Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) is a relatively new paradigm in Peace and Conflict Studies. While violent extremism on one hand refers to the whole activities and beliefs of individuals and groups who employ violence and terror related acts to achieve political, religious, social, cultural and economic aims, CVE on the other hand is used to describe all the proactive actions and measures put in place to combat and neutralize the efforts of violent extremist groups in the society[1]. It is a body of initiatives intended to put an end to the process of radicalizing, recruiting and mobilizing people (especially youth) for violence and terror related acts. Essentially, it is a counter methodology to empower communities and build their resilience to extremism[2].

In many countries of the world where the scourge of violent extremism has eaten deep, sustainable peace and development becomes a mirage. For example, in Nigeria, the Northern region of the country has been ravaged by the menace of Boko Haram, Shiite Sect and various Islamic fundamentalist groups, the Southern region is also not immuned to the terror of Niger Delta militants, Odua People Congress (OPC), resulting to several death and destruction.

As Nigerians, recently rejoiced over the release of some of the abducted Chibok girls, pre-empting that the battle with the proscribed terror group (Boko Haram) is almost over, the sect struck with the killing of six (6) soldiers of the Nigeria Army[3] during an ambush in Maiduguri, Borno State.

In the midst of this devastation, Youth are the most hit. While some have lost their lives and loved ones, others are denied access to education, economic opportunities and employment.

The aim of this article is to address the scourge of violent extremism with all its manifestation and highlights some of the ways it can be countered.

Causes of Violent Extremism

People do not join or take up violent actions for the fun of it. Something usually prompts that decision. Although there are variations as to the reasons why youth join violent extremist groups, these reasons have however been categorized into both the push factor and the pull factor. Several researches conducted in Nigeria have identified religious distortions, unemployment/poverty, reckless conflict handling styles and so forth[4], as the major drivers of violent extremism

  1. Religious distortion: The role of religion in the increasing spread of violent extremism cannot be over emphasized. People have been mesmerized and deceived by religious fanatics to take up arms as a way of performing the will of God. Another worrying trend in Nigeria is the proliferation of religious-owned private universities. These universities are been used not only to stir social learning but also to propagate religious doctrines. This is an early warning signal to what will befall the nation, if this trend is allowed to continue.
  2. Unemployment: One major threat to societal peace and security is the increasing surplus population who are denied access to decent work. An estimated 70% of Nigeria’s populations are below the age of thirty (30) years while she also boasts of a 13.3% unemployment rate[5]. The inability of the government to productively engage and cater for her surplus populations makes them vulnerable and that automatically provides the pool for mobilisation by armed groups.
  3. Reckless Conflict Handling Styles: Some efforts by the government rather than reduce effectively the surge of violent extremism has increased it. From various studies conducted on the rise of Boko Haram sect in Nigeria, it was found that the virility of the sect rose to another height as result of the death of both the leader, Mohammed Yusuf, and the financier of the group, Alhaji Foi (a former commissioner in Borno state), who died in the custody of the police[6]. This led to the emergence of Abubakar Shekau as the leader of the sect. He revolutionized the sect method, strategies and seeks to revenge the gruesome murder of his members.

Impacts of Violent Extremism

  1. It Undermines Peace and Security: Boko Haram has been responsible for the death of more than twenty thousand lives, the destruction of goods and properties worth billions of Naira and the displacement of several thousand of persons. The roles and actions of violent extremist groups have been largely responsible for the wanton destruction experienced in the North-East and South-South region of Nigeria. Boko Haram has succeeded in instilling fear and inter-communal hatred among people who have been living together in peace and harmony for decades. Some Yoruba speaking people now see a Fulani speaking person as an extremist and fundamentalist and therefore want to avoid contact as much as possible[7]. The activities of violent extremist undermine peace and security, human rights and sustainable peace in the society.
  2. It Undermines the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals: The trend of violent extremism if not countered has the capacity to reverse all the progress made in the course of Nigeria development trajectory. The very little success that was achieved as regards the Millennium Development Goals has been destroyed in some of the Northeastern states. Several primary and secondary schools have been destroyed, not forgetting the destruction of hospitals. Development workers and international organisations have not been spared. The bombing of the United Nations building in Abuja resulting in the death of twenty three (23) persons[8] is still fresh. If there is anything that has the potential of threatening the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals, it is the scourge of violent extremism.
  3. It Undermines Rule of Law and Human Rights: The activities of these violent groups have been responsible for the destruction of state institutions and parastatals. Police stations, courts, prisons and several local, state and federal agencies were overrun and taken over by these groups. Women and girls have also been massively violated. They are faced with domestic violence, sexual abuse, early and forced marriages, genital mutilation, girl child homicide, prostitution, child labour, discrimination etc[9].


As the global community is making serious commitments and taking actions to countering violent extremism, one powerful tool that can effectively counter violent extremism outside the battlefield is the provision and access to education. This has been identified as a major solution to the proliferation of violent extremist ideologies. That is why schools have been the primary targets of these groups, so as to deny people access to alternative knowledge. Education is the only antidote to violent extremism[10]. If government is sincere about countering violent extremism she must make provision and access to education a top priority for her citizenry. Peace education must also be incorporated into the curriculum of schools and mandated for all levels.

This article recognizes that the luxury of mobilisation and recruitment into violent extremist groups exist because of the obvious political and socioeconomic deprivations and grievances in the society. Addressing these grievances can significantly diminish the pool of recruitment. Government must intensify its efforts in the campaign against corruption; adequate provisions must be made to productively engage the surplus population and a favourable business environment be guaranteed. The war on violent extremism will not be won on the battlefield; these triggers must be eliminated.


  • Government must empower youth to be able to resist the mesmeric preaching’s of religious leaders and also stand as a credible voice against the preaching’s of violent extremist groups.
  • Members of state machinery especially the police and army must be trained on how to effectively communicate with communities who are vulnerable to violent extremism. Building and strengthening mutual trust between themselves and the communities should be a priority.
  • Women must given roles in any CVE programmes and initiatives. Their strategic roles in homes, schools, markets and communities make them an important stakeholder in countering violent extremism. They must therefore be equipped and empowered to participate[11].
  • Government must integrate young men and women into decision making processes at local, state and national levels. This is because youth in Nigeria constitute an estimated 70% of the population; they remain a major stakeholder in her quest towards achieving sustainable peace and development[12].


[1] John Kerry (2016); ‘’Joint Strategy on Countering Violent Extremism’’. Department of State and USAID

[2] Banki Moon (2015); ‘’Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism’’; The United Nations Global Counter Terrorism Strategy.

[3] Punch Newspaper; Soldiers Mourn Gallant Soldier Colonel Abu and Others Killed in Boko Haram Ambush. November 05, 2016

[4] Freedom C. Onuoha (2014); Why Do Youth Join Boko Haram? United States Institute of Peace (USIP) Special Report 348.

[5] National Bureau of Statistics (2016). Employment and Underemployment Watch, September, 2016

[6] ibid

[7] Lawal Rafiu Adeniran (2014); ‘’Socio-Economic Effects of Boko Haram Violence on Oyo State, Nigeria’’  IOSR Journal of Humanities and Social Science (IOSR JHSS), Volume 19, Issue 11, Version VII pp 61-65, e-ISSN: 2279-0837.


[9] Motunrayo Ajasa (2016); ‘’Mainstreaming Women in Peace Processes’’.

[10] Agnese Macaluso (2016); From Countering to Preventing Radicalization Through Education: Limits and Opportunities. The Hague Institute for Global Justice.

[11] Georgia Holmer(2013) Countering Violent Extremism: A Peacebuilding Perspective. United States Institute of Peace Special Report 336

[12] Lawal Rafiu Adeniran (2016), ‘’Youth and Sustainable Peace’’. PM Newspaper, November 27, 2016

Written by

LAWAL, Rafiu Adeniran,

National Coordinator, 

Nigeria Youth 4 Peace Initiative (NY4PI),