Rural Awareness As A Means Of Countering Violent Extremism, By Patience Kilyobas
Countering violent extremism is a diverse and evolving field; clear definitions are necessary. It refers to the beliefs and actions of people who support or employ ideologically motivated violence to achieve radical religious or political views. It is usually expressed by strong shifts in politics, religion and gender bias. Georgia Holmer refers to countering violent extremism as a realm of policy and strategy that aims to prevent individuals from becoming engaged in violent extremism and terrorism.
The impact and effects of violent extremism in Nigeria are obvious even to the undiscerning. Families have been ruined, states devastated by the actions of a few who are furious at everything and everyone not aligned with their movement.
Beyond security forces preempting, and reacting to the activities of insurgents, what strategies can government and citizens imbibe to stop the recruitment of other impressionable young people? It is important to look at strategies that could be used to create awareness in rural areas to counter violent extremism. This is necessary because most anti-violence campaigns reach a wide urban audience through broadcast media (television and radio), print media (newspapers, journals and magazines) as well as social media (Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, e.t.c). There is therefore a startling lack of information in rural communities with no electricity or Internet access. This means that the people in the rural areas who suffer the effects of the insurgency the most are cut off from information that is critical to halt recruitment.
How should the government, working with traditional, community, and religious leaders, do this? The low literacy levels of rural dwellers must be taken into consideration when planning sensitization campaigns to bridge the information gap between the urban and rural areas. The use of radio programmes, broadcast or in person drama performances, door-to-door talks in indigenous languages, etc. are examples of options to get these messages across. These methods will teach them how to know the signs of violent extremists within their communities and the latent dangers thereof.
Radio plays a big role in our society as the medium with the largest subscription; it is a common and effective tool of mass communication that is accessible to all rural dwellers. It is also the most ideal mass medium available to reach vast segments of the population in a short time. Community radio programmes aim to mobilize groups and bring about change in the society. Airing anti-violence campaigns on radio stations like Voice of America (VOA) and British Broadcasting Cooperation (BBC) which are wide-reaching and held in high regard, will go a long way in countering violent extremism in rural areas. Radio provides the opportunity of reaching powerless communities and giving them a voice.
Defluer and Ball-Rokeach (1988) wrote that mass media plays a crucial role in forming and reflecting public opinion, connecting the world to individuals and reproducing the self-image of society. It influences how individuals acquire new ideas, attitudes, and changes orientation in society.
Engaging with traditional and religious community leaders is another means of creating awareness on countering violent extremism in the rural areas because these people play an important role in their communities and can help spread information to their followers in churches, mosques and palaces. Leaders who are on board with anti-violence messages lend credibility to the cause, thus making it easy to pass the message to other members of the community.
Town hall meetings can also be organized as a way of creating awareness through dramas and talks to enlighten the people about the dangers of violent extremism and how they can counter it. These are some of the measures, which can be put in place to counter violent extremism and the associated casualties.
Dissemination of messages that counter violent extremism by leveraging technology and digital tools is another potent way to reduce incidences and halt further recruitment of youth. The North East Regional Initiative, via its North East Intellectual Entrepreneurship Fellowship is a leading actor in this area. Whether it is organizing conversations via Twitter or Facebook or broadcasting messages via WhatsApp, communication about the origins, propagation, and remediation processes for violent extremism is important, and the duty of everyone – government, the community, and citizens themselves.