With the increasing threat to the nation’s corporate existence, especially against the backdrop of the activities of the Boko Haram sect, Shola Oyeyipo and Ojo M. Maduekwe write that there is the compelling need for the federal government to effectively contain the growing menace
There is no doubting the fact that the Federal Government of Nigeria under President Goodluck Jonathan is facing immense pressure to urgently find a lasting solution to the menace of the Boko Haram insurgents. Reason is simple: the impact of the group is continuously eating deep into the country’s social fibre, with many victims and their families never able to catch up or regain the extent of damage or losses.
There have been various strategies employed by government to ensure that it guarantees the provision of its most fundamental responsibility of protecting lives and property of the citizenry from the unprecedented terror that has gripped some Northern parts of the country, the North-east being the worse hit.
Government at a point proposed amnesty for the group but the group said it was the federal government that needed amnesty and rejected the offer while it continued with its vicious attacks. And there was also the carrot and stick approach which was to combine the application of brutal force and the opportunity for dialogue with the group. It still never worked.
There have been intensified military operations in the affected areas and in fact, in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States, a state of emergency was declared. Even with all these, public opinion polls tend to say that these approaches have not achieved much in addressing the activities of the terrorists in the North because none has been effective in both containing the menace and alleviating the sufferings of the people, who are daily becoming soft targets of deadly attacks.
When some foreign countries offered to assist Nigeria fight the insurgents, there were various shades of opinions on the implications and consequences of such a help.
While some were not favourably disposed to the idea, a significant proportion of the populace said it was good and hoped for a radical approach that would quickly address the problem. But that too has not yielded any tangible result. The level of helplessness prevalent in the country is becoming more terrifying for Nigerians to endure. It has not helped that a very huge financial commitment has been sunk into defence.
The Politics of Boko Haram
For some, Boko Haram has its root in the resolve that President Jonathan must not come back in 2015 and so for that, the APC has received bashing being a party that tends towards the Northern agenda.
On the other hand, some Northerners are of the view that government is only using Boko Haram as an excuse for killing the Northerners opposed to him. This assumption, many contend, may have made it difficult for the government to go all out against the group because of the fear that if it does, there will be a backlash of unintended consequences.
The rather soft approach of government has also fallen under critical analysis among those that castigate the president as leading a weak government that is incapable and incompetent to contain the Boko Haram insurgency, a situation that is having negative effects on public perception of the government.
Therefore, while Nigerians remain hopeful for any form of respite from the incessant but dastardly attacks from the group, the issue seems to have become a tool of blackmail between the PDP and the APC. Allegations and counter allegations without any decisive action taken to back such allegations up with arrest and prosecution of politicians found involved in the terrorist act have thrived in recent time.
The opposition APC has persistently heaped criticism on the federal government over failure to end the Boko Haram. The Jonathan-led administration has been under severe attacks from the APC over the inability of his government to secure the release of about 276 Chibok school girls who have been with their captors for nearly three months now. There were protests asking government to secure the release of the missing girls in mostly APC states and Federal Capital Territory.
Apparently sensing the negative impact the accusations are bringing to it, the presidency too, seems to have engaged some of its loyalists to take the fight to the opposition. And so the common trend in the news as at today is to maintain that the opposition party, with the actions and words of some of its party leaders, is showing a degree of affinity with the terror group.
Former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, who recently defected back to the PDP, accused the APC of pursuing an Islamic agenda, even in the running of the party and playing politics with the issue of the kidnapped girls in Chibok, Borno State. Without mincing words, he maintained that the APC tilts towards Boko Haram.
Then there is Tinubu and Obanikoro who have been exchanging verbal attacks over allegations of sponsoring Boko Haram. Thus, the insurgency is now an effective political blackmail. But the question is, is that the way out of the situation? Most probably, no!
Understanding the Dilemma
Over the years, the Islamic sect has grown to become the biggest security threat to Nigeria’s unity. It has become master of the art of violence and appears to have a very fat purse that has helped it sustain attacks in a guerrilla fashion. The United States Treasury Department noted in a statement to Reuters that there are proofs that Boko Haram has received financial support from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM), an offshoot of the jihadist group founded by Osama bin Laden.
While the insurgent is busy perfecting how to outdo the Nigerian security agents, there have been calls that the government needed to consider a change of approach in the fight against Boko Haram. A former US Assistant Secretary of States, James Rubin, recently alleged that the federal government has been playing with different approaches to an end the activities of the sect.
Rubin, who was in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, for an Energy Environment and Investment Forum organised by the Rivers State Government, last week, re-echoed the need for government to take a concrete step towards stopping the sect’s destructive activities in the country.
“It is either the government or another one makes a decision to confront the situation. One day, it is amnesty; another day, it is military operation and then you talk about assistance from outside. What you are going through is the second generation of terrorism which most countries have gone through it. Please do not wait for the next level. I say this as a friend,” Rubin warned.
Sometime last week, Nigeria’s Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, reiterated his fears that if the menace of Boko Haram was not stopped, Nigeria might break up. He cited the continued massacre of thousands of innocent citizens by members of the Boko Haram, which he said was higher now than the civil war.
Soyinka, who spoke with Reuters at his Abeokuta, Ogun State capital home, suggested that the only way to stop the impending breakup from happening was through an improved unity between Muslims and Christians.
“The bloodshed is now worse than during the 1967-70 civil war, when a secessionist attempt by the Eastern region nearly tore the country into ethnic regions. We have never been confronted with butchery on this scale, even during the civil war. There were atrocities during the war, but we never had such a near predictable level of carnage and this is what is horrifying,” Soyinka said.
He insisted that considering the gravity of horrors being perpetrated by the sect, the onus lies with Nigerians to embrace unity as the only way to avoid even greater sectarian slaughter.
Pondering Different Options
Professor Femi Okunnu, in an interview with THISDAY once said the first point to underscore in order to win the war on terror was that the federal government must be able to determine the mission of Boko Haram. According to him, the failure of successive governments to gather intelligence to know exactly what the group wants is why the country has not been able to defeat them.
“There is total failure of intelligence gathering by the previous government to find out exactly what the group wants… Till today, people still don't know what they want. They're saying they want an Islamic Republic and that they don't want people to go to school but most of their leaders went to school. What do they want? It's not for us to keep on guessing, it's for the government to find out by whatever means what exactly they want.
“Force alone cannot solve any problem. If the government knows what it wants, it should give it to them if it is for the good of the people. If it is for the reduction of poverty, what is the business of both the state and federal government, especially the state government, but to reduce poverty; make life easier for people; open up schools; open up hospitals in rural areas; create jobs and make agriculture to take up again?”
He also advised that foreign intervention, if it must be a part of the solution, should be limited.
“We have to be very careful about international intervention. If you look at Afghanistan and Pakistan, with American drones killing innocent people in their search for Al-Qaeda targets, you'll understand why I do not want any international intervention, especially by any European power.
“The menace can still be contained by us. Apart from assisting in intelligence gathering and logistics, the European countries should keep off. Their involvement would complicate our problem. They'll create more problems than they want to solve. Their military should not be on our soil,” he insisted.
Long ago, the military had been advocating members of communities where Boko Haram operates to give it information such that would aid in the fight against the group. Not many thought that some people in the communities would take that invitation further by organising themselves into a vigilante group called the Civilian JTF to combat the terrorists.
Encouraged by the move as an informal strategy, the military high command has had to inculcate the Civilian JTF as part of its major strategy. This approach continues to work; the Civilian JTF has made arrests of suspected Boko Haram members and handed them over to the security agencies.
Sometime in March, there was an attack on a military facility and other neighbourhoods in Maiduguri by the Boko Haram sect, but the terrorists were repelled by a collaboration of the Nigerian security forces and members of the Civilian JTF. During the counter attack, it was reported that more than 207 Boko Haram members were killed by the collaborators.
Thus, the involvement of civilians has been touted as being one of the possible solutions to taming the terrorists because, according to proponents of this idea, no war can be fought successfully without the active participation of those primarily involved – the victims.
Therefore, it is believed that if the civilians that are supposed to be possible recruits of the Boko Haram sect decided to fight the terrorists instead of working for them, then in no distance future, there will be none for the terrorists to recruit.
Another strategy, this time coming as a subtle approach: the Nigerian government and military continue to find the terror war first as an offensive but then have continued to apply diplomacy, leaving a window for reconciliation, in case any repentant terrorist was willing to embrace amnesty from the federal government.
Tagged ‘Soft Approach’, the National Security Adviser to the president, Col. Sambo Dasuki, revealed this strategy to the public as part of the government's broader and holistic approach to ending the insurgency. The approach is fashioned in a manner as focusing on the economic revitalisation of the North-east, reorientation of terrorists and involving some Islamic clerics to dissuade potential members from joining the terrorist groups.
There has also been the clamour for a bi-partisan approach to be taken by the political class to end the scourge of terrorism.
Former Education Minister under President Olusegun Obasanjo government, Oby Ezekwesili, once told the APC: “Your act of transcendental leadership across your various divides in Nigerian politics of today will not only end this fatal insecurity in our country, but will actually start the process of healing of our land and the people.”
Ezekwesili, who was the keynote speaker at the APC's national summit in Abuja, told the audience that “Terrorists became emboldened by the absence of our political class across the entire spectrum of political leadership who decided to play their normal politics with the blood of the poor.
“What our nation asks all of you irrespective of the acronyms that thread together to make you a political party in this land today is that you must immediately “transcend” and mobilise all of Nigerians against the immediate common enemies killing our own within our territory.”
A member of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Onofiok Luke, also in an interview with THISDAY, spoke about the opposition APC's attitude towards the Boko Haram menace and cautioned it from viewing it as a PDP problem.
“They (APC) should not use it to play politics but instead if they have any solution, then they should collaborate with the federal government and not wait till they get into power to bring their solutions because the more they wait, the more Nigerians are being killed.”
In yet another interview with THISDAY, the Jigawa State Governor, Alhaji Sule Lamido, said it was essential for Nigerians, especially those in the political class to desist from taking advantage of the situation facing Nigeria for political reasons.
“I think as leaders we must be very careful; we shouldn’t try to exploit every situation for political gains. That is why we refused to get into political exploitation of the matter,” Lamido said, reacting to the recent arrest of some Northerners suspected to be Boko Haram members in Abia State.
He was optimistic that if Nigerians are committed to Nigeria the problem is surmountable even before next year’s general election.
“I agree there are challenges and they are very worrisome, but somehow, I’m an optimist. I feel that we should be able to overcome these challenges. All of us – Nigerians should be less emotional about issues first and less political.
“Let us have what we would identify as a Nigeria that we co-own. It is then that whatever we do will be in stability and in peace. We are not able to unite because of the various divides. Take away sentiments of North, South, Igbo, Hausa, and Yoruba.
“There are Christians there, there are Muslims there. So, let us not fight about the country, once we are able to take it as ours; as a common entity, I think we will be overcoming the problem. Let’s take ownership of it. But today, people are exploiting Nigeria and her difficulties for political advantage,” he said.
FG’s Reassuring Mantra
The Coordinator, National Information Centre, Mike Omeri, last week assured Nigerians that the current security challenges in Nigeria would end before the 2015 general election. Omeri also revealed to journalists in Abuja at a news briefing on the security challenges facing the country that all measures were being exploited by the government towards rescuing the kidnapped Chibok girls as well as to ensure peace across the country.
“We have not reached election period yet and all efforts now are essentially geared towards rescuing our Chibok girls and finding peace in the land. At the rate we are going, our challenge will be overcome before the elections,” Omeri said.
He was particularly reassured by the arrest of the alleged armourer of the Islamist sect, describing it as a major boost to the war against insurgency as well as a progress in the effort to rescue the Chibok girls.
Unveiling a New Approach
Currently, the federal government is adopting a three-pronged approach to ensuring the safety and security of lives and property particularly in the North-east states where Boko Haram attacks have been prevalent.
Nigeria's Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who last week briefed the British parliament on efforts of the federal government to curtail the impacts of the group revealed that the Boko Haram insurgency will slow down Nigeria’s economy again this year. This, she said was capable of taking off half a percentage point growth like last year, stressing that her 6.75 per cent 2014 growth forecast took this into account.
She told Reuters that the violence in the North-east Nigeria is likely to put off some potential foreign investors from coming into Nigeria. But according to her, as a way to addressing the menace, “We are taking a three-pronged approach to dealing with the various dimensions of the crisis, and this includes security, political and economic solutions.
“On the security front, our military men and women are confronting an unprecedented challenge that they were not really trained to confront and so we thank them for their courage and bravery. The President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, has increased the number of troops that are in the North-east from 15,000 to 20,000.
“Regional cooperation on security has gotten better, following a decision by neighbouring countries: Chad, Cameroun, Benin, and Niger, to each contribute a battalion of soldiers, to fight Boko Haram alongside Nigeria.
“President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has accepted offers from the international community for more surveillance, aircraft cover, and equipment that enhances our ability to locate, fight and root out insurgents.”
She, like other Nigerians was optimistic that there was hope in the horizon and she assured the United Kingdom parliament that, “we are beginning to make a difference,” noting that Nigeria’s security forces busted a Boko Haram intelligence unit a few days before her meeting.
“More of these counter-insurgency actions will be forthcoming. We are prepared to do whatever is necessary today, tomorrow and in the future to secure the country,” she assured the people.
Away from the familiar promises and assurances, Nigerians are eagerly looking forward to an end to the carnage. Some have suggested that whatever was needed to be done should be done. Even where there is need for dialogue, it should be engaged to genuinely quell the attacks that have sadly grouped Nigeria among the worlds’ terror-stricken nations.
Also, importantly, the fact that the sect might have begun to extend its spread to other parts of the country, following the recent explosion in the South of Lagos and Osun States, the federal government cannot afford to take any more risk, else, the consequences of such a spread could spell doom of incomprehensible consequences.