Peace Heroes: How Nigerian Psychologist Fatima Akilu Rehabilitates Extremist Societies

“Nigeria has been ravaged by a two-decade old insurgency led by Boko Haram” says Dr. Fatima Akilu, a psychologist, author, former government official, now Director of the Neem Foundation, and a member of the global Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership (WASL).

“Though based mainly in the north eastern part of the country, they have been able to carry out attacks in many other cities across the country. More than 20,000 people have been killed, thousands abducted and in excess of 2 million displaced in the North East and thousands more across the country.  Resources meant for development have had to be used to quell the insurgency and we have one of the largest humanitarian response needs in the world currently. Many children have been separated from caregivers, their education and means of livelihood truncated.”

The devastation in Nigerian communities is matched by the overcrowded prisons where thousands of Nigerians – mainly men – reside. They are suspected of belonging to Boko Haram, the insurgent group renowned for waging a war against ‘Western education’ and claiming to uphold strict Islamic values. Years into Boko Haram’s terrorism, Nigeria’s military failed to stop the murders, abductions, and extremist ideology. In 2012 the government of Goodluck Jonathan adopted a new ‘soft approach’ of deradicalization. Dr. Akilu was appointed to run the country’s first official counter-extremism program.

A psychologist and an author who writes children’s books with an educational theme, Akilu developed and integrated deradicalization and prevention programs across the prison service and the ministry of education. Akilu spoke to ICAN’s Aya Nader about how extremism affects women in her country, discussed rehabilitation and reintegration of extremists, and shared what motivates her to keep the fight for peace ignited.

To read the full article, Peace Heroes: How Nigerian Psychologist Fatima Akilu Rehabilitates Extremist Societies, please follow the link provided.

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