Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Countering Radical Islamic Extremism: The Niger State Example

On Tuesday June 3, 2014, the Niger State government dislodged members of a radical and controversial Islamic group, the Nibrassiya Huda Islamic sect, from Lapai, in Lapai Local Government Area of the state. The sect’s camp had been situated inside a forest on the outskirts of the town. In that raid, which was carried out by the military, no fewer than 240 members were dislodged.

The sect, led by Sheik Mohammed Abubakar, had become a menace to the public and the traditional institution of the town. Members of the sect had been accused of disturbing public peace by attacking people who did not share their views. Their members viewed other Muslim adherents as largely misguided and treated them with no regard. Indeed, the Etsu Lapai, Alhaji Umar Bago Tafida, had accused the leader of the sect of teaching and propagating wrong doctrines that have no root in Islam.

Before routing the sect from the location, the state government had, in May 13 this year, revoked the Certificate of Occupancy of the land on which the camp was situated and gave an eviction notice of two weeks to the sect.

This is not the first time the government of Niger state is taking proactive measures to stem religion extremism. In 2010, the government took a preemptive initiative against the Darul Islam group, led by Amrul Bashir Abdullahi, settled on the outskirts of the state. Earlier in
2009, the Niger State government had set up an interreligious body to promote peace and friendly living among the adherents of the various religions in the state.

The last three decades have witnessed a proliferation of religious sects and groups in Nigeria. Many of them have extremist orientation, including a propensity to violence.
The most problematic of these sects in Northern was the “Nigerian Taliban” which many think transmuted into the Boko Haram sect.

A review of the evolution of the Boko Haram sect and other violent religious movements shows that they pass through several phases, usually marked by radical and messianic doctrines. They may not initially espouse violence but as they become strong and institutionalised with a large and fanatical following, their leaders begin to take on the image of a messiah, called to create a world
without the social ills of corruption, drunkenness and prostitution. The bulk of those who flock to such groups are usually the dispossessed, the disturbed, those in trouble, those in states of hopelessness, those who seek a world free from the frustrations of ordinary life, and those in search of quick solutions to challenging problems. That is why many have linked the rise of Boko Haram, especially its capacity to recruit
persons, including teenagers, to the relatively severe level of poverty in Northeastern Nigeria.

Terrorist organisations capitalise on an environment in which their ideology resonates and smart, competent individuals are then motivated to act either with or on behalf of the organisation because they consider their grievances legitimate.

The likelihood of ideological resonance is greater when members of a community are desperate for justice, social agency, human dignity, a sense of belonging, or positive identity as they live in a variety of depressingly negative or outrageous social conditions.

Their intense outrage or hatred of a specific entity, because of their actions, translates into suicidal opposition to prevailing conditions and systems of authority. The extent to which the early apprehension of the emerging extremist groups in Niger State has saved Nigeria from housing additional terror groups may be a subject of speculation. But it is clear that preemptive measures are central to addressing the challenge of terror. There is always a need for
intelligence backed by prompt action.

Terrorism cannot be addressed by means of hard power alone. That is why several individuals and groups have called for a variety of strategies, including dialogue with the sect.
There is a need to improve conditions of life and mount campaigns to win the hearts and minds of the people and communities in those areas.
Such moves are important elements of soft power strategies. Dealing with terrorism requires preemptive measures like those taken by the Niger State government and more. We believe that if the Boko Haram had been apprehended as a small religious sect before it blossomed, it would not have become the Frankenstein monster that it is today.

We call on state governments to collaborate with the security agencies in intelligence gathering and in taking preemptive action against ‘shadow’ economies in their states. These may
be underground, covert, or illegal businesses that trade in small arms and light weapons, hard drugs, or religious groups that propagate hatred, violence and other destructive values. These provide the infrastructure for terrorist organisations to operate in.

Such economies make financing easy for terrorist groups and render their detection difficult.