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Support for the Victims of Boko Haram

On July 16th, 2014, Boko Haram – a group engaging in terrorism in Nigeria – killed 44 Nigerian citizens and kidnapped seven. That same day, amid outcries for counterterrorism strategies, the Nigerian government took a step toward justice: Giving a hand to the Nigerian victims of Boko Haram violence. A fund-pooling campaign resulted in the inauguration that day of an appointed governmental committee – “The Victim Support Fund Committee”  – at the presidential villa Abuja. Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s president, explained the committee’s purpose during its inauguration on Wednesday: “We cannot replace the lives of men and women who have been killed … The best we can do in this circumstance is to offer them a shoulder to lean on and to stretch out our hands of fellowship to them and tell them we feel their pains and share in their sorrow.”

Although the new committee is a step forward for justice in Nigeria, efforts and funds – perhaps some of the $1 billion the president requested from the House of Representatives or the millions of dollars and euros from various international organizations for counterterrorism efforts – should also be used to tackle the causative factors of Boko Haram’s activities. Expending billions of Nigerian naira on victims without also addressing the root causes of terrorism shows an inadequately envisioned goal.

The causes of Boko Haram’s violence, as well as the violence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Al Qaeda, and any other group, State or non-state, engaging in terrorism, are many and must be comprehensively addressed. Structural causes include a lack of education and employment opportunities. Cultural factors include ethnically oriented systems of oppression, harmful stereotypes and vigilantism. Institutionally, nasty politicking, a weak judicial system, the politicization of Christian and Muslim religious principles by polarizing politicians and an irresponsible mass media contribute to the conditions in which violent actors thrive.

In addition, there are socio-economic causes of violence, such as poverty, the exploitation and unequal distribution of natural resources and the disfranchisement of many Nigerian citizens. In his speech on Wednesday, President Jonathan affirmed this complex nature of terrorism: “The menace of terrorism has emerged as one of the most complex and challenging problems confronting governments in different parts of the world. Terrorists aim to cause social dislocation, spread fear and panic among the populace and disrupt government activities.”

The efforts of Nigeria’s federal government to fulfill the needs of current living victims of terrorism may reduce vigilantism and militias, restrain recruiting or encourage some demobilization of Boko Haram. But these efforts would be far more effective with parallel programs targeting the root causes of violence and terrorism. The new committee guidelines state that the appointed members will “advise government on other matter(s) necessary or incidental to support victims of Boko Haram activities.”

Committee members should wisely advise the Nigerian government that victims of Boko Haram include those of the future, and tackling causal factors now are “necessary” and “incidental.” With a comprehensive approach to terrorism in Nigeria, perhaps President Jonathan’s speech will prove true: “[Terrorists] have not won in the Middle East, in the USA, in China, in Columbia, in Italy, in the United Kingdom, in Kenya … And, with the support of all Nigerians, we would ensure they do not win in Nigeria. Good must prevail over evil.”

Charles Obiorah Kwuelum (charlbiorah@yahoo.com), writing for PeaceVoice, holds a M.A. in both International Affairs and Diplomacy and Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding and is a Fellow with the Search for Common Ground Africa Team at Washington D.C. 

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