The former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, has alleged that the refusal of the federal government to pay compensation to members of the Boko Haram sect as ordered by the court at the early stage of its formation under Mohammed Yusuf, was responsible for the escalation of violent extremism.
Mr. Obasanjo disclosed this in Abuja at a two-day workshop on preventing violent extremism, organised by Club De Madrid, CdM, in collaboration with the Office of National Security Adviser, ONSA, and the European Union, EU.
He attributed the escalation of insurgent activities in the north-east and concomitant high cost to human and economic life of people of the region to a disproportionate use of ‘stick’ rather than ‘carrot’ in quelling the insurgency.
The elder statesman who is a member and Nigerian representative of CdM, a club of former presidents, said when Boko Haram’s founder, Mohammed Yusuf, realised that his followers were bugged down by poverty and youth unemployment, he decided to find solutions to their needs.
According to him, the disproportionate use of force as against the conciliatory solution, was partly to blame for escalation of the insurgency in the entire region, adding that counsel given to the contrary were largely ignored.
He insisted that hat government’s use of the “stick” approach, drove the adherents to violent extremism.
Mr. Obasanjo said the late Mr. Yusuf who founded the Boko Haram was a scholar who wanted good things for his people but was rebuffed by the authorities.
He said: “Anybody you talk to in Maiduguri, where Boko Haram festered like a bad sore, will tell you that the man, who reared it, Mohammed Yusuf, was…learned in Islamic religion, and a good orator and preacher. When he was confronted with the poverty and lack of job opportunity for his followers, he decided to try and find solution.”
On whether the government did what it ought to do, to nip it in the bud, the former president said “no”.
“What were the solutions he found? Hate preaching and being lawless within the community…”
The former president said he has always advocated the stick and carrot approach to addressing such grievances and insisted that government approach to deal with problem was faulty.
“The narrative became the stick, and he knocked at the door and the door was not opened, he went legal, some of his followers went legal; they got compensation government did not pay. Their members where being hunted and hounded, so they went into violence and that violence has festered to what we have today,” he said of the insurgency that has claimed about 100,000 lives since 2009.
Also speaking, the National Security Adviser, NSA, Babagana Mongonu, said addressing violent extremism require a coordinated, comprehensive approach that addresses underlying structural and economic problems.
Mr. Monguno, a retired major general, added nations should as well significantly improve their capacity in securing their borders while denying terrorists mobility and safe havens.
“This approach must necessarily be anchored on continued political and economic growth and improvement, including good governance, strengthening institutions, especially the criminal justice system, and increasing access to jobs and education opportunities for a bulging youth population, build an inclusive administration that takes into account yearnings and aspirations of all,” he said .
The NSA traced the rise of violent extremism and terrorism which swept through the sahel region to events in Libya and Mali which he said emboldened radical and criminal elements in the sub-region, increasing their access to sophisticated weapons
He said the theme of the workshop was quite appropriate as it will add to the growing body of knowledge that would shape national, regional and global policy in tackling the many challenges of violent extremism.
A stable future, he said, depends on a coordinated approach to security, peace and development.
“I believe that such a coordinated approach should prioritise the restoration of democratic governance, protection of civilian populations and victims of violence, promote human rights, undertake security sector reform, and consistently build the capacity of state institutions to discharge their primary responsibilities. Doing all this is important in each country because terrorists dislodged in one country could show up in other ungoverned territories. This realisation calls for a joint and collaborative effort in all countries of the World. Organisations such as Club de Madrid, comprising leaders all over the World can positively contribute to this effort.”
The NSA also emphasised need to care for the humanitarian challenges caused by food insecurity, drought, climate change and Internally Displaced Persons from conflict areas, estimated at over 20 million people in the Sahel region alone.
“In the long run, our success will depend on how effectively we address the underlying causes of insecurity and instability by finding lasting solutions to the challenges of governance, democratic institutions, and a lack of opportunities.
“To be effective in preventing violent extremism, we must always act regionally and internationally in our efforts. Such efforts must address the security threat posed by violent extremists and criminal networks, while building capacity and strengthening institutions.
“This has become crucial if we consider recent happenings in our society. The rise of misguided groups who hijack and mis-interpret the true meaning of scripture and religious text to justify criminality and cause loss of lives in monumental scales.
“We must be in anguish to see how within a very short period our communities have suffered from attacks, bombings, including suicide bombings and kidnappings. While we are in pain we cannot afford to despair and not ask the right questions. Our finding points to the fact that these groups, especially Boko Haram believe they are waging a Jihad. Boko Haram is against the constitution, against nationhood, education and democracy and believe that Muslims should not work in government, nor co-exist with non Muslims.
“They have consistently proclaimed these beliefs through their messages online and offline.
“Understanding these violent narratives is a precondition to effectively countering them. Indeed, Late Sheikh Adam Jaafar and Sheikh Awwal Albany left behind detailed counter narratives against Boko Haram, which deconstructed the building blocks of violent extremist ideology preached by Boko Haram.
“In defeating violent extremist propaganda, we must closely examine some of these narratives and locate them within the discourse on Islam, democracy, and globalisation and what these portends for the protection of religious sanctity and community security,” he said.
Accordingly, he said, government, researchers and the civil society must work together to understand and decimate the threat of violent extremism, while religious preachers must counter the violent ideology propagated by extremist groups.