Boko Haram and the rest of us

by Henry Chukwuemeka Onyema

With the recent avalanche of bombings by Boko Haram or someone acting in their name across Northern Nigeria and right on the doorsteps of Abuja, it is time for every right-thinking Nigerian to go beyond pious hand-wringing and start thinking. Unless we get our acts right Boko Haram just might become the nightmare we dreaded.

The Nigerian government and her security apparatus took the group for granted as far back as 2004. Prior to its earth-shaking attacks in July 2009, Muslim leaders and officials warnings about the group were ignored. Boko Haram has come a long way since its birth in 2002 and it is time to take it on. Steeped in its perverted religious ideology which sees anything Western as sin-education, health systems, fashion, politics, etc-its bombing campaign has extended to health facilities in Borno (see Daily Champion, 3 June, pp.1 and 6). Unless it is a smokescreen, their ideology should be our concern. It negates everything a modern, democratic, multicultural and multireligious Nigeria aspires to. That is why negotiating with them may be unrealistic; non-Muslims and even some segments of Nigerian Muslims cannot abide by their creed.

I do not expect President Good luck Jonathan and his security chiefs to announce on newspaper pages the measures, if any, they are taking to contain and defeat this blooming insurgency. Security/intelligence operations are classified in the national interest, at least for its duration, notwithstanding press freedom even in advanced democracies. This article’s purpose is to suggest some ideas for countermeasures. GEJ and his team must act because fasting and prayer alone will not eradicate the Boko Haram threat.

Our security services must improve their intelligence capabilities, both human and Electronic surveillance (if they have them). The State Security Service; the National Intelligence Agency; the Defence Intelligence Agency and the Police’s Special Branch (if it still exists) are our primary intelligence agencies. Why are they incapable of anticipating outbreaks in flashpoints? It screams of their incompetence if they expect a traumatized citizenry to come forward with information when the average Nigerian has a justifiably unfriendly mindset about our security services. Are our operatives ignorant of the fine art of espionage? Look at this scenario: Boko Haram is dominated by mostly but by no means exclusively young male Muslims from the North-west/North-east parts of Nigeria and countries like Chad and Niger. Many have rudimentary formal education. Now while this profile might not be cast in stone, can’t our operatives avail themselves of information from captured or arrested members to develop mechanisms for infiltrating the group? Do our agencies have research facilities or ‘backroom boys’ who can study and analyze patterns of terrorist operations? If they exist they would have pinned down Boko Haram’s modus operandi, to an extent. However, such loose-limbed groups can mutate to suit their circumstances.

Our security chiefs should think like crime busters of the 21st century. Bomb-making technology is ridiculously easy to acquire; the internet has sites that dispense such information. Weapons can be slipped into the most ingenious caches. The likes of Boko Haram are not frightened by the stiff and starched uniforms and boots of generals touring divisions; they are not your typical Nigerian impressed by a show of force by soldiers and policemen who speed across roads in vehicles bearing fancy names like ‘OP Thunder.’ In fact they love to operate under such situations because of the surreptitious nature of their operations. These guys can disable an APC (Armoured Personnel Carrier); they can rig grenades in a military base. GEJ’s much-vaunted adviser on terrorism should update himself fast.

Like every other apparatus of the Nigerian government, corruption, bureaucratic inertia and clashing loyalties can be found in our security services. These must be addressed. Nigerians remember the egoistic struggle for turf control between the State Security Service and the Police in the wake of the investigations into the October 1 2010 bombings. Such rivalry exists even in the USA between the CIA and FBI. But what set them apart are the clear definition of each agency’s jurisdictional limits and the development of a mechanism for unified operations. Whether our agencies know how to come up with such a mechanism without going for each other’s throats is beyond this writer. They may ask the UK how its Joint Intelligence Committee, comprising all her security services, works. USA’s Department of Homeland Security can also help since Nigeria, for all her Africanist credentials, is firmly entrenched in the Anglo-American sphere of influence.

There is the dark possibility that Boko Haram is a cover for sinister anti-government activities by disgruntled political elite. Nigeria currently has a lot of them and their dissatisfaction goes back to when late President Yar’adua’s health spiraled downwards. I am not advocating their arbitrary detention; organizations like Buhari’s CPC should not be banned. But our agencies should have discreet surveillance and counter surveillance measures for such individuals and groups. If they are unduly harassed they will become unjustified heroes and martyrs. But our security services are not barred from anticipatory measures to checkmate trouble. This is a very fine line which only the best operators can walk. Does Nigeria belong to the class?

Then do our army and police have trained units who may engage in covert operations to ‘take out’ terrorist threats? Most countries, including the democracies we ape, have them. Eg. Britain (SAS), USA (SEALS, Delta Force). Can our military deploy operatives who can blend with the terrorist’s terrain and take down threats? The massive bluster and blunder by the JTF can only go so far. We urgently need lean and mean units working on solid intelligence. The police bungled the arrest of Mohammed Yusuf, Boko Haram’s chief, in July 2009. If the original plan was to ‘take him out’ the operation should have been well conceived and executed by the army teams sent in during the uprising.
Finally, our leaders, especially the Northern elite, should do their jobs. We elected them to provide a better life for us but they do so only for themselves. I hope the chickens are not coming home to roost. The volatile nature of religious politics in Northern Nigeria should be checked. It is time for the younger and enlightened generation of Northerners to take charge of their area’s development. Only then will Boko Haram lose its appeal.

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