Nigeria: Peacebuilding Experts Speak on Challenges Facing Nigeria [Conversation Transcript]

7 June 2021

Cape Town — Welcome to the second in AllAfrica's series with African peacebuilders and researchers. Our focus today is Nigeria. Appropriately nicknamed the "Giant of Africa', the West African country boasts a population of over 210 million and is the largest economy on the continent. But unfortunately, a big population can lead to big problems. I'm Mantsadi Sepheka, and I'm part of AllAfrica's webinar team. With me is Juanita Williams, AllAfrica's managing editor and some of the editorial team who will be asking their questions later.

Nigeria's people have over the years had to contend with so many challenges - insecurity, conflict, kidnappings, the continuous attacks by extremist group Boko Haram, issues of governance, corruption and unemployment. But there are those doing what they can to help bring about peace and stability to the country. Among the topics that we would like to touch on in this session include:

  • The beginning and background of Boko Haram – just what it is the group
  • Governance – where exactly are the country's leaders falling short and what role citizens can play to contribute
  • The economic implications of insecurity

On our panel today we have Dr Fatima Akilu, Dr Adedeji Adreniran, Dr Emeka Njoku and Mustapha Saeed - peacebuilding researchers working to grow peace in Nigeria.

Dr Emeka Njoku: Hello everyone, my name is Emeka Njoku, I am currently a post-doctoral Newton International Fellow of the British Academy and the Royal Society. I am currently having my tenure at the International Development Department in the University of Birmingham here in the United Kingdom. For my PHD, I examine the intersection between counter terrorism and civil society organisations. What I was looking at was how can threats and policies can shift the spaces and actors within society organisation in Nigeria and we look at various manifestations of counter terrorism policies and the issue of gender and how women are impacted differently in the North East. I have also looked at particularly the issue of trauma, what is called vicarious trauma, and NGO workers who interact with those victims of sexual violence and themselves are affected by the experiences of the victims, I also look at those issues and currently I am looking at the risking policy. De-risking Policy is the counter terrorism financing policy that was introduced after 9/11 by the global financial tax force and to understand various parts of the world. I am looking at how it impacts Muslim communities and how does this change the relationships between the state and Muslim communities in the UK and Nigeria, I am doing a comparative study.

Dr Fatima Akilu: Thanks for inviting me and Emeka well done for your research, especially highlighting the issue of trauma. I work in conflict, mostly actively in most of the states in Northern Nigeria, we also work in the Sahel and we do some work in Syria and I have recently done some work in Lebanon. A lot of the work that I do is really in mediation, in providing trauma support for victims of violence, insurgency and we also provide rehabilitation and reintegration, a lot of the people who have been kidnapped by terrorists, mostly Boko Haram who have come out of captivity, we do the reintegration, rehabilitation, we also run an education programme where we look at not just access to education but the content of the curriculum, what is being taught at school. We look at values, we look at character, we've developed our own value space curriculum so we have a school for children of insurgence, finally, we have a broad base research platform where we look at pathways in to radicalisation across Lake Chad Basin, we also look at women have been affected in and out of the conflict, by the conflict and we also look at issues of banditry and other kinds of conflicts, not just insurgences and thank you for including me on this platform.

Mustapha Saeed: My name is Mustapha Saeed, I am a researcher, a sustainable public policy advocate and youth development enthusiast, I have previously led the promoting inclusive governance and youth participation project in Gombe state on the YIAGA Africa,  that is Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement group. At the Center for studies for Economics of Africa my research focuses on poverty elevation, inclusive group and governance systematic areas. I am also the member of the World Economic Forum Global Sharpers Community which is the youth and civil society wing of the forum and what we do is to engage in social impacts that cuts across the development areas such as peace and conflict resolution, governance and everything that has to do with social impact. I was recently appointed as the member of National Development Planning Community in Nigeria and essentially that is what I do, I am currently working on governance on the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.

Brief History of Boko Haram

Dr Fatima Akilu: I will give the brief history about the origins and history of Boko Haram and my role as a woman peace builder, if that is alright. Boko Haram started formally around 2002 and at a time it was a very small group led by Mohamed Yusuf who was a local preacher in the North Eastern Nigeria, Bono state and the group started to grow. He was a very charismatic kind of preacher and they were a lot of young men, predominantly who were disillusioned with government where they were graduating from universities and they were no jobs available to them  and there were no socio-economic prospects and they found his teachings very compelling and joined in groups. Mohamed Yosuf's group then had a confrontation with the police and it set him on a collision cause with authorities and it eventually led to his capture, he was jailed and extra-judicially killed, they went in to hiding but they really were not hiding, what they were doing was regrouping, they were training, they were getting contact with international terror group, in particular Al Qaeda at that time and planning for full scale attack under a new leader, Abubakar Shekau which they returned to Nigeria around 2010 and launched a full scale attack.

Since then Boko Haram has moved into an international group due to affiliation with the Islamic state, they broke up in to two groups, one led by Abubakar Shekau, another led by the son of Mohamed Yusuf, they became part of ISIS territorial expansion within Africa. They were the West African affiliate of the Islamic state. They quickly moved in to operating in Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Nigeria. More recently we have seen Boko Haram activity as far away as Mozambique, in alignment with Islamic state. We have seen then operate with different branches ... so it has become so much more international and within Nigeria it has expanded in to the North West, this was not a region that they had operated in to our knowledge , at least not in the past 10 years but in the North West as we know only in the past couple of weeks they went in to Niger State which is the Middlebelt of Nigeria and took over three local governments and posted their flags, these are places obviously where they has been lack of government presence, they have now commence the art of government sources, organising people really putting down their own laws.

That is the origin of Boko Haram conflict but as you know we are battling more than Boko Haram conflict it has expanded beyond terrorism because what we are seeing is banditry a lot in the North West , farmer header conflicts but what is more worrying is that all these groups are talking to each other.
There have been reports where Boko Haram has outsourced some of its school kidnapping to bandits where pay them to go in to schools and kidnap so this alignment with criminal elements is creating immense instability nationally. I do not know if we are only focusing on Northern Nigeria but if you see what is going on in the South East of Nigeria it is not pleasant now.

There has been a lot of criminality, different groups forming and asking for the right to self-determination, INEC which is our Independent National Electoral Commission, they have had almost 21 offices that have been burnt in the past few months,  in the South East, two days ago we had one of the foremost politicians, a leading member of the ruling or progressive congress, the sitting government who was assassinated in the South East as he was making his way to the airport.
There is this expansion of conflict across the country, terrorists do not have the monopoly but the most worrying for me is that they are operating, collaborating, exchanging weapons, resources with all sorts of groups.

Dr Akilu's Role as a Woman Peacebuilder

My role as a women peace builder, its not that easy standing up in a country where it is still very patriarchal, there are not many spaces and platforms for women, often our voices are not heard, we are marginalised, we are ignored and we are not afforded the respect that we deserve considering the input that we make so a lot of peacebuilding spaces are totally dominated by men in a national peacebuilding processes that are convened usually by the government, have very little input and space for women to be heard. Conflict disproportionately affect women and children yet the people who are making decisions are all men and men from a very patriarchal male prism. So how do I navigate that space?

I think as women in that space we have to work twice as hard as men just to be heard. The area that I focus on mostly is on reintegration, rehabilitation and trauma support. Now in Nigeria there are not many people, men or women doing a lot of the work that I am doing and have chosen to do. I do not work in spaces where there is a lot of responses already, I work in hard-to-reach spaces where often we are the only people providing services. I think because of that sometimes people do call us to intervene in some of those spaces but I think as long as we have something like 9% or 6% of women in parliament, we have very few women in top levels of decision making,  women are not on the big boards of industries, in banking or anywhere where decisions that affect millions of people are made , there is an under representation of women and as long as that continues, I think even women peace builders like me will continue to suffer marginalisation.

In some ways, I think sometimes we work in the shadows and I am hoping that as young people grow we see women in their 20s coming out of school really pushing and demanding to be heard, demanding spaces so I think in our generation a lot of this will change. I can see there is some softening and weakening of patriarchal structures even at the same time as we see especially during the Covid-19 pandemic more girls being removed from school, a lot of parents marrying off their daughters. There is this kind of pattern going on where you see a lot of educated girls demanding space, very confidently an breaking these patriarchal structures at the same time their counter parts in poorer socio-economic settings are being denied an education.

Dr Adedeji Adreniran: I am the director for research focusing on governance and education at the Centre for the Study of Economics of Africa, we are based in Abuja. My core research is around governance. It is relating to tracking progress on Sustainable Development Goals 16 in Nigeria and in Africa as a whole. Currently, I am leading the UN regional study on SGD16 trying to see what has been the effect of Covid-19 on peaceful and inclusivie institution in Africa especially in the Sahel region, what are the kind of triggers for conflict, what are the kinds of problems that Covid-19 could generate in the future.

One of my research in education focused on issues around inclusiveness, provision of quality education and one of the issues we have seen that is affecting these objectives in recent times has been the insecurity situation in the North Eastern Nigeria and what we see now in the north west and South East. What are the triggers? We should not forget that insecurity begat insecurity and I think sociologists would describe this as what we call a broken window which in Nigeria is more of a shuttered window because in this sense we have had a lot of insecurity, challenges that are not well addressed and implication is signalling criminal element among the population that the cost of crime is very low and so it's a cost benefit kind of decision making. If the cost is low, if people commit crimes but we do not have enough infrastructure to nab them, those are the kind of things that lower the cost and in a way, it is increased crime rates. The insecurity in the Sahel region, weakened states like Chad, Libya are very weakened states or failed states if you might say and those kinds of challenges snowball in those areas and it becomes very hard to nip down conflict in those areas because even military impact in that kind of strategic location where you need the conventional war system, you cannot fight these terrorists in that region.

We must not fail to mention the economic dimension to this conflict, when last year the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics released the new labour market study if found that 33% of the population unemployed and that is a recipe for disaster. If you look at the figures among the youth, it is bigger and if you look at the places where there are conflicts, poverty rates in those areas is around 80% and the economic potential and opportunities keep shrinking for the youth. The only option seems to be crime for some young people in those area, the incentive to choose crime is high. Those kinds of economic demotion contribute to conflict.

Dr Emeka Njoku, please talk more on the war economy, what factors outside of Nigeria affects the way Nigeria functions in to form of security perspective?

I will speak to recent research that I conducted on tied to the margins of terror, the patrimonialism, counter terrorism, economy at the expansion of terrorism in Nigeria. I was asking a different question, I was trying to understand that over the years since 2014 particularly we have had an increase in budgets, the defense sector, there has been an increase in security vote to particularly country states in the North East and then you would expect that at least these increase in huge amount of money will translate to meaningful results in curbing the terrorism but what we are seeing is more of the reverse, they continue to expand. It has become more like there is a link between not just terrorism but bandits, there is a point of convergence of all these groups. The question is why is it that the military that is known for their efforts in the past in ECOWAS to help in addressing violence in these countries appear to be very weak or incapable of addressing Boko Haram.

The motivation for the research is to try and understand this. Like I said, there has been huge allocation of money since 2014 to 2019 budgets for the defense sector grew from 932 billion in 2014 to 1.76 trillion in 2019. Funds for different security operations such as Operation Mafia Door operation, Safe Corridor Operation, Dema Ikey Operation and Operation Crackdown, funds for those special operations in the North East grew from 24.12 billion in 2014 to 75 billion in 2018 and the question is what has happened to these monies, how have they been used?

My key argument is that there is an inherently patrimonial or patron client relationship between the political actors, or public officials which has led to the misuse and diversion of security funds through subcontractor practices, ghost and inflated contracts and defense procurement and misappropriation of security votes. Therefore, this had birth a diabolical, some would say problematic counter terrorism economy and of course it is also leading to the expansion of terrorism. What this is saying is that terrorism or violence has become so lucrative that most people are cashing in on it. Groups of people are forming alliances to benefit from the violence in the North East.

For instance the ministry of defence in charge of defense procurement and the military that plays a certain role, determines quantity of weapons that have to be supplied however in terms of budget, I interviewed some security agents and those foot soldiers involved in counter terrorism and I was made to understand that public sector and defence do force contractors on the military, they want the military to work with some people they have interest with, so if they don't do that they will tell them in future that there is no money, so they are forced to.

There is a form of collaboration between these parties, they have interest in these contractors, and they bring these contractors. There is no form of mechanism to be able to check, due processes even if due process is being followed, to what extent is that followed so that creates a patron client relationship that exists between these various actors and that is a problem leading to what is happening. Military is given the liberty to manage the operations and logistics of violence, the frontlines of violence. But how is that being utilised and we get to find out that most of these funds for logistics are given to subcontractors such as relatives, friends, in the supply of basic things like food, toiletries and things that soldiers need but they are not mechanism to check if for instance the amount of money budgeted correlate with what was procured or bought or the quality and quantity of what was provided. This is another means of embezzlement, it might look small, but it means we also have some groups profiting from the violence

Your involvement in youth development taking charge in peacebuilding where are the leaders falling short?

Mustapha Saeed: What I have noticed is that although young people have enthusiasm to run for office in Nigeria in 2019 but they lack the capacity to create the changes that the country wants, they might have that patriotism that they want to move things around and to bring that social change but I think they do lack capacity to take Nigeria to a promised land. Nigeria needs change, it is not just luxury for us to have social change in this country, across all developments and systematic areas but for us to be able to bring change something new has to happen that is why the spaces have widen to allow young people to run for office. As these young people try to run for presidency in Nigeria since the absence of young people running in 2018. What I have noticed is that even though these young people have this burning desire to bring something new, they often lack capacity. I wouldn't say this should stop them from running.

We need to bring younger people to the table because most of the decisions that will be made are going to be affecting these young people just as they will be affecting women and that is why we need to bring women and young people to the table. There is a problem of capacity and it is more like a paradoxical problem because the current establishments have that problem. Most times we find out that people who are in charge simply do not ask or are not aware what do to do and we end up seeing an authoritarian regime that just bans things because they do not have understanding of some things. Governments should see to it that bringing about peace is their primary responsibility but also political leaders in Nigeria what they should see as their responsibility is to be defenders of democracy.Most times we have politicians who do ot see defending of democracy as their responsibility. In Nigeria we are supposed to have three tiers of government but Federal government, state and local government but like someone said last week when I was listening to BBC news that the local government is in fact not even there, we have about 36 governors who don't show any commitment whatsoever to ensure that there is democracy in local government.

What is the leadership role's in all off this? Should the govt should be more involved? Where do we go from here?

Dr Fatima Akilu: We cannot work in silos, the truth is that we all need each other, we can not move forward without government, that is the reality because we have to have a system where we organise ourselves if it is not the current form of government then what should be the type of government we want? We often look at government as this monolistic entity but what about our roles within or outside government as citizens? People go in to government very often not to serve, they go in to government as a form of enriching themselves as a means to acquire power. Unless we change what, we want and expect from our government. Government is made up of the representatives of the citizens it is not some other, it is us and we must first recognise that. Every four years we have a chance to change government and it has not been successful in Nigeria because we have changed government, but we find the same kinds of mindset. What we need to really look at is leadership. What kind of leaders do we want, what is the role of character, what is the role of empathy and what is the responsibility of the state to citizens and on the other hands even in civil society what can we do? Can we do more? I think absolutely, in Nigeria we do not hold the national assembly to account to the level that they should, they have a lot of powers to enforce laws that make us even the executive to govern better but often they do not do that and we the citizens, civil society do not hold them to account. I think the way forward if we are to really play a part in building a more hopeful nation, is that we must all stand up and realise that government is not them, it is us and a lot of people who can make a difference do not join government, I know the road is hard but we sit back in the side lines and we play quarterback from our armchairs so we must stand up and be counted. To answer your question, I think we need both the civil society and government, we need all citizens to be accountable and stand up and decide what kind of governance we want and what kind of way forward we want.

How can the international community help?

Dr Emeka Njoku: There is a Responsibility to Protect (R2P or RtoP), it is a principle that was established by the UN in 2005 it was responding to the global political commitment which was endorsed by all member states which aimed at ensuring that international community never again fails to hold mass atrocities of genocide, war crime, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. If you look at what is happening in Nigeria today you will see that many of these things I just listed, at least some of them fall within the definitions of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, crime against humanity because a lot of people are being killed and not just by Boko Haram and terrorist groups but various people who call themselves bandits and including the farmer headsman crisis and crisis that have taken different dimensions including ethnic. What the international community can do is already within the international legal instruments but having something on paper and having the will to do something is a different cutting of fish.

The international community should start taking seriously the R2P or Responsibility to Protect and should act because again terrorism is not just local to Nigeria, we have seen how they have managed to spread to different parts of west Africa and in east Africa and central Africa. We see how they spread, it is not just a one country problem, it is a global challange and we need global efforts to be able to address these forms of violence. Like I said earlier there is a point of convergence, banditry, farmer headsman and the ways they communicate. There is a need for the international community to come in under the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect to help countries not just in training, most of the programmes they have is to just to train military officers, at this point I do not think training alone can help, they need to come under that principle because Rwanda genocide started like this. We cannot allow the country to generate to that stage of violence. In terms of how people have used terrorism to advance themselves economically, there are laws already that can address this issue that could be amended to incorporate to punish those who are found guilty and be prosecuted. People who advance their career or finances using funds that are supposed to be used to curb terrorism ,inadvertently in their actions leading to expansion and sustenance of terrorism should be classified in that particular category as those who support terrorism and should be prosecuted if they are found guilty.

What is the connection between education and terrorism because from what I see education is not really promoted in Northern Nigeria just as in Northern Cameroon where Boko Haram is operating?

Mustapha Saeed: I think there is absolute connection between education and terrorism or lack of. I have been advocating that the short term remedy to insecurity in Nigeria might be the military approach but in the long term what we need to do is probably make sure that more people are in school, the younger people are in school and not just in school but we should make sure that the curriculum will make them peacebuilders. Right now we have a curriculum that has not been updated so we have this modern realities that our education does not prepare people to tackle and when I talk about this reality it is not just about industry work realities because Nigeria is a project, we are in a nation building project and right now we know that the country is divided and what we need to do is to make peace with each other.

This will need efforts spread across over a period of time, teaching people about what they need to do, not just teaching different tribes to live in peace but also, we need to start taking into consideration things like mental health. Just last week some students in the University of Nigeria were suspended because they were ridiculing a young woman who came out dressed in a way, they considered inappropriate, these are students of a university that were doing this. I think in the future we know clearly that this education that we are investing so much in because most universities in Nigeria are publicly funded so we can not be funding these universities only for them to be producing people who have these kinds of mindsets. Its not just about living in peace with tribes but also respecting each other, respecting genders, respecting views and everyone.

Dr Adedeji Adreniran: This problem is no longer a Nigerian problem, it is now a regional issue that requires global action.  I have two things that I think people can do for us, one is the issue of proliferation of arms., especially arms getting to non state actors, it is one of the key drivers in that region. How do we control that space is very crucial and if you look at the value chain of illegal arms, it is not coming from Africa? It is coming from the U.S., European countries and so on so how do we ensure that weapons do not get to non state actors' hands? Crucially, I also thing the ungoverned spaces in these regions, those are too many Nigeria,  I think we need to have a policy that will bring government to everyone in terms of everyone having a sense of belonging because if you look at the way we are solving this problem and this is a tragedy there is not a kind of unifying approach. If we look at what local government wants in terms of solutions, it is not what the federal government wants there. There are those kinds of disconnect. You cannot fight these kinds of crisis with these kinds of disconnect, so we need to work together.

Nigerian government needs to call for help when they need it, in some instances one of the very success we have recorded in this Boko Haram issue has been when the previous administration invited some missionary I think from South Africa in order to support with their technical capacity if our military is not adequate enough the kind of warfare we are facing is unprecedented and we do not have experience in that regard, we should call for help. I think right now Nigeria needs this support, we lack capacity And we are not solving this problem and instead it is getting worse, we need all the help we could get.

African Union Special Envoy, Madam Benita Diop said last year that we can not silence the guns in Africa without the inclusion of women in peace processes. What can be done to bring inclusion of women in conflict resolution?

Dr Fatima Akilu: I think it is important that first of all we pay attention to the fact that there are not that many women represented at the decision making tables and maybe what we can do is to some proportion representation that whenever there are peace processes or peace talks, a certain representation of women are included. I think that without concerted efforts we will continue to leave women out of the peace process. We just need to be more aware, have dedicated numbers and spaces for women because we found that when women have been part of the peace process, we have seen in Tunisia and we have seen it in Afghanistan, we have seen in Pakistan that the talks have been much more inclusive, they have been much more constructive and they have been wider in terms of taking in to account the specific needs of women and girls that sometimes gets missed out when we talk about peace.

Dr Emeka Njoku: Look at the Covid-19 challenge we have and look at countries where it was properly managed they were women presidents or prime ministers, we are seeing empirical evidence that women can do better jobs and we have very good women administrators in Nigeria but they are not given any space to operate. I think a female president for Nigeria would do a better job but the point is that based on out structural or patriarchal nature of the Nigerian society,  women are just always pushed aside at various levels of political leaderships and that is a problem we need to start thinking about because women have shown the capacity to manage countries, to manage institutions and organisations far better. I am in support not just in peacebuilding but in every form of leadership.

There has been talk of politicians behind Boko Haram to undermine Buhari's administration...

Dr Emeka Njoku: I do not know if there are politicians who are Boko Haram members or who are supporting Boko Haram. I can't speak to that because I do not have empirical evidence but during Goodluck Jonathan's administration he did mention that some in his administration were supporting Boko Haram. He was a president at the time, and he made such allegations and we expect that the president has the machinery to get information and for him to make such accusations means that we should at least make efforts to understand. I would not know if there are some politicians behind Boko Haram, but I do know that some people are profiting in some way from it and that in itself is a problem that contributes to the sustenance and expansion of terrorism. I think it is more of people profiting from it and taking advantage of violence. Violence is more like a lucrative business at various level, people who are making money from increasing potential location, people who are profiting from the sale of weapons both locally and internationally and people who feel that the only way that the government can get them to listen to them is through violence. While there is no empirical evidence that some politicians are involved with Boko Haram, research has shown that some politicians use violence for re acceptance or to be relevant or to make the government look bad.

Closing remarks

Dr Emeka Njoku: I would conclude that the lack of inherent amount or the inherent of peaceful responsibility and mechanism to check for transparency and accountability in the utilisation of security funds exposed the government's complicity and the failure to defeat Boko Haram because there is a push and need to address the pathology of funding terrorism in Nigeria and by expansion other parts of the Chad region by dismantling the structures of neopatrimonialism logic that have led a diabolical and the expansion of terrorism

Dr Adedeji Adreniran: As much as the conversation is about government, there is need for community support because in the fight on terrorism what is the most important weapon is intelligence, people on the ground are intelligent. If they are not supporting or coming forward and if the government's actions are not in anyway inclusive and are not bringing communities into the conversation that kind of intelligence is not going to be explored. How do we encourage more community participation is very crucial and gaining their confidence in that fight? While military option is good, but community support is crucial.

Mustapha Saeed: I wanted to come in before the other issue that was raised died down, that is the concern that people are raising that probably the Boko Haram crisis is the means to undermine the current government.  Whether that is true or not, I am putting that as a challenge to the incumbent government. Your ability to be the government that we can trust depends on the ability to thrive in spite of everyone that wants to put down your government because the attacks are affecting the citizens directly not the government.

There is an opportunity right now as most young people are online, there is an opportunity for capacity building for every vulnerable groups that are trying to come in to a political space, expose them to Morden solutions of some of the most intractable problems of our time so that should they have an opportunity to political challenges, they will be able to bring the solutions that we need in the country.

Dr Fatima Akilu: I would like to end to  note of optimism, I think the fact that yes we understand the problems in Nigeria have increased over the past decades but we have had problems in the past including the civil war where we have chosen to stay together and united and I think we are again at the crossroads where we can use this opportunity to really look at our union of what we want, how do we want to live. There has been calls for restructuring but when people talk about restructuring they think restructuring means that we want to exercise certain parts of the country and they go on their own but that is not what restructuring is, its about how do we consolidate and divide fiscal resources, how do we empower our regions, arguments about whether the regions we have are too many and how can we consolidate. As we go in to these discussions we need to have more inclusive roles and spaces for women, for youth and really try to part on how those conflict nations can look like and my belief is that it can be better and it can be stronger.

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