Re: Dangerous liaisons: Exploring the risk of violent extremism along the border between Northern Benin and Nigeria

The recent report by Kars de Bruijne and Clara Gehrling, titled, “Dangerous Liaisons: Exploring the Risk of Violent Extremism along the Border between Northern Benin and Nigeria,” provides a timely analysis of a critical issue. The Clingendael Institute’s effort to enlighten us on the complexities of violent extremism in this volatile region is commendable. 

However, the report’s methodology and fundamental inaccuracies demand critical examination to ensure we build a robust understanding of the threat and develop effective responses. As a matter of fact, the report risks sparking conflicts between border communities in an already tense environment, potentially making conflicts worse instead of resolving them.

A NEED FOR STRONGER METHODOLOGICAL RIGOUR 

The report provides a detailed account of the activities and interconnections of violent extremist groups. However, its methodological framework is notably weak. While the reliance on Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) sources is evident, the absence of detailed explanations for other data sources raises questions about the comprehensiveness and reliability of the analysis. The methodology lacks transparency, making it difficult to fully assess the validity of its findings.

A comprehensive research work should include a variety of data sources such as first-hand accounts, local perspectives, and independent research. By doing so, the authors could have improved their analysis and provided a more detailed understanding of the socio-political dynamics at play. Incorporating local voices would make the report more authentic and ensure that the proposed solutions are based on the real experiences of those directly affected by extremism.

The authors consistently relied on a single source for confirmation or authority for some assertions. For instance, they claim that bandits from Nigeria are renting houses in Benin Republic without providing the names of the bandits or their affiliations. This omission is a significant issue in research, as bandit leaders and their associates are typically well-known and referenced in reports.

The report consistently made weaker assertions when relying on generalizations, such as the claim that the kidnappers of the Dodo of Wawa were dressed in military outfits and demanded a ransom, thus being classified as bandits. While this is a known tactic of bandit groups, it is not sufficient for a research report of this caliber to provide limited arguments and refer to nameless bandit groups, especially when bandit leaders are known and often cited.

Furthermore, no specific bandit names operating in this area were mentioned, while names of violent extremists, who are known to be more dangerous, were included.

The authors seem to be encouraging conflict between friendly neighbours while demonising Nigerians. This is especially given the fragile relationships in border communities.

GEOGRAPHIC AND ETHNIC MISREPRESENTATIONS 

The report repeatedly refers to Niger State as part of the North West Nigeria, when it is actually located in the North Central Nigeria. This error undermines the credibility of the geographical analysis and may result in misguided policy recommendations.

Accurate geographic classification is crucial for understanding regional dynamics and for the deployment of appropriate counter-extremism measures.

The report struggles to accurately identify the ethnic composition relevant to the situation in Kebbi and Niger states. Ethnic dynamics play crucial role in the spread and support of extremist activities. It is essential to have a clear understanding of these dynamics in order to develop targeted interventions that address the root causes of extremism. 

Contrary to the report’s claims, Borgu has a rich diversity of cultures and multi-ethnic communities, including the Busa (Bussawa), Boko, Bokobaro, and Fulani, each with unique cultural heritage and traditions. 

In addition, the area between Alibori in Benin Republic and Kebbi in Nigeria is mainly inhabited by Bariba and Fulani ethnic groups, not predominantly Hausa and Fulani as the report suggests.

OVEREMPHASIS ON MILITARY SOLUTIONS 

The report rightly emphasizes the importance of a coordinated military response to violent extremism, but it places too much emphasis on this aspect. It’s essential to recognize that violent extremism is not just a security issue, but also a social and economic one. 

The recommendations would be more effective with a balanced approach that includes community engagement, education, and economic development programmes.

Addressing the underlying causes of extremism, such as poverty, lack of education, and social marginalization, is crucial for achieving lasting peace. 

By focusing mainly on military solutions, the report risks overlooking the significance of these long-term strategies.

POOR APPRECIATION OF GOVERNMENT POLICIES 

The analysis of government policies, such as the ban on cereal exports and cuts to fuel subsidies, is briefly mentioned but not thoroughly explored. These policies have a significant impact on cross-border trade and livelihoods, which makes communities more susceptible to extremist recruitment. 

A comprehensive examination of these policies and their socio-economic impacts could offer valuable insights into addressing the economic vulnerabilities that extremist groups exploit.

CONCLUSION 

“Dangerous Liaisons” makes a significant contribution to the discussion on violent extremism in West Africa. However, in order for it to be a strong foundation for policy and action, it needs to address its methodological weaknesses, geographic inaccuracies, and overemphasis on military solutions. 

By integrating diverse data sources, accurately representing geographic and ethnic realities, and adopting a more balanced approach, we can gain a better understanding and more effectively combat the threat of violent extremism along the border between Northern Benin Republic and Nigeria. 

As we move forward, let’s commit to rigorous, inclusive, and comprehensive research that acknowledges the complexities of violent extremism and paves the way for sustainable peace and security in the sub-region.

Mallam Kabiru Abdullahi Wushishi writes from Kaduna, Kaduna state