact with like-minded terrorists. Fifth, the internet increases opportunities for self-radicalisation.”
The Africa Centre for Strategic Studies identifies violent extremism as “one of Africa’s most pressing security threats,” adding that militant Islamist groups in Africa “have sought to amplify grievances and intercommunal differences as a means of mobilising recruitment and fostering antigovernment sentiments.”
As technology has become an extension of almost everything people do, it has provided an avenue for communication and a level of influence to people who want to radicalise and groom others.
Furthermore, as the UK Director of Safer Internet Centre, David Wright, explained, technology has also “provided perpetrators with unique advantages: they can contact a target any time of day or night, and stream propaganda directly to them.”
He added, “Ideas can now be spread at the touch of a button and with very little technical knowledge. A smartphone and a social media platform are all that is required to start to propagate dangerous ideas and information with zero cost.
“People who groom and radicalise also use the anonymity of the web as a layer of protection to avoid detection. The added ability to encrypt communication can make law enforcement extremely difficult.”
Terrorist attacks in Nigeria
Since 2011, Nigeria has been bedevilled with various forms of insecurity owing to the criminal activities of different terrorist organisations, which have had a terrible human cost in terms of lives lost or irreversibly changed, internally displaced persons, and severe repercussions for social and economic advancement.
Data provided by Statista showed that between 2011 and 2023, Boko Haram was responsible for thousands of deaths in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger.
“Nigeria is the country most affected by the terrorist group’s attacks. States in the North-East register the highest number of deaths. Borno is by far the most threatened state, in that, Boko Haram has caused over 38,000 deaths in this area,” according to the statistics.
In December 2023, the Nigerian Defence Headquarters disclosed that the military eliminated no fewer than 6,880 terrorists and other criminals and apprehended 6,970 others last year alone.
While giving the briefing, the Director, Defence Media Operations, Edward Buba, said the troops also rescued 4,488 kidnapped hostages as well as recovered 3,320 assorted weapons and 39,075 assorted ammunition during the year.
A sociologist, Daniel Oludare, in an interview with Sunday PUNCH, explained that extremism often emerged from a system of religious fanaticism and extreme political ideologies.
He said, “Extremism usually stems from a period of systematic indoctrination which most often makes the insurgents separate themselves from the rest of society to form a ‘purer’ version of a religious or political group.
“They see themselves as martyrs for a worthy cause – usually to realise a political or religious objective. That is the radicalisation phase where the recruits are given a distorted view of reality.”
Oludare noted that radicalism in the context of terrorism was often sired in an environment characterised by exclusion, injustice and real or perceived humiliation.
“Next is the demonstrative phase where the recruits proceed to show public acts of violence, accompanied by threats or coercion. The mistake many people tend to make is to profile extremists as being made entirely of a lunatic fringe.
“The fact is, extremists come from a wide variety of social backgrounds and once violence is embedded in their minds and leads to murder, they could be hard to reach again,” the sociologist added.
An online article published by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research and titled, ‘Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism Conducive to Terrorism,’ indicated that terrorist and violent extremist groups tend to largely take root in marginalised areas, using local grievances to recruit young citizens in vulnerable life situations, suffering for instance from varying degrees of unemployment, low education and literacy levels.
It explained that a successful approach demanded the identification of early signs of radicalisation and the mitigation of individual and collective grievances, structural factors and drivers that in the worst case might support or fuel violence.
“Key actors need to be engaged through cross-sectoral efforts to prevent and counter the spread of radicalisation and recruitment in their local communities.
“Particular focus should be put on the role of women, youth, local stakeholders and civil society, including religious and community leaders. Initiatives aimed at integrating individuals willing to leave violent extremism behind and return to their communities should also be enhanced and encouraged.
“Ideally, if successfully reintegrated into their local communities, former violent extremists can serve as messengers to their communities and regions, questioning the narrative that made them commit to violent extremist ideologies in the first place,” the article added.
Countering extremist ideologies
In his remarks at the symposium of the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies, Nigeria chapter, held in Abuja in August 2023, the Chargé d’affaires of the United States and Consulate in Nigeria, David Greene, said that countering violence with violence would not be a productive long-term solution to violent extremism.
According to Greene, the approach must focus on making extremist ideology unattractive by improving economic opportunities and providing places for ideological exchange and discussion for all citizens, “not only targeting key leaders in military operations”.
“Countering violent extremism is only possible through community engagement, empowering local leaders, educators, and civil society to challenge extremist narratives. It cannot be done overnight, but I am confident that constant focused engagement at the grassroots level will have a positive effect,” he added.
Media reports have documented that Boko Haram has abducted, recruited and exploited thousands of children since the group began attacks around the Lake Chad Basin in 2009.
From 2017 to 2019, the UN verified that 1,385 children had been recruited and used by Boko Haram, though this number is likely to be far higher. Many of the children being exploited by Boko Haram are recruited to fight, sexually abused and forcibly married to the insurgents.
Commenting on the social menace, an educationalist, Mrs Omowunmi Solade, in a chat with Sunday PUNCH, blamed a lack of education and parental care for the increase in child recruits.
She said, “There is a saying in Yoruba that a child that we didn’t teach will sell out his parent’s property. There is a high rate of illiteracy that predisposes impressionable minds to extremism. The high figures of out-of-school children have contributed to violence because this has made the children vulnerable to extreme ideologists.
“Additionally, a lack of parental care makes young minds open to comfort from any source, including a dangerous source that could mislead and exploit them.”
She further noted that when children were abandoned to fend for themselves and left to roam the streets hungry and without care, they would seek shelter from any shade and it could be the wrong shade.
“They will soon fall into drugs, theft, bad gangs, and become easy targets by those who want to use them to fight for something and die while at it so they would receive many rewards in an afterlife or while still alive.
“If children are properly educated, you have given them the tools with which they can navigate through life. Children also need love, protection, and social welfare and parents need to monitor what they are taking in online because extremists also have their websites and social media groups,” she added.
Amid the spate of kidnapping, banditry and other forms of crime that have claimed lives and destroyed property in Nigeria, the National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu, last Wednesday called on security agencies in the country to adopt a holistic and forward-looking approach that addressed the causes of security challenges confronting Nigeria.
Ribadu, during a UK-Nigeria Security Defence partnership dialogue held in Abuja, added that it has become incumbent on them to reflect on the evolving nature of the security threats and identify innovative strategies as well as the needed partnership that would help to effectively overcome the scourge.
According to him, the nexus between security and development remained intrinsic to the collective efforts to foster sustainable peace and prosperity.
He was quoted as saying, “Our dialogue must be guided by a shared commitment to promoting regional stability, countering violent extremism, and enhancing resilience against emerging non-traditional security challenges confronting our nations.
“In response, it is imperative that we adopt a holistic and forward-looking approach that leverages the full spectrum of our respective capabilities and expertise.
“It is imperative that we adopt a comprehensive and integrated approach that addresses the causes of insecurity, promotes inclusive economic growth, and empowers marginalised communities to build societies resilient to exploitation and revitalisation.”
However, to fight against violent extremism in Nigeria, the Chief of Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism Section, UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, Denise Lifton, called for the involvement of youths in the country.
According to her, terrorists and violent extremist groups had continued their efforts to recruit and radicalise people both offline and online.
Speaking at an event held in Abuja in January, Lifton added, ”This includes the use of social media, messaging, and gaming platforms to target vulnerable young people who are spending significant amounts of time online.
“With the pandemic further isolating vulnerable populations, terrorists seek to explore through the spread of propaganda and recruit through social polarisation and political and cultural manipulation.”
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