The security situation in Nigeria is indeed, very dire. The conflict in North East Nigeria, which has spread to Midwest and North Central States, including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja has posed a fundamental domestic challenge to Nigerian security for nearly five years. Despite the official pledges and an array of initiatives to address the continued instability, these efforts have largely failed to yield desired outcomes. In the last few weeks, two recent bomb explosions have rocked Nyanya, an Abuja suburb, raising questions on the effectiveness of security apparatus and intelligence agencies.
In March 2014, the National Security Adviser, Mohammed Sambo Dasuki rolled out the soft approach to countering terrorism which comprehensively weaves multi-stakeholder engagement strategies with human rights compliant approaches of responding to, preventing and dealing with extremism and radicalization that leads to terrorism. The latest counter-terror approach espouses very sound, practicable ideas for building robust partnership with states, local governments, including the civil society over the next 18 months.
The good news is that the new counter-terror regime assigns roles to every citizen and institution to play in the fight against terrorism in the sense that it advocates for individual responsibility, collective vigilance, creates opportunities for interfaith and cross-cultural conversation, establishes nonviolent conflict resolution mechanisms while expanding access to the youths to find answers to the questions that bother them the most. The bad news is that the astounding enthusiasm which heralded the convening of a nice ceremony where this new security regime was unveiled has yet to be matched with efforts to enlighten, engage and mobilize the participation of stakeholders already assigned different roles to play under the guideline.
Spaces for Change’s anti-terror social campaign, titled #NSAcounterterrorapproaches reveals that religious bodies, community movements, non-governmental organizations, civil society groups and mainly the youth have never heard about this new program of counter-terror action. Private actors and advocacy groups continue to issue security communications and policy briefs that propose recommendations that have already been put in place in the new instrument. If properly communicated, the NSA’s new counter-terror framework can act as a vehicle through which citizens, civil society organizations, communities and government institutions can be empowered to understand, access and engage the freshly-introduced security provisioning structures more effectively.
Section 1(A) of the Terrorism Prevention Act 2011 further amended by the Terrorism Prevention (Amendment) Act 2013 mandates the Office of the National Security Adviser to ‘ensure the formulation and implementation of a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy, build capacity for the effective discharge of the functions of relevant security, intelligence, law enforcement and military services under the act and do such other acts or things that are necessary for the effective performance of the function of the relevant security and enforcement agencies under the act.
The NSA derives the power to introduce the new national regulations for countering terrorism under this section. Pursuant to this mandate, a Counter Terrorism Centre (CTC) which houses the Joint Terrorism Analysis Branch (JTAB) and the Behavioral Analysis and Strategic Communication Unit were established under the office of the NSA. Guided by the findings of a strategic study that investigated the root causes of terrorism and youth vulnerability to radicalization, the CTC developed a counter terrorism strategy called NACTEST which defines roles and responsibilities of ministries, departments and agencies, as well as the role that civil society has to play in the fight against violent extremism.
Some of the identified push and pull factors that increase youth vulnerability to violent extremism include: poverty, joblessness, prolonged unresolved conflict, social injustice, a growing youth bulge, unfulfilled desire for self-actualization, wanting to belong, individual grievances or an identity deficit, one that confuses and creates a situation of conflict in identities based on religion, tribe or region. Boko Haram, popularly known as, Jama’atu ahlul sunnah lidda’awati wal jihad is a typical example of this identity conflict.
One unique feature of the soft approach to countering terrorism is the development of a Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Program “that is both vertical involving three tiers of government, federal, state and local and horizontal involving civil society, academics, traditional, religious and community leaders. It consists of three streams with different layers of partners: ministries, departments and agencies (MDA’s), including the civil society”. CVE capitalizes on existing structures within and outside government to deliver targeted programs and activities aimed at curtailing radicalization and violent extremism through families, communities and faith-based organizations.
12. The first Stream, de-radicalization is prison-based and targets convicted terrorists, suspects awaiting trial and those released through court orders or such other government decision to free repentant suspects. It is led by the Ministry of Interior and the Nigeria Prison Service, backed by a 2-year exit strategy during which the “prison service would have developed its administrative, infrastructural and functional capability to run a full-fledged de-radicalization program”. Under this phase, substantial capacity-building of prison staff in select areas such as psychology, sport and art therapy, faith-based instruction and vocational training would be undertaken in order to equip them with the skills to engage violent extremist convicts/suspects in theological, ideological, physical and entrepreneurial value change that leads to a change in their behavior. 2 prisons have been refurbished for this purpose while 60 prison psychologists will undergo specialized and training in handling of terror suspects.
The second stream, a citizen/NGO-driven phase, focuses on winning the war against terror “by mobilizing family, cultural, religious and national values”. Through partnerships with faith-based organizations, community based organizations, NGOs, it seeks to build structures for engaging communities, build trust, create awareness and resilience. It emphasizes citizen security-consciousness steered by civil society actors especially those who are already intervening in conflict resolution, peace building and inter-faith advocacy. In this regard, an education summit is being planned under the auspices of the CVE program, so as to explore ways of using education as a tool to counter violent extremism.
The education component proffers youth mentoring programs using multiple platforms such as sports, arts, music, literature, history, leadership, service and including learning exchanges about diversity, tolerance, citizenship and inter-faith/ethnic relationships.
The third stream emphasizes strategic communication for the military and law enforcement, and public diplomacy for civilian institutions. “Through this training our armed forces will be able to analyze terrorist messaging, conduct psychological operations, evolve civil military relations and be equipped in media relations through a better appreciation of the requirements of our democracy. Plans are under way to “institutionalize a civil service training program within an existing ministry to deliver certificated training on public diplomacy and strategic communication for military personnel and public servants whose responsibilities include communicating government policies to the public.”
Two of the major terror-fuelling myths this strategic communication approach seeks to overturn include “Counterterrorism is not against Muslims; encouraging and empowering Muslims to speak out against terror and fostering Muslim-Christian relations.
The Fourth Stream is purely an economic intervention. Working together with an inter-ministerial committee and the Governors of the six northeastern states of Nigeria under the aegis of the Presidential Initiative for the Northeast (PINE), the NSA proposes to design a regional economic revitalization program targeted toward states most-impacted by terrorism.
From the above, every citizen, every sector of the economy, every social organization, including the private sector and all tiers of government is horizontally and vertically involved in the efforts to confront violent extremism. To get everybody involved, access to information about state security protocols is key. Without sufficient information on the basis of which they can take strong citizen action, their ability to defend themselves, fulfill their collective surveillance and countering terrorism responsibility in a meaningful way is hindered. Therefore, the NSA needs to raise bar in both executing its strategic communication goals and entrenching accountability as it works towards realizing the objectives outlined in the soft approach framework.