Violent Extremism and Community Resilience


Since 2009, Boko Haram’s violent extremism has been threat to Nigeria’s peace, security, and development. Violent extremism like other social science concepts suffers from the problem of definition: neither the United Nations (UN) nor the European Union (EU) has an official definition. USAID defines it as “advocating, engaging in, preparing, or otherwise supporting ideologically motivated or justified violence to further social, economic, or political objectives” (USAID, 2011, p. 2). The purpose of violent extremism is to provoke the target into a disproportionate response, radicalize moderates and build support for its objectives in the long term (David Lake, 2002). As part of a comprehensive counter-terrorism (CT) strategy against terrorism in Nigeria, governments and nongovernmental organizations are looking at preventive measures, known as “countering violent extremism” or CVE to supplement Nigerian government hard-power approach, such as military force and physical coercion to deal with terrorism. Because it is realized that while hard-power tactics may have immediate success, it cannot establish strategic long term and sustainable solutions, and often exacerbate the problem by contributing to the radicalization of individuals who join violent extremist groups. With an emphasis on prevention, the CVE approach seeks to tackle the root causes of violent extremism by engaging with communities, vulnerable groups, and households. According to Mahiri (2016), CVE has become a widely used term to describe a range of soft-power approaches to fighting terrorism and violent extremism. One element of CVE includes building community resilience to violent extremist groups such as Boko Haram and its affiliates. Resilience is “The ability of women, men, and children to realize their rights and improve their well-being despite shocks, stresses and uncertainty” (Oxfam, 2015). Community resilience on the other hand is referred to as the capacity or ability of a community to anticipate, prepare for, and reduce the impact of shocks and stresses caused by adversity, tragedy, or threats (Machina, 2017). Resilience is therefore not just about coping and bouncing back but also about bouncing forward because the endgame for a poor community hit by a shock cannot merely be to bounce back to the original position of poverty. It must be about substantive improvement to human wellbeing (Ibrahim, Ya’u & Bagu, 2017).

The Role of Women, Families and Communities in Building Community Resilience

The role of women, families and communities in countering violent extremism is often overlooked. Instead, the focus is usually placed on young men due to religious misconception and cultural norms. In most communities, women’s place in society is seen within the private sphere of her home only. Thus, women feel it is not their place in society to engage on these critical issues. However, women and families are crucial in fostering community resilience which acts as a strong foundation to successfully navigating ‘challenges, adversity, uncertainty and competing influences. Women play key roles in fostering community resilience and in influencing world-views and attitudes among young people. They are fundamental in influencing young people and, therefore, the way they respond to extremist narratives. In addition, women and other family members are advantageously placed to identify behaviors and attitudes that might indicate that individuals are becoming radicalized. For example, when mothers are very vigilante and monitor the movement of their children and their husbands, by knowing who their friends are and who they interact/associate with regularly. They can easily detect early sign of radicalization on their children and husband which will make them susceptible to violent extremism and inform the relevant authorities. Also, according to Machina (2017), there are no other group as qualified as women groups in the community to develop strategies aimed at countering violent extremism. The important role women groups can play in strengthening resilience against violent extremism include among others advocacy and awareness campaigns, where they educate and create religious awareness through outreach programmes to mothers and families.

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