WASHINGTON, June 29, 2016 — Following Boko Haram and Fulani Group terrorist acts across Nigeria, the international community has done little but voice their concern. Boko Haram is now considered the most dangerous terrorist organization in the world and the Fulani group is fourth, yet there is no evidence of coordinated, international action to combat them.
During a presentation on Nigeria, presenters from The Heritage Foundation claimed that Muslim and Christian communities are profoundly, negatively affected by these attacks. This is especially the case in northern regions where Sharia law is in effect.
The Nigerian situation is analogous to the ongoing Syrian crisis. It is fueled by extremism and insurgency, but it has elicited a very different international response.
ISIS, the ideological parent of Boko Haram, follows the Sunni Wahhabist view of Islam. Both organizations oppose Westernization and Western education. Boko Haram’s non-state attitude towards the government and laws is typical to Wahhabism as well.
The actions of Boko Haram and the Fulani terrorists should be as worrisome to the international community as the war in Syria. If a refugee crisis were to break out, its results would be far more drastic than those of he Syrian crisis; Nigeria’s population is 180 million compared to Syria’s 23 million.
The numbers alone say that the situation in Nigeria must be urgently dealt with. The world needs both long-term and short-term solutions before the crisis grows more severe, as it will with a predicted food shortage this next harvest.
Essential governmental services like education and the right to practice freedom of religion are critical to stopping the spread of terrorism. If religious tolerance and better education took root in Nigeria now, the temptation to join terrorist organizations would be reduced.
Creating new schools must be done carefully, as initially they will raise resentment within these anti-western groups, leading them to act more harshly toward civilians.
These ideas are familiar to key players in Nigeria, such as David Saperstein, the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. He claims that religious freedom reduces the appeal of radicalization and violence, heightening the need to create a tolerant and equal legal system across Nigeria.
Becky Gadzama, the Co-Founder of the Education Must Continue Initiative, also spoke at the Heritage event. Gadzama explained that 20 to 30 million children in Nigeria receive no quality education at all. She said that before school, many children want to be fighters in the army. After a brief time in school, they change their ambitions; they want to be doctors or politicians.
Gadzama wants to provide education to Nigerian youth in order to inform the citizens of their rights and build their capacity to make a societal change. Education of girls can be a tool to weaken Boko Haram, which preys on Nigerian women. But 19,000 teachers have fled the country, only further emphasizing the need to bring schools and education to its children.
As in Syria and other areas ravaged by terrorists, impoverished and uneducated youth without an education are more likely to join extremist groups in hope of a better future. Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General to the United Nations claims that “a path to defeat these groups is not less democracy and war, but more democracy, human rights, and a fair rule of law. Terrorist ideologies are fought with education and ideologies of change”.
Good governance and education are answers that send the message to protect the human rights and dignity marginalized groups. This is a critical step to ensure that people feel a sense of belonging to their own society.