We recognise, sadly, that poems and dance do not stop bullets or shield a woman from the blast of an IED. We, however, also believe that NACTEST’s “soft approach” is crucial at this point, hence the necessity to…discuss its framework, experience and prospects from you, experts and enthusiasts, stakeholders all.


I am fascinated by the idea of dominoes though I have never seen one. It is one of those things one knows a lot about without having experienced. I mean, of course, the idea of small things leading to other things, in a sequence that can be beautiful, that can be elaborate, but which is always affective. In the case of this gathering, this mini summit, the imagery of a domino is appropriate. It started a few weeks ago when a friend of mine and a great supporter of the ANA PCVE programme sent me an email. Attached to that email was an article by another friend of mine, Chika Oduah, published in Al Jazeera, titled “Lost childhood: Boko Haram victims gripped by thoughts of revenge”. The sum of the email was that the article was heartbreaking and, referencing a book project I had worked on, she asked, “What can we do about it?”

The article relates a visit Chika had made to a school in Yola catering for the education of children displaced by the conflict. She noted the game they were playing, called Boko Haram versus Soja, which leaves very little room for the imagination. It is Police and Thieves updated to the era of asymmetric warfare near home, a childhood game stripped of its innocence.

“Boko Haram, I see them use knife, chop my grandfather’s head,” said Ibrahim Daniel, a 13-year-old boy from Gwoza in neighbouring Borno State.

“The Boko Haram is something that you won’t like to see,” the young teenager says in a gruff voice.

Speaking in Nigerian slang English, he continues: “I’d like to be a soldier because anything that them (Boko Haram) do, I’d like to do back to them. If me, I see them, me I go carry them. Me I kill am.”

The other kids huddle around Daniel, laughing at his last remark about killing Boko Haram. Many of them want to become soldiers, too.

So, there you have it.

Recently, Nigeria, especially that online, predominantly middle class, mobile phone-totting and opinions expressive section known as Cyberia, was caught in activism against the excesses of the Special Anti Robbery Squad aka SARS, whose highhandedness had routinely seen to the death of many a citizen, victims of impunity and of the foolishness of not having a handy bribe ready. The Cyberian Nigerians had had enough and galvanised by several activists under the #EndSARS hashtag, forced the hand of the state and the Police to cull the dreaded SARS and mouth reforms. The SARS are off the roads. However, a curious relationship does exist between the SARS and Nigeria’s three year Civil War that ran from 1967 to 1970. In the 80s and early 90s, the country was stunned by a new wave of brutal crime — everything from carjacking to armed robbery — with the killing of citizens meted out of courtesy by a new breed of hoodlums who had no mercy and showed no remorse. That was the era of the Shina Rambos, the Lawrence Aninis and their less famous siblings. For the most part, these criminals were the children of our Civil War, and their wanton violence can be understood in terms of generational trauma, whatever other explanations there may be. The SARS was created to deal with the menace with the same modus operandi as the anti-social elements. The methods and the success of SARS is yet to be comprehensively evaluated. But there is no doubt that when agents of the state meant to protect citizens turn against them, we have had overcompensation and the abuse of rights, and the corruption of those agents of the state becomes the norm, as tyranny becomes the reality.

In 2014, the government of Nigeria articulated a Soft Approach to Counterterrorism through the Office of the National Security Adviser’s National Counterterrorism Strategy (NACTEST). The “soft” approach, within the larger NACTEST, seemed to understand both the asymmetric terrain of threat to national security, the unique place of information and communications…


Hence, the question, from the perspective of a person interested in issues of national policy and strategic studies is: Are we witnessing, in the kids sampled in Chika Oduah’s Al Jazeera report, the already traumatised future anti-socials? Further, considering the easy way today’s young fit into globalised digital spaces, their particular native intelligence and brilliance, what sort of threat are we facing exactly? Lastly, in the terrain of Nigeria, whether in the North-East or South-East or central Nigeria, where the proliferation of small and light weapons (SALWs) has made our porous borders obvious, the question my friend asked me, which has led us here, is a necessary one: What can we do?

In 2014, the government of Nigeria articulated a Soft Approach to Counterterrorism through the Office of the National Security Adviser’s National Counterterrorism Strategy (NACTEST). The “soft” approach, within the larger NACTEST, seemed to understand both the asymmetric terrain of threat to national security, the unique place of information and communications, as well as perceptions in shaping the actors and victims of terrorism. NACTEST recognised, simply, that you could not shoot your way to peace in the 21st century and that the issues of preventing and countering violent extremism were central to this. Not a whole lot was heard about NACTEST until 2016 when a structure for its implementation was announced in Lagos. Under the NACTEST “soft approach”, four streams of activity are identified:

● De-radicalisation of repentant terrorists;

● Move from government to society approach on counter terrorism thinking;

● Building capacity through strategic communication for the military and law enforcement agencies;

● Economic revitalisation programme targeted at the states most impacted by terrorism.

The nexus between this and Ibrahim Daniel in Chika Oduah’s article, my friend’s concern and the reason we are here must now be apparent for we live in a time when the government of Nigeria insists the war against Boko Haram is winding down. An upscaling of hard military means against the insurgents seems to have limited the impunity with which they have acted in the past. Internall displaced persons (IDP)’s camps have been closed and on several occasions, calls and promises have been made, without specificity, on a transition from military to civilian led security administration in the North-East. The gallant Nigerian military is grossly overstretched and have been taken too long from their traditional roles, which is a cause of worry. The Nigeria Police Force and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps have, at various times, held out to deploy thousands of officers and men to take over internal security roles from the military.

Our programme, ANA PCVE, was created by the Association of Nigerian Authors to explore the ways literature especially can be used in preventing and countering violent extremism in Nigeria. This necessarily involves research with the aim of providing high level advisory for a wide range of stakeholders in a bid to shape the future of Nigeria by shaping…perceptions…


The question of what to do with the peculiar Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) can no longer be escaped, especially those that have had weapons training. The local communities and their economies, within which all categories of victims of the insurgency — Ibrahim Daniel in the article and the nameless insurgents who killed his grandfather — are expected to live in is a relevant context. Also, if perceptions, if changing perceptions, lies at the centre of preventing and countering violent extremist narratives, we must ask what role it can play in addressing vendetta and revenge in a post-conflict scenario. This is because, without prejudice to whether we are ready or not, or to the true state of the insurgency, we are entering a post-conflict posture where DDR — demobilisation, deradicalisation and reintegration — are the guiding principles. Which all, in turn, brings us to the NACTEST and its soft approach to CT and PCVE.

Our programme, ANA PCVE, was created by the Association of Nigerian Authors to explore the ways literature especially can be used in preventing and countering violent extremism in Nigeria. This necessarily involves research with the aim of providing high level advisory for a wide range of stakeholders in a bid to shape the future of Nigeria by shaping the perceptions of all categories of victims of extremism. We are thus firmly ensconced within the “soft approach” enunciated by NACTEST. We, of course, recognise that the very nature of the insurgency threat profile requires asymmetric engagement, a multi-stakeholder synergy of efforts, ours being one of these. We recognise, sadly, that poems and dance do not stop bullets or shield a woman from the blast of an IED. We, however, also believe that NACTEST’s “soft approach” is crucial at this point, hence the necessity to convene this mini-summit to discuss its framework, experience and prospects from you, experts and enthusiasts, stakeholders all.

Recently, I and Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, the noted Nigerian novelist and journalist, worked on the North-East Regional Initiative (NERI)’s #NotAnotherNigeria Creative Writing Workshop. Under that programme, some of NERI’s NEIEF Fellows, mostly Nigerians from the North-East, participated in a workshop to write fictional stories about their experiences. At the end of that workshop, a book of eleven stories titled Ordinary Saviour: New Stories from Nigeria’s Northeast was published by Origami Books and publicly presented on August 29 here in Abuja. I mention this because that book practicalises ANA PCVE’s objectives — to use literature to humanise the victims of conflict, so they take agency for the narrative of conflict and to create solid counter narratives against extremist ideology.

Richard Ali can be reached at richard.ali@pcve.org.ng.

This is excerpted from the keynote address presented at the “Stakeholder’s Summit on Assessing Nigeria’s Soft Approach to CVE” held by ANA PCVE in collaboration with the Gusau Institute and White Ink Consult in Abuja on October 18, 2018.

Top image/art work by dele jegede: BH (Boko Haram) 3. 30”x48” Acrylic on canvas. 2014