By Henry Duru
National security in Nigeria has in recent time come under formidable threats from the activities of various insurgent groups. Among the groups that have made most visible impacts since the inception of the current Fourth Republic include Niger Delta militant groups like Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPVF). Others are the O’odua People’s Congress (OPC), Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and Egbesu Boys, among others. However, the most recent and perhaps most worrisome insurgent activities in the country today are the ones coming from an Islamist group known as Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad(People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad) otherwise nicknamed Boko Haram (figuratively meaning Western education is sin) as a result of its opposition to everything associated with the Western civilisation or way of life.
Record has it that the late Mohammed Yusuf-founded sect has existed since 2002 but its militant posture has only begun to fully manifest in 2009 when the group clashed with the nation’s security forces in days of very bloody confrontations that eventually resulted in the controversial killing of Yusuf. Since then, the nation has known no peace as the group’s activities of bombing, shooting and kidnapping have stolen sleep from the eyes of the nation’s leadership, security agencies and indeed ordinary Nigerians.
Worse still, Boko Haram’s method, now characterised by military-styled coordination and precision, ruthlessness, systematic propaganda and use of suicide bombing (characteristic of world notorious groups like al-Qaeda, Taliban, Hamas, etc), has really brought home to Nigerians the painful but unassailable reality that they have come to share the same country with a terrorist group in the character of globally dreaded similar organisations operating mainly in the Middle East. At least, one’s fear tends to deepen when it is considered that among officials of the United States, a strong belief exists that Boko Haram has potential links with the dreaded al-Qaeda. Quoting the Commander of the U.S. military Africa Command (AFRICOM), General Carter F. Ham, the web-based encyclopedia, Wikipedia, writes that three African terrorist groups – al-Shaabab of Somalia, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb across the Sahel region, and Boko Haram – “have very explicitly and publicly voiced an intent to target Westerners, and the U.S. specifically” and that he (General Ham) was concerned with “the voiced intent of the three organizations to more closely collaborate and synchronize their efforts.”
As expected, the response of the Nigerian government to the Boko Haram challenge has been to confront the group using the resources of the nation’s security apparatus. Military personnel and policemen have been drafted to the scene, particularly in the North-East of the country where the group’s stronghold is definitely is, while the intelligence machinery of the State Security Services (SSS) has also been deployed.
While this move may have, to any extent, hit the group hard, it has obviously not proved so successful as to uproot it or at least substantially blunt its capacity for violence and so give Nigerians the most needed assurance of safety and peace. Consequently, the nation (whether overtly or covertly) continues to live in fear, nervously anticipating what next the group could do and where next it could do it. At least, the recent besieging of the NYSC directorate headquarters in Abuja by prospective corps members protesting their posting to the Northern Nigeria strongly evidences the fear and tension which the Boko Haram sect has succeeded in instilling in the mind of the ordinary Nigerian.
In the face of the unsatisfactory results yielded so far by the sledge hammer approach of the government’s fight against this violent sect, President Goodluck Jonathan has recently invited the group for a dialogue with the view to amicably ironing out all contentious issues that could have been behind its insurgency. Not unexpectedly, this move was to prove controversial as many saw it as a rather capitulating gesture, which while portraying the government as weak, bolsters the morale of the terrorists who would now consider their acts as productive in holding the nation to hostage. Such fears may have gained some credence in the light of the contempt with which the group treated the president’s offer soon after it was announced.
Be that as it may, for her own survival, the nation must respond to terrorism and all sorts of insurgencies (whether coming from Boko Haram or any other group for that matter). While political solutions are being explored, the use of the security apparatuses is equally very legitimate and expedient. The question, however, is: “how does the nation go about this in the face of the recent failures both in the Niger Delta and elsewhere. The answer, to my mind, lies not in the physical (manpower and firepower) capabilities of the security agencies but in the very strategies they bring to bear on their counter-terrorism initiatives.
In this light, what I would argue here is that our security agencies (the police, SSS, NIA, Military, etc) would be on the path of efficient combat against terrorism if they shift their emphasis from physical (armed) encounter with the terrorists to matching the terrorists’ onslaught with an intelligence-based strategy. By this we mean a counter-terrorism strategy that thrives more on how efficiently information about the terrorists could be gathered and analysed than on how much armament possessed. This strategy implies that the security agencies would have to operate more primarily as investigators than as aggressors; their preoccupation should be to access sensitive information about the terrorist groups – their location, numerical and arm strength, identities of members particularly their leaders, the groups’ plans of strikes and strategies, among others. Such very strategic pieces of information would place the security bodies at a clear advantage over the terrorists such that any subsequent physical confrontation is potentially won and lost ab initio.
This, however, does not imply that one would be neglecting the role of force in fighting terrorism; no, this would amount to a very costly error – after all, terrorism is essentially an act of violence and its only effective deterring counter-force is violence. But no doubt, prior information about the terrorists would help make any violence aimed at them to be effective – as it would reward such strikes with the much needed precision and other tactical advantages critical to its success. Obviously, while the US and her allies may not have succeeded in erasing groups like al-Qaeda and Taliban off the face of the earth (and are unlikely to achieve this), these groups’ striking capabilities have been significantly weakened through sharp-cutting intelligence onslaught particularly led by the CIA. Therefore, the series of airstrikes conducted over the skies of Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, etc over the years, rather than representing some blind acts, are but neatly executed onslaughts against preselected strategic terrorist targets.
It is a strategy like this that Nigeria may opt for as a way of ending this spell of seeming helplessness in the face of the relentless onslaught of the Boko Haram sect. Rather than having its primary strategy as shooting away Boko Haram with guns and bullets, it should aim at outsmarting it through a more pre-emptive approach. To this effect, the entire intelligence machinery of the Nigerian state ought to be radically reformed by way of retraining, re-orientation, re-equipping and re-structuring. Importantly, good emphasis should be on their capability for intelligence processing, (i.e. analysis and collation). It was in view of this need that the United States, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, established the Department of Homeland Security to carry out the function of coordinating the operations of the nation’s intelligence community (CIA, FBI, SSS, etc) by way of intelligence collation and analysis. This model served the Americans well; who says it will not do the same to Nigeria?Generally, one must appreciate that terrorism, unlike other forms of violence, comes with certain undeniable sophistication. Unlike armed robbers, kidnappers or other sorts of criminals, the terrorist is practically invisible and he is extraordinarily daring. He may not be deterred by mere guns because he is already out for death. Consequently, the primary focus of the security agencies should be on gaining intelligence advantage over these aggressors while armed confrontation may follow as a way of completing the task. The crux of our argument, therefore, is that with such intelligence advantage gained over the terrorists, the success of any armed confrontation becomes better guaranteed. Otherwise, the policemen and soldiers may become eternally locked in the wide goose chase of blindly shooting an enemy that it can neither see nor locate.
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