How Nigeria and Niger manage exits from violent extremist groups

Lessons on incentivising former fighters and associates to disengage can be useful to other affected countries.

Nigeria and Niger have taken various steps to disarm, demobilise, repatriate, reintegrate and resettle (DDRRR) former members of violent extremist groups. In order to widely share lessons from non-kinetic approaches to preventing and countering violent extremism, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in partnership with the United Nations Department of Peace Operations (UNDPO) co-hosted a public webinar aimed at West African and global stakeholders.

The event was moderated by Dr Lori-Anne Théroux-Bénoni, Director of the ISS Regional Office for West Africa, the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin. The two panelists were:

  • Mario Nascimento from the DDR section within UNDPO, who discussed how DDR processes have evolved to address new conflict dynamics and the proliferation of armed groups, and
  • Malik Samuel, ISS Researcher, who presented key results from the ISS Policy Brief on DDRRR lessons from the Lake Chad Basin. Some of these lessons include disengagement incentives, national and regional coordination, gender mainstreaming, better legal frameworks and community engagement.

An interactive session followed with contributions by Hon Aliyu Ibrahim Gebi, Adviser to the Nigerian Chief of Defence Staff on non-kinetic strategies and Coordinator of the Fusion Cell on Peace Process and Dialogue, and Abdoulaye Haidara, National Coordinator of the stabilisation and non-state armed groups surrender programmes from Niger’s Ministry of Interior, who shared Nigeria and Niger’s experiences.

They discussed the processes in their respective countries, what informed government's decision to embark on DDRRR, the incentives given to Boko Haram members to disengage, who was targeted in these processes as well as challenges encountered and mitigation strategies. They noted the important issues of timing and conditionality for such processes and whether and when DDRRR should be conducted in an overt or covert manner.

The representatives from Nigeria and Niger also stressed the prerogative of member states to define the legal, policy and institutional framework for the implementation of DDRRR programmes, including  the linkages with transitional justice processes.

‘When is the right time to start?’ asked Aliyu Gebi. ‘I’d say the day the violence, the craziness starts, but if you are talking about creating enabling environments for a sustainable process, that is a totally different discussion. For those who have not started or are thinking of starting, you must start immediately because by starting, you’re also ensuring that the violence does not escalate to the level that ours did, unfortunately.’

The possibility for replicating such an approach and adapting it to other contexts was also addressed. Haidara highlighted that based on DDRRR lessons with Boko Haram members, ‘a similar process has been launched in the Tillabery region targeting armed groups operating in the tri-border area of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali, which confirms that such processes can be adapted to different contexts.’

The seminar was attended by 133 people from 30 countries, and active audience engagement showed interest in DDRRR and the ISS’ work on the issue. All those who responded to the post-event evaluation found the webinar useful. Selected specific comments include:

  • ‘Having stakeholders at the heart of the processes talk about their experiences was very useful and informative’
  • ‘Great event. Best practices to become replicable elsewhere, so pivotal, to us all moving onwards. Thanks ISS’

The ISS partner for this event, Thomas Kontogeorgos, Chief of DDR Section in UNDPO, said that ‘Given the clarity of their priorities and angles, the panelists’ perspective could significantly contribute and guide the support provided by the UN. Their statements could foster coherent, well-coordinated and complementarity interventions across the UN.’

Development partners
This event is funded by the Government of Denmark, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the Bosch Foundation. The ISS is also grateful for support from the members of the ISS Partnership Forum: the Hanns Seidel Foundation, the European Union, the Open Society Foundations and the governments of Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.
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