The Nigerian military has made huge strides in the fight against Boko Haram. The group has been driven out of their safe haven, areas of operation and dislodged from the villages they previously occupied. It is becoming more likely that the terrorist group could be defeated well before the 3 month deadline given by President Buhari. The military is doing something differently and it appears to be working. It boils down to two things: Dedicated leadership and increased multi-agency collaboration.
The Army chief has been leading from the front, quite literally. Buratai was said to have joined troops on the ground for a number of days while they carried out their offensive military campaign against Boko Haram. We now have a dedicated leadership who see the rot in the military as a personal affront and are willing to put personal interests aside to ensure the organization is once again restored to its glory days. Being at the war front allows the Army Chief have firsthand knowledge about the challenges being faced by troops on the ground. Adequate equipment has been made available to the troops fighting and this has helped restore motivation and morale among the troops.
There has also been a marked increase in collaboration among the various military services, law enforcement and intelligence agencies. It appears the days where the Air Force delayed in responding to reinforcement calls, if at all they responded are now a thing of the past. Twenty-four seven aerial reconnaissance has proven to be a key tool in finding Boko Haram hideouts, and leading to the rescue of several kidnapped victims. Intelligence agencies have been able to extract useful information from captured Boko Haram members which has led ground troops to intercept and block Boko Haram smuggling and supply routes.
The military success initially appeared slow in coming. Attacks were being carried out on a daily basis. Almost a thousand people have been killed since President Buhari’s administration took over. There were attacks daily and several reported attacks on a weekly basis. In a turn that further proves the effectiveness of the new counter-insurgency operation, there was only one major attack reported the entire week. An IED detonated inside a tent at the Malkohi IDP camp in Yola, Adamawa state, resulting in 12 fatalities. There are some indications that a second IED attack occurred on the same day near a market in Madagali town resulting in injuries. Although the attack incidents are dreadful and unfortunate, the low number of attacks reported this week sign of progress.
IDP Camp Threats
Security personnel and NEMA insist that thorough health and security checks are carried out on individuals gaining access into the IDP camps. The threat to IDP camps is very serious and it is also evident even in European countries receiving refugees resulting from the ISIS wars. France sent out a warning about ISIS members who are attempting to mask themselves as innocent migrants in an effort to gain entrance into Europe and carry out attacks.
Boko Haram insurgents will try to evolve and adapt to the new military strategy. But the country’s security apparatus need to stay one step ahead of the insurgents by identifying threats and countering them before they lead to fatalities. Once the offensive military operation is over and they are successful in dismantling Boko Haram, new strategies need to be in place to enhance intelligence collection, and law enforcement around the country.
Terrorist Watch List
The military freed 128 detainees who they finally certified had no link with Boko Haram. One of the released detainees said he was excited about being released after being detained for almost two years. In the past, Nigerian military personnel carrying out fishnet arrests rounded up young men from villages that have just been attacked and accusing them of being terrorists.
It is true that in the Boko Haram insurgency, the enemy is elusive and can easily blend in with the rest of the population. But there are steps that can be taken to ensure that adequate records are being kept on the individuals in the area, thereby enhancing identification of innocent civilians.
For instance, former detainees, captured Boko Haram members and even individuals in the IDP camp will need to undergo thorough questioning and subsequent biometrics data capture. An individual’s file will include the person’s identity, photograph and reason from being on the list and how security personnel checking the list should handle the identified individual. Carrying out this identification exercise will lead to the accumulation of a watch list which authorities can then use for the purpose of identity check at border crossings and even at camp entrances.
DSS and Human Rights
The military has already begun a major precedence in fixing their human rights track record. The new leadership has declared zero tolerance for human rights abuses. This is a stark contrast to the previous era where accusations of human rights abuses were responded to with “baseless” and nothing else. But just as the military is taking a no tolerance stance on human rights violations, the DSS needs to follow suit.
There were reports that the intelligence outfit finally released an Ogun State cleric who was in detention for 429 days on suspicion of being involved in terror activities. He was whisked away abruptly with his family unaware of his location or status for about 4 months. In the same token, there has been public outcry about the DSS’ recent raids of the government house in Akwa Ibom state.
We recognize that the DSS needs to carry out its duty of apprehending individuals of interest, or raiding locations as a matter of national security. However, once the raids or apprehension has occurred, some form of explanation needs to be given to the family members or members of the public involved. The DSS just like the military should establish a zero tolerance for human right abuses.
Boko Haram started out as a religious group consisting of members who felt the Nigerian government was corrupt and not doing anything to improve their standard of living. They began undermining the authority of government and the country’s law. This incident was not nipped in the bud and so this “boko haram movement” turned into an insurgency, which began waging war, claiming lives, and laying claim to sovereign territory.
MASSOB (Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign States of Biafra ) is a movement by a group of individuals in the southeast who according to a community leader in Anambra state, “Feel that the federal government does not care about the Southeast or the Igbo people”. Based on the history of uprisings leading to a genuine threat to the sovereignty of Nigeria, it is understandable that Nigerian authorities decided to crack down and arrest individuals affiliated with MASSOB. That being said, the Nigerian government has a tendency to respond to uprisings with force or what is considered a hard-handed approach.
Like former U.S Secretary of State Colin Powell said regarding ISIS “it’s going to take more than military attacks to take out the group. It is not just an enemy waiting to be defeated in Syria and in Iraq and elsewhere, it is a movement. It’s not something that is going to lend itself to immediate military power to take it out, ISIS will have to be defeated by the people who live in the areas where this movement exists”. In the same token, the Nigerian government should not rely on law enforcement or military might to suppress the voices of members of MASSOB.
The government may use force to disrupt the uprising only when the propensity for the group to be violent has been ascertained. But as long as MASSOB remains a peaceful group, the Nigerian government should focus on addressing the problems that initiated the unrest. Most of the time, the disturbance is symptomatic of socio-economic dissatisfaction, and the best way to quell and prevent uprisings is to address these socio-economic grievances. Finally, Colin Powell explained that, movements will have to be tackled by the people who live in the areas where the movement exists. Elders and members of the community in the Southeast need to respond to MASSOB before it takes an adverse turn.