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Perspectives on Counter-Radical Narratives in Nigeria by Gambo Ibrahim Gujungu, IVLP Alumni (2013), National President, Arewa Youth Forum


It is no longer news that there are strong radical narratives rolling out in Nigeria. Boko Haram (BH) in the North East, Militants who go by various names in the South South, kidnappers and violent ritualists both in the South East and South West. Nigeria obviously has a full plate on the table. These radical narratives have taken over a great portion of coverage in local media and a good portion of attention in international media. They cannot seem to get enough of media attention. Of course, media attention increases their attention.

Of all these expressions of radicalism in Nigeria, none has caused much damage, displaced people from their homes and livelihoods, taken more lives, challenged both the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and its citizens; in fact, challenged our very existence as a nation the way Boko Haram has done. Indeed, it is my simple understanding that over the years, Boko Haram has come up-stage well trained, well resourced, well coordinated and very much focused on its objectives than any other radical effort in our history as a nation. The only similarity the Boko Haram effort shared with the others is that it was also happening in just one region of the country. Beyond that, BokoHaram dominated the stage. It is a grave understatement to say that BH caused a lot of concern.

My further comments on this issue of countering Radical Narratives in Nigeria are formed within a context of an effort that I lead. The Conflict Mitigation and Peace Building Project (CMPB) is being implemented by Arewa Youth Forum in twelve selected communities (some of them hotbeds of violent radicalism) across four states in Northern NigeriaKaduna, Bauchi Nasarawa and Taraba. It is our little contribution to other efforts to counter radicalism. We are grateful to the United States government and the strong commitment of the US Embassy in Nigeria for supporting the project.

The CMPB set up a platform we call the Community Dialogue Forum (CDF) in each of the twelve selected communities in the four states. AYF trained five members each of these communities to run the CDFs in the community. No external facilitator played any role. Supervision of the CDF was from a distance so as to allow for local participation and initiative in resolving any issues that came forward. The results, or rather, the issues that were discovered by these communities and the solutions given by the locals themselves would read like a training manual for community development, sustainability and policing for any key agency. The issues identified were simple yet profound.

The communities were weak, manipulated and occupied by general unhappiness. Youth were largely without direction, poor livelihoods, limited or no participation in the governance process at the lowest levels further disillusioned the people. Life was hard and rather than present options politicians manipulated the people.

The Community Dialogue Forum gave the people the opportunity to consider their issues, give solutions and decide on lines of action. We have few case studies of actions taken by community members to address issues that would have gone out of hand, ended in violence and even contact with security agencies:

-In Mutum Biyu Centre of Taraba State, participants at the CDF were able to sensitise and dialogue with some well-known notorious groups at Angwan Tike, Kan cross (roundabout), Jenjo B and Jantaro on the urgent need for a change of attitude aimed at peaceful co-existence. This effort was embraced by these groups and we are happy to report that the community is in peace at the moment.

-Also in Jema’a Centre, Kafanchan Kaduna State, the CDF was used to serve as an attitude correction centre. A drug dealer was made to be a participant, his involvement in the CDF has helped greatly to finding solutions on how to tackle sell of drugs in the Community.

Largely, the CDF has given these communities opportunity for dialogue and common action. For example, in Zango-Centre of Bauchi State, the Community recorded its first post-election peace as a result of the intervention and impact of the CDF. Arewa Youth Forum however,does not claim that the CDF has completely stabilised the communities because it has not. This model has only been put into play for only about a year but it has given us hope that with dialogue and bringing various groups under one roof, peaceful co-existence can be established. Communities therefore, need attention as much as individuals but it requires the right approach and the proper balance.

Our observation is that radical narratives like that of BH take root in weak communities where unhappiness is widespread. The CDF has proven to us that the seeds of unhappiness and misdirection can be confronted and curtailed at community level by the same people that face the risk of being converted to radicalism and who are equally the beneficiaries of strong and stable communities. I must make the point here that underfunded and low capacity communities will continue to remain places for violent radical movements until a time we are able to strengthen them. Weak communities are simply not able to withstand the superior attack of radicalism but strong and self-sufficient communities are a ready protection against such movements. Nigeria and the international community must rise to the occasion and to never forget that posterity is a hard judge.

It is our prayer that the CDF model be recognised for its merit and usefulness alone and replicated in more communities and states in the Federation. This is our simple recommendation for countering radical narratives in Nigeria.

Thank you.

Gambo Ibrahim Gujungu
National President
Arewa Youth Forum