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Mohammed Sambo Dasuki: Nigeria’s Soft Approach To Countering Terrorism



(Being a presentation by Mohammed Sambo Dasuki, National Security Adviser On 18th March 2014 on the Roll Out Of Nigeria’s Soft Approach To Countering Terrorism held in Abuja, Nigeria)

I make this briefing today conscious of the fact that my office has not been known for public engagement of this nature. Through the military era the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) was largely seen as concentrating on the protection of regimes in addition to convening coordination mechanisms of security and intelligence agencies. A new and evolving challenge presented by the changing nature of our society and the globalization of threats has widened the horizon of the NSA’s primary role of framing policy and security reform. With the increasing democratization of our institutions of governance and the rapidity of the new media enabled by technological advances, access to multiple information dissemination channels has become much easier allowing groups with violent tendencies to advance their cause to manipulate religion or radical ideology to recruit and radicalize thousands of individuals using multiple tools, and riding on the same principle of freedom of speech that underpins who we are. We in turn have realized that those tasked with the responsibility to protect can no longer function within a framework of the past.

It is with this in mind that the President signed into law the Terrorism Prevention Act 2011, which was further improved upon by the legislature in the Terrorism Prevention (Amendment) Act 2013. What we know and have learnt from other countries is that terrorism compels a nation to reform its laws and processes. Since 9/11, the United States of America has had to make probably the most comprehensive reform of its security architecture which has helped detect and prevent threats to their homeland. Nigeria is taking this important but difficult and slow path.

But we are making progress. Section 1(A) of the Terrorism Prevention Act 2011 rests the coordinating role in matters relating to terrorism on the Office of the National Security Adviser and further provides the office with the mandate to: ensure the formulation and implementation of a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy, build capacity for the effective discharge of the functions of relevant security, intelligence, law enforcement and military services under the act and do such other acts or things that are necessary for the effective performance of the function of the relevant security and enforcement agencies under the act.

Pursuant to this mandate we have established a Counter Terrorism Centre (CTC) within my office which houses the Joint Terrorism Analysis Branch (JTAB) and the Behavioral Analysis and Strategic Communication Unit. The establishment of these structures has enabled us to better perform a coordinating role that has ensured intelligence sharing and cooperation amongst agencies. This new spirit of cooperation has led to the disruption of plethora of terrorist cells and prevented attacks across the country.

The Counter Terrorism Centre in consultation with our international partners, experienced academics and practitioners in security, select non state actors has developed a counter terrorism strategy (NACTEST) which defines roles and responsibilities of ministries, departments and agencies, as well as the role that civil society has to play in the fight against violent extremism. The strategy was developed taking into account the root causes of terrorism. I have commissioned a number of studies to unravel why our youths have taken the path down to radicalization. My approach has been to understand the problem in order to apply the appropriate solutions.

What we have learnt is that there is not one particular path that leads to terrorism rather there are many, often complicated paths that lead to terrorism. While there have been established push factors, conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism such as poverty, joblessness, prolonged unresolved conflict, social injustice, a growing youth bulge, we know for instance that poverty in itself is not an automatic ticket to radicalization. We are also concerned with pull factors that are often personal and frequently rest on factors such as unfulfilled desire for self-actualization, wanting to belong, individual grievances or an identity deficit, one that confuses and creates a situation of conflict in identities based on religion, tribe or region.

It is this identity conflict that fuels the narrative of the Jama’atu ahlul sunnah lidda’awati wal jihad and has proven so attractive to some of our youth.

The NACTEST seeks to prevent attacks by preventing our people from becoming terrorists in the first place. 18 months ago I directed the Behavioral Analysis and Strategic Communication Unit in my office to develop a program that seeks to implement the PREVENT work strand of our national counter terrorism strategy. They visited Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Singapore, Algeria and Australia and to talk with officials from the United Kingdom, United States and the European Union, academics and members of civil society groups both at home and abroad. Simultaneously, I directed the Economic Intelligence Unit in my office to explore the efficacy of economic interventions that will contribute to the PREVENT programme. The team has investigated what other nations facing terrorism have done successfully in the areas of job creation, poverty alleviation and economic development. Based on these, we identified the need for an economic turnaround initiative in the aftermath of the State of Emergency in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States. These activities have given birth to our soft approach to countering terrorism, which I am pleased to roll out today.

Before I highlight the details of the Soft Approach it is important to note how I have undertaken my interventions. Our focus has been to first, buildup the capacity of government institutions and relevant security and Para-military agencies on global best practices and human rights compliant approaches of responding to, preventing and dealing with individuals/groups involved with extremism and radicalization that leads to terrorism. Second, counter extremist narratives through words and deeds while promoting national values. Third, engaging and partnering with states, local governments, civil society and communities to counter radicalization, build community engagement tools and capabilities while entrenching the culture of resilience. Fourth, work with Federal and State agencies involved in economic development, job creation and poverty alleviation to explore their roles in effecting a robust PREVENT programme.

The Soft approach to countering terrorism which has resulted in the development of a Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Program that is both vertical involving three tiers of government, federal, state and local and horizontal involving civil society, academics, traditional, religious and community leaders. It consists of three streams with different layers of partners: ministries, departments and agencies (MDA’s), including the civil society. The program utilizes existing structures within and outside government to deliver targeted programs and activities that further the overall goal of stemming the tide of radicalization and through families, communities, faith based organizations build resilience to violent extremism.

The First Stream is: DE radicalization of convicted terrorists, suspects awaiting trial and those who might be released through court orders or such other government decision arising from the ongoing engagement and dialogue with repentant suspects. The President has emphasized the need for dialogue toward a final resolution and we continue to explore credible channels to actualize this option. Indeed, the ministerial dialogue committee has made many successes in this area where many suspects have indicated their preference for ending the crisis while providing useful information that has aided the process.

The DE radicalization program is prison based and the Ministry of Interior along with the prison service will drive the program. The initiative will require substantial capacity building of prison staff in areas such as psychology, sports and arts therapy, faith based instructors and vocational training experts that would engage beneficiaries. The objective is to engage violent extremist convicts/suspects in theological, ideological, physical and entrepreneurial value change that leads to a change in their behavior. Families, community leaders and NGOs will be given access to participate in the process in a fair and transparent manner to speed up easy assimilation of convicts/suspects back to society. I have refurbished 2 prisons for this purpose and we are currently working with international development partners to provide appropriate structures for this program within prisons. I shall equally be providing training for 60 prison psychologists and training for prison guards in handling of terror suspects. Our continued cooperation with the prisons service is being explored to identify gaps that require urgent intervention. We intend to exit this intervention within 2 years when the prison service would have developed its administrative, infrastructural and functional capability to run a full-fledged DE radicalization program. A while ago through the Defence Headquarters suspects held in detention were categorized and a number were recommended for release. I have since tasked my team to develop a community based program for them to be released into, that will have all the above listed components of a de- radicalization program, but additionally focus on community reintegration, skills and employment acquisition.

The Second Stream: Here we have moved from a whole of government to a whole of society approach in our counter terrorism thinking. We believe that we can win the war against terror by mobilizing our family, cultural, religious and national values. Through fear and violence, extremist groups are bent on changing the way we see and relate with each other and the only way to defeat this is to remain united and confront the threat as one nation under God. The counter radicalization stream seeks to build community engagement and resilience through building trust, creating awareness and resilience. Government is partnering with faith based organizations, community based organizations, NGOs and other stakeholders to deliver counter radicalization programs at community levels. It is our expectation that this process will be shaped and delivered by civil society actors especially those who are already intervening in conflict resolution, peace building and inter faith advocacy. Already the United Nations has agreed to provide targeted capacity building and training over a 2 year period for NGOs working in Nigeria to build their awareness of CVE programming.

We have packaged a series of workshops targeted at policy makers in federal ministries, departments and agencies and will soon push for the assigning of CVE focal points in the MDAs so as to link their primary role to national Countering Violent Extremism priorities. The objective is to link security with development and reduce insecurity. Through this platform relevant agencies will provide support to victims of terrorism.

I have put in motion a robust partnership with states and local governments that would over the next 18 months build structures, strategies, partnerships and programs that are relevant and sensitive to those states. The CVE program in states and local governments is also designed to build the social fabric of society that has been endangered by violence. These platforms once functional will create opportunities for conversation amongst our people, create nonviolent conflict resolution mechanisms and make it easier for our youths to find answers to the questions that bother them the most.

Working with critical stakeholders I am planning an education summit that looks at the ways that education can be used as a tool to counter violent extremism. Our CVE program requires that the goal of education must be to develop critical thinking skills and logical reasoning as an essential ingredient to resilience. Youth must be mentored and nurtured through multiple platforms such as sports, arts, music, literature, history, leadership and service. It is through these programs that youth discover themselves and become imaginative and inquisitive. Skills so critical to an emerging 21st century nation. Schools must re trace their steps and return to being the primary laboratories of peace. A place where children go to learn about diversity, tolerance, and how to commune with those of different faiths and ethnicities. In other words how to be a good Nigerian citizen.

We have also paid attention to faith based scholarship and how it has been hijacked by groups bent on creating an atmosphere of hate and violence. Through the civil society we are providing support to build a critical mass of mainstream voices that preach the right message of religion.

The Third Stream: We are building our capacity to communicate our national values better and institutionalizing this capability through strategic communication for the military and law enforcement, and public diplomacy for our civilian institutions. This has become necessary because at the heart of terrorism is a deadly communication plan that furthers the aims of the terrorists. Unfortunately terrorist groups have over time been clearer in communicating what they stand for than government has.

Plans have been concluded to institutionalize strategic communication in the training curriculum of the Nigerian Defense Academy. Through this training our armed forces will be able to analyze terrorist messaging, conduct psychological operations, evolve civil military relations and be equipped in media relations through a better appreciation of the requirements of our democracy. I have in the last year supported workshops and seminars that have led to increased awareness of the significance of strategic communication in the fight against terrorism.

In partnership with our international development partners we are developing media training workshops for government public relations practitioners and independent media on conflict sensitive reporting and protection of the right to know under our laws. While it is in our national security interest that terrorists do not find unfettered access to free publicity we respect the media’s freedom to report and that is why I shall be supporting the training of about 200 reporters who report on conflicts.

We are concluding plans to institutionalize a civil service training program within an existing ministry to deliver certificated training on public diplomacy and strategic communication for public servants whose responsibilities include communicating government policies to the public. We believe that we must do a better job at conversing with our publics in Nigeria and abroad.

I will take the next few minutes to identify key principles that will guide our strategic communication approach to counter terrorist narratives and encourage all stakeholders to utilize these principles in their effort to counter extremist ideology.

Terrorism is un-Islamic: The terrorists twist and pervert the true meaning and spirit of religious text to win support for their evil cause. Our approach emphasizes the un-Islamic nature of terrorism by means of sound Islamic knowledge. We will encourage mainstream Islamic scholars to write books, articles and issue Fatwas that directly dismantles the ideology of suicide bombing and misconception of jihad

Counterterrorism is not against Muslims: We will ensure that the fight against terror is not misconstrued by Muslims in Nigeria as a fight against them. The terrorists are an influential minority who live with and claim to be Muslims but through their activities bring harm and ridicule to Muslims and the religion of Islam. Concerted efforts are being made to isolate the terrorists from the communities in which they find sanctuary.

Encourage and empower Muslims to speak out against terror: The ideology of terrorism will be defeated through mainstream Muslims in Nigeria. Our approach seeks to enlist and build capacity for counterterrorism cooperation among Muslims by exposing the true intent and form of government that the terrorist groups seek to impose.

Muslim Christian Relations: The terrorists are desperate to ignite a religious war between Nigerian Christians and Muslims in order to actualize a war scenario that would aid their operations. We will launch an aggressive interfaith response between Christians and Muslims to create awareness on terrorism. Our major goal is to unite Nigerian Muslims and Christians against terrorism.

Counterterrorism is Apolitical: Government will build inter-party collaboration for counterterrorism to ensure party affiliations do not hinder stakeholders from contributing to efforts targeted at countering extremism.

The Fourth Stream: Based on our understanding of the economic root causes of terrorism and global best practices in addressing them, we are working with the Governors of the six Northeastern states of Nigeria to design an economic revitalization program targeted toward the states most impacted by terrorism. Working with various stakeholders, we are currently designing a regional economic revitalization plan. In December 2013, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan tasked leaders of the Northeast region and the NSA to develop a joint regional redevelopment plan which will serve as the foundation for a federal-state partnership to revitalize the region’s economy. An inter-ministerial committee consisting of the Ministries of Agriculture, Power, Finance, Works, Water Resources, Health, Education, Transport, Communication, Culture and Tourism, Industry-Trade and Investments, Solid Minerals Development, Science and Technology, Youth Development, and Lands and Housing, along with SMEDAN, the Budget Office, the National Planning Commission, development partners and my office is currently working with the region under the aegis of the Presidential Initiative for the Northeast (PINE). I wish to thank our development partners for their role in developing this initiative.

There exists a window of opportunity because communities are already indicating preference for peace and stability, having realized the danger that violent extremism presents both socially, psychologically and economically. More communities are providing prompt and actionable intelligence to security forces that have led to the capture of violent extremists or weapons caches.

We realize that every Nigerian has a role to play in countering violent extremism. The Soft approach provides us with a framework that identifies the roles and responsibilities of every segment of our society: the governors, local government chairmen, national and state assembly members, political parties, trade unions, the private sector, traditional institutions, ministers and government officials, academics, in fact a whole-of –society approach that involves everyone vertically and horizontally to confront violent extremism

I must use this opportunity to recognize the immense sacrifices that our military and law enforcement officers have made. We must also remember the souls we have lost and those they left behind, whole communities that have been sacked and the increasing numbers of orphans and victims a large number of whom are children. When we reflect this horrendous damage and feel the pain and loss we should remember that the only thing left for us to do is to stand up against this violence. We can do this whether we are in government or not because as a family or community we all have a circle of influence through which we can mobilize by our words or our good deeds, reach out to our neighbors and consult one another, provide intelligence when we suspect something and build bridges of trust that ensure collaboration.

I wish to assure Nigerians that government is doing everything to protect lives and property. We have developed a program that is inclusive and our doors are open for new ideas or inputs that the public may have. We are equally developing a monitoring and evaluation framework that would track implementation of each stream of the CVE program and will be publicizing our reports and sharing best practices learnt.

I wish to equally recognize the effort of the press in the fight against terrorism. Though we may not agree at all times but a careful analysis of the Nigerian press since this insurgency would reveal that the press have sided with the Nigerian people at great risks to the safety and security of their businesses. We recall the attack on journalists and newspaper houses in Abuja and Kaduna.

I wish to also thank Ambassadors here present and continue to appreciate the technical support and encouragement you have continued to give Nigeria

I also appreciate the presence of the civil society as I look forward to working very closely with you.
Mohammed Sambo Dasuki
National Security Adviser


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