Bringing women to the centre of de-radicalisation efforts in North-East Nigeria

Apr 1, 2017

Mariam Ngileruma and 19 other women participate in the one-day UNDP deradicalization workshop bringing community and security forces together. UNDP Nigeria/Lesley Wright

For Mariam Ngileruma, compassion towards Boko Haram fighters is the first step in peacebuilding. It’s about acceptance, she explained. “We are all human beings,” says Ngileruma, a former civil servant with the Ministry of Women Affairs. “Some of the women [in Boko Haram] fight and even kill people, but it’s because of fear. They also fear.”

As the conflict in the Lake Chad region churns into its eighth year, thousands of Boko Haram fighters are captured, killed or voluntarily return. While part of the security sector explores how to reintegrate the fighters into society when appropriate, efforts are also being made to counter the spread of recruitment.

UNDP and the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) brought participants from civil society, communities, and security sectors, both formal and informal, to discuss deradicalization and counter-terrorism narratives, and the division of roles in stamping out radical ideology.

“This venue is perfect for this,” says Ngileruma, “because civil society is expressing their thoughts freely. If it were not for this forum, they would not dare say these things.”  

The day-long workshop in Maiduguri, is one of 10 workshops across the three affected states that establishes links between community and security, explores how they work together, and builds trust between the security forces and the people they are meant to protect.

The Nigerian Army says the community lies at the heart of these efforts because they know who is at risk, and they can identify the early warning signs when family members, friends and neighbours begin to align with Boko Haram.

“You know your community. You know the business of everyone,” said Col. Bala of the Nigerian Army to the 80 participants.

Boko Haram perpetuates in the cracks of northeastern Nigeria society, recruiting new insurgents from some of the most vulnerable communities across the Lake Chad region. For Ngileruma, this revolving door of new recruits can be stopped at the home because that’s where women are in charge.

“What if the women were educated, and then allowed to educate their own children?” she asked. “Socialization starts at home and when you educate women, you educate the whole.”

Many of the 20 women participants of the workshop agreed that there can be no resolution to this ongoing crisis without including those hit hardest by the conflict.

“The government can have every plan available, but if they don’t include women, they can never achieve peace,” Ngileruma said.

Women bear the brunt of the conflict with Boko Haram insurgents. They are vulnerable to gender-based and sexual violence. According to UNFPA, 6 out of ten women in northeast Nigeria are survivors of GBV and of those cases, rape constitutes 85 percent.

With funding from the Government of Japan, UNDP has been working on deradicalization and counter-terrorism dialogue with key community and religious leaders, women’s groups, civil society, and the security forces since 2016.

Community-level dialogue for reconciliation is a key components of UNDP’s integrated programme to community stabilisation and recovery in the northeast of Nigeria. To build hope and a credible outlook for the future, the delivery of basic services and the revitalisation of livelihoods needs to go hand in hand with addressing the grievances of the past.

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