Combating Terrorism in Nigeria
With the above terse words, the president had set the most decisive tone and uncompromising onslaught against the intractable bloody campaign by insurgents operating in the north eastern parts of the country. Immediately after this declaration, troops were moved to the affected states. Camps of insurgents were invaded and dislodged. The border regions of Chad and Niger Republic were liberated and normalcy is gradually returning again, at least, according to military authorities.
Terrorism is a crime against humanity that began to blossom in the 21st Century at a global scale. It gained its major international breakthrough on September 11, 2001, when al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden-led terrorist organisation, launched disastrous attacks that brought down the twin towers of World Trade Centre in the United States of America. This singular attack had jostled the world and highlighted the gargantuan capacity of man inhumanity to man, as well as the danger that human mind poses to the entire world. Thousands of lives were lost and thousands of casualties were recorded. It was this threat that brought the world to the realisation that it needs to be united to fight a common enemy: terrorism. This is anchored on the fact that, whenever terrorist attacks occur, the casualties are not usually predictable. As has been acknowledged by the United Nations, UN, other world bodies and countries, it is a fight that requires cooperative action to tackle. To this end, the world bodies and powers have been mobilising resources in order to stop the evil.
In the history of Nigeria, the word ‘terrorism’ is a relatively new phenomenon but ‘insurgency’, ethnic and religious crises are the nation’s familiar social antagonists since the days of Maitasine’s campaign of violence in the 80s to this era. But since 2009 and 2013, all that has changed dramatically. Nigeria is now a second leading country in terms of global scale of terrorism according to a recent report. Since 2009, Nigeria has witnessed escalation of terrorist activities, especially in northern parts of the country. This was in the aftermath of the gruesome murder of Muhammed Yusuf, the spiritual leader of Boko Haram in which the sect and the human rights community around the world demanded for justice. There were series of attacks on government institutions, the police, soldiers, Christians and places of worship, including killings of innocent civilians.
The current spate of national security challenges is traceable to the violence that erupted in apparent opposition to the emergence of President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011 presidential election. It would be recalled that there were threats from politicians that the country would be rendered ungovernable unless the northern part of the country produced the next president then. In this respect, persons such as Mallam Adamu Ciroma, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Alhaji Lawal Kaita, General Muhammadu Buhari, among others were often reported to have issued out threats indicating that there could be peace in the country when and only a norther emerges a president of the country.
It was, therefore, not surprising that the country erupted into violence in response to the opposition elements in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, over unresolved zoning formula in the party. Since then, peace had eluded the country. The violence would snowball into the most lethal bombing attacks, maiming of innocent people, destruction of properties among other negative effects.
The deadly activities of the sect first gradual began a descent into violence and wanton killings in the city of Maiduguri and environs, and then gravitated to Kano, Abuja, Kaduna, Yobe, Bauchi, Adamawa, Mandallah, Okene, Potiskum, and several other cities. The name and person of the president was heavily maligned, described as “Baba Slow”, “weak president”, “inept”, “clueless”, among other unprintable nick names. The administration was portrayed as lacking in focus, strategy, courage, intelligence and the wherewithal to confront the emergent crises. Northern economy was gradually being brought down on its knees and the poor, hapless and helpless population of the people of the region was being economically disempowered. There were strong views that the country was gradually sliding into anarchy.
For some northern leaders, instead of raising up to the occasion by deploying regional political and historical resources, rallying round the federal government so as to nip the crisis in the bud, it felt a sort of holy vindication that the crisis indicated the incapacity of the Jonathan administration to tackle the situation on ground.
Dr. Doyin Okupe, special adviser to the president on public affairs, replied critics of the president saying that there were not fair to the president. “Apart from the time of civil war, this is an unparallel period in our history. Sometimes, if you are spiritual, you would begin to wonder if there was a major issue or not. Killings, deaths and bloodshed everywhere! If you are the president and you carry such a burden, you will be totally destabilised. The president has to live with the anticipation and fear of where they would bomb tomorrow, how many people would be killed tonight, it is difficult to even remain focused. I actually feel sorry for him. He is a strong person,” he said.
The first time the federal government made concrete efforts to stem the tide of terrorism was when it deployed troops to Maiduguri. Daily bomb blasts, killings and bombing of buildings had become uncontrollable. The task of the Joint Task Force, JTF, remains to arrest the situation, protect lives and property; yet, it seemed as if the situation got worse. Daily deadly strikes by the sect were sustained. The upraising against the state spread to other parts of the region with lethal consequences. But after sometime when the JTF exerted more pressure, some elders in Borno and ACF changed their tune.
Between July and August 2011, they dashed to Aso Rock lamenting and entreating the president to withdraw troops from the north, especially the affected states. But the response of the presidency was unassailable. Did they have an alternative solution to the withdrawal of troops? Could they guarantee safety of lives and property? None answered. After the ensuing violence in some parts of the north were hundreds of people were killed for no fault of theirs, in the court of public opinion, this was a second pointer to the fact that politics was at play in the entire scheme. The question then was: How can anybody toy with the destiny of a people by acting drama in the face of criminal blood-letting?
The second attempt at bringing insurgency under control, foster peace and unity in the country was the setting up of a presidential committee to dialogue with members of the sect. The federal government’s delegation was headed by the Senior Special Adviser to the president of political affairs, Dr. Ahmed Gulak. The Boko Haram appointed its delegation and, interestingly, nominated Buhari to head the delegation. Of course, the general turned down the offer information from his office indicated that he was not disposed. The CPC had responded to the situation as a ploy by the ruling party to link the CPC presidential candidate to terrorist operations in Nigeria in order to incite Nigerians against him thereby whittling down his political and electoral value. That dialogue broke down as a result of irreconcilable differences from both sides.
While Boko Haram delegates alleged that the federal government was insincere and ill-prepared to dialogue with the sect and so could not be trusted, the position of the government was contrary. According to Gulak, the federal government was well disposed, but that the other party, when asked if any of them knew the leaders of Boko Haram or their members, where they live and with a view to actually reaching out to them (Boko Haram), no member of the party representing Boko Haram accepted. Naturally, there would have been no basis for trying to establish any dialogue when those coming to solicit for dialogue did not know those they were representing. That was how the dialogue crashed.
The third attempt at brokering peace between the federal government and the insurgents was through the inauguration of an amnesty committee. Therefore, in April this year, President Jonathan inaugurated a 26-member committee. According to the presidential spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, the mandate of the committee include Developing a framework for the granting of amnesty, Setting up of a framework through which disarmament could take place within a 60-day time frame, Development of a comprehensive victims’ support programme, Development of mechanisms to address the underlying causes of insurgencies that will help to prevent future occurrences, among others.
The members of the committee are: Kabiru Tanimu Turaki, Minister of Special Duties, chairman; Sheik Ahmed Lemu,
Dr. Hakeem Baba Ahmed, Col. Musa Shehu (rtd.), Sheik Abubakar Tureta, Dr.Datti Ahmed, Senator Sodangi Abubakar, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, Hon. Mohammed Bello Matawalle, Ambassador Zakari Ibrahim, Comrade Shehu Sani, Hajiya Naja’atu Mohammed and Malam Adamu S. Ladan. Others include Dr. Joseph Golwa, AVM A.I. Shehu, Mr. R. I. Nkemdirim, DIG P.I. Leha, Prof. Nur Alkali, Malam Salihu Abubakar, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Lugga, Barrister Ibrahim Tahir, Brig-Gen. Ibrahim Sabo, Ambassador Baba Ahmed Jidda, Group Capt. Bilal Bulama (Rtd.), Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi and Representative of OSGF (Secretary).
Thus against its will, the federal government succumbed to pressures from highly placed persons such as the Sultan of Sokoto, Alh. Abubakar Sa’ad III, Mallam Adamu Ciroma, Governor Babaangida Aliyu Muazu of Niger State, and groups such as Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, in the north, as well as other parts of the country, set up an amnesty committee with mandate to be able to identify possible links to members of the sect, reach out and convince them to lay down their arms and embrace peace. The proponents of amnesty for Boko Haram had argued that if President Yar’adua could grant amnesty to the Niger Delta militants, why shouldn’t Jonathan administration?
The president had, during his official visit to the states of Yobe and Borno, early this year, made a category statement on the demand for amnesty. According to him, “you cannot grant amnesty to ghost”. This was in reference to the fact that, in the case of the Niger Delta militancy, there was an economic and environmental factors and linkages. Even though there were elements of criminality in their activities, the militants were fighting in agitation for the destruction of the farmlands, water, and other sources of livelihood as a result of oil exploration in the area. What is more, their agitation was backed by the UN and other world relevant bodies. In other words, it was a human rights issue with legal backing. But in the case of Boko Haram, against the circular status of Nigeria according to the constitution, its ideology is a violent and bloody Jihadist campaign with an Islamisation agenda of the entire country. To worsen the situation, Boko Haram was later quoted as saying that it was the federal government that needed amnesty.
In the wake of setting up the amnesty committee, the attacks by the insurgents continued on a wider scale than was envisaged. This was much captured in Mr. President’s speech where he declared state of emergency, which was why he sent Special Forces to the area. “I have received detailed briefings from our security agencies. These briefings indicate that what we are facing is not just militancy or criminality, but a rebellion and insurgency by terrorist groups which pose a very serious threat to national unity and territorial integrity. Already, some northern parts of Borno state have been taken over by groups whose allegiance is to different flags and ideologies. These terrorists and insurgents seem determined to establish control and authority over parts of our beloved nation and to progressively overwhelm the rest of 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,” the president said. Earlier, there were reports that the insurgents have taken over about 23 local governments in the north eastern states of the country.
Again, the military option was not accepted by leaders such as Buhari who was said to have maligned the federal government for what he described as unfairness and injustice. In his view, why should the federal government under Yar’adua, grant amnesty to the Niger Delta militants and then send troops to kill northern insurgents?
Perhaps, the group with the worst politicisation of the war against insurgency is the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN. As it appears, any step taken by the federal government is attacked. This has earned the party widespread public condemnation in recent times. This is how politics has dominated the battle to maintain peace and unity of the country.
The pains of terrorist activities in the Nigeria, or any other country for that matter, can never be adequately quantified. Some reports stated that, about three thousand persons have been killed in the advent of terror attacks in the country. How can any one describe the throbbing, raw, per second slow death of those who were killed by bullets, machetes, and by other dastardly act? What of those who died slowly as a result of excruciating pains, either because of injuries or the traumatic impacts of violence and mayhem? What of persons who probably died as a result of hunger because they did not have access to food because of the crisis?
On the economic front, the north and the entire country by extension, has suffered and will continue to suffer, untold devastation. From the onset, manufacturers, traders and some liaison offices of embassies and high commissions shut down. There was mass exodus of people out of the north. Contractors vanished from sites and tourists vacated the cocoon of their hosts’ hospitality for fear of being kidnapped or killed. For instance, a report said that more than ten thousand shops have been closed down in Borno and the owners have fled the state as a result of the crisis. Banks and sale outlets of multinational companies have shut down as well.
The situation is the same in Kano, Yobe, Adamawa States, Bauchi, Gombe and other states in the north. Until recently, the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, had threatened that it would not send corps members to some affected states. Some corps members and their parents were equally adamant that their children and wards should not be sent to crisis-prone areas so as to avoid repetition of what actually happened in Bauchi and Plateau States in 2011 where some corps members were murdered. Similarly, various examination bodies, including JAMB, NECO and WAEC had threatened not to conduct the yearly examination exercise unless the security situation improves.
The Borno State Commissioner of Information, Mr. Inuwa Bwala, captured painfully and graphically the gravity of the current crisis in a media chat. According to him, it will take two decades for the state to recover from the ravages of terrorism. “It is only natural that when you have such a situation as we have now, it will affect the economic fortunes, especially where people go out to do business under the atmosphere of fear. So, there is no doubt that the crisis has taken its toll on our resources, on our business and on our economy. It will take us a very long time, not less than 20 years to recover and get to the position we were before the crisis started.
“It is our prayers that those who were scared away from Borno State out of fear, those who closed shops out of fear, those who fled in the height of the crisis and the general apathy among business men to invest in Borno State, should do a rethink and come back because the atmosphere is peaceful now. Local businesses are beginning to pick up; we are in the process of recovering. The state government has intervened in various business sectors, especially the revival of our industries, alleviation of poverty, granting of business loans, development of business and technical skills and so many other programmes that the government has initiated for us to bring back the state on to stream and let people imbibe the spirit of self-sustenance, let them imbibe the spirit of thriving even in the face of challenges. So it is our prayers that we will recover soonest”, he said.
The Minister of Works, Arch Mike Onolememen, acknowledged this when he said recently that terrorist activities in the north were hampering development in the region in terms of road contractions.
To check this therefore, he said, “I think … toll gates will be used as security points where criminals can be intercepted. Our security services need to build solid communications infrastructure-for nationwide communications between arms of security operatives”.
In a period that governments at all levels are canvassing for foreign investment in the country, no investor risk investing his hard-earned money in an environment of unrest.
If there is any benefit or gain in the ongoing government offensives against insurgents in the country, it is the fact that it has drastically doused social tension that had hitherto gripped the country, especially northern part of the country. The president is so impressed by the results of declaration of state of emergency that on May 26, 2013, in far away Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at the on the 21st ordinary session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union, AU, stated that the emergency rule might not last up to six months as prescribed by the constitution.
Applauding the positive impacts of operations of Special Forces that has been enforcing state of emergency declaration, the Minister of Interior, Comrade Abba Moro, “peace is gradually returning to Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States, which were overrun by the Boko Haram Sect”. This is showing that any far-reaching decision capable of bringing about national peace is worthwhile. It is a major way towards socio-economic restoration of a region and country enmeshed in such a gory conflict.
As a nation Nigeria has never come close to the brinks since the national pogrom, the Civil War like it did since the emergence of President Jonathan. Not that he maliciously stirred up any controversy in the country. Looking at the chilling story of his peasant background as told by himself and as attested to by those who know him, the president has no association with riot of any kind. He is definitely unlike former President Olusegun Obasanjo. The former president is being famously described as “vindictive” and “unforgiving”. President Jonathan is rather made of disarming humble mien and has been discernibly trying to show that democracy can work without imposing cult of ego-inflated personality. In other words, it can work better by functional institution.
Sentiments of many Nigerians are that, in other climes, especially civilised world, all well-meaning citizens unite against evil so as to promote national interest; but not in Nigeria where for selfish political reasons, opposition to the ruling party in power would go to the National Assembly not to support the widely accepted federal government’s decisive policy at curbing violence and insurgency like ACN and CPC have been doing. Analysts are unanimous in their view that the current security challenge in the country has really exposed the mediocrity and hypocrisy of some so-called statesmen and women.