Since 2009 when the Boko Haram terrorists started their campaign of terror, the Nigerian security forces had been at their wits’ end on how to completely combat the menace. So far, many soldiers and civilians have lost their lives in the insurgency war. And lately, the insurgents appear to be more daring as they attack military bases and establish their foothold in some villages in the North.
This is why the recent advice from the European Union (EU) that the Nigerian government should look beyond military deployment in the war against terrorism and other forms of insecurity is timely and welcome. In a recent media briefing, the Head of the EU Delegation to Nigeria and to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Ambassador Ketil Karlsen, advised that while the military option should not be foreclosed, other options such as dialogue and legal instruments should be explored. “We are supporting government’s efforts to fight terrorism, radicalisation and violent extremism as well as the reform of the criminal justice system,” he said.
What the EU said is not entirely new. Some experts and Nigerians had said similar things in the recent past. There are obvious indications that we are not yet winning the war against insurgency. The scary situation calls for a review of tactics because if a tactic fails to bring the desired result after a long time, it needs to be changed.
One of the things the government will do is to develop the political will to tackle the spate of insecurity in the country. Security officers should show absolute commitment and patriotism in handling military operations and other issues concerning the war against insurgency. Stories abound on how past international efforts to help Nigeria were sabotaged. At some point, operational information and intelligence were reportedly leaked to the insurgents. This led to the withdrawal of some foreign officers who had come to assist the nation then.
Let government examine and explore the blueprint used for bringing relative peace in the Niger Delta. At some point in our recent history, there were intense agitations and unrest in that region. It was the late President Umaru Yar’Adua who implemented the amnesty programme for the Niger Delta militants. It worked as they dropped their guns and got reintegrated into the society. Today, some of those militants are doing well in their different endeavours.
However, the insurgency in the North East is slightly different. The Niger Delta agitation was mainly to draw attention to environmental degradation and neglect of the oil-producing region. Boko Haram started as a local socio-economic group using religion as a pedestal to launch its extreme ideology that Western education is forbidden. Government had granted a good number of them amnesty, but there have been reports that some of them have gone back to the trenches.
No doubt, most conflicts usually end up at the negotiation table. Although the government has been trying to dialogue with Boko Haram elements, the nature of the dialogue is not very clear. Besides, our use of dialogue in this case is not very effective. We have been negotiating from the point of weakness. Government must develop the capacity to negotiate or dialogue from the position of strength. It should not relent in pursuing peace talks with the insurgents while still continuing with its offensive against them. Those who genuinely repent should be pardoned and rehabilitated while the recalcitrant ones should be crushed.
Our approach should include measures to tackle poverty, radicalism and extremism. Poverty is one big factor that makes some youths vulnerable to terrorist groups. Chances are that if some of those insurgents and bandits have tangible jobs, they will not resort to crime. Creating jobs and giving support to entrepreneurs to employ youths will surely minimise their tendency to go into crime.
The government must protect the local population. Boko Haram utilised this strategy effectively in its early days. It portrayed itself, especially among the Muslim, Shuwa and Kanuri people, as their defender and liberator against the perceived bad policies of the government. Many locals were deceived as they supported the terrorists and demurred in sharing information with security forces. Many of them were easily recruited by Boko Haram. This was also how the United States (US) was humiliated in the Vietnam War. The local Vietnam populace felt alienated from the American military and hence worked against its interests.
The new counter insurgency tactic demands that government must cultivate and empower these locals. Some of them were initially recruited as part of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF). More needs to be done.
The military also needs to do more in the spiritual warfare strategy by recruiting more moderate imams who will guide the people through the correct teachings of Islam to counter the violent doctrine of Boko Haram.