Muhammad Kabir was 19 years old when the Boko Haram insurgency started surfacing in his home city of Maiduguri in North-Eastern Nigeria. In a movement born from poverty, unemployment, and government oppression, the insurgents only attacked government buildings and the military at first. Most people celebrated their acts and even gave them cover. “I began to think,” Muhammad told Peacemaker 360, “that one day these same people who are celebrating will be hunted and become victims as well.”
It turns out, he was right.
“The Boku Haram insurgency has not only dislocated social and economic activities in these states, but also has resulted in at least 20,000 deaths, the enslavement of thousands of girls and women, the forced conscription of thousands of boys and young men into the insurgency, and at least 2.2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs),” Muhammad said.
To combat this situation, Muhammad focuses on changing the narrative around violence. The prevailing story used by Boko Haram and circulated among Nigerian youth is that violence is justified because violence is the only language government leaders will understand. Muhammad works with local, national, and international organizations (including the United Nations Population Fund, the UN Human Rights Commission, Nigerian Youth Network on Countering Violent Extremism, Young Leadership Association of Nigeria, Bulunkutu Abuja Youth Development Association, and Search for Common Ground) to change that narrative. “The new story,” he said, “is that violence cannot be justified, and it has changed the perception of the youth in their various communities and given them the opportunity to be considered and be heard by leaders and other stakeholders.”
The biggest challenge, he says, is reaching fellow youth in remote areas. He does this by partnering with local youth organizations.
“I firmly believe that there is no alternative to peace,” Muhammad said, “and violence can NEVER be justified. We can only have meaningful development when peace and social justice are allowed to reign in our societies.”
Muhammad Kabir is willing to serve as a resource for other activists countering violent extremism, and may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, on twitter @mkabir13_k, and on Facebook as Muhammad Kabir.
Source: Peacemaker360 /Maija Jespersen.