•Security specialists, others brainstorm on addressing socio-economic consequences of insurgency
From Henry Chukwurah, Abuja
For two days recently, security experts from within and outside the shores of Nigeria converged on Abuja.
Their mission? To address the myriad of social and economic challenges posed by the lingering insurgency in the North East and how to chart a new course of action capable of pulling Nigeria and Nigerians out of the miry clay of terrorism and other violent crimes.
Many experts participated in the security talk-shop jointly organised by the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution of the Ministry of the Foreign Affairs and the Council on African Security and Development (CASADE). They include former secretary general of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and prime minister of Denmark, Anders Rasmussen; former United States of America ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell; former executive director of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) and serving chairperson of the Board of Trustees and head of African Futures and Innovation at the ISS, Dr. Jacobus Cilliers; Nigeria’s former permanent representative to the United Nations, Prof Ibrahim Gambari, and retired and serving top military officers from within and abroad.
The summit, as Prof. John Ifediora, Director of CASADE, explained, brought together thought leaders in the public, private and academic sectors to dialogue on threats posed by domestic and international terrorist groups, effective counter-intelligence “and when muscular intervention is necessary” to contain and neutralise such threats. Virtually all the speakers in the summit agreed that much more than military intervention was needed to rid the nation of pestering insurgency and other violent crimes.
Reasoning that efforts to counter terrorism must be centred around three main stands of work, namely, hard security measures, economic development and integration as well as an alliance for democracy in the affected parts of the country, former NATO chief scribe, Rasmussen said: “The (Nigerian) military’s successes have weakened Boko Haram, but not eliminated the threat. The organisation has, for now, morphed into a group of well-organised bandits, focusing on urban terrorist tactics and assaults on ‘soft’ targets. It has proven difficult for Nigeria to defend itself against such sporadic assaults on smaller settlements and military outposts. Doing so will require improved intelligence and sustained efforts to degrade the technical skills and specialised supplies of the militants. It is still too early to conclude whether or not Boko Haram continues to represent an existential threat to the country.”
Rasmussen stated that to prevent Boko Haram’s further consolidation, regional partners should take a more consistent and coordinated approach in tandem with international support. This, he said, “would include broadening the mobilisation of the multinational Joint Task Force, full funding of the force’s estimated $700 million budget and appropriate cooperation on intelligence, logistics and training from partners outside the region.”
He told the crowded gathering that determined fight against the terrorists must be accompanied by infrastructure investments to promote a positive economic development. Dwelling on the need for realistic economic development and integration, the former prime minister urged that beyond improving on counter-terrorism measures, countries must identify and have better understanding of “the root causes of why people growing up in our democracies choose to declare allegiance to Islamic State, travel to conflict zones in the Middle East and return as radicalized and violent young individuals.”
He continued: “The enemy we are facing is often protected by the anonymity of urban suburbs. In these places we need a strategy on how to enhance security, but also, on how to integrate these people into our societies – through employment, education and a sense of national identity. We also need to improve the way we reintegrate returning foreign fighters, who are not dangerous. Perhaps, the biggest challenge facing our anti-ISIS campaign is countering the ideology, which brings the terrorist organisation new followers. Islamic State styles itself an orthodox Islamist group. Actually, it is also a cult of violence. The combination draws significant numbers of people to its banner.
“In order to counter the home-grown terrorism, we need a value-based integration: realise that integration is much more than just providing jobs and education. Real integration is also to demand respect for the principles upon which our liberal democratic societies are built.”
Rasmussen urged that besides increasingly giving words to what it means to be a democrat in the 21st century, there is urgent need to “counter radical interpretations of Islam”, pointing out that Saudi Arabia has continued to have “enormous influence” on the interpretation of Islam worldwide. According to him, “The country spends vast sums supporting the building of mosques and Islamic educational institutions around the world. These institutions spread an orthodox version of Islam that share similarities with the version Islamic State is subscribing to. This matter should become a regular feature of public and private diplomacy in our dialogue with Riyadh. And thirdly, we must step up our work on counter-propaganda.”
Problem with Nigeria
Addressing the Nigerian situation, he observed that an overarching problem in the country was, “the split between a mostly Muslim North and a predominantly Christian South, with its 180 million people, belonging to 250 ethnic groups and speaking more than 500 languages’’, adding that differences often manifest along religious or tribal lines, while politicians often fan the flames by financing thugs or favour one group over another.
He said the only way to counter forces that threaten to pull Nigeria apart was essentially to help people out of poverty, pointing out that though the Buhari-led Administration has made a good start by raising spending on education, more should be done to boost economic growth, “which has ground to pace slower than population growth” while combating corruption. He warned that without greater opportunities, “the frustrations of the young and uneducated will only worsen, thereby creating fertile grounds for extremists.”
Challenge to tackle
Speaking in the same vein, former American ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, who was the principal speaker, said recovery from the social and economic consequences of Boko Haram should be a challenge for Nigeria and its international partners and friends. He observed that due to improved military response, the insurgents had moved away from occupying territory to increased use of suicide bombers, most of them female, against “soft” targets. Quoting reports by the United Nations office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), he stated that 44 children were involved in suicide bombing in 2015, up from four in the previous year, with 17 of them in Nigeria and the rest in Chad and Cameroun. Campbell quoted OCHA as also hinting that about 486,000 children in Borno state and 242,000 children in Yobe were suffering from acute malnutrition, with the scary warning that, “without intervention”, about 67,000 children aged between six months and about five years, who suffer malnutrition, are likely to die in the two states this year.
More work to do
He urged Nigeria and its international partners to counter and overcome Boko Haram’s efforts to impose radical extremism on Nigerians and their neighbours. He noted that even though the present administration has made significant progress, “beating Boko Haram on the battle field is only the beginning of the steps toward victory. His words: “We must strike at the root cause of Boko Haram and we cannot do that unless we understand what those roots are…Some individuals appear to embrace Boko Haram because they are driven by ethnic and religious allegiances or by membership in patronage networks that are allied to it. Others support it in response to oppression, especially human rights violations by security services. Some likely have a selfish and short-sighted political agenda; still others, however, are radicalised for reasons that have little to do with religion or politics.
“Some people appear to embrace Boko Haram because they have trouble finding meaning in life or economic opportunity – because they are deeply frustrated, and because they hope that Boko Haram will give them a sense of identity or purpose or power that they have not received elsewhere. When people have no hope for the future and no faith in legitimate authority, when they have no outlet for expressing their concerns, their frustration festers, and no one knows that better than Boko Haram.
“Accordingly, Boko Haram can be a consequence of personal alienation, and at the same time a cause of personal alienation. Boko Haram does all that it can to promote individual alienation from Nigerian society. In other countries challenged by radical terrorism, not just Nigeria, young people are essentially the swing votes in the fight against violent extremism. We need them to make wise choices, and yet, that is less likely if they grow up without faith in government, without an education, without the chance for a a better life.”
The former American ambassador to Nigeria said overcoming such challenges includes improving the climate for domestic and foreign investment, which means streamlining bureaucracies and preventing cronies from crowding out private enterprise as well as giving women and girls equal chance in the classroom.
Stressing the need to overcome mutual distrust, he noted that not only do governments and the governed distrust each other in certain areas, the governments in the region themselves often instinctively distrust each other and “Boko Haram too, fans that distrust.”
The way out
On how to respond to the socio-economic fallouts of insurgency and the struggle against it, Campbell called for expansion of the EU-funded de-radicalisation programmes in the affected states, “if they are to have transformative impact” and the discouragement of security abuses, which he identified as one of the drivers of Boko Haram recruitment. Also, he urged for the establishment of a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” or a body of that nature that would investigate credible allegations of both security service and Boko Haram abuse. Yet on his wish list, is the need for friends and partners of Nigeria, including the United States of America and the United Kingdom to greatly expand training opportunities for Nigerian military officers in their advanced war colleges and the reconstruction of the North East with international support, over the long term.
In his presentation, former Nigeria’s permanent representative at the United Nations, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, while commending the nation’s military for the success recorded so far in routing the insurgents, advised the government to accord utmost priority to non-military threats to national security. He urged that official focus should be on enhancing human security which encompasses such threats as environmental hazards, socio-economic conditions and transnational crimes affecting individuals, communities and the states.
Gambari advised that the private sector should be assigned pivotal roles in bringing about sustainable peace and human security. He reasoned that in developing a national action plan for combating terrorism and other violent extremist groups in the country, a multi-faceted and comprehensive approach, including degrading the military capability of the insurgents, should be developed.
Similarly, urgent steps, he said, should be taken to implement peace-building strategies to address widespread poverty, social inequality and injustice, poor quality and lack of education as well as endemic corruption in state institutions, which had stagnated socio-economic development, created smuggling networks and sundry transnational crimes that provide heavy financial support for terrorist groups.