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BOKO HARAM: It Is Time For Citizens Awareness, Vigilance, Says Ekhomu


Alex Badeh, Chief of Defence Staff

Alex Badeh, Chief of Defence Staff



The President of Association of Industrial Security and Safety Operators of Nigeria (AISSON), Dr Ona Ekhomu, in this chat with GBENGA SALAU, commented on the renewed efforts by government to check the activities of Boko Haram especially with their resort to suicide bombing.

Can you x-ray past efforts of government at tackling Boko Haram? I think past efforts had been quite sporadic, unfocused and tinted by a lot of political pressure here and there. There is also a lot of pandering to political rhetoric. And it was because the past efforts were unsuccessful was why Boko Raham was able to seize large size of territory. At a time Boko Haram was in charge of about 75 percent of Borno state, while the government held on only to Maiduguri. Even then, they kept attacking Maiduguri over and over, trying to take over Maiduguri from government.

Also, you saw their attack on Damaturu in Yobe State. On more than two occasions they tried to take over Damaturu and that would have caused a big problem. Look at the metropolis of Maiduguri, more than two million residents; if Boko Haram had taken over, they would have had a lot of heads to cut. But we thank God that it did not happen and that the government has woken up to its responsibility and it is pushing back vigorously. It is pushing back so much that it has been able to regain quite a bit of lost territories. And of course, right now, we know that Boko Haram is on the run because the government is determined to flush them out, especially with the support from the AU mandate forces, multi-national joint task force.

So, the ongoing effort is good, the government forces are doing very well and the days of the terrorists are numbered, as they would be able to flush them out quickly and regain all of Nigeria’s territory and restore our territorial integrity.

However, Boko Haram is not relenting, they are going back to what terrorists normally do. This is because terror is a weapon of the weak over the strong, but when terrorists start taking territory, for instance taking about 75 percent of Borno state, they are saying, they are strong, they are no longer the weak. It is a role reversal, for them to go in and start taking territory, holding territory and wanting to govern the territory. That was why Shekau got up at a point and said he was declaring a caliphate of Gwoza. You must have a territory to declare a caliphate. But with this renewed assault and with them being on the run, they do not have time to declare a caliphate.

There was a YouTube video I saw the other day, Shekau, who normally stands out in the open, in front of an Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC), making frantic gestures and acting out, he knelt down in a room, saying that Jonathan wants to kill him, that it is only God that gives life and it is God that kills. If Jonathan kills him, it is one of those things and his destiny.

And I felt, oh, Shekau is in touch with destiny, I thought that he was God, because at a time, he was playing God. I am just saying that he is in touch with his mortality now, that in fact, he is just a mortal man that he could also die. At a time, he thought that he was a divine being.

Having said that, the current push by the military has been very successful and reassuring to Nigerians that our military is capable of maintaining our territory integrity. Though Boko Haram is retreating, they are also changing tactics, now it is more of suicide bombing, so how do you think government should handle this new development?

Yes, they are back to what terrorists do, they hit and run, not to take territory and hold it down, saying they are the government. However, there are many things the government can do. We need to go back to what we normally do for terrorism; civilian awareness, vigilance and programmes such as Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) prevention initiatives, particularly the Person-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (PBIED), suicide bomb tied to on individual. There is a prevention initiative for Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIED). So I think we need to get to that level and start talking again about how to prevent IEDs, defend against IEDs, what should be the rules of engagement, search procedure and how to call in cases of emergences.

This is because, even now, if you are in Maiduguri or Kano or in any of the northern states, after detecting somebody carrying a suicide bomb, you do not know who to call to render the bomb safe. You do not want the person carrying the bomb to die and you do not want the bomb to detonate and kill you and other persons around. But then, who do you call in the interim? You are supposed to call the bomb squad, but where is the bomb squad number? How do you reach them in an emergency? So there are those fundamental questions that we need to ask and answer in relating to ability to do emergency response in case there is a bomb alert in a community. Thus, we have to go back and defend that again.

Then we have to also try de-radicalization programmes. We know right now that a lot of radicalization is taking place in prisons, even in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, a lot of extremism is taking place there. There should be a programme to counter this, because if people were radicalized, they would believe they are fighting for God. You de-radicalised them to the extent that they do not see a need to kill themselves. They now embrace moderation in their religious views; it becomes a win, win situation for all. But in situation where you leave everything and focus only on the war efforts, that is not the best.

Therefore, we must have other agencies; State Security Service, Office of the National Security Adviser, Nigeria Police Force, come out to give the people more information on how to combat IEDs. And we must have specialized agencies to go into prisons and separate radical prisoners from moderates, so that they do not go into prison and it becomes a university of fundamentalism.

Who roles should the leaders within the community and average citizens be playing now?

They have the role of sensitizing the citizens. They should receive information from authorities and pass it to the citizens. They are community leaders, so they are trusted more by their citizens. When the citizens come in with information, they could pass it to the relevant authorities in a way that it protects the source and most importantly the community that they serve. So we need to have more of that, citizens and community leaders involvement in the fight against terror. Why did I say this, people are every where, they see things, it is when you train their eyes to see a suicide bomber that is how they can detect that this guy is probably wearing one, because you are not sure until the bomb detonates.

Or you see somebody plants a roadside bomb or even somebody with a VBIED. A lot of the VBIED that we have seen, the vehicles were abandoned, but because nobody detected them, they got detonated and killed people.

In these efforts by the community leaders and the citizens, how do we ensure that the people do not raise false alarm and put innocent people at risk?

There is going to be false alarm, especially if a community is on edge. I give you an African parable; if a snake bites somebody, anytime you see a rope on the floor, you think it is a snake, you run. It is the same thing. It is just like something that happened recently, a young girl was lynched to death in Bauchi because she was mistaken for a suicide bomber. She had the hijab on and had bottles rapped around her and she refused to be searched by the market security personnel. So she was mistaken for a suicide bomber. It was only after killing her, unfortunately, that the police discovered that the bottles she had on did not contain any explosives.

Then, what do we make of that, is it any girl you see with hijab that should be lynched. I said common, no. You have to look at the totality of what happened in that circumstance. She fits into the physical profile, the dressing of a suicide bomber. But when the security personnel wanted to conduct a search on her, she said no. That was what raised their suspicion, because if she did not carry any bomb, she should have allowed the search or asked that a woman be invited to search her. She could have been searched and there would have been no accident. It was because she vehemently refused a search that they jumped on her and they now found that she had bottles on. So that just made them conclude that she was a suicide bomber, in fact was carrying a device, which was still wrong.

Their proactive stance, even though it has fatal consequences for the girl, the proactive stance needed to be commended, because just if she was a suicide bomber, she would have carried the weapon into the market and kill many people.

So the citizens must submit to a check as long as it is a lawful check and as long as it is not an intrusive check, because the community must be protected. That is what the individual must understand, even if one person must die to protect the rest of the community, then so be it.

What is the implication of the pledge of Boko Haram allegiance to ISIS in the fight to check terrorism?

The allegiance is call for assistance from ISIS if they would assist them. It is also a way of trying to recruit fighters here because we have seen the son of a former chief justice go off to fight for ISIS. But traveling all the way from here to Iraq, it is easier and cheaper to join Boko Haram at home, ISIS local affiliate and fight here. I think that was what they were trying to do, considering they are having heavy casualties and the best thing is to see if they could get new recruits.

What is the implication of that for the continent?

I do not know if ISIS is going to accept the invitation to join in the fight. ISIS has some presence in Africa already. They are in Libya, Egypt and Central Africa Republic. So they have spotted presence here and there, but they do not have enough capability to deliver troupes to BH on the front line and conquer the federal government.

The allegiance might result in fear among citizens; what should government do to dismiss this fear?

They should talk it down, but urge people to maintain vigilance because terrorists can always get up to say any nonesense they feel like saying. It is what they do that is important, not what they say. Do they have the operational capability to carry out their threat? I am worried about that.

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