MORA, CAMEROON - Religious leaders in Cameroon have been visiting towns along the country's border with Nigeria this week in a bid to curb fresh recruitment efforts by Boko Haram.
Imam Abbo Hamatoukour, who hails from the nearby town of Garoua, is taking part in an outreach program sponsored by both Muslim and Christian preachers.
Hamatoukour said Boko Haram is trying to lure youth with promises that they will go to heaven if they die fighting so-called unbelievers.
He said the country's religious leaders face a daunting task as they try to reinforce the practice of true Islam, which, he added, offers true Muslims the only path to paradise, as stated by the Holy Koran.
He said another challenge is promoting peaceful coexistence between Muslims and members of other faiths.
Local officials and the military say Boko Haram is trying to rebuild its ranks by recruiting in the border area. The terror group has been weakened by the multinational joint task force operating in the Lake Chad basin.
Imams and priests are urging the population, especially the youth, to reject overtures from Boko Haram and to report strangers and suspicious people to the military.
For 26-year-old Hassan Naourma, the outreach has personal significance. He said his brother, who had joined Boko Haram, was killed last November in a raid by the multinational joint task force.
He said the preachers are teaching them how to live together in a community with understanding and tolerance despite the challenges they face.
However, he and other youth said religious education alone is not enough to stop recruitment. The conflict has destroyed the local economy, making employment even harder to find.
Former fighter Ahmadou Buba said he has struggled to survive since he escaped Boko Haram during a military raid in December.
He said he is asking the government to help them by rebuilding their schools, markets and hospitals and providing food and jobs because they returned from the Sambisa forest with nothing.
He said Boko Haram told him they would teach him to be a preacher but instead began training him to fight, so he fled.
In 2016, Cameroon launched a program to help families displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency, giving each one a pair of goats and attempting to create gardening jobs for youths on its northern border with Nigeria.
But the challenge is vast. The conflict has displaced tens of thousands of people in the Far North region. Military gains over the past two years have allowed cross-border commerce to slowly resume. However many farmers and cattle ranchers say they cannot yet return to their villages due to food shortages.