From Maiduguri : No one is born a terrorist

I had come across a Regional Youth Summit on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) in the Sahel region in September organized by Search for Common Ground (SFCG). I was pretty excited to apply notwithstanding the venue was in Maiduguri. For those who don’t know about Maiduguri, it’s the melting pot of the terrorist group Boko Haram (BH). That said it was a “dangerous place” to be in but for some funny reason I wasn’t scared. Months later I was notified of been shortlisted, logistics were planned, security briefs were sent out. On the 27th of Nov I headed off to the airport to meet fellow participants from Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Niger and Nigeria. I could literally feel the excitement on the plane, I couldn’t see a trace of fear on their faces. Although we knew the risk ahead of us, regardless of the various security presence escorting our buses no one expressed fear.

Although we knew the risk ahead of us, regardless of the various security presence escorting our buses no one expressed fear.

We all settled in with the friendly volunteers who made sure we were all comfortable and ended the day with a welcome dinner. Before I go into the summit, I want to appreciate the management of University of Maiduguri (UniMaid). There are many things we are not told and here I was listening to the Vice Chancellor (VC) and shaking my head. UniMaid was never shut down all through the period BH terrorized Borno state, in the words of the former VC they couldn’t shut down because they would be sending their students out to their villages that had been taken over by BH, it’s either they get killed or are forced to join.

On the first day the Deputy VC pointed out how Borno which is originally the Home of Peace has become the home of pieces. A Malian youth delegate led the discussion on the theme “youth and the fight against violent extremism: how important is the participation of the youths?” While one of the speakers talked about the challenges of preventing violent extremism as the following : – Highly secretive (special means of communication), Identifying and cutting the sources of funds, Insincerity of the community, Politicization, Instilled fear on the citizens, Insincerity and lack of commitment from the leaders, Poor motivation by the government to the military, Lack of clear rehabilitation measures. He went further to give the following as the way-forward: – Education as the bedrock, strict monitoring of community members, regulation of public preaching, strengthening of Islamic school. One of the speakers led the conversation on the common misconception associated with radicalization and extremism. Everyone is a radical in one way or the other the difference in extremism lies in the use of violence.

In the plenary session on Global and National agendas engaging youth in CVE the Cameroonian speaker highlighted the need to involve women in CVE but went further to view women not just as victims but as actors. I think this is a good narrative because seeing them as just victims prevents a holistic approach to CVE. Nigeria has experienced many female suicide bombers, last year a family of nine in Bradford England crossed over to Syria under the guise of hajj. The Nigerian speaker who was a product of the SFCG Naija Girls – a camp involving young Christian and Muslim girls from about nine (9) – fifteen (15) living together to know each other and change the narrative of “us” against “them” prevalent in Plateau State. In her words they were previously “fed from wrong ideologies and fed from wrong plates”. These young girls moved from the camp and started training other young girls on the need for peaceful coexistence. In one of the presentations these quotes stood out to me “no one is born a terrorist or fighter”, “if youths can be such a powerful force that can destroy a nation, why do people overlook our resources when we are working for peace” – Rwandan Youth Movement Leader

if youths can be such a powerful force that can destroy a nation, why do people overlook our resources when we are working for peace”

On the second day the theme for the plenary session was “Challenges and opportunities for youths in CVE”. A Nigerian Youth speaker gave a presentation on gender-based violence and how women are been empowered to prevent their recruitment into such violent groups. One of the speakers gave a profound truth “conflict is always between right and right” He went further to demonstrate between the six (6) and nine (9). Just because you see a six doesn’t mean I’m wrong seeing a nine. The issue isn’t what we are seeing individually rather the ability to accommodate what the other person is seeing.  Everyone has their own truth – this couldn’t have been said any better. If you ask some terrorists, they’ll probably give you their version of truth. Peace building is how I want to reflect on myself by opening my listening mind. Some of the challenges mentioned are youth participation in democratic processes, lack of leadership capacity by the youths and lack of belief by the elders. One of the facilitator was almost eaten up when he said the youths are the leaders of tomorrow. The hall went berserk with participants saying they are the leaders of today, tomorrow may never come.


We were divided into four working groups namely: – Preventing violence and recruitment into violent groups, facilitating young people’s disengagement from violent groups, producing and amplifying new narratives, fostering effective and meaningful partnerships. I worked on amplifying new narratives, we came up with the following: – Understanding the problem, direct contact with the actors to understand them, bring parties to a common ground, and address misinterpretations of narratives. Something stood out to me, the Country Director of SFCG asked us “not to think of the white elephant”. I’m pretty sure you have the picture of a white elephant in your head. Bottom line highlight your positive message for example instead of saying “Violence is not the answer” you can say “Peace is the answer”.

On the third day we were placed in working groups to come up with an action plan for each country facilitated by some academics. It was brain racking but exciting at the same time. One of the academics from Niger suggested some general action points: – Inter-religious dialogue, inclusion of the female in peace processes, control of the Koranic school (licensing of the Koranic teachers). It was interesting listening to an ex-rebel leader who has made something meaningful from his life. He went back to school and has a PhD and contributing his own quota in CVE.

Friendships were forged over the four (4) days we spent in Maiduguri. Although we had to put on our translators when the French speakers led the discussion, it didn’t prevent our communication. Yes there were times I took a bilingual participant to enable me ask some questions but I enjoyed every bit of it. At the end of yesterday all the various country representatives submitted their action plan and awaiting approval to kick off.  Following the UN Security Council adoption of Resolution 2250 in December 2015 urging member states to consider setting up mechanisms that would enable young people to participate meaningfully in peace processes and dispute resolution. We have definitely moved from rhetoric to action. Can we be the ones to end violence in our own generation?


Loads of Love