NewsWest AfricaHow to build a peaceful coexistence in a religiously tensed Nigeria


Posted on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 12:09

How to build a peaceful coexistence in a religiously tensed Nigeria

By Konye Obaji Ori

Nigeria's newly appointed Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Alex Bade boasted recently that the violent Islamist sect, Boko Haram insurgency, which has devastated the North East part of Nigeria, "will end by April this year". But Bade's statement defies the belief that beyond the Boko Haram insurgency lie the consequences and implications of the sect on religious relations and public perceptions of unity and statehood.

Much has been expressed about the magnitude of destruction and desolation by Boko Haram. Pundits have examined the context in which religious violence has emerged in Nigeria, and the motivations or desired ends of the Islamist sect.

And stout solutions have been brought to the tables of national security: Raise school attendance in northern Nigeria, and create jobs through agriculture and exports. Offer amnesty and rehabilitation for members of the group if they surrender. Or, take massive military action. Granted, these steps, in strategic combinations, can be successful.

If what we see is what we become, then the media has not done vulnerable Muslim youths any favours

But beyond these solution steps is a holistic approach that ought to be on the table - an orchestrated process of communication strategies that builds restraint, moderation, and civility.

Boko Haram's insurgency employ frames of injustice, blame, and agency.

These rhetorical frames allows the group to encourage violence, vilify the enemy-Other, petition for a holy war, encourage martyrdom and invoke an apocalypse.

While these frames remain culturally and geo-politically situated, they are similar to the framing strategies that other extreme Islamists groups have utilised in the Islamic Maghreb, the Arabic Peninsular, West Asia or the Middle East.

Continuous terror attacks in those parts of the world have been witnessed, and a quicker solution in Nigeria cannot be expected without understanding and countering these frames on strategic levels.

Boko Haram's persuasive, even coercive communication campaign driven by fundamentalism, radicalism and politics has effects and implications on the co-existence of Muslims and non-Muslims in Nigeria.


The impacts of a 'war on terror' in Nigeria cannot be underestimated. Thus, while efforts are in place to engage Boko Haram as a movement, efforts must be made to construct peaceable co-existence between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Counter-vitriolic communication campaigns is the key.

First, focus must shift to sympathetic and vulnerable Nigerian Muslims. A significant percentage of Nigerian Muslim youths are economically and socially vulnerable enough to forsake civil and peaceful means to solving socio-political problems, and respond to the clarion call for violent Jihad.

The Boko Haram - no signs of weakening

Despite a stronger army and police presence, the Boko Haram Islamist group has strengthened its positions and carried out increasingly strong raids. Back in May, 2013, President Goodluck Jonathan sacked his security chiefs and announced a state of emergency in Adamawa, Yobe and Borno states after a wave of attacks linked to Boko Haram killed 150 people. Though it may not have made the same global front pages as the September attack on Nairobi's Westgate mall, Boko Haram militants murdered 44 people in a dormitory of Gujba Agricultural College in Yobe on 29 September. In July, the group attacked a secondary school in Mamudo and 42 people were killed. In mid-September, militants hit the towns of Benisheik and Dumba. These are hardly death throes of a wounded organisation, despite assurances from Nigeria's high command that it has eliminated top Boko Haram leaders. ●

The need to communicate with those most vulnerable to radicalisation is of the essence.

Boko Haram persuades vulnerable Muslims to engage in violent Jihad through the construction of war-or-nothing memoranda. The Nigerian government must, therefore, employ every available means to counter radicalising messages and dissuade the vulnerable Muslim from violent Jihad.

An effective counter vitriolic communication campaign in Nigeria must begin with the five pillars of Islam: Shahadah (belief), Salat (prayer), Zakat (kindness), Sawm (fasting during the month of Ramadan), and the Hajj (visiting Mecca once in a person's lifetime).

The core of religion

The two main branches of the Muslim world, Shia and Sunni both agree on the essential details for the performance and practice of these acts, fundamental principles that have nothing to do with violence, war or hate.

At the core of most world religions are teachings of love, peace and kindness. Thus, communication campaigns including strategically framed talking points must shape interfaith dialogues, public messages, old and new media publicity, community forums and education campaigns back to these fundamental moral values.

Second, visibility is essential to this communication campaign. Since the global war on terror was waged post 9/11, the most visible Muslim icons, Muslim cult personalities, and Muslim figures, real or created have been 'terrorists', violent Jihadists, and notorious leaders. If what we see is what we become, then the media has not done vulnerable Muslim youths any favours.

A strategic counter-vitriolic communication strategy would reframe such visual rhetoric by increasing the visibility of peaceful and non-violent Muslim icons in political spheres, pop-culture, and in every significant culture machine.

Historical, living, and fictional Islamic icons, heroes and heroines of peace, justice, and civility must be made visible and audible. Such visibility will not only aid in the invitation of young vulnerable Muslims to civility, and humanism, but it could aid in religious and inter-faith relations.

Counter-vitriolic communication

The voices of moderation, the voices of peace and civility, and the voices of reason must receive more media focus than they currently get.

Boko Haram's leaders assure members, moderate Muslims, and would-be-recruits of spiritual ends by glorifying violence and the sacrifice of one's life for Allah. This view must be deconstructed and contextualised.

Communication campaigns must emphasize that terrorism is non-Islamic, and the way of Allah is peace, love and kindness to humankind.

The unity of Nigerian Muslims and non-Muslims depends on communication campaigns that foster restraint, moderation, and civility. Reframing vitriolic and divisive messages, and creating visibility for peace-seeking agents and agencies are vital steps to inter-faith and national unity.

Strategic counter-vitriolic communication would aim to increase the attitudes and latitudes of young and vulnerable Nigerian Muslims to reject violent Jihad.

As the Nigerian government takes steps against militancy, insurgency and terrorism that includes poverty alleviation, economic development, education and social reforms, it must support a strategic communication campaign that builds unity, fosters restrains and tolerance, and ingrains civility and due process among Muslims and non-Muslims.

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