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How to deal with Boko Haram: A primer

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A version of  this post originally appeared on Africa in Transition. The views expressed are the author’s own.

The Africa Center for Strategic Studies, a part of the National Defense University in Washington, DC, has published a security brief by Michael O. Sodipo on jihadist radicalism in northern Nigeria. The brief proposes practical suggestions as to how to respond to radicalization.

Less than eight pages in length, it provides a superb overview, both for a general but also a more specialized audience. 

To illustrate his main points, Mr. Sodipo peppers his narrative with fascinating insights -- and facts. For example, by 2011 Nigeria was tied with Somalia at sixth place out of 158 nations on the Global Terrorism Index. Or, in another example, in the months following 9/11, seven of ten boys born at a hospital in Kano (Nigeria’s second largest city and the largest in the north) were named Osama.

Sodipo's general discussion emphasizes the role of, inter alia, fear, poverty, youth (unemployment and more general marginalization), and terrorism.

He deftly reviews the history of jihadist radicalism in the country since 1802, with comments on aspects often overlooked, such as the influence of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his role in the establishment of an Islamic government in Iran in 1979.

His coverage of these themes in only four pages of clear prose is a model of compression.

What to do about radicalism? Sodipo describes a local, Kano initiative, the Peace Club, a project of the Peace Initiative Network (PIN), of which he is a founder and coordinator. This consists of strategies to bring together youth from a variety of communities.

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However Sodipo points out that any such initiative cannot on its own solve the radicalization of northern Nigeria. He then precedes with a useful -- and short -- survey of de-radicalization programs elsewhere, especially Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and Indonesia, with a focus on what has worked.

His conclusion is sound: countering radicalism requires a spectrum of initiatives. He says the key is for initiatives to be rooted in local realities. They do not require the treasury of Saudi Arabia.

However I would note that they do require political will and focus from the Nigerian government, and the elites that run it. Thus far, that political will has not been much in evidence.

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