Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari was re-elected to a second term on 23 February. After the result, I wrote an open letter to the president in the Daily Trust, a national Nigerian newspaper, outlining five key recommendations for dealing with one of the country’s main challenges: Boko Haram.
The Salafi-jihadi group has inflicted mayhem and violence in the Lake Chad Basin for over a decade. A combination of policies that tackle the ideology espoused by Boko Haram in a holistic approach is key for making headway. The Nigerian government should take the following five steps for battling the group: work with regional partners, fight a poisonous ideology, support the military, rehabilitate ex-fighters and provide basic services.
Revive the Regional Coalition
First, Abuja must revamp its alliance with Benin, Chad, Niger and Cameroon. This coalition, and its Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) against Boko Haram, had worked effectively until it was weakened by Chad’s withdrawal in October 2017 of hundreds of troops from Niger.
Nigeria has a huge opportunity here to show leadership in Africa, which is struggling with extremist violence and identity conflicts from all angles. Reviving the MNJTF is essential to ensure continued hard-hitting military pressure on Boko Haram.
Fight a False Ideology
Second, Boko Haram needs more than a military response; rejuvenating the regional coalition against Boko Haram, as important as it is, can only contain the group’s violence. To comprehensively defeat the group, Nigeria must improve its holistic approach to this scourge. It is crucial to address the root causes of this phenomenon, foremost of which is the poisonous binary ideology that treats ‘others’ as enemies worthy of death. Buhari should leverage his fresh mandate to pursue the idea mooted by his minister of the interior to embark on mass religious education to reduce the group’s appeal.
Rather than teach mere religious literacy, this scheme should aim to instil religious intelligence by teaching the fundamental objectives of Islamic law—protection of life, religion, property, lineage and intellect—and the biography of the Prophet Mohammad, which espoused harmonious co-existence between Muslims, Jews and Christians.
Nigeria’s president should leverage the expertise of such partners as the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change and the Development Initiative of West Africa, which have been training and supporting imams on these aspects for the past five years.
Boost Support to the Armed Forces
Third, the Buhari administration should work to help the troops fighting Boko Haram, not only by providing material equipment to address reported complaints of inadequate ammunition, but also by addressing fatigue and low morale among the troops.
The president’s unscheduled visits to the front line at the start of his administration had a positive impact on the morale of the security forces and the confidence of Nigerians. More such appearances, as well as calls to wounded soldiers and more humane treatment of the families of the fallen, would go a long way to help. To prevent physical and mental exhaustion, soldiers fighting Boko Haram should be regularly rotated.
Rehabilitate and Reintegrate Former Fighters
The fourth suggestion relates to rehabilitating ex-fighters of Boko Haram as well as victims of the group. Research into Nigeria’s deradicalisation programme has found, among other things, that whereas enormous resources are invested into deradicalising former Boko Haram combatants for reinsertion into communities, very little is being done to prepare communities to welcome returning fighters.
Rebuilding livelihoods shattered by the group through psycho-social support and economic empowerment for victims, in addition to reconstructing destroyed buildings, would be a first step in preparing communities to accept deradicalised former fighters.
Provide Basic Services
Finally, Buhari should target the political grievances and socio-economic circumstances that made young people vulnerable to Boko Haram. This can be done by taking serious steps to combat poverty, unemployment and the impacts of environmental degradation. Alongside improving the provision of basic services such as drinking water, power, healthcare and quality education that inculcates open-mindedness, this would contribute to building communities resilient to poisonous, divisive ideas like Boko Haram’s.
In addition to fighting extremist ideologies behind the violence that harms prospects for co-existence, our Institute works with governments and leaders of fragile, developing and emerging states to support them to deliver on their priorities. This is an integral part of dealing with the enormous challenges a group like Boko Haram poses.