The Military Keeps Dropping the Ball
From been underrated and likened to a band of rag-tag, amateurish, illiterate folks few years ago, the Boko Haram Islamic Sect metamorphosed into the ‘world’s most lethal terrorist group’; deadlier than ISIS, Al-Qaeda.
Just recently, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, gave a 40-day ultimatum to the Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole in the North-east, to capture Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, dead or alive.
Same Shekau that the military repeatedly claim it has killed? An Igbo proverb says only a tree will remain fixed if threatened to be cut down. A popular movie slogan says, if you want to shoot, shoot, don’t talk.
What is the intention, rationale in giving a kamikaze enemy advance notice that you are coming after him? The United States military didn’t give prior ultimatum, notice to Osama Bin Laden before he was routed out, effaced.
Not to be outdone, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) bandies an alibi why it struggles to rein in Boko Haram. The latest of such defense is that thunderstorm and rainfall impacted negatively on it operations in the northeast. Interestingly the rain does not seem to slow down the insurgents’ capacity to carry out attacks.
In a related development, the Nigerian military initially claimed it rescued 10 abducted University of Maiduguri and NNPC oil workers but their claim turned out to be false. The military tendered an apology thereafter for misleading the public.
Moving forward, the Defence Headquarters also blamed recent Boko Haram attacks in Borno State on the information the insurgents get from informants. Defence Spokesman, Major General John Enenche stated this on Monday, July 31, 2017, on Channels Television breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily.
Reacting to the attack on the crude oil exploration team in Borno, Major General Enenche noted that unless the terrorists were given adequate information about the progress of the exploration exercise, the team would not have fallen into the ambush.
This penchant for untenable, hogwash, half-truths is why many Nigerians seldom trust the security agencies. If the insurgents upped the ante as a result of information from informants, it follows that the military’s counter-intelligence capability leaves much to be desired.
Did the military not carry out risk assessment, surveillance before embarking on the escort? If the military with their sophisticated weaponry and expertise cannot safely escort the crude oil explorers, what is the fate of locals, civilians, and humanitarian staff working in the northeast?
Boko Haram has waged its violent insurgency since 2009. Their attacks are largely focalized in three states in northeast Nigeria– Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe. Out of the three states, Borno appears to be the bastion. While we agree that there is no magic wand to fixing insurgency/terrorism, we also know it is not rocket science or a new phenomenon in Nigeria. Wondering what the military would do if they have to fight in multiple fronts. Say the Niger Delta militancy is simultaneously thrown into the mix and the hitherto peaceful agitation for Biafra independence transmutes into a violent campaign.
Military Lacks Capacity to Hold Captured Territories in Northeast Nigeria
A 2016 Country Reports on Terrorism released by the United States Department of State Bureau of Counter-terrorism released on July 19, 2017, and obtained by ThisDay Newspaper, asserts that ‘’the Nigerian military lacks capacity to hold captured territories in northeast Nigeria’’. The candid report goes further to state that, “Despite gains made by the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF), much of its reported progress was merely duplication of failed efforts carried over from the end of last dry/fighting season,” adding: “The Nigerian military was unable to hold and rebuild civilian structures and institutions in those areas it had cleared.”
It further faulted the decision of the federal government to return internally displaced people (IDPs) to their original place of abode, saying that this was being done without adequate security.
According to the States Department report, “The Department of State Security (DSS) is the primary investigating agency for terrorism cases, but there have been longstanding sustained concerns about its capacity to investigate terrorist financing as it does not share case information with other agencies that also have the mandate to conduct terrorist financing investigations and prosecutions, such as the EFCC’’. “…there were no known efforts on the part of the EFCC or the Ministry of Justice to prosecute terrorist financing cases. This is not first time the United States is critiquing Nigeria’s counterterrorism strategy, nay, anti-terrorism law.
Recall that the 2012 US Country report on Terrorism equally cited aspects of Nigeria’s terrorism law, especially the delay in the trial of suspected terrorists and the delay in the freezing of assets of suspected terrorists, as being weak.
Boko Haram Is Still Very Much A Threat
While the Buhari administration and the military hierarchy frequently bluster how Boko Haram has been conquered or ‘’technically defeated’’, pragmatic evidence suggests the Islamic Sect is resilient against all odds and may likely remain a threat in the foreseeable future.
A somewhat conservative and not quite up-to-date data culled from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) says that up to June 2017, ‘’Boko Haram masterminded at least 48 attacks—successful and unsuccessful in Nigeria’’.
As recent as August 1, 2017, purportedly defeated Boko Haram insurgents overran – Mildu, a community in Madagali Local Government Area of Adamawa state killing seven people, injuring scores and torching houses.
Boko Haram’s relentless attacks, killings, abductions and mayhem do not foretell a Sect that has been defeated. They are still very much a threat. Ignore; downplay their capacity, resilience and tenacity at your peril.
Bent on De-radicalization of Terrorists At The Expense of Prosecution
We hear almost on a daily basis how a senior Boko Haram “Commander” was arrested but nothing is ever heard about the arrested or captured insurgents standing trial. It appears the Nigerian government, nay, the Buhari administration prefers enrolling captured or so-called surrendered Boko Haram insurgents into a government sponsored ‘’de-radicalization programme’’, swap them with abductees (Chibok schoolgirls) than have the insurgents prosecuted?
In August 2016, Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) says it presented relief items to a group of 800 former Boko Haram members who recently denounced their membership of the group. The repentant insurgents are being camped at a military-controlled facility known as ‘’Safe Corridor’’ in Gombe State where they are undergoing rehabilitation and deradicalization programmes.
Lately, forty-three Boko Haram insurgents who supposedly surrendered to troops of Operation Lafiya Dole were air-lifted to join other ‘repentant’ insurgents in the said Safe Corridor programme in Gombe. So what’s the essence of Nigeria’s anti-terrorism law if Boko Haram insurgents cannot be tried under that law? Is there an effort by the Nigerian military or defence establishment to measure recidivism of so-called de-radicalized Boko Haram insurgents?
Nigeria’s Anti-terrorism Law, A Paper-Tiger?
In its bid to tackle Boko Haram’s insurgency, terrorism in Nigerian shores, the Nigerian Senate stitched up a seemingly paper-tiger anti-terrorism law known as the Terrorism (prevention) Act which prescribed death penalty for individuals found guilty of terrorism. Nearly 10 years into Boko Haram’s insurgency and blistering terrorist attacks, there’s very sparse information as to the number of people (if any) convicted for terrorism or terrorist activities in Nigeria.
While Mr. Henry Okah has since been convicted in South Africa for masterminding twin car bombings during the 50th Independence Day celebration at Eagle Square, Abuja in 2010, the trial of his brother, Mr. Charles Okah who faces similar charges, has dragged on for several years.
Another example of Nigeria’s slowpoke judicial process is the protracted prosecution of one Aminu Sadiq Ogwuche who allegedly masterminded the April 14,2014 bomb blast that killed over 75 persons and wounded 100 others at a crowded motor park in Nyanya, Abuja.
Compare the slowpoke judicial process in Nigeria with the swift prosecution and conviction of Mr. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attempted to blow up a United States airliner with a bomb hidden in his underwear in December 2009.
Nigeria’s Sloppy ‘Prisoner Swap Policy’
With the kidnapped Chibok girls in their custody for more than two years, Boko haram insurgents forced the Nigerian government to the negotiating table. It was obvious the Nigerian government negotiated out of desperation, from a position of weakness. Five senior Boko Haram commanders were reportedly freed from a high security unity in exchange for 82 of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls. BBC’s report titled – the fate of the Chibok girls asserts that the men released were ‘’high-level Boko Haram bomb-makers, and that they were accompanied by two million euros (ransom) in cash’’.
Did the Nigerian military obtain the biometrics of these arrested insurgents? Why are the identities of the Boko Haram commanders freed by the Nigerian government shrouded in secrecy? Any guarantee that Boko Haram will not re-channel the supposed ransom payment towards acquiring more weaponry? Any guarantee that the freed insurgents will not relapse to terrorism?
Recall that Sahara Reporters reported that three Boko Haram Commanders released in swap deal for 82 Chibok Girls threatened to bomb Abuja, Nigeria’s federal capital few days after they were freed. Even after the prisoner swap deal with Boko Haram which led to the release of 82 Chibok abducted Chibok girls, many of the girls are still in the Sects captivity three months after their colleagues were freed. No intelligence was gleaned from the released girls that would lead to the rescue of their colleagues still in captivity? Nigeria’s counter-intelligence and surveillance capability is certainly wanting.
More often than not, a prisoner exchange is between two sovereign nations and the individuals involved are known. The US and Iran exchanged prisoners in 2016. Four Iranian-Americans and an American student were released from jail in Iran, and six Iranian-Americans and an Iranian convicted in the US for violating sanctions were flown to Tehran. The US swapped five Taliban fighters for US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. Also, Cuba and the United States discussed a prisoner swap deal in 2016. There was a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hezbollah in July 2008. Hezbollah transferred the coffins of two Israeli soldiers in exchange for 5 Lebanese militants held by Israel.
Boko Haram’s Bargaining Chip Strategy
Having trialled the efficacy of kidnap-for-ransom-and-prisoner-swap-deals, recalcitrant, remorseless Boko Haram militants will continue to deploy this bargaining chip stock-in-trade. Predictably, the Islamic Sect reportedly kidnapped about 10 women, part of a police/military convoy abducted along Damboa road, outside Maiduguri, Borno state. Just like the initial denial of the Chibok school girls’ abduction, the Nigerian government/police also denied the abduction of these women.
It was after Boko Haram’s leader – Shekau released a video of the 10 distraught women that the Nigerian authorities owned up. It’s been more than 30 days and the women are still in Boko Haram’s custody. Similarly, the Boko Haram faction purportedly loyal to IS-supported Abu Mus’ab Al-Barnawi is said to have attacked three military bases in northeast Nigeria lately. This faction is also reportedly responsible for the recent ambush, attack and abduction of some University of Maiduguri staff that were part of a crude oil exploration team in Borno State.
Since the Nigerian government has set the precedent for negotiating and allegedly paying ransom to terrorists, this may not be the last kidnap-for-ransom-and-extortion bargaining chip incident.
Need To Buttress, Rejig Nigeria’s Counterterrorism Strategy, Policy
Nigeria’s National Counter Terrorism Strategy, NACTEST, was reviewed and re-launched by the Buhari administration in August 2016. President Buhari was quoted as saying, ‘’since terrorism is not static; the country must also be decisive and dynamic in approaching and defeating it’’.
According to the National Security Adviser, Major General Babagana Monguno (Rtd), “NACTEST is organized around five streams aimed to forestall, secure, identify and implement with key objectives and indicators to effectively ensure monitoring and evaluating successes at each stage.”
Recall that NACTEST was a soft-approach (Countering Violent Extremism) programme introduced in 2014 by the erstwhile National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (Rtd) to counter terrorism, violent extremism in Nigeria.
In the words of Col. Dasuki, ‘’the National Counter-terrorism Strategy, NACTEST, was developed to offer a key blueprint for law enforcement agencies to combat terrorists’’.
In his July 2016 essay published on the International Journal of Intelligence, Security, and Public Affairs titled – Rethinking Nigeria’s Counter-Terrorism Strategy, Brigadier General Eugene Eji, a fellow of the Buckingham University Center for Security and Intelligence Studies, United Kingdom and Nigeria’s National Defence College submitted inter-alia that, ‘’The government’s strategy to counter the threat appears ineffective’’.
There’s no gainsaying the fact that Nigeria has made progress in containing Boko Haram but saying that Boko Haram has been defeated (technically or otherwise), is fallacious. There’s urgent need to rejig Nigeria’s Counter-terrorism strategy, intelligence gathering capabilities. Flipping ‘armchair’ service chiefs that would stay in posh accommodations/offices to and fro Maiduguri is symbolic, may boost morale but it is not the panacea to the brutal Boko Haram insurgency.
If Nigeria must win the ‘war on terror’, high time Nigeria’s counter-terrorism NACTEST blueprint was reappraised. A proactive, robust, holistic and fit-for-purpose counter-terrorism strategy/policy is exigent. Similarly, Nigeria’s anti-terrorism law must not be a paper-tiger sacrificed at the altar of an untested de-radicalization programme.
Prosecuting terrorists, their sponsors, financiers promptly will also serve as a deterrent. Folks who do the crime must be ready to do the time.
Don Okereke, a security analyst/consultant, writer, ex-serviceman, is CEO Holistic Security Background Checks Limited