Above: Nigeria (Credit: Joshua Oluwagbemiga)
Author: Isel van Zyl
Civic Action and Capacity Building Coordinator, Strong Cities Network
08 July 2021
Recently, the Strong Cities Network (SCN) conducted a series of virtual city consultations in the four north-western Nigerian states of Kano, Kaduna, Katsina and Zamfara, which provided a window into the challenges of preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) subnationally, and where efforts could be further supported and developed.
Among the primary drivers of polarisation and violence cited were poverty and the lack of basic services, both of which respondents indicated were being addressed by government-led programming, albeit within a framework of an aggressive and securitised approach to addressing these challenges.
Other notable drivers mentioned included lack of employment opportunities, poor governance and corruption, and ethnic and religious divisions. Here, respondents generally found a lack of political will and capacity within high-ranking members of federal, state and local government to address these more challenging issues.
However, during the city consultations, lack of basic education and literacy in Nigeria were identified among the most significant drivers of polarisation and violence throughout the entire country.
‘improving education’ in north-west Nigeria was most frequently recommended as a step to address these challenges, as there is little to no formal educational infrastructure, especially in the rural areas.
Within the four states, ‘improving education’ in north-west Nigeria was most frequently recommended as a step to address these challenges, as there is little to no formal educational infrastructure, especially in the rural areas. The calls to action mainly targeted federal and state government, provided their authority in the country. As a result of poverty and lack of access to education, many children and young people are forced to beg for money on the streets, or worse, resort to criminal activities to support themselves financially, including banditry and kidnapping for ransom. Some respondents further explained that individuals are more inclined to believe harmful narratives spread due to the lack of education and high levels of illiteracy, causing continuous hostilities between certain ethnic and religious groups.
The SCN-facilitated consultations also highlighted how the lack of access to formal education is exacerbating another driver of polarisation and violence: the reliance on unregulated religious or ‘Almajiri’ schools in northern Nigeria. Unable to access the formal education system, the respondents noted that many parents send their children to Almajiri schools, where they are often exposed to interpretations of Islamic scripture that aim to radicalise students to violence rather than promote tolerance and peace.
Several respondents claimed that religious leaders and clerics who run these Almajiri schools exploit their grievances and marginalised status to radicalise them to violence. Although the Nigerian government does not consider the Almajiris to be an official violent extremist group, our consultations highlighted how they are regarded as a growing threat, especially by communities in north-west Nigeria. In fact, the situation is not unlike that of the Taliban in northwest Pakistan. Since the prioritisation of ‘soft’ security approaches in 2015, many international agencies have provided large amounts of funding towards activities such as vocational training, humanitarian aid and education. The links between education and development have been well established over the past decade and education is now internationally recognised as part of the United Nations development index.
Nigeria’s National Action Plan to Prevent Violent Extremism advocates for drivers such as weak governance, under-development and marginalisation to be addressed. These issues include education, and often refers to the inclusion/development of curricula that promotes interreligious and interethnic tolerance in Nigerian schools. However, more specifically, Nigerian government would need to revise and actively implement policies aimed at improving education, which includes building schools, training educators and ensuring secular teachings. For the previous budget cycle, the Nigerian government has established and elaborated on its objectives for expanding access to and improving the quality of the education system via two strategies. Firstly, via the Ministerial Strategic Plan (MSP) 2016-2019 and secondly, the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) 2017-2020.
The consultations also highlighted how the lack of access to formal education is exacerbating another driver of polarisation and violence: the reliance on unregulated religious or ‘Almajiri’ schools in northern Nigeria.
Most notably, the MSP is built on 10 development pillars, which will target out-of-school children, teacher education, adult literacy, primary and secondary curricula, tertiary education and technical and vocational education and training (TVET). Among the objectives were to improve universal access to basic education for all school-aged children; to increase access to TVET and tertiary institutions for eligible students; and to increase access to informal schooling and lifelong learning opportunities for adults.
These efforts have already been commended by Edo state Governor Godwin Obaseki, who has embarked on an ambitious programme to transform the education system in the state. Furthermore, state governments in north-west Nigeria can practice stricter oversight to informal education settings, like Almajiri schools, to prevent radicalisation to violence from taking place in these environments. Considering the policies and strategies already in place at the national level to address lack of access to education, state and local governments can use these documents as guiding principles to formulate their own strategies going ahead.
However, government cooperation, where it exists, may be the exception rather than the rule in north-west Nigeria. Asked about their perceptions of government-led programming to address the issues of polarisation and violence, respondents felt that local governments have limited authority and resources to support such programmes. Thus, CSOs, other relevant practitioners and local government often must rely on the national governmentfor programme funds and approvals, which can be slow to materialize, if at all.
The SCN-facilitated consultations highlighted the corrosive effect that the lack of access to quality education in north-west Nigeria can have on efforts to prevent and counter violent extremism. This finding is consistent with a recent World Bank report, which drew attention to the relationship between access to quality education and levels of violent extremism in specific contexts. Going forward, it’s critical that the improvement of education becomes part of of the ‘whole of society’ approach which the National Actional Plan advocates for in addressing violent extremism in the country.