To many observers, the Nigerian government appears to be playing double standard in the war against terrorism. The present government told us that Boko Haram has been technically defeated. But almost on a daily basis, our soldiers sweat it out with the insurgents in different parts of the North. The more the soldiers engage them, the more we hear stories of the exploits of the insurgents. This means that there are certain things we are not doing right in this asymmetrical warfare.
The other day, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, said government was not interested in naming and shaming the suspected sponsors of terrorism in Nigeria. Rather, he said the government was interested in bringing the concerned individuals to justice.
Hear him: “Nigeria is not interested in naming and shaming anybody; rather, it wants to bring them to justice. The United Arab Emirates has brought some names and the Attorney-General of the Federation has responded to that matter, saying that, in due course, all these people would have their days in court. Rest assured that these people would be tried before justice and justice would have its way.”
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) had recently named six Nigerians among 32 other nationals and 15 entities as sponsors of terrorism. In 2019, the six Nigerians were found guilty of setting up a Boko Haram cell in the UAE to raise funds and material assistance for the insurgents in Nigeria. Between 2015 and 2016, these individuals reportedly transferred about $800,000 to Boko Haram. They are Surajo Abubakar Muhammad, Salihu Yusuf Adamu, Ibrahim Ali Alhassan, Abdurrahaman Ado Musa, Bashir Ali Yusuf and Muhammad Ibrahim Isa.
While Surajo Abubakar Muhammad and Salihu Yusuf Adamu got life imprisonment from the Abu Dhabi federal court of appeal and were later deported, Ibrahim Ali Alhassan, Abdurrahaman Ado Musa, Bashir Ali Yusuf and Muhammad Ibrahim Isa got 10 years in prison each. They were also deported. The name of a Nigerian government official fingered in this crime is yet to be made public.
To the Nigerian government, naming such people is not necessary. The Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, said they had identified terrorism financiers but naming them could affect ongoing investigations.
Are we to clap for Malami? Not yet! Government has not given the citizens enough reasons to trust some of its activities. Recently, an online publication, Sahara Reporters, alleged that the AGF had facilitated the release of over 300 suspected financiers of terrorism. The minister has since denied the allegation, saying the media report was a malicious misrepresentation of facts. Maybe!
But, why is the Nigerian government slow in taking concrete actions against insurgency? The UAE convicted the six Nigerians since 2019. Over two years after, Nigeria is still talking about investigations and all that. Malami explained that the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent two-month strike embarked upon by the Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria affected the prosecution of the suspects. He noted, however, that Federal Government had reviewed over 1,000 Boko Haram case files and that 285 of them had been filed before the Federal High Court based on prima facie cases of terrorism against them.
Until we see these people convicted and jailed, doubts will linger about the sincerity of our government. The long-held suspicion is that Boko Haram elements may have infiltrated the seat of power in Nigeria. Former President Goodluck Jonathan alluded to that in 2012 when he was in power.
Besides, the United States security agents that came to help Nigeria to combat terrorism in 2014 were shocked at the level of sabotage of their efforts. It was such that Boko Haram would get wind of their plans within hours of sharing them with their Nigerian counterparts. The Americans were highly disappointed. They stopped sharing intelligence with the Nigerian security agencies and had to leave before anybody could soil their integrity.
I suspect that the recent attack on the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), Kaduna, would not have been possible without insider collaboration. With audacity, bandits invaded the elite military institution, killed two military officers and abducted a Major. These bandits would not have dared to enter if the security of the place had not been compromised.
That the war against insurgency and banditry has lasted this long is partly because there is no sincerity of purpose. Our government says one thing and does a different thing. After each major terrorist attack, it vows to deal with the culprits. After a few days, when people would have forgotten the incident, the government goes back to slumber again, until another major attack. The cycle goes on and on.
The other day, retired Navy Commodore Kunle Olawunmi alleged that the Nigerian government knew the sponsors of Boko Haram.
“Some of them are governors now. Some of them are in the Senate. Some of them are in Aso Rock,” Olawunmi alleged. He added that a high-ranking member of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government was also involved with the terrorists.
The late former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, also made similar allegations. In August last year, Mailafia alleged that some repentant Boko Haram members told him that a certain northern governor was a commander of Boko Haram. Noting that the insurgents had infiltrated southern Nigeria, Mailafia claimed that the terrorists were moving and distributing arms and ammunition across the country during the COVID-19 lockdown. Though the Department of State Services interrogated Mailafia thrice and came out with nothing concrete, the man did not shift from his allegations. He rather urged Nigerians to pray for him, that his life was in danger and that some powerful political forces wanted to silence him forever for speaking the truth.
Let’s hope that Nigerians will get to know the identities of these terror financiers at the right time as stated by the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr. Abdulrasheed Bawa.
Let’s also hope that the promise by the United States to help Nigeria identify sponsors of terrorism will bear good dividends. The US Ambassador to Nigeria, Marybeth Leonard, said last August that her country was very eager to partner Nigeria on this issue. According to her, she has had at least three conversations on the matter in the last two months with Nigerian authorities and discussions were still ongoing.
No doubt, the US does not spare any individual or country seen to be involved in terrorism. Currently, the US Department of State designates Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Syria as sponsors of terrorism. Among many other sanctions, the US bans defence exports as well as finance and other foreign assistance to such countries.
That is how it should be. We should learn to stop playing double standard when it comes to the fight against terrorism. We should stop giving the impression that crime pays. We have been hearing that thousands of these insurgents have repented and have been surrendering themselves to the Nigerian authorities. Some of them have been rehabilitated while their victims have continued to wallow in agony. How have we consoled the family members of the over 100,000 people killed since this insurgency started in 2009? How have we rehabilitated the over two million people who are displaced on account of this insurgency? This so-called repentance should be viewed with strong suspicion. The terrorists may claim to have repented but some of them who earlier made that claim went back to the trenches afterwards.
One major balm that would calm the frayed nerves of terror victims is to allow the laws of the land to prevail. The powers that be should not give the impression that they are supporting terrorism in any way. The naming of the six Nigerians by the UAE should serve as a lead to thoroughly and sincerely investigate this matter, if the Nigerian government is serious. Those found guilty should be punished according to the laws of our land. We have the Terrorism (Prevention) Act 2011 (as amended), which prohibits funding of terrorism. We should deploy it to identify and punish those involved in this heinous crime.
Also, if we are able to block the sources of funding of terrorist organizations, the war will end in no distant time. Access to huge funds with which they buy sophisticated ammunition and attend to other logistics is what has kept the war alive.
Nigerian government should realise that not doing enough to fight terrorism amounts to being a passive supporter of the act. And the greatest thing a country can do to undermine the war against terrorism is to stay aloof or do little to checkmate the activities of insurgents.
Recall that, prior to the September 11 attacks in the United States, al-Qaida recruited and raised money in Germany and Saudi Arabia without much interference by the governments of these countries. The terrorist organisation also reportedly planned its operations in Malaysia and sent operatives to the US. On the face of it, these countries are not sponsors of al-Qaida. They are sworn enemies of the group. But by not doing much to clip its wings, they became indirectly culpable in the attacks that followed.
By not policing our borders well, by giving Boko Haram the room to acquire sophisticated arms, raise funds and plan operations, by rehabilitating the so-called repentant terrorists, the Nigerian government has passively supported Boko Haram. This type of support can be more dangerous than an open one. Nigeria should beware of it.