A root-cause approach to curbing violent extremism

PHOTO: AFP

PHOTO: AFP

For civic agencies, the most fundamental area of neglect by the state, which provided a vast recruitment pool for the insurgency is the teeming mass of alienated and disempowered youth. The thinking is that thousands of undeveloped youth, lacking skill and direction, who were easily convinced that the state and society had been rigged against them, became easy converts and cannon fodder for purveyors of hate and extremism. At an anti-terror summit in September 2015, the point was made by US President Barrack Obama that poverty does not cause terrorism and extremism. Obama however noted that when young people are impoverished and hopeless and feel humiliated by injustice and corruption, that can fuel resentment that terrorists exploit.

It is this understanding that brought about the Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme (NSRP), a five-year intervention in the civic space, aimed at supporting efforts to manage conflicts non-violently and reduce the impact of violence on Nigerians. Supported by the UK Department for International Development (DfID) and British Council, the project has been running since 2012, and would end in 2017. It has so far focused on security and governance, women and girls, as well as economics and natural resources. One unique aspect of the intervention is on addressing grievances around employment and resource competition.

NSRP has worked assiduously to provide technical support to local NGOs, as they work to address some of the key drivers of conflict and factors fuelling youth grievances. For instance, key personnel like Jessica Banfield, Ukoha Ukiwo, Christy Ankut, and Amin Buba of the NSRP offices in Abuja, and Kano, were on hand to provide technical backing to the work of the Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), a local NGO, which has been promoting transparency and inclusiveness in government-run youth employment and empowerment programmes. One key outcome from the support by NSRP, is the Draft Code of Principles for the design and management of youth employment and empowerment programmes. The document contains the ideals that should shape employment and empowerment schemes that are transparent, conflict sensitive and inclusive.

Firstly, there is the legitimacy and accountability principle, which holds that resources used for youth employment and empowerment programmes are public resources belonging to the people. This principle underscores the fact government and officers responsible for youth empowerment programmes, hold and manage the resources in trust for the people. According to the legitimacy and accountability principle, public officers are therefore under a political obligation to manage and apply resources for such schemes in a manner that serves the purpose of the people. The document makes it explicit purpose is to enable unemployed youths move from the state of unemployment to that of sustainable and adequate employment. Secondly, there is the Programme Management Principle, which holds that employment schemes are best able to achieve their purpose and goals where all stakeholders are committed, and participate in the realization of the goal of employing youths.

All stakeholder groups, this principle holds, must therefore participate effectively in the development, administration, control and evaluation of youth employment and empowerment programmes. The third is the Principle of Distributive Justice, which implores that all unemployed youths are equally entitled to the benefits from public-funded youth employment and empowerment programmes, irrespective of gender, faith, ethnicity, disability status, educational level or indigeneity. Under this principle, the expectation is that relevant agencies will take affirmative action in favour of unemployed youths with special needs. To ensure diversity, the distributive justice principle provides that programmes must take special care to factor in the needs of unemployed youths according to gender, educational/skill level, faith, disability and ethnicity.

There is also recommendation in place for a Kano State Action Plan on Youth Employment and Empowerment. As CHRICED mounted a robust outreach to traditional institutions, government agencies, the media and other CSOs, using these documents, the results have been remarkable as would be seen in reduction of conflicts. So far, 6000 youths across the three Local Government Areas of Doguwa, Bichi and Kumbotso have been organised into networks. The networks have become veritable platforms for advocacy to agencies in charge of youth employment and empowerment schemes in the state.

At the last count, members of the networks have paid regular visits to agencies like the Kano State Agriculture and Rural Development Agency (KNARDA), the Department of Youth Development, the Industrial Training Fund, and the National Directorate for Employment. The conversations between managers of youth employment schemes and unemployed youth, have resulted information sharing, job placements and inclusiveness in the decision-making processes. In essence, the project has worked to galvanise the energies of young people, towards meaningful civic engagement, thereby helping tremendously in the peace building process.

But beyond opening access to livelihood opportunities from government-run job and skills schemes, the project devoted substantial attention to countering the extremism of Boko Haram. Civic education was intensified through counter messages in form of posters, hand bills and radio outreaches. By far the biggest beneficiary of these efforts, was the 2015 electoral process, which was spared the violence of previous electoral cycles. It is on record that no youth in all the communities reached by the project has been linked to the Boko Haram sect ever since. These positive results of the NSRP project points to the possibilities that exist in beating extremists in their own game, by reaching out to the youth first with a message of hope. This kind of intervention that impacts youth directly, is surely one to recommend to other development partners working to counter extremists, and ensure young people get the right messages.

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