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As the deadly insurgency carried out by terror group Boko Haram continues to wreak havoc in north-eastern Nigeria and neighbouring countries, IBTimes UK speaks with a Nigerian barrister and philantropist, who is calling on governments to expand deradicalisation and reintegration programs to effectively tackle terrorism.
Lawyer Zannah Bukar Mustapha is based in Maiduguri, capital of the restive Borno state, Boko Haram's birthplace. The terror group has killed thousands of people since 2009 and has become famous worldwide for its widespread practice of kidnapping civilians who are then trained to become fighters, forced to become sex slaves, or used in suicide bombing missions.
Due to deteriorating security conditions, hundreds of thousands of children have dropped out of school in north-eastern Nigeria, where several educational buildings have closed down following terror attacks targeting public places.
Children who are out of school often happen to be their family's breadwinners as their parents have been killed by the insurgency. This – coupled with lack of jobs and infrastructure – enhances the possibility of children being recruited by Boko Haram, who promises money in exchange for work, creating a cycle difficult to break.
In order to empower young people and women affected by poverty and instability, Mustapha created the Future Prowess Islamic Foundation School in 2007.
With only 36 pupils attending the school when it first opened, the foundation now gives free access to food, clothing, education and medical assistance to more than 400 children. The school motto is "a school where every child matters" and it aims to facilitate coexistence between people from both sides of the conflicts.
The foundation, which also aims to educate children hoping they will be able to ensure peace in the country, has also created a widow organisation to assist women.
Military strategy successful, but not enough
The Nigerian army is leading a regional offensive – consisting of 8,700 troops from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin – against Boko Haram. The offensive has scored some successes, such as the recapture of key territories and the recovery of arms and vehicles used by the terrorists during their attacks.
Although Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari declared a technical victory over the fight against the insurgents in December 2105, Boko Haram has been carrying out scattered attacks across north-eastern Nigeria and neighbouring countries.
Both Mustapha and David Otto, CEO of UK-based global security provider TGS Intelligence Consultants, told IBTimes UK that the military strategy has been successful, but that anti-terrorism offensive must go beyond the use of arms. They also said governments in the region should sit together and create effective programs to deal with stigmatisation and traumas within societies affected by the terrorism.
When approached by IBTimes UK for a comment, Buhari's spokesperson Femi Adesina said the government had already put in place a "deradicalisation program run by the office of the National Security Adviser."
Who are Nigeria's Boko Haram terrorists?
Boko Haram, which has renamed itself Iswap, fights against Western influence in Nigeria and aims to impose its version of Sharia law throughout occupied territories.
Boko Haram carries out attacks in Nigeria and neighbouring countries in a bid to take control of more territory. Three Nigerian states − Adamawa, Borno and Yobe − have been under a state of emergency since May 2013.
Boko Haram has killed 20,000 people since 2009 and was deemed the world's deadliest terror group, surpassing its ally the Islamic State (Isis) in November 2015.
Nigeria has become the world's third most terrorised country as a result of the group's violent insurgency.