National Security Adviser (NSA) Babagana Monguno recently made a powerful and compelling case for a rethink of the distorted perception that violent extremists and other criminal elements threatening national, regional and international peace do so in the name of religion.
Delivering a keynote address at a workshop of League of Preachers and Islamic Scholars in the Sahel in Abuja, the NSA said the world is not dealing with religion as far as the issue of violent extremism is concerned.
“Let me be clear, according to the philosophy of the government of President Muhammadu Buhari, we are not dealing with people who should be considered Muslims.
“Terrorists, criminals and bandits as we know them are giving vent to their homicidal instincts, killing innocent people while parading themselves as, and pretending to be Muslims.
“They are as far away from the religion of Islam as the sun is from earth. We all know that the Prophet did not in any way indicate that the propagation of Islam should be in a manner that would cause disaffection and loss of lives,” he said.
Nigeria and much of the Sahel and Chad Basin regions have found themselves in a complicated and terrible security situation perpetrated by violent extremists.
Waves of ideological violent extremism have also been going on in other parts of the civilised world at large and Monguno emphasised that, although kinetic measures were necessary in tackling the challenge, non-kinetic interventions prove to be more effective in the long run.
“The situation we have found ourselves in cannot be reversed by only applying tough kinetic actions, but also by non-kinetic interventions which I consider even much more important to deal with the threats we face,” Monguno said.
He, therefore, called on Islamic religious leaders, teachers, preachers and community leaders to step up their roles as influencers and agents of countering violent extremism.
“You are best positioned to deal with this kind of situation in the non-kinetic fashion because you are vast and conversant with the teachings and tenets of the religion of Islam.
“Enlightenment and education at the grassroots level remain some of the formidable counter-measures against these criminals,” he said.
The workshop, attended by 40 participants drawn from several countries, including Nigeria, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad, was aimed at suggesting practical solutions for the improvement and enhancement of security and combating all sorts of extremism, terrorism, banditry and organised crime.
With the theme: “The Role of Scholars in Treating the Menace of Extremism, Terrorism and Banditry in the Sahel Region”, the workshop was supported by the African Centre of Study and Research on Terrorism (ACRST).
As rightly emphasised by Monguno and other speakers at the workshop, religious leaders are powerful constituents of societal norms and values because they address the most profound existential issues of human life such as freedom and inevitability, fear and faith, security and insecurity, right and wrong, and sacred.
Based on a common commitment to shared values and their own moral authority, religious leaders can serve as the conscience of the nation, working together to uplift and build consensus around those shared values.
A similar position has always been emphasised at several national, regional and international forums, including at a 2016 “Summit of Religious Leaders for Peace in the Middle East” organised by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), in Alicante, Spain.
The summit resolved that: “Religious leaders, as part of civil society, and with great influence in their communities, have a very important role to play in peacebuilding and in stability through the promotion of peaceful coexistence and reconciliation among communities. They also have prominent role to play in facing extremism and preaching tolerance.”
While condemning the distorted perception which links Islam with violent extremism, Monguno charged participants to use their good offices to champion the real tenets and ideals of the faith in order to render terrorists’ propaganda ineffective.
“Let me emphasise that the Buhari administration does not embrace the philosophy of recklessness, which is being perpetrated by these criminals. It is, therefore, important for preachers, ulemas and imams to be able to spread the actual teachings of the Prophet,” he said.
Also, roles and responsibilities for religious and traditional rulers have been designated in many national and regional policy frameworks.
For instance, Part 2 of the Policy Framework and National Action Plan for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism, developed by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), acknowledged the role played by religious and traditional institution.
“In order to prevent and counter violent extremism, faith-based organisations and leaders have a critical role to play. Through engagement, dialogue, rehabilitation and counseling, religious leaders can bring about change in behaviour of violent extremists.
“Through their platforms, religious leaders can help vulnerable persons in finding balance and staying away from violent extremism,” the document states.
At the end of the workshop, it was unanimously agreed upon that terrorism and the rapid escalation of violent activities by militants have been majorly driven by the so-called Islamic State in the Greater Sahel.
The workshop stated that, although they call themselves Islamic State, it is common knowledge that violent extremists of any form are mere criminals.
In Nigeria, where Boko Haram and the so-called Islamic State West Africa Province carry out terrorist activities, especially in the Northeastern part of the country, their perceived affinity with religion has been flawed.
With the situation in the Sahel becoming grimmer and as violence continues to spread with the number of internally displaced persons growing, there are concerns that food insecurity is affecting more people than ever before.
Part of the NSA’s appeal at the event was a reassessment and reset of the strategy towards the Sahel by setting aside faulty assumptions.
“Particularly, the international community should prioritise, press for or pursue an expanded peace process through dialogue and push for the adoption of non-kinetic measures through affected communities,” said.
It was also agreed that the adoption of kinetic and non-kinetic approaches by the Chad Basin countries to stem the tide of insecurity has yielded tremendous success.
The workshop cited the unsuccessful adoption of the use of propaganda videos by terrorists to project themselves as contending powers in the region with the aim of gaining the support of sympathisers.
The workshop further admitted that recruitment remains key to terrorist activities, and called for more collaboration in the effort of the Lake Chad Basin community countries to continue to frustrate that goal.
It was unanimously accepted that religious and community leaders have a responsibility to support security forces, with the assurance that further avenues for collaboration will be explored.(NAN)