Analysts put forward tactics that can help in tackling terrorism in Nigeria
Despite the Federal Government’s boast that it is winning the war on terror, it is believed that this year alone, over 600 lives have been lost to Boko Haram attacks in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states. And that was before the sect grabbed headlines globally with the 25 February attack on Federal Government College, Buni Yadi in Yobe State, where about 60 teenagers were bombed, shot or slaughtered. Fed up with the pretensions of victory over the sect, many Nigerians are calling on President Jonathan to live up to his responsibility of protecting the lives and property of Nigerians. On a visit to the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, on 8 March, Jonathan was urged to use the full range of his powers to rein in the insurgents. “I always express sadness over the insurgency in North-East and the most worrisome of it is the killing of innocent school children in Yobe. This is the height of madness of the insurgency and the killing must be stopped immediately,” the Sultan said. While the Sultan may be contented with an appeal to the President, Northern youths under the aegis of Arewa Youth Forum, last Monday, threatened to organise a mass protest that will ground socio-economic activities in the North if the government fails to stop Boko Haram. The group, which accused the Presidency and Northern leaders of playing politics, noted that despite repeated assurances by government, Boko Haram has been having a free reign in Yobe, Borno and Adamawa States. According to the group, about 100,000 people fleeing from the carnage have become refugees in Cameroun, Chad and Niger.
Two weeks ago, members of women groups, dressed in black attires, staged processions in some state capitals to mourn the dead students and urge government to retrieve control of the affected states from Boko Haram. Also, the House of Representatives dedicated the only plenary it held last week, the first since the Buni Yadi incident, to mourn the students. Aminu Tambuwal, Speaker of the House, asked the lawmakers to express their outrage and imagine the murdered pupils were their wards. “In my brief statement immediately after that attack, I warned that Nigeria is running out of excuses for our failure to live up to our responsibility to protect our citizens. Today, I wish to amend that comment and declare that we have run out of excuses. We no longer have any excuse for our inability to protect our innocent, defenceless children from gratuitous violence,” the Speaker said.
Some of the lawmakers wept as they listened to the Speaker, while none got up to speak the Speaker asked them to do so. Tambuwal also recounted some of the steps taken by the House to put an end to the insurgency since the inception of the 7th National Assembly. The Speaker listed this to include passage of over 20 resolutions on national security, amendment of the anti- terrorism law and appropriation of monies for security agencies to strengthen the fight against terrorism and insurgency. He regretted that killings by Boko Haram have continued despite the various measures.
Sorrow, Tears and Blood
Speaking at a gathering of Northern Elders Forum last Monday, Zanna Hasan Boguma, a representative of Borno Elders Forum, said the measures so far taken have yielded measly results despite Federal Government’s claims to the contrary. According to him, the entire Northern region is now in the grip of war being waged by an enemy within. Boko Haram’s raids across the region in the last few weeks, Boguma said, show how vulnerable the it has become. “We have been seeing hell. Our people are constantly decimated, our towns and villages razed, properties destroyed, schools and places of worship burnt, even innocent travellers were not spared,” said Boguma.
Last Wednesday, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR, revealed that 57,000 Nigerians fleeing from areas affected by the insurgency are now taking refuge Cameroun, Chad and Niger, while about half a million people have been internally displaced. Adrian Edwards, the commission’s spokesperson, told reporters in Geneva that of the 57,000 people, 17,000 are registered as Nigerians while the rest are nationals from neighbouring countries, who have lived in Nigeria for ages. About 40,000 of the refugees, he explained, are around the Diffa region of Niger Republic. Edwards said about 2,000 people have crossed to the Diffa region over the past four weeks. “In addition to the attacks on Lake Chad, some of the new arrivals have come from areas near Borno State capital, Maiduguri, that have been affected by fighting,” he added. Many of the refugees, explained Edwards, are traumatised and have few possessions, but carry with them horror stories from where they fled. “One woman described corpses strewn through houses and floating in the water. She said people feared staying even to bury their dead or find missing relatives. Others recounted fleeing a village shooting incident and said women and children were being kidnapped and taken away by unidentified assailants,” he said. Edwards added that officials of UNHCR have also heard different stories of shootings in villages, accompanied by kidnap of women and children. “It’s really a spreading of this horrible conflict we’re seeing outside of the towns and into some of the rural areas of North-East Nigeria. Indeed, it was as if the insurgent group is in a race to take its record of killings to the highest level possible with the onset of 2014. It has been estimated that the terrorist group has killed well over 1000 people and left many others injured in several attacks in the North-East in the last two months. The slaughter is usually accompanied by wanton destruction of buildings and other valuables. In January alone, reports indicated that the sect murdered over 120 people in communities in Adamawa and Borno States. The group also attacked two Catholic churches in two communities in the two states during the period.
One of the churches was a Catholic Church in Waga Chakawa, Adamawa State, which the sect attacked on 26 January, killing 30 worshippers. Mamza Stephen, Catholic Bishop of Yola, told journalists that Boko Haram members shot those who tried to escape through the window and also slit the throats of some of the worshippers during the four-hour siege on the church. On 11 February, an attack on Konduga, Borno State, left 67 people dead. Four days later, 147 lives were killed when the sect turned its murderous gaze on Izghe in Gwoza Local Government Area of the state. This was followed up with the Buni Yadi attack, which claimed 59 pupils on 25 February.
Widespread condemnation of the group’s activities, locally and internationally, yielded no let-up. On 1 March, home-made bombs planted in two cars went off, killing 52 people in Maiduguri. The same day, 39 people were killed in Mainok, a village about 50 kilometres from Maiduguri. Three days later in Jakana, which lies 35 kilometres from Maiduguri, 40 people were killed when the Boko Haram rolled into town. Outside of the Northeast, the group has accounted for hundreds of lives in Kaduna, Kano, Niger, Gombe, Katsina, Bauchi and Plateau states as well as Abuja. On 20 January 2011, at least 185 people were killed in Kano in coordinated daytime attacks.
On 26 August, 2011 the sect hit Abuja, when a suicide bomber drove into the wall of the United Nations building in the city, killing at least 25 people. A little more than two months before then, group claimed responsibility 100 lives lost in suicide attacks on three churches in Kaduna and Zaria.
In a show of its audacity, the made an attempt on the life of Hafiz Ringim, the then Inspector-General of Police who, days before, promised to wipe it out within few days.
A Boko Haram member, driving an explosive-laden car, had forced his way into the convoy of the police boss, as he was being driven into the Force Headquarters located less than a kilometre to the Presidential Villa. Though Ringim escaped death when the bomb went off, he lost eight of his men to the attack. The death toll since the group began its deadly campaign in 2009 is put between 3000 and 12,000. In its 2013 report on Nigeria, Human Rights Watch said Boko Haram violence has claimed more than 3000 lives since it its deadly phase began. But late last year, the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom, USCFR, said information it got suggested that the figure may be more than 12,000. The figure, however, included those allegedly killed without any strong reasons by the security forces, which have been accused of major abuses.
State Of Emergency
In 2011, the group bombed worshippers at St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla in Niger State as well as another church in Jos, Plateau State. Both attacks claimed over 80 lives. In September of the same year, gunmen believed to be members of the sect killed Babakura Fugu after he attended a peace meeting with former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Fugu was a brother in-law to Mohammed Yusuf, the late Boko Haram leader. The sect also carried out a series of bomb and gun attacks in Yobe and Borno states in November, 2011. In June 2011, the Federal Government created the Joint Task Force, JTF, a special military unit to counter the increasingly sophisticated terror attacks by the group. But despite JTF’s massive crackdown, Boko Haram continues to launch–very successfully–deadly attacks. This forced Governor Kashim Shetimma of Borno State to agree to hold talks with the sect, with a view to encouraging it to stop its deadly activities. But the group rejected the offer, saying it would not hold talks with the government until all its arrested members arrested were released. Following the outrage that followed the Christmas Day bombing in 2011, President Jonathan, on 31 December 2011, declared a state of emergency in 15 local councils in Borno, Niger, Yobe and Plateau states. Jonathan also ordered the closure of country’s borders in the affected states. In a nationwide broadcast, the President said the affected areas were notorious for terrorist attacks, while the borders closed are believed to be places through which terrorists come in to carry out attacks as well as escape. The President directed the then Chief of Defence Staff and other service chiefs to set up a special force with dedicated counter-terrorism responsibilities. The action gave the security forces sweeping powers to arrest people and search residences of suspected terrorists. The then National Security Adviser, the late General Owoye Azazi also revealed the action would lead to the creation of a unit specially trained in and equipped for counter-insurgency. The declaration of a state of emergency led to large scale deployment of soldiers. The military set up roadblocks, declared curfews and locked down specific areas to conduct house-to-house searches. While the move succeeded in Niger and Plateau states, it yielded little success in Borno and Yobe states, where Boko Haram continues to run wild.
In July 2012, the Federal Government was forced to lift the state of emergency, following the expiration of the six months approved by the National Assembly for the emergency. “The Federal Government has after a careful review of the security situation in the affected areas, resolved to end the state of emergency forthwith. This is to enable government to put in place appropriate confidence building measures to improve security in the affected areas,” Mohammed Bello Adoke, Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, said. The sect continued its activities and in reaction to pressure from key Northern leaders, the Federal Government was forced in April 2013 to establish a committee headed by Taminu Turaki, Minister of Special Duties. Prominent Northern leaders and groups, led by the Sultan of Sokoto, reasoned that the militant group would be willing end its deadly campaign if offered amnesty. The committee was, therefore, mandated to develop a framework for amnesty to the sect, set up a framework through which disarmament could take place within 60 days and develop a comprehensive victims’ support programme and mechanism to address the underlying causes of the insurgency to prevent future occurrence. The committee variously claimed that it met with some members of the sect, including the representatives of Abubakar Shekau, its spiritual leader, and reached a ceasefire agreement with them. Turaki also claimed that it had reached a truce with the authentic leadership of the sect. But Shekau wasted no time in denying the claims in a video message through which he also affirmed that the insurgent group will continue its violent campaign. To prove that he was not mouthing off, the sect killed at least 20 people in Kano two days after the alleged ceasefire agreement. In an earlier video posted on YouTube, Shekau rejected the amnesty offer, insisting that the country owes the group an apology for the extra-judicial killings of Yusuf, its leader; hundreds of other members and the destruction of its mosques and other property during a clash with security agencies in Maiduguri in 2009. The group has repeatedly claimed the 2009 incident drove it to insurgency. The committee also claimed that it met with Kabiru Sokoto and other suspected members of the sect in Kuje Prisons, Abuja. Sokoto, the alleged mastermind of the Christmas Day bombing, denied ever meeting with the committee. The work of the committee, according to analysts, was made more difficult with the outlawing of the sect less than a month after it began its work. Despite the proscription and the setting up of the committee, the sect continued to launch attacks and even deepened its roots in the North-East. There were reports that the militants took control of some areas in the Northern parts of Borno and Yobe states, where they not only hoisted their flags, but also drove away the government officials. Reports also indicated that Boko Haram had forged links with other terrorist organisations operating across the Sahel region and was receiving financial and logistical support from such partners. The group is said to be beneficiary of some of the weapons used by Libyan fighters. A report in a national newspaper listed the local government areas in Borno under Boko Haram control to include Marte, Magumeri, Mobbar, Gubio, Guzamala, Abadam, Kukawa, Kaga, Nganzai and Monguno. Members of the deadly sect, according to reports, preached openly, collected taxes and implemented the Sharia law in the areas under their control. There were reports that men of the JTF had looked the other way, even as the group established its authority over those councils. The few attempts by security agencies to reassert authority were said to have resulted heavy casualties.
An impudent attack last May yielded by an attempt by the group to take over the 202 Battalion Barracks in Bama, Borno State. The insurgents burnt down parts of the Mobile Police barracks in the town and set many cars and motorcycles ablaze, as they attempted to take over the army base in an operation that claimed 60 deaths, including those of 22 policemen, two soldiers and 14 prison officials. Brigadier-General Ibrahim Attahiru, the then Director of Army Public Relations, told journalists that the terrorists dressed in military fatigues and attacked the barracks with rocket-propelled grenades, general purpose machine guns, bombs and vehicles fitted with anti-aircraft guns. While the attack on the barracks was successfully repelled, the terrorists, he said, succeeded in burning down Bama Police Station, Police Barracks, Local Government Secretariat, office of the Independent National Electoral Commission, the local magistrate’s court and a primary school. Attahiru added that about 105 inmates of Bama Prison were set free by the insurgents, while he listed items recovered from them to include four vehicles, 14 weapons, 12 IEDs, assorted ammunition, several RPG tubes, and bombs. In a video released after the event, Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the Bama and the earlier attack, which led to confrontation with the men of Multinational Joint Task Force in Baga during which about 200 lives were reportedly lost. Following the Bama attack, President Jonathan slammed another state of emergency on Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, alleging that the insurgents seemed to be implementing a scheme to destabilise the country. “In many places, they have destroyed the Nigerian flag and other symbols of state authority and in their place, hoisted strange flags suggesting the exercise of alternative sovereignty,” said Jonathan. With the declaration of state of emergency, the military stepped up action against the insurgents with massive deployment of troops and equipment, as most parts of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states began looking like war zones a few hours after the declaration. The military ordered service providers to switch off mobile telephony signals and impose curfew in the three states. It deployed its fighter jets and within a few days, claimed to have re-established control over seized territories. It also claimed that it has destroyed camps operated by the sect in Sambisa Forest close to the borders of Chad, Niger and Cameroun. It also claimed to have killed hundreds of Boko Haram members and leaders killed. The Defence Headquarters had, through of press releases, informed Nigerians of the progress being made in the war against terrorists.
While the soldiers were busy battling the insurgents in the forests, youths in the cities, towns and villages in the areas under state of emergency formed themselves into different groups to fish out Boko Haram members in their communities. Popularly referred to as Civilian Joint Task Force, CJTF, the youth groups, armed with knives, machetes, cutlasses and other rudimentary weapons exploited their knowledge of their native communities to identify suspected Boko Haram members or other suspicious individuals. CJTF members were successful in stopping many attacks through swift identification of strange faces in their communities and also helped the security agencies to arrest Boko Haram members. Their success, however, provoked reprisal attacks from the sect, leading to huge loss of lives. Abu Zinnira, a Boko Haram spokesperson, first threatened the CJTF with an attack last June. The threat was delivered during an attack on a group of fisherman on the outskirts of Maiduguri. There were clashes reported between Boko Haram members and CJTF units in Mainok, Bama, Benesheik, and Konduga.
In a video released in August last year, Shekau showed CJTF killed by his men in a confrontation in Monguno.
The Borno State governor later began to offer financial and logistic support in form of vehicles to the CJTF in appreciation of its role in checking the activities of insurgents, especially within the Maiduguri metropolis. The government also gave employment to about 5000 more into the CJTF after training them for vigilance duties. For the first few months, the emergency declaration and all out deployment of military arsenal appeared to have driven the insurgents underground. Just before it was disbanded and replaced with the newly created 7th Infantry Division, the JTF was confident enough to declare that it killed Shekau during its battle with the insurgents in the Sambisa Forest. Lt. Col. Sagir Musa, JTF spokesperson, claimed that Shekau died from injuries sustained in a gun battle on 30 June 2013.
But over the course of the war, human rights groups accused the military of carrying out indiscriminate arrests, killings and other forms of brutality. Last November, Human Rights Watch accused Nigeria soldiers of conducting indiscriminate raids on markets, homes and prayer sessions, during which men, and even boys, were arrested, piled up on top of each other in trucks and whisked into detention where they were held for a long time without trial. “Many were never seen again,” Mausi Segun, HRW researcher for Nigeria, said. CJTF members were also accused of atrocities, including summary execution of alleged Boko Haram members. In July 2013, for example, the CJTF in Maiduguri, allegedly looking for insurgents, attacked Mala Othman, state chairman of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, and set his home ablaze. However, attacks by Boko Haram became very few and far between and was limited to the fringes of Borno State. There was no massive attack by the group in Yobe and Adamawa until early this year, a situation which led many Nigerians believe that the end of the insurgency was at hand.
Changing Nature of Attacks
The belief that Boko Haram has lost its capability to launch large scale attacks was spectacularly shredded last December, when the Air Force Base in Maiduguri and other military installations were hit. During the attack, the terrorists destroyed the 33 Artillery Barracks, burnt three aircraft and two helicopters, among other military equipment, and razed down buildings. About 24 insurgents and two military men reportedly died in the incident. It was gathered that President Jonathan immediately called a meeting with the National Security Council, where he expressed shock and disappointment with the service chiefs. He ordered them to investigate and explain why the assault took place despite the fact that the state was under emergency rule.
Maiduguri residents also wondered how the insurgents gained access to the city in such large numbers and attacked 33 Artillery Barracks for about an hour before marching straight to the Air Force Base. “It means the military had been telling us lies that they had killed 50 and hundreds of Boko Haram or destroyed their camps. If their claims of victory over Boko Haram are real and the Boko Haram could still launch such a huge attack, then we are doomed in Maiduguri,” said. the opposition All Progressives Congress. The party also demanded a probe into why the security personnel in the city in general and the military installations in particular were caught unawares by the attackers. “If military installations in a major city can be so easily overrun by a band of marauders, then, no one and no facilities are safe. That’s why the government and the military must work hand in hand to unravel why such a massive attack on military installations was possible in the first instance,” the party added. Until the recent suicide bombing in Maiduguri, the sect concentrated its activities in rural areas of Borno State and was less discriminating in its attacks, setting up roadblocks to slaughter scores of people on expressways. Since then, the expansion of CJTF’s operations appeared to have instigated a further shift in Boko Haram’s tactics, with the terrorists targeting not just youths or their friends and families, but also civilians at large. Recent attacks by the group have seen shoals of insurgents bombing small communities with the goal of burning such to the ground. In the recent attack in Konduga, the insurgents destroyed houses, shops, health clinics, schools and government buildings. In Izghe, gunmen carried out a door-to-door to slaughter of villagers. “We are in a state of war,” Governor Shettima said after one of such attacks. “Boko Haram are better armed and better motivated than our own troops. It is impossible for us to defeat the Boko Haram,” he added.
But the Federal Government has denied that the insurgents are better armed than Nigerians soldiers, even as it insists that it is winning the war. Just like it did when the state of emergency was first declared last year, the military has continued to make claims of huge successes since it renewed its offensive on Boko Haram after the Buni Yadi attack. There were reports that Lt-Gen Kenneth Minimah, Chief of Army Staff, and Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshal Adeola Amosu, have relocated to the 7th Division of Nigerian Army in Maiduguri to coordinate the battle against Boko Haram. The military claimed it has flattened some terrorist camps around Damboa, Sambisa, Potiskum, Gujba and Goniri. It also claimed to have killed over 1000 terrorists, according to Brigadier-General Chris Olukolade, Director of Defence Information.
How To Win The War
Despite claims of military success, many analysts have argued that naked force alone will not end the insurgency, but will perpetuate it. “Violent responses may temporarily quell the revolt, but it will more likely than not just produce variants of the group,” said Olufemi Sodipo, founder of the Kano-based Peace Initiative Network.
“Intelligence-driven operations will be the key. The quest for a lasting solution to the crisis must begin with an understanding of the root causes and the ideological motivations for youth participation in [the] violent radical campaign,” Sodipo told IRIN news agency. Thus, analysts have argued that a take-off point for tackling the menace may be addressing the grievances of the group.
It was pointed out, for instance, that the group had existed many years before it became violent in 2009 when its founder, Yusuf was killed. Since then, the group has called for justice over the killing as well as the return of its property seized by law enforcement agencies during the 2009 uprising. These were the demands the sect put forward to former President Obasanjo in 2009. In the same vein, analysts said the Boko Haram ideology is attractive to young men in the area because “its appeal is religious and resonates in the context of a weak state with severely weakened institutions”.
“Its theatre of operations – the Sahel – features a perfect storm of sovereignty: deficient states, a young, economically frustrated population mired in poverty, nations with long histories of strife and the collapse of agrarian economies due to climate change. Boko Haram represents an alternative order to this matrix of dysfunction. It evidently aims to be to the Sahel what the Taliban was in Afghanistan and in Pakistan’s tribal areas,” said Chris Ngwodo, a Nigerian political analyst, in an interview with al-Jazeera.
As such, Sodipo argued that countering the violent extremism of the sect will require a broad spectrum of initiatives. This, he said, will include arrest of the leaders, sustained development investments in marginalised communities, promotion of values of inclusivity to mitigate the spread of extremist ideology and the rehabilitation of radicalised former fighters. Comrade Shehu Sanni, who has variously campaigned for dialogue with the group, said government first has to change its attitude before this can happen. “As much as the government is fighting, the dialogue option is still very necessary. No peace can take place without [talking to Shekau], but I’ve tried on two occasions, and it wasn’t the Boko Haram members that failed me,” said Shehu Sani, Director of Civil Rights Congress. Sani and Obasanjo tried to initiate talks between the government and Boko Haram in 2010. “The government made noise about its interest in dialogue, but how is it possible to dialogue when you have a state of emergency that made it clear that any insurgents who violates it will be arrested or be shot? The same government that speaks about dialogue has also outlawed the group, saying that any communication with the group is a crime. How do you dialogue with a group whose leader has a bounty on his head?” Sani queried.
In a recent statement he released following the Buni Yadi attack, Sani asked government to raise a contact committee and an Islamic sects leaders dialogue committee. The state reserves the right to deploy its security apparatus, he said, but where it prolongs and becomes perilous to the lives of innocent Nigerians, other options should be considered. He recommended that the contact committee should be made up of people like Dr. Datti Ahmed, President, Sharia Council of Nigeria, and some Boko Haram members currently in detention. Ahmed had facilitated a meeting with the Islamists when the insurgency was at its infancy. “The Islamic sects committee should comprise the leaders of Darika sect, Izala sect, Shiite sect, Qadriyya sect, Tijjaniya sect and Ahmadiyya sect,” he suggested. Sani explained that the first body will initiate genuine contact with the leadership of Boko Haram and secure an immediate and credible ceasefire, while the second will “engage the insurgents from the Islamic perspective and set an agenda for an end to all forms of violence and restoration of peace in that part of the country”.
Better Equipped Military
Analysts have insisted that despite the Presidency’s dismissal of the Borno State governor that the military may not enough equipment to fight the insurgents, some of the equipment being used by the military are close to being outmoded. This and poor motivation, according to observers, is why soldiers flee when confronted with the insurgents’ superior weapons. There have also been arguments that the government needed to deploy more troops to affected areas. This was the argument of the Governor Ibrahim Geidam of Yobe State after the Buni Yadi attack. It has also been argued that government should deploy the locally manufactured drones and satellites to gather intelligence about activities of the insurgent group. In a recent interview, the Director of Defence Information refused to reveal if the military is currently deploying the drones or the satellites, but affirmed that all the necessary equipment are being put to use in the fight against Boko Haram.
Last week, the Comrade Abba Moro, Minister of the Interior, said the deployment of the drones and satellites will boost aerial surveillance. He also said that a committee set up to evaluate the preparedness of security forces to combat has submitted its report and that the recommendations would be implemented. Moro, who spoke when he met with a delegation from Dana Airlines, said government will empower security forces to overcome the crisis by implementing measures to take proper control of the country’s borders, especially in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states. The minister said government will partner with the airline for the purpose. Analysts, however, said the country must also work with its neigbours, especially Cameroun, which has been accused of harbouring insurgents, to make a success of the exercise.
In a recent statement, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar said the communities must continue to compliment the efforts of the regular forces in the battle against Boko Haram for the country to achieve success. According to him, there is a need to set up a government- backed civilian militia to fight Boko Haram. “When the President, in his most recent media chat, spoke about the government’s successes at pushing Boko Haram to the “fringes” of the Northeast, it immediately occurred to me that some of the credit for that should go to the ‘civilian JTF’ – the band of youths in and around Maiduguri, who have taken it upon themselves to act as a vigilante force to fight Boko Haram. I acknowledge that talk of a government-backed civilian militia is a controversial matter, but I do not think that should stop us from debating and seriously considering the matter, including it in our list of possible measures, especially as we’ve seen it work in flushing the militants out of Maiduguri,” Atiku said. Chidi Amuta, a columnist recommended that the only other solution may be the setting up of “an international force with Nigerian, Camerounian and Chadian boots on the ground and logistical and satellite intelligence support from France, the United States and the UK.”
.Published in TheNEWS magazine