Nigeria’s Intelligence Agencies and the imperatives of Popular Support in Counter-Terrorism

Nigeria’s Intelligence Agencies and the imperatives of Popular Support in Counter-Terrorism

            For students of military history, understanding guerrilla warfare, terrorism, and insurgency over the years have been key to governments all over the world drafting out effective counter-insurgent and anti-terrorism measures as part of government response. In Nigeria, The Boko Haram dilemma has not only continued to take its toll (psychologically, physically, economically etc) on Nigerians, but as made an ever growing number of observers start to question the effectiveness of intelligence gathering in the country. But the truth is that in counter insurgency warfare for example, even if it is relatively easy to disperse and to expel the insurgent forces from a given area by purely military action or destroy the insurgent political organization by extensive police action, it is impossible to prevent the return of guerrilla units and the rebuilding of the political cells unless the population cooperates. The population therefore becomes the objective for the counter insurgent as it was for his enemy; Its tacit support, its submission to law and order, its consensus etc.

            The original problem becomes now in Nigeria: how to obtain the support of the population-support not only in the form of sympathy and approval but in active participation in the war against terrorism. The answer lies (except in extremely rare cases) in the following proposition, which simply expresses the basic tenet of the exercise of political power: In any situation, whatever the cause, there will be an active minority for the cause, a neutral majority, and an active minority against the cause. The technique of power consists in relying on the favourable minority in order to rally the neutral majority and to neutralize or eliminate the hostile minority.

            Those in Nigeria’s Intelligence community such as the State Security Service (SSS), National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) can learn from the histories of the establishment and management of foreign intelligence services. For example, The United States learnt from the British Intelligence Service and Special Operations Executive in establishing the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in 1942 before it was disbanded in 1945 and later came to be known as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The US military also established the National Security Agency (NSA) in 1945 working closely with their Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) under close supervision by the US Defence Department etc.  

            Experience and experts suggest that internal terrorism and small scale urban guerrilla attacks against soldiers and policemen are most effectively dealt with by emphasizing friendly police work, good intelligence, and speedy judicial sanctions. Unfortunately Nigeria seems to be paying the price of political corruption, mismanagement, and indiscipline over the years thus giving birth to a scorned police force, hampered intelligence service and a somewhat slow judicial system. The case of the Nigerian police is particularly more worrying which can largely explain why there is more public confidence to an extent in the armed forces and intelligence Services duplicating some police roles. The average policeman now has to frustratingly contend with the outcome of this stigma from two ends: first is the refusal of the population to trust and corporate with the police. Secondly, is that the police has increasingly become a primary target of terrorist and insurgent groups. The problem of the Nigerian police goes beyond funding and welfare. It is that of orientation and attitude. This starts from the recruitment and management process.

            Security forces in the country cannot achieve much if the population is not, and does not feel, protected against the extremist. The importance of popular support can be seen in the defeat of the National Liberation Front (F.L.N.) by the French in the Oran region in Algeria in 1956-1960. This campaign proved the importance of isolating rebellious groups from the population. Isolation not enforced upon the population but maintained by and with the population. However if the population fear retribution from these groups, civilians will not cooperate with officials and provide valuable information.

            Aggressive steps must also be taken to ensure vigorous coordination within and between the police and security services. In the case of the IRA in Northern Ireland for example, it was observed that during the 1960s there was no clear policy direction at the highest level and an absence of coordination of the various intelligence and security forces, with the result that the situation had worsened considerably by 1975.This, in turn led to an urgent review and the adoption of new measures, most importantly, the establishment of a well-coordinated and centralised security structure. When dealing with transnational terrorism, the importance of international police work and intelligence sharing is invaluable as French-Spanish cooperation against Spain’s Basque terrorist has shown. In that case, a change in French policy in 1986 led to the arrest and jailing of nearly five hundred ETA suspects in south-western France, where the terrorists had found a safe haven.

            The capture of some two senior Boko haram members this year by government agencies though commendable will have little impact on the organizations ability to carry out operations if the right government response fails to keep up with the sects pace of indoctrination, training, recruitment of members, and acquiring political sponsors. Though violence in Iraq was curtailed by the killing of Musab al-Zarqawi (leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq) in June 2006, sever violence still continued. Also while active supporters (those who are willing to make sacrifices and risk personal harm by either joining the group or providing the group with intelligence information, concealment, shelter, hiding places for arms and equipment, medical assistance, guides, and liaison agents) of the sect might number in their thousands, passive supporters (individuals who quietly sympathize with extremist groups but are unwilling to provide material assistance, are potential threats in themselves) are in their hundreds of thousands. Passive supporters are not apt to betray or otherwise impede the extremist, and this is important because the acquisition of information from the people is a key aspect of counter insurgency strategy for government units combating elusive terrorist.

Bulus Nom Audu

Abuja based Defence and Security Analyst,

No 10 Albarka Road, Wuse 2 Abuja,


[email protected]



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