The United Nations, an organization of nations that was formed in 1945 to promote peace, security, and international cooperation has despite constant challenges remained neutral in the conduct of state relations. The neutrality of the body has been made possible because the nature of its charter ensures the representation of people from all socio, political and economic backgrounds; class, ethnic, religious etc. Either way, an attack on the United Nations in any part of the world though very rare is nothing new. We shouldn’t forget that In the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, car bombs ripped apart the Jordanian Embassy on August 7, 2003 and blew up the UN compound on August 19, killing Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN secretary general's special representative in Iraq. Today, UN staff in parts of Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, and Pakistan work with constant caution. Ironically, all have one thing in common, they are battling with issues Nigeria is facing today; Insecurity, corruption, unemployment, infrastructural decay, poverty etc.
Therefore, for students of military history, the bombing of the United Nations House in Abuja on the 26th of august 2011 did not really come as a surprise. What actually does come as a surprise is the laxity to which some in authority have treated print analysis on the issue of Terrorism in Nigeria. Some analysis like the ones I have written have even gone much further by giving an understanding/ hints about the possibilities of future targets (as shown in my article in The Punch, 21 & 22 June 2011, pt. 1&2 p. 16 titled ‘‘Terrorism, Politics and Counter- Insurgency in Northern Nigeria’’, and The Punch, July 7 & 8, p. 16 titled ‘‘National Security, Diplomacy and the Boko Haram Dilemma’’).
President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration has found itself in an unfortunate situation. He’s administration didn’t create the present problems but few Nigerians will forgive the administration if it fails to tackle these problems which have been gradually mounting before its commencement. Therefore, any attempt to sack the present Service Chiefs and the Inspector General of Police would be counter-productive. Th problem here in Nigeria is that over the years we haven’t invested significantly in researches on terrorism and counter-insurgency. Policy makers should read scholarly articles newspapers and books research and identify individuals both who have proffered in-depth analysis and practical solutions to this problem while checking the credentials of those already within the system. For some in the security agencies to ask the general public to provide useful information on possible terrorist activities without conducting intensive research is an easy but costly way out of the predicament. The greatest threats Nigerians are facing today is not about corruption or insecurity but is the problem of having the wrong people in the right places and the right people in the wrong places. And until we start engaging ‘brains’ both civilian and military within the nations security apparatus, we will continue to suffer.
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 and logistics while ignoring research, then our security measures will be more reactionary than preventive. We should look beyond the terrorists immediate activities and study possible future progressions (that haven’t yet manifested) in other areas. It is well known fact that as terrorist become more and more emboldened they usually take part in other acts (creating a diversion) previously overlooked by government authorities.
As stated in my previous articles on terrorism in The Punch, it was emphasised that 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. Now most of the above highlighted targets have come to pass with one of the most recent being an attack by the Boko Haram sect on two banks (Fist Bank and UBA) in Gombi a town in Maiduguri in broad daylight which killed seven bank employees and injured four others before the attackers were seen speeding away with an unknown amount of money. Some of those killed it was reported were those that could not recite the Holy Koran as demanded by the attackers. Presently, one is worried about the security arrangements in our social/entertainment centres and some of our schools housing children of government officials. After all, in September 2004 pro-Chechen suicide militants carried out a siege on an elementary school in Beslan, a town in the Russian republic of Alania (North Ossetia). The militants held more than 1,200 hostages in the school gymnasium for two days. Russian security forces then stormed the building, and in the ensuing gun battle explosives set by the hostage-takers detonated in the gymnasium. More than 330 people, mostly children, were killed, and hundreds more were injured. Traffic along military/police checkpoints are now also targets. The members will also most likely be tempted to also make use of ambulances to carry out attacks. In Iraq in 2006 after a suicide bomber detonated himself in a market, an ambulance was immediately given access to the site were many people had already gathered. Suddenly the ambulance too detonated killing the sympathizers that had gathered including government aid workers, security personnel, and those from the NGO’s that were trying to attend to those killed in the first blast. The list goes on and on.
Historical records show instances in which governments have misunderstood or falsely portrayed the goals, techniques, strategies, and accomplishments of terrorist and insurgents. The UN bombing in Abuja bears the hallmark of Al Qaeda; a group that has often defined its struggle with the West as one that aims to change the international order by creating a global caliphate (Islamic State). To do so, Al Qaeda vowed to conduct worldwide insurrection in countless places. While the extent of Al Qaeda’s presence and operations in Northern Nigeria still remain controversial, there are two things that are certain. The first is that Boko Haram and Al Qaeda have similar goals and the second is that Al Qaeda has a growing number of sympathizers in parts of Northern Nigeria.
It is most likely that both groups are sympathetic to one another and would thus provide any necessary support in terms of logistics and intelligence to the other. The United Nations is not compatible with Al Qaeda’s new world order and Boko Haram will also see the UN as a body that has legitimised the present presidency by providing election monitors and other forms of democratic support. It therefore views the UN as agents of the West despite its cosmopolitan outlook. It is also a way of scaring away members of the international community, NGOs and consulates from doing business with the government while getting international attention at the same time. The group hopes that the Nigerian Government will eventually lose its credibility at home and abroad as the government works to address unemployment, Corruption, infrastructural decay, and abject poverty.
Bulus Nom Audu
Abuja based Defence and Security Analyst,
No 10 Albarka Road, Old Karu Abuja,