Sometimes in the month of July 2009, Nigeria’s security agencies raided what they considered to be the strongholds of Jama’atu Ahlis Sunnah Lid’diwa’ati wal Jihad (Boko Haram), a home grown Islamic sect rated as a terrorist group that is predominantly active in Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, Gombe, Adamawa, Kano, Niger, Kaduna, Plateau, Kogi, Abuja and few other places within the country.
Muhammed Yusuf, the founder and spiritual leader of the sect was captured in Maiduguri at the peak of the crisis and minutes later, he was announced dead through execution in what many commentators described as extra-judicial killing. Some observers shared the view that Yusuf deserved to die the way he died because of the several violent attacks allegedly carried out on innocent people by his sect that caused the death of many lives and destroyed properties worth billions of naira, but others opined that the immediate killing of Yusufu after capture was a colossal waste of intelligence gathering opportunity which has today resulted in the violent attacks witnessed in the country. I personally share the latter’s sentiment that keeping him alive at least to face prosecution in a court of competent jurisdiction could have assisted Nigeria’s security agencies in gathering cogent intelligence reports about chain of command and modus operandi of the sect, but that was denied for reasons not yet clear to Nigerians. The identity of who ordered the killing of the ‘innocent’ religious leader is yet to be made public. That personality is definitely an enemy to Nigeria for allowing Yusuf to die with undisclosed intelligent report that could have benefited Nigeria’s security agencies and the country could have been better-off.
For instance, three days after the former Inspector General of Police, Hafiz Ringim declared war on the sect in Maiduguri and other affiliated groups after collecting the keys of some donated vehicles meant to counter the insurgency of Boko Haram, the sect literally took the war to the door step of Hafiz Ringim at force headquarters (Louis Edet House), Abuja perhaps to ‘honor’ the declaration of Ringim in the first suicide bombing ever in the history of the sect. In what became 16/06/11 Abuja suicide bombing, the yet to be identified two bombers blew themselves up along side a traffic warden. It was reported by the local news media that scores of cars at the parking lot of the police headquarters were burnt, several innocent people were hospitalized and the Inspector-General narrowly escaped the blast. On the same day in Damboa, Borno State, four children were reportedly killed in another deadly attack by the extremists apart from similar attacks in other parts of the north-east sub-region.
There are key issues emerging from 16/06/11 attacks that must be properly addressed if Nigeria is to make any progress in security related matters.
The intelligence failure in predicting the threats or potential threats of suicide bombing at the police headquarters is an issue for security operatives to fully investigate and make public at least to exonerate themselves from blame of failure and incompetence. The concept of intelligence cycle:- which en-composes planning and targeting, collection, processing, analysis and dissemination is important in understanding causes of intelligence failure at any one of these stages. However, it is important to say that failure can be multi as well as mono causal and it is the role of intelligence analysts to determine the source(s) of this failure and step up their game in order to prevent future deadly attacks. That perhaps has not been done till date.
Another major issue arising from Abuja suicide bombing is the fact that Boko Haram despite the killing of its leader, is far from becoming a weak organization if the killing was intended to weaken it. In fact, by carrying out what can rightly be described as Al-Qaeda inspired suicide attack, the group has since stepped up its campaign of terror to a new level of sophistication and anyone who thinks or dreams that the sect will disappear anytime soon must be delusional or completely ignorant of their modus operandi.
Consistent with counter-terrorism strategies in other parts of the world, Nigeria must as a matter of urgency look beyond attacking leaders and other members of the sect if truly we intend to defeat the sect. Since its emergence at the scene and the eruption of violent attacks, many arrests of their members were carried but has, it made any impact on their operation? While it is true that elimination of key leaders of a terrorist group have significant effects on planning, recruitment, fund raising and capacity to carry out major attacks, it is equally important to eliminate safe havens used as breeding grounds for terrorism. In the case of Northern Nigeria, eliminating the safe havens of the sect requires collaborations and cooperation amongst the States and few neighboring countries.
Another important strategy is to attack the ideological space that favors radicalization of young Muslims and Christians nationwide. This anti- radicalization strategy is fundamentally important in tackling promotion of extremists. In order for this anti-radicalization policy to work, the government must use religious scholars and spiritual leaders to promote the message that the government is not at war or favors any religion. This is important so that extremists in Boko Haram will not use the killings and arrests of their members as propaganda, recruitment and fund raising tools. More importantly, moderate religious groups have a major role to play in reaching out to arrested extremists and those in the community about the true meaning of their religious beliefs, and the need for religious tolerance amongst adherents of different beliefs.
The other important point is that the Federal Government should introduce new strategy to convince the sect to accept to dialogue for truce as the only solution to the insecurity challenge because in history, no government has ever defeated a terrorist group to submission and in our case, it cannot be different. Security agencies can only temporarily be on top of the situation to cool tempers and rekindle hope but the truth of the matter is that only sincere dialogue can solve the problem once and for all.
On a final analysis, President Jonathan must address the underlying socio-economic situations that make terrorism to thrive in the country. Specifically, the government must strive to address the poor economic conditions, growing unemployment, the widening gap between the rich and poor, ethnic/tribal issues, settler/indigene palaver and the growing disenchantment about the state of affairs in the country especially amongst young people that are losing hope in the operational system.
In this direction, one has to commend the efforts of some State Governors in the Northern region for creating special agencies in their respective states to cater for the welfare of youth and women as well as the implementation of several skills acquisition schemes. Other Governors deserve commendation for confronting the task of insecurity bedeviling their States and still providing the basic requirements of their people despite the paucity of funds.
Muhammad was the editor of a Bauchi based weekly Newspaper, The Trumpeter/Kakaki