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March 18, 2014

Nigeria Launches 'Soft Approach' to Counter Boko Haram

by Heather Murdock

Nigeria's national security adviser has unveiled plans for a new non-military strategy to combat a four-and-half year old Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands of people.  The strategy would complement, not replace, military efforts to fight radical sect Boko Haram.  

About 10 months ago Nigeria launched its biggest military push ever against Boko Haram insurgents, imposing emergency rule on three northeastern states. Many urban centers were quickly secured, but the violence continued in the countryside.  More recently, northern cities have again come under attack.  Human Rights Watch says 700 people have been killed this year alone.

Amid the growing violence, Nigeria’s National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki says the government will take a “soft approach” to counter terrorism, in addition to military efforts.

“My approach has been to understand the problem in order to apply the appropriate solutions. What we have learned is that there is not one particular path that leads to terrorism.  Rather, there are many, often complicated, paths that lead to terrorism.”

Poverty, social injustice, isolation and sectarianism are among the causes of insurgency, he says. And prison reform, economic development, peace talks and educating the public are among the solutions.

Under the plan, two prisons will become “de-radicalization” facilities.  The next step, Dasuki says, is to train the staff.

“The initiative will require substantial capacity building of prison staff in areas such as psychology, sport and art therapy, faith-based instructors and vocational training experts that would engage beneficiaries.”

Another key tenet of the “soft approach” to counter terrorism, he says, is economic reform in northeastern Nigeria, where most people live in abject poverty, fueling the insurgency.
But the insurgency also makes the region poor, adds Gbenro Olajuyigbe, a human security manager at anti-poverty organization ActionAid.  The soft approach, he adds, needs to follow better security on the ground.

“If people are in insecure environment -- economics has collapsed, rights have collapsed, there is an intrusion of fear -- I think the best thing to do is to stabilize the country first.”

The United Nations calls the Boko Haram insurgency “increasingly monstrous,” saying nearly half a million people have fled their homes, and tens of thousands have fled to neighboring countries. Farmers have also abandoned their fields, threatening food security in many areas.