Defeating Boko Haram: Matters Arising


Of late, the Nigerian news media – print and electronic, regular and social – has been awash with information of how the security forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are fast winning the war against Boko Haram  in the country’s North-East.  Daily, Nigerians are inundated with news of how Boko Haram is being routed on all fronts by the country’s rejuvenated armed forces, and how the new tilt of this bloody duel has pushed the group closer to the precipice of virtual annihilation. This new development has expectedly raised high hopes within the populace that the phantom of violence that has held that part of the country in its vice-like grip for the past seven years would soon be completely exorcised and life can once more return to normalcy in the troubled region.

However, as heart-lifting as the positive slant in the ongoing war on terror might appear to Nigeria’s security arrowheads and the general populace, care must be taken not to jump to hasty conclusions, due to the unpredictable nature of terrorism, as evidenced by recent developments in other hotspots of the world where the phenomenon has been taken on newer and more frightening dimensions, despite the gains that have been made against it. Groups such as Daesh – otherwise known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or ISIS – Al-Qaida, Haqqani Network, Kataib Hezbollah et al, have been upping the antes in their bloody struggles for recognition and survival, further widening the spectrums of violence whenever it looked like they were at the brink of defeat.

The refractory Daesh, for instance, has taken terrorism to a whole new level of late. Despite recent setbacks, the group seems to have metamorphosed into a frightening Octopus that is menacingly spreading its spiky tentacles across Europe, Africa, and even posing serious threats to both the homeland security and global interests of super-power nations like the United States, Russia et al. The jarring March 22, 2015, suicide-bombings of Maelbeek Metro Subway Station and Zaventem Airport in Brussels, Belgium, which left 32 people dead and scores more injured, and the earlier November 13, 2015 multiple bombings and shootings in Paris that resulted in 190 deaths and injuries to 368 others, were defiant demonstrations of the group’s capacity to reciprocally strike back at its perceived enemies; practical expressions of its resolve to remain undaunted in its quest for an Islamic State, despite American and Russian-led global alliances against the group in Iraq, Syria, Libya and other parts of the globe where it has lost large swathes of territory it hitherto controlled.

Daesh, by its recent actions in Brussels and Paris, seemed to be saying to the Western countries allied against it: “Look here, regardless of the fact that your armies are reversing the earlier gains we had made in Iraq and Syria, we can still strike back at you on your homelands”. By successfully launching these brutally devised and well coordinated attacks on soft targets in Europe, despite the much vaunted sophisticated intelligence network available to the continents anti-terror units, the Islamists have been able to strike home the harsh reality that wars are not fought on conventional battlefields alone; they can be fought on softer fronts too. The bitter aftermath of the Brussels and Paris attacks should be harsh lessons for all participants in the global war on terror; lessons that should not be lost on Nigeria’s security planners in their current campaigns against BH.

Despite propaganda constituting a very potent instrument of warfare, it remains only a means to an end, and not an end in itself. The war on terror cannot be won with mere words. Nigeria’s security planners must be guided by the mantra of “more work and less talk”. Pessimism aside, Nigeria’s security forces, in their ongoing anti-terror campaigns in the North-East, must prepare for a long, searing war. Agreed that B.K’s ability to hold territory and launch large-scale conventional offensives against hard targets have been greatly diminished by recent gains against its forces by the Nigerian military and its regional allies, it still remains capable of launching brutal strikes at soft targets outside the conventional battlefield, as it has consistently proved since the onset of the ongoing war through its various well orchestrated suicide bombing and shooting campaigns in the North-East.

BK has developed its first and second strike capabilities to perfection over the years. It can still initiate pre-emptive strikes to ward off impending attacks, and launch retaliatory strikes in response to any attack against its forces. The group has prolifically displayed a ruthless efficiency and admirable staying power that continues to confound the operators of Nigeria’s security establishment and their allies, despite all the sweltering salvos that have been hauled at it. The group will continue posing a major threat to the security of the Nigerian State and the Western Africa sub region for many years to come, even after it is eventually expelled from the swathes of territory it currently occupies, regardless of what the authorities would have Nigerians believe.

Technically speaking, terrorism can be contained; it cannot be totally defeated. Ask the countries of the West who have been battling this monstrosity for years without end. It is a hydra-headed Cyclops that has the capacity to keep mutating non-stop; an endemic, terminal virus that has come to stay.

This column has always argued for a multipronged approach towards the transformation of the intractable imbroglio in the North-East; a simulacrum of approaches consisting of both military action and local peace building measures by the authorities and other stakeholders that are geared towards reducing the likelihood of a return to the worst-case scenario of old. Defeating Boko Haram on the battlefield cannot automatically guarantee the peace and stability of the North-East – nay the Nigerian State – if preventive peace building measures that are targeted at addressing the structural/background factors – such as grinding poverty, gross ignorance, social cum economic injustice, corruption et al – that led to the crisis are not factored into the peace process. Agreed that the military efforts have been successful so far in regaining chunks of territory hitherto controlled by the insurgents, a more holistic approach would involve other non-adversarial initiatives that would help create buffers against a future re-emergence of the phantom of terror in the North-East or any other part of the country.

In tandem with military action, Nigeria’s quest to reduce the frequency of terrorist attacks must also include efforts aimed at creating the right conditions that would make it very difficult for the phenomenon to flourish. Such measures would include: instituting a system of social justice, creating more jobs for the large pool of jobless youths, fighting ignorance with education, reducing the emasculating state of poverty, engineering political stability by operating an open and inclusive political system, engendering proper youth engagement, better policing and improved judicial system, breeding quality leadership, fighting religious stereotyping and other forms of intolerance through peace education, in conjunction with other initiatives that would be directed towards blunting man’s violent tendencies.

While not being iron-cast solutions to the cancer of terrorism, the aforementioned measures can go a long way in helping check its frequency if, as expected, Boko Haram is ultimately pushed out of the sprinklings of territory it currently occupies in the North-East. As Nigeria’s security forces and their allies intensify their onslaught on Boko Haram positions, the security think-tank is hereby enjoined to be more objective and realistic in its efforts at hashing out more long-lasting solutions to the scorching scenarios in the North-East. Adopting a multi-track conflict prevention and peace building approach would suffice as the most viable means of containing the stealthy phantom of terrorism in Nigeria, as buttressed by cases from other parts of the world.

God save Nigeria!

Written by
Jude Obuseh
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  • This article is simply a masterpiece that captures the realities of not only the war against Nigeria’s Boko Haram, but the global campaign against violent extremism. It is a clarion call on all the nations involved in this bloody war to brace up for a long, tasking campaign. “Terrorism can be contained, it cannot be defeated”. Kudos Mr. Jude.