Northeast Nigeria has for years been the epicenter of Boko Haram’s bloody campaign and violent extremism, devastating the region, destroying properties and rendering millions of people internally displaced.
But life is gradually returning to the region. The government’s armed forces have continued to pound and degrade the might of the terror group to fully restore peace. Various initiatives have also been created to wage a battle against violent extremism in the region.
North-East Intellectual Entrepreneurship Fellowship (NEIEF) and North-East Social Innovation Fellowship (NESIF) are parts of the initiatives organized under the aegis of North-East Regional Initiative (NERI) – a capacity building project sponsored by the Washington DC-based Creative Associates International and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) – to fight violent extremism and promote economic freedom in the region.
For two weeks, between 16 – 27 April, 90 participants selected for the two fellowships were gathered at the country’s capital, Abuja for residential training, which focused on the theme: Religious freedom and principle of free markets.
The training was facilitated by African Students For Liberty (ASFL), which brought various professionals and pro-liberty experts to drive conversations around the theme of the training.
Some of the facilitators included frontline entrepreneur and democracy activist, Japheth Omojuwa, founder of African Christians for Liberty, Bishop Emeka Ezeugo, a lawyer, Uduak-Abasi Akpabio, SFL’s African Programs Manager, Ms. Linda Kavuka, Habeeb Kolade and Wale Ajetunmobi, a reporter with The Nation.
The NEIEF training, which came first, took young professionals from diverse backgrounds in the Northeast through entrepreneurship, ideals of liberal democracy, free markets, tolerance, separation of religion and governance.
The participants used social media to communicate their thoughts and ideas around the theme with the hashtag #NotAnotherNigerian. They were also engaged in mentoring sessions.
The NESIF training featured a cluster of activities, which had the facilitators driving conversations around thematic areas, which aims at tackling toxic philosophies that fuel extremism and insurgency. The participants were also exposed to the techniques of social innovation.
The facilitators focused on sub-themes, which included Free markets and African societies, Liberty, religion and politics, Islam and free markets, Tolerance.
In her session, Ms Kavuka gave reasons why Africa still battles poverty. The fellows shared their thoughts on how the continent could harness human and material resources to achieve prosperity.
Establishing a nexus between Islam and principle of free market, Ajetunmobi posited that there was nothing which fundamentally encouraged Muslims to engage in free trade other than the examples of Prophet Muhammad, who was a successful merchant before his prophethood.
Ajetunmobi said all forms of markets in human history were based on free exchange of values between individuals, noting that the materials being exchanged must be deemed to have equivalent values at the time of the exchange.
He said: “In Islam, which has its roots from Quran (words of Allah) and Hadiths (tradition of Prophet Muhammad), Muslims are not prohibited to engage in free trade. Earning Halal (lawful) income from one’s effort is one of the underlying tenets of Islam. The only prohibition prescribed on the Muslims is to engage in the trading of Haram(forbidden) goods as prescribed by Shari’ah (Islamic laws).”
Omojuwa drew conversations around market-place, economics and societal change, with the understanding of free exchange. He said there had been no perfect economic system in human history, but added that free market capitalism remained the most realistic idea that could bring a society to prosperity and growth faster.
She said: “When people of different beliefs and languages co-exist, there is high possibility for improved social order, political interaction and robust approach issues of governance. This leads to positive growth and mutual prosperity.”
The events featured debates in which the participants engaged one another on common issues. There were also group activities after which the participants presented their recommendations.
The trainings ended with the participants given certificates of participation. They also got free copies of Voices from Africa and CD on Ideas of Free Society from the Network of a Free Society.
You can also read the published report in The Nation Newspaper