A lot has been said and written about the JAMA’ATU AHLUS SUNNAH LID DA’AWATI WAL JIHAD, also known as Boko Haram, who have dominated the headlines for over a month now with bomb attacks on a nearly daily basis. Operating out of their strong-hold of Maiduguri, several reports call them the creation of former Borno governor Ali Modu Sheriff, who employed them as political thugs, who have now morphed into insurgents. Modu Sheriff has denied this. An alternative account says they were a sect who separated themselves from the state, but were radicalised when their leader Yusuf Mohammed was killed in an extrajudicial manner by security operatives in July 2009, along with several others. A more detailed account can also be found here.
When you have extreme cases of state failure in any part of a country, groups like MEND and Boko Haram are the inevitable result. It is not a surprise that the North and South-South lag behind the rest of the country in virtually all measures of development. The vast majority of children in the North have never been to school, and the 3 states with the highest unemployment figures are from the South-South.
Incidentally, the same conditions that give birth to these groups, are the very conditions that make it difficult to stop them, because more than often than not, a country unable to provide a basis for its citizens to prosper economically, is also unable to secure lives & property.
Therefore, the issue of Boko Haram is a security issue, but the solution doesn’t end at security. What follows is my attempt to proffer solutions, based on my observations, and drawing from examples in other parts of the world.
First of all, no negotiation must be entered with the insurgents, because it will only continue the pattern started in the case of MEND. The amnesty given to the militants was a result of the government’s inability to deal with the real problems, namely the underdevelopment in the region and weak security apparatus. Kidnapping has since become an industry as well, because no kidnapper has ever been caught. Till now, those problems remain. As we speak, MEND are preparing to resume hostilities, despite ‘amnesty’. Any negotiations will be further confirmation that the Nigerian government can be bombed into submission.
Negotiation is not an answer, and neither is brute force. Boko Haram, like the Viet Cong in the 60s, like the Mujaheddin in the 80s, like Al Qaeda, and various other groups that have used insurgency tactics throughout history, cannot be defeated by conventional military force or structures. That is what the US have found out in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What is needed is infiltration of their ranks by intelligence agencies, to find out the following:
1. How are they being funded?
2. How and where are they making their bombs?
3. Do they have any accomplices among the political class?
4. Do they have a central authority, or do they have independent cells?
5. How do they select their targets?
Once gathered, the intelligence can be used to:
1. Destroy all bomb making centres and materials
2. Apprehend bomb makers, financiers, key figures and other accomplices.
3. Stop further attacks before they happen.
The above approach goes beyond just paying informants, who can give false information. Our security agencies must have their own people inside Boko Haram’s operations in order to destroy them from within. They must also possess the ability to act on information quickly, without unnecessary protocol, especially with regard to stopping bomb attacks.
Boko Haram have no address and no postal service. Their movements are fluid, and they can strike at any time. They wear no uniforms. Osama Bin Laden only got caught when he stayed in a huge compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan, sacrificing constant movement for comfort. When he was constantly on the move, he was elusive. My suggestion would be that no serviceman or police officer wears a uniform or uses an armoured personnel carrier. Why? It makes them static, easy targets. They stand out when they should blend in. Hanging out at beer parlours also makes them soft targets, and endangers innocent civilians. It would also confuse the terrorists, by giving them nothing to attack.
Funke Aboyade’s account of the lockdown in Abuja last week, gives the impression of a truly clueless security apparatus. There is a compelling case for the removal of IGP Ringim, SSS DG Ita Ekpeyong, and NSA Owoeye Azazi, not just because of incompetence (we have put up with that before), but because the tactics they seem to be employing are inadequate to deal with this kind of situation. New eyes and new methods are needed, methods that do not include pointless displays of menace. It might be helpful to bring in outsiders, because it is baffling why some of the most obvious steps are taking so long to implement. For example, it is high time a database of fingerprints is compiled. Instead of another costly project, the information capture by the telecoms companies for the sim registration are a very good start, and together with obtained during the INEC registration, about 70 million names, addresses, fingerprints and phone numbers can be gotten with relative ease and used to narrow down on the identities of some of these terrorists.
The relationship between citizens and the police must change. Over several years, that relationship has deteriorated because of high-handedness and brutality that is a continuation of military era mentality. A key event in Boko Haram’s evolution is the extra judicial killing of Yusuf Mohammed, then leader of Boko Haram, along with many others. The policemen involved are standing trial now and hopefully, justice is done. Those in charge of law enforcement cannot be allowed to practice jungle justice. Everything must be done to improve the relationship between police and the citizens. A big part of the reason why Boko Haram has overrun Maiduguri, is because people are not coming forward with information that will aid the police. This must change not just in Maiduguri, but all over the country. A stage must be reached where soldiers are no longer deployed within our borders for any reason. Their training has a different relevance.
In the 21st century, the brute force manner of enforcing law and order has to end. Emphasis must be placed on human intelligence, that enables security agencies to be ahead of any threats. Border control must be a priority, as should computerization of and real time access to citizen records.
I said earlier that the solution is not just a security solution. It has to do with basic standard of living as well. This is where the governors of the Northern states come in. The education situation in the North is a scandal. If there aren’t enough schools, the schools should be built. If there aren’t enough teachers, those should be gotten as well, especially those sent to the North for NYSC. After service year, they can be retained and given good working conditions that will help them put in their best. This will reduce the teacher/student ratio. Adequate teaching aids must also be procured, and teacher training must also be a priority. Religious leaders must preach the message: SEND YOUR CHILDREN TO SCHOOL. Frankly, there is no other way. Did I mention primary and secondary education must also be free?
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs. There are many ways of creating them. The fastest way? Build something. Build many things. roads, boreholes, public toilets, hospitals, railways and so on. The infrastructure gap is huge. The construction of just one railway to link farms in the north with markets in the south can employ thousands, not to mention two or three. A decent day’s work for a decent day’s pay. It could even be on ‘shift basis’: work in the day, go to night school or vice versa. That way, a contractor works round the clock, project is completed faster, and the youths also improve themselves while they are working on site. Someone who is busy round the clock will have no energy to be a thug.
Those who are interested in small scale businesses can also thrive. Micro-generation of solar energy can be used to ease electricity concerns. Farming is also a big avenue for jobs and prosperity, if state and federal governments will support our farmers to be competitive internationally, like other countries do for their own.
A recourse to the old ways of handling security issues in this county will only result in temporary victories. Now is the time to rethink the entire methodology of law enforcement, and also to address the social problems that make insurgency an attractive option for the disaffected. Every day and month wasted will extract an ever higher price.