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Unlocking Nigerian Peace and Security Through Educational Transformation

By Nnenna Joseph

Nigeria is under attack from a variety of non-state actors. In the North East, there are ISWAP, Boko Haram, and bandits; in the North West, there are bandits and armed Fulani herdsmen; in the North Central, there are bandits, armed Fulani herdsmen, armed robbers, and cultists; and in the South, there are cultists, unknown gunmen, kidnappers, and tribal warlords. With over two million Nigerians in IDP camps in Nigeria and neighbouring countries, Nigeria's security situation sometimes resembles a civil war.

The first gunshots of Niger Delta militancy were fired in March 2003, but it quickly evolved into an organised threat to the Niger Delta's people and oil industry. Jama'at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da'wah wa'l-Jihad was founded in Maiduguri, Borno State, in 2007 and made headlines in 2009 with its battle against the authorities. The group, now known as Boko Haram, has remained active in the North East and has inspired the formation of the Islamic State West Africa Province, ISWAP, in the North East, as well as banditry in the North West and Middlebelt region.

While the Federal Government arrested militancy through an amnesty programme launched by President Yar'adua in 2009, no strategy has been successful in halting terror activities in the North. Appeasing them by calling them "brothers," paying ransom and "levies," and releasing suspects has not worked; amnesty and programmes to rehabilitate and reintegrate terrorists have NOT worked; depriving society of cash to discourage the use of the naira as a reward for banditry has not worked; and using force to eliminate or capture them has not worked.

Non-state actors in the North clearly differ from those in the South.

In early December 2023, the chief of defence staff of Nigeria, Lt. Gen. Christopher Musa, spoke to the media about the security breaches in the North. He commented thus: “In some places [in the North], you find out that there are people even supporting the terrorists, giving them equipment and food. Every day, we fight with them to stop taking fertiliser, urea, and other things that could make them fix improvised explosive devices. It’s a challenge.”

The fact that a considerable portion of the North is sympathetic to terrorists is well known. The presence of “Sunnah” and “Jihad” in the actual names of terrorists speaks to Muslims, who see this as evidence of shared principles—believers against non-believers in a sinful world. They may disagree with terrorists’ tactics but agree with their motif and ultimate goal. Fighting terrorism and insurgencies in the northern part of the country is a battle of ideologies.

The above fact is not lost on the highest-ranking military officer in the country. He said thus: “The centre of gravity of the terrorist is their ideology, and their ideology is in their mind, so changing the mindset is what we require.”

Lt. Gen. Christopher Musa, Nigeria's chief of defence staff, spoke to the media about security breaches in the north in early December 2023. "In some places [in the North], you find out that people are even supporting the terrorists, giving them equipment and food," he said. Every day, we fight them to stop delivering fertiliser, urea, and other materials that could be used to repair Improvised Explosive Devices. It's a challenge."

It is well known that a significant portion of the North sympathises with terrorists. The presence of "Sunnah" and "Jihad" in the actual names of terrorists speaks to Muslims who see this as evidence of shared principles - believers against non-believers in a sinful world they may disagree with.

Nigeria has approximately 20 million out-of-school children, accounting for 15% of all out-of-school children worldwide. This army of out-of-school children not only feeds the illiteracy rate, but it also provides willing foot soldiers for terrorist groups who do not have a full picture of what it means to be a member of a terror group.

There is an urgent need to educate the North, in particular, and the country as a whole. Educating the North is a matter of urgent security concern, not just nation-building. While the ideology of terrorists seeking to kill and dismember the republic cannot be completely eradicated, education will deny them legitimacy and push them back.

Boko Haram/ISWAP ideology is currently dominant in the north of Niger. If the nation is successful in making it a minority ideology, the use of force and amnesty will work better to deter terrorism because the military and the programme will target people who society has already rejected and who cannot rely on society's sympathy to hide them or frustrate the authorities' efforts.

Education as a tool for peace is a long-term goal in Nigeria. Governments at both the state and federal levels must be persuaded that this path to peace in Nigeria is feasible and must invest heavily in it. Of course, this is not to say that educated people do not support Boko Haram and sympathise with their causes; they do. They exist, however, because they believe they represent the majority of people's aspirations.

In the aftermath of Usman Buda's lynching for blasphemy in Sokoto State in June 2023, public commentator Gimba Katanga wrote in a Daily Trust article that the reason the educated class in the North struggles to condemn mob action is that "they lack the courage to denounce the extrajudicial killing of a human being," fearing that doing so would "diminish their relevance and illusion of safety."

A society ruled by the mob is one in which the uneducated give the educated relevance in matters of ideology. A mob-ruled society does not value its growth and development. This cannot be sustained. This has to change. It is a battle, an uphill battle, but it is one that Nigeria cannot afford to lose. It is a battle that is linked to Nigeria's survival on multiple fronts. Food insecurity is already a problem as a result of non-state actors' activities. Insecurity in Nigeria makes it difficult to keep and attract investments, with the costs of securing economic routes, infrastructure, and personnel constantly rising to bring about peace.

It is everyone's responsibility to bring peace to Nigeria through education. It is an important task that must be done.

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