By Olu Onemola
The launch of the Terror Victims Support Fund, chaired by General T.Y. Danjuma is not only timely, but necessary, given the spate of bombings and other evil atrocities being committed by enemies of Nigeria. Terrorist activity has disrupted the lives of millions of our innocent citizens for many years now – and the pledged funds will hopefully provide some sort of succour to those affected. However, despite the noteworthy amounts that have been – and are to be – donated by well-meaning Nigerians and corporate bodies, long-term ideas and solutions are still needed to combat terrorism. We cannot finance our way out of this insurgency. Money cannot solve all our problems.
The Terror Victims Support Fund should not be seen by Mr. President and his team as an impetus to take the brakepads of the gas. It should be seen as a last resort – a measure aimed at enhancing the lives that have been affected by the failure to secure the lives and properties of many Nigerians. Similarly, the $1 billion dollar loan request – for additional funding in the fight against Boko Haram – that the President made to the National Assembly a few weeks ago, must be critically examined by our legislators – and approved only if credible action plans and strategies are accompanied with this enormous funding request. Our long term strategy in this endeavour must be reactionary only when it needs to be. However – for the most part – we must adopt proactive and preventative measures.
To begin with, we must look into pervasive social and economic issues like corruption, poverty, access to education, and unemployment in order to truly curb terrorism. Our servicemen and women may continue to work hard on the frontlines to take out insurgents, however, these insurgents will only be replaced by younger and fresher radicals – who stand ever-ready to fight and die with nothing to lose, if the terrorist recruitment pool is not drained.
As flawed as it may sound, many of these radicals go through with their evil deeds because they are brainwashed into believing that their actions will correct the skewed-justice in our society.
So, first and foremost, we must tackle the issue of corruption. Boko Haram has directly and indirectly stated that one of the reasons it fights, is to rescue Nigeria from corruption. The blatant nature of many of the corrupt practices in our society – especially with the wealthy and well-connected – is enough to provoke the poor and downtrodden into wanting to take radical action. Embezzle N1 billion in Nigeria, and you get a N10 million fine and get hailed in the streets as a “Great Man”. Steal a goat to feed your hungry family in Nigeria, and you get called a thief and receive a jail or death sentence. This is unacceptable and unsustainable for our security and democracy.
In addition to fighting corruption, we must educate the younger generation early. We must teach them about nation building, and instill in them a sense of pride and responsibility – by making them buy into furthering the Nigerian project. To do this, more schools must be built, and our educational system must evolve to accommodate the varied cultural-settings and constraints posed by the diversity of rural and urban Nigeria.
For example, the Federal Government-sponsored Almajiris that have been set up in Northern Nigeria, need to be replicated, multiplied, and kept properly secure – especially in terrorist recruiting hotspots and villages, so that our children have better access to teachers – who will hopefully serve as role models before the terrorists come along spewing their gospel of hate and violence.
A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to education is no longer sufficient in Nigeria. Children must be taught the basic subjects that they need to know in this fast-paced world. However, they must also be taught the relevant issues and skills that are germane to their immediate environments. If they live in areas with high agricultural activity, our children must be taught the benefits, and best-practices of farming in their schools. If they live in areas with high petroleum activity, they must be taught about the economic and social effects of mining petroleum. Therefore, if they live in areas with high-insurgent activities, they must be taught the practical skills needed to survive in such environment. Teach them to detect manipulative and brainwash techniques early, and they will resist the recruiters when they come along. Teach our young men self defence, and in the absence of security – they can rally to hold the forth in their communities before help arrives.
As pragmatic as this sounds, what we need to do is to augment the theoretical education of our youth with knowledge that will help them survive in their respective societies. Our security apparatus is already stretched thin, and we cannot afford to only focus on affected communities when they become victims. In the absence of credible and permanent measures against this insurgency, the government needs to arm these communities with practical defensive training.
World Bank figures put the number of Nigerians living in poverty somewhere around 100 million. Figures available from the National Bureau of Statistics pegs youth unemployment in Nigeria somewhere around 20.3 million. As a country that boasts about being Africa’s largest economy, we must enhance our preexisting efforts at cutting down the unemployment and poverty rates in the country. Empowerment schemes like the Federal Government’s YouWin program must be made to impact more youth around the country – not only the literate ones. We should understand that not every Nigerian that has a credible business idea, can write a proposal that would make him or her a beneficiary of the empowerment scheme funds. Because of this, we must aid in the setting up of hyper-localized community banking systems that will give the skilled but illiterate members of our society access to funding for their ideas.
Like security (or a lack thereof), unemployment is everyone’s business. This is because historically, the correlation between the two has always been strong. If we provide more opportunities that will get the younger and more likely-to-be recruited groups off the streets, and into work, they will be less likely to engage in self-destructive activities. Access to education, employment, and poverty alleviation programs have been proven to be some of the most effective ways of combating gang-recruitment, and in turn – gang violence. And for all intents and purposes – with its modes of operation and recruitment – Boko Haram is nothing more than a well-armed gang.
Moving forward, ideas must complement funding and funding requests – especially when it comes to security. Big blank cheques will not solve our problems. Well thought out ideas will.
Olu Onemola is on linkedIn