“We were changing the world”: examining radicalization and empowerment among young people associated with armed opposition groups in northeast Nigeria
EAI's innovative report expands on our understanding of the relationship between empowerment and radicalization among youth in Northern Nigeria based on interviews with young people who were once ideologically aligned with armed opposition groups.
Before they [the armed opposition group] came, I always lamented when bad things happened. I didn’t have a say. I was just a small child. So when I saw someone come in with power wanting to change things, it felt like the right thing to do was to follow.” – Young male respondent, Borno state
The conflict in Northeast Nigeria has evolved in complexity and intensity since 2009, now extending beyond the country’s borders into the Lake Chad Basin. While many associated with armed opposition groups (AOGs) have done so against their will, these groups have demonstrated the ability to mobilize support and offer a sense of belonging, purpose, and community. As the violent conflict in northern Nigeria enters its tenth year, there is a need for a new strategy that examines the assets and agencies of vulnerable youth, prioritizes positive youth development approaches to transforming radicalization, and creates humanizing offramps for radicalized youth to reintegrate into society. As leadership of AOGs has fragmented along ideological lines, there is a unique opportunity to strengthen direct engagement with those who have left or wish to leave these groups. There is also space for strategic communications to challenge the group’s violent and fundamentalist narratives, more deeply explore core motivating factors, and channel community assets and visions for inclusive pro-social outcomes.
Prospects for peace are increasingly defined by the ability to rehabilitate and reintegrate thousands of those formerly associated with AOGs, both as fighters and in support roles. Those seeking disengagement range across a spectrum of forced to voluntary association, likely requiring different approaches and interventions to attend to their reintegration. State responses continue to focus on kinetic operations, while state-led programs for the disarmament, demobilization, reintegration, and rehabilitation (DDRR) of former fighters are yet to be fully operational. Given that the Nigerian government has publicly announced ongoing ceasefire negotiations and an ultimate end to hostilities, effective DDRR is growing increasingly relevant and urgent.
This contemporary and innovative report expands on our understanding of the relationship between empowerment and radicalization among youth in Northern Nigeria by interviewing young people who were once ideologically aligned with armed opposition groups, providing a new approach to peacebuilding practitioners.