How to solve the Boko Haram menace.
I wrote on this issue area for my Long Essay in International Relations, B.Sc. It is an excellent piece though it is not an entirely happy write up. I discovered a lot of unnerving details, facts, figures, tolls and devastations since the group became violently active in 2009. After examining all the materials I had, I made the recommendation that this trouble could be solved by a three dole combination of heavy and intelligent military power, and an intense humanitarian campaign in the north. Here, I give a brief summary on my work.
1. It is beneficial to identify those factors that made northern Nigeria conducive for these insurgents to operate. This should not be confused with seeking to understand what motivates these persons especially when they have been widely and nationally recognized as terrorists. Those factors include,
a) a fluid and unmanned border. This is critical when one considers the ethno-religious similarity on either sides of the border, and that those foreign populations are themselves stressed. One should also consider the plague of small weapons proliferation in West Africa;
b) an almost incredible high rate of illiteracy, unemployment and poverty;
c) a popular sense of alienation from the political process in the country;
d) the memories of government crack down on the Maitasine rioters, in the 1980s; and
e) insensitivity and inefficiency of government and general political instability.
The obvious trend, however, is that these factors occur in varying degrees all over the country, and thus suggests that the country is walking a tight rope with the possibility of violence erupting from any region in the country. But never have we had an attack of the Boko Haram’s scale in the State. That made me look to other subtle factors: religious intolerance, ‘political islam’ and the penetration of ‘fundamental’ islam. The north fits the picture: impoverished, having little infrastructure, highly but unevenly religious as well as an intolerant population, and a struggling political implementation of Sharia. In short, it is a highly charged, volatile environment and these factors help to define the northern terrain.
2) I also researched into what the government had done to reverse the violence between 2009 and 2012, when I wrote the essay. I found that the manner of government’s police actions in the affected states like Borno and Yobe, may have aggravated the situation, the volatility of the region. But this police action did not have a direct link with whether the terrorists got viler or not. Let me explain.
It has been widely reported that the Joint Task Force has not been considerate of who is ‘civilian’ or ‘boko’. And that many ‘innocent’ people have been arrested and, that, without trial. Some have been killed, and resident homes destroyed. The result is that the locals become disillusioned, critical and even hostile to the nation’s forces. Experiences drawn from the global war against terrorism show that losing the support of locals when fighting terrorists in the area is a bad sign. The locals may become sympathetic or even supportive of these insurgents therefore blurring further the lines that differentiate a civilian from a terrorist. Therefore, anything that moves is a potential threat and target. This makes it convenient for the Boko Haram to use human shields and move around better.
But it is clear that intelligence failure in the Nigerian security sector has given room for the Boko Haram to hit harder, longer and more devastatingly.
I came to the conclusion that the military option in itself is not the problem. The problem is a dangerous mix of poor intelligence and little or no humanitarian efforts to win the hearts and minds of the peaceful locals. The recommendations become obvious:
I) tighten border controls;
II) improve intelligence agencies and intelligence gathering skills;
III) create room for humanitarian relief and secure and hold areas that have been checked and cleared.
A little story to illustrate my point. The tiger knows it can’t face the elephant head on. So it stalks the great animal and, at an opportune moment, leaps on the elephant and gives it a savage bite. Then it leaps back into the forest. The elephant in furious rage stampedes into the jungle, falling trees and making no real impact on the tiger. The elephant may as well stampede to death or bleed to death if the tiger keeps up with its one-at-a-time attacks. But the outcome would be remarkably different if the elephant does not rage into the jungle and instead clears out the trees around it, holding his position in clear view, and secured, denying the tiger room to stalk. The tiger would have to walk away or die in a head on collision with the tusker.
Clearing, holding, and rebuilding is our best way forward, as far as domestic policy is concerned. And this also puts pressure on our border neighbours to improve their own political, economic and security conditions.