National Security, Diplomacy and the Boko Haram Dilemma in Northern Nigeria
Most Third World countries such as Nigeria have largely seen National Security from a militaristic/strategic angle particularly as it pertains to defending a country’s independence and sovereignty. But ironically too as a writer puts it ‘’the failure to resolve their social, economic and political problems is the one single factor that has led to their present security dilemma.
On the other hand, it is also true that there is hardly any country without one form of threat or the other facing it, and that there is also no state which can provide against all the threats to which it may be exposed. But the rise of Terrorism in Nigeria is worrying (as shown in my article in the Punch of 21 and 21 June 2011, pt. 1&2 p. 16 titled ‘’Terrorism, Politics and Counter- Insurgency in Northern Nigeria’’) because of the alarming rate at which it is progressing in the Northern part of the country vis-a-vis the Boko Haram sect.
Like guerrilla warfare, terrorism is usually a weapon of the weak; it will only become decisive if a government fails to commit adequate resources to tackle it. If government forces are poorly funded or poorly equipped or suffer from lack of professionalism and discipline, it would make an average terrorist group appear stronger than it actually is. The bombing at the Police Headquarters in Abuja was not so much a sophisticated operation by the Boko Haram group. It was due in part to the shortcomings of the police that made it seem so. For example, it is easy for a bomb to be assembled (in the absence of Intelligence), driven to a Police Headquarters (in the absence of enough credible check points especially if some checkpoints give easy pass to drivers in return for petty cash), and detonated (in the absence of bomb detectors). To make matters worse, the group now boast of members within the Police Force. Sadly, most people know that the Police recruitment selection process is heavily monetised. This is not at all surprising seeing that some have admitted in private that they virtually had to buy their way into the police (allegations range from around 80,000 for the rank of constable and 150,000 for Assistant Superintendent of Police depending on the situation). Now many fear that unstable individuals including those with questionable characters have been sponsored into joining the police over the years.
Notwithstanding, the Police now need some form of moral support from all Nigerians in facing this threat irrespective of what opinions they hold about the Force. No police force in any part of the world is perfect. Some mistakes are accepted to happen all around the world (as long as they don’t occur again) and so sacking the Inspector General of Police will not solve the problem. Whatever the case, terrorism progresses according to the pace of government response. Sophisticated tactics are often employed by terrorist in developed countries and less sophisticated tactics in less developed countries. This is why even developed countries of the world despite their high level of technological advancement still occasionally battle with forms of terrorist attacks. The edge they have over us however is that they have acquired experience over the years due to their long histories of anti-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations at home and abroad. Because of this, these countries have been able to develop doctrines for the conduct of operations which for the most part has enabled them to effectively implement a policy of ‘containment’ at home. One of the key to victory as identified by many military historians lies in the ability of government forces to never let the terrorist meet up with the pace of government response, and for government forces to always be a step ahead of the terrorist in planning, strategy, and concept.
The Federal Government needs to pursue some form of judicial deterrence very aggressively or else no one will ever take its warnings seriously. People responsible (especially the sponsors, traditional heads, and religious clerics) for religious and sectarian crisis in the past have never been brought to book. Even when arrested, nothing is ever heard concerning the trial and the sentencing. And even when some are arrested it is usually through random arrests since clear cut intelligence is absent thus making it even more difficult in separating the guilty from the innocent. Boko Haram’s numbers are increasing as they continue their policy of indoctrination. Recruits in the north seem easy to find especially among those that have no sympathy for their nation; who blame government for their poverty or unemployment, and who despise other people’s religion, ethnic group or way of life. These individuals need to be educated and oriented to see that poverty and unemployment cuts across all ethnic groups, regions and religions in the country. Secondly, that nobody has the monopoly of violence. Inhuman violence can be used by any group or individual that fails to control its emotions and therefore should not be seen as a weapon of the strong. Thirdly, that nobody or any group irrespective of ethnic, class, or religious affiliation is born to rule or has the monopoly of power. And finally, Nigeria is too large, diverse or cosmopolitan for any single individual, group, or interest to try and dictate the way and life/culture of everybody else as protected in Nigeria’s constitution.
With the ability of the sect members to beat some present security measures put in place by the authorities and with rumours about attempts by some government officials to try and negotiate a truce, government should never let its self be seen to be negotiating from a position of weakness. As the philosopher Walter Lipman puts it ‘’ a nation has security when it does not have to sacrifice its legitimate interest to avoid war, and is able, if challenged, to maintain them by war’’. Even in international politics it is a known fact that a country can be dissatisfied about conditions at home or in the international system, but if it lacks the military capability to change the situation, it is likely to remain relatively passive and to confine itself to diplomacy rather than force. This means that countries which lack military capability resort to diplomacy in dealing with external problems. History has proven that no negotiation should ever be done because a government is so handicapped to the knowing of the insurgent, the guerrilla, or the terrorist. After all, why would an extremist group compromise with an existing political establishment when it feels that it has all it takes to topple the establishment and put in place its own ultimate order? If negotiations should be carried out it should be done because the masses, and the hostile groups are all well aware that the government has the capability, the will and the popular support to crush the insurgency but refuses to in order not to prolong the conflict, cause more bloodshed or put innocently civilians in harm’s way.
The country’s Armed Forces have a higher rate of discipline among its men compared to the Nigerian Police Force and therefore seem to offer a better measure of hope if diplomacy eventually fails in getting members of the sect to see reason in abandoning their hostile acts. The Armed Forces however need to be sufficiently funded or better trained in the art of guerrilla warfare (as explained in my article in Daily Trust of 14&17 January 2011 pt. 1&2 titled ‘’Gbagbo: Intervention may be inevitable, but is Nigeria prepared for another ECOMOG’’). The Modernization process within the Armed Forces is still ongoing since 1999 after years of decline following the imposition of sanctions on the country since 1993. The earlier crisis in the Niger Delta has brought the need to accelerate training in counter insurgency as well as to source for valuable equipment and assistance from abroad to counter the threat. The present Chief of Army Staff Lt. General Ihejirka has so far demonstrated professionalism, and should therefore be given all the support necessary to contain any escalation of the crisis if the need arises.
The military establishment though needs to review some security arrangements which are still largely conventional and predictable thereby offering a limited challenge to the flexibility, speed and deception that characterise guerrilla style attacks by extremist groups. Victory in Counter-insurgency is not about rigidity but fluidity. It isn’t just about capturing and killing members of extremist groups. If one is destroyed, it will be locally recreated by the other and if both are destroyed, they will both be re-created by a new fusion of other groups from the outside. This was bitterly experienced by the French in the plain of Reeds in Indochina all throughout the Indochina war when the French conducted numerous mopping up operations before wearing itself down.
The way the Federal Government handles this group will determine if other more tolerant or yet to be created groups rise up in order to get their own piece of attention. The vast majority of Nigeria’s unemployed youth though angry and frustrated with the way past leaders (through pro-elite and anti-masses policies) have contributed in one way or the other to their present predicament have so far refused to carry arms. If the wrong message is sent that violence is the key to success, then the scenario will be nothing less than an ugly one. Though frankly I honestly doubt diplomacy will achieve anything satisfactory (when one studies the historical antecedents of similar groups around the world) because Boko Haram’s goals have some similarities to that of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Except of course the Government is willing to sacrifice the national interest of the state for the group. Those trying to compare the Niger Delta militants to this group misunderstand insurgent goals and strategies. In the case of the Niger Delta the country was dealing with basically reformist groups (those that see themselves as acting on behalf of aggrieved people perceived to be victims of relative economic and political deprivation and are often willing to compromise with any government as long as there is a more equitable distribution of wants and needs). Though they themselves also engaged in many criminal acts, direct attacks on public places and places of worship with the intent of causing large scale bodily harm to innocent civilians has never ever been a prominent feature of reformist groups over the years. The case of Boko Haram is different as they largely fall under the category of traditionalist groups since they seek to replace an existing political order along purely sacred/religious lines and feel contempt and hatred for those who don’t share their views. For the most part, traditionalist seek to establish political structures characterised by limited or guided participation and low autonomy, with political power in the hands of an autocratic leader supported by economic, military, and clerical elites. Thus, widespread participation in politics, especially by organized opposition groups, is discouraged, if not prohibited. The country known as Iran presently operates such a model.
The sect has also recently threatened Kaduna state and vowed to make it its home base. This threat should be taken seriously by the various security agencies. It is nothing new that religious sentiments have always been high in Kaduna State especially since the Zango-Kataf crisis of 1992, The Sharia violence of 2001, and now the 2011 Presidential post election violence that led to the deaths of scores of Christian and Muslims in both the northern parts and southern parts of the State respectively. Whatever the threat is based upon, it is probably just a cover to further try and polarise opinions of individuals and groups in the state along religious lines as a way of promoting a long term hidden agenda. The Present Governor and declared winner of the just concluded gubernatorial election, Mr Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa is a Christian. This seems totally unacceptable to the Boko Haram group who are already demanding for the imposition of their form of Sharia law in the North and vow jihad on those States that ignore their demands. Jihad is a feature of most traditionalist groups today. Jihadists believe that rulers who do not apply Sharia must be overthrown and that only Muslims should exercise political and military responsibilities.
However there must be caution on the part of the security authorities not to become arrogant and believe all is about ‘’fire power’’ and over bloat their capabilities. The government should be aware that though the ultimate goals of insurgents and terrorist may vary, they all pursue the intermediate aim of eroding the governments will to resist. The problem here in Nigeria is that over the years we haven’t invested significantly in researches on terrorism and counter-insurgency. As a military historian, I can boldly say that this is why it might be difficult for many to see beyond the immediate and short term goals of guerrilla, terrorist and insurgent groups talk less of understanding the nature and historical antecedents of insurgencies over the years. If we invest on weaponry while ignoring research, then our security measures will be more reactionary than preventive. We should look beyond the sect’s immediate activities and study possible future progressions (that haven’t yet manifested) in other areas. Typically, as terrorist become more and more emboldened they usually take part in different act previously overlooked by government authorities. In other words, the bomb blast might just be used as a diversion while other intended acts are being planned. According to Carlos Marighella their aim is to ‘’turn political crisis into armed conflict by performing violent actions that will force those in power to transform the political situation of the country into a military situation. That will alienate the masses, who from then on will revolt against the army and police and thus blame them for this state of things’’.
To cause this transformation, extremists engage in various actions and thus the Federal Government must look beyond bomb blasts and prepare themselves against a mixture of various eventualities. These include armed propaganda; strikes and work interruptions; ambushes; assassinations; kidnappings; temporary occupation of schools, factories, and radio stations; assaults on fixed targets (e.g., banks, businesses, military camps, police stations, and prisons); and sabotage of economic assets. In addition, such groups are usually keen to infiltrate the police and military to foster a breakdown from within. The organization responsible for these actions is basically a small one with cells that each contain a ’link man’. Cumulative acts of violence wreak havoc and create insecurity, which will eventually produce a loss of confidence in the government. Extremist groups are usually trained in the rural areas because of limited government presence there before being transferred to the cities for action. I believe the case of Boko Haram is not any different in this regard. This has made it easy for training and indoctrination to take place with ease. Restricting the clampdown of the group to the cities while ignoring the rural areas would be of little effect. The scenario is similar to the numerous Al Qaeda and Taliban training camps located in remote areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Facing a long struggle against government forces with superior arsenals, terrorist usually turn to sympathetic countries, other terrorist movements, private institutions in other states, and international organizations. This they do by not just receiving political and moral support but also money, equipment, training, and other kinds of tangible assistance. For example, in the 1990’s it became apparent that Islamic militant groups around the world were benefiting from the generosity of various social groups, charities, and wealthy private benefactors, especially in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf Emirates. The Boko Haram sect just didn’t appear from nowhere. Its ideology is an import from outside the country and it had been growing for years undisturbed here aided by our vast and porous borders. The National Intelligence Agency (NIA) now needs to do everything necessary in tracking external channels of various degrees of support, and publicizing them if enough and reliable evidence is acquired. I believe the NIA is in a better position to contain this aspect of the threat once all resources at its disposal in collaboration with other intelligence agencies at home and abroad are put to maximum use.
The voices of the moderate Islamic leaders and clerics have a major role to play in getting the group to lay down their arms. The recent call by the Sultan of Sokoto denouncing the activity of the group is highly commendable. The war against the sect should not be allowed to be portrayed as one between Islam and Christianity or Islam and western culture. It should instead be portrayed as one between reason and ignorance. The clerics that have already openly spoken out against the group and its own interpretation of Islam should be giving all the support necessary to try and isolate the group from their host communities since the group justifies its acts to be in accordance with Islamic teachings. Other credible leaders irrespective of religion, sect, tribe or political affiliation should also speak out and use their full resources in trying to get reason to prevail but should resist the urge of adding an ethno-religious undertone to their comments which will only further polarise the entity (much to the advantage of the sect members). Some might want the government to collapse or the President to perform woefully. Those that hold on to such views need to study the history of crisis in places like Sudan, Somalia, and Lebanon in order to have an idea of how a war torn Nigeria along ethnic, religious and sectional lines would look like.
Those that aren’t members of the sect but silently approve some of their attacks on various places because of inherent sentiments or beliefs, should resist from further falling into the temptation of gradually appealing to violence or applauding the ability of the sect to beat some security measures. Nigeria doesn’t belong to any single group and therefore we should respect peoples beliefs as embedded in the constitution. Violence cannot and should never be used to promote one’s opinion of what morality should be all about especially in a country that boasts of over 250 ethnic groups scattered all across various States of the Federation.
Bulus Nom Audu,
No. 33, Aminu Kano Road, behind NEPA Quatres, Old Karu, Abuja