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Fresh approaches to winning insurgency war

By Abosede Musari, Abuja
09 February 2015   |   11:00 pm
THE present generation was jolted to the reality of global terrorism by the 911 bombing of the American twin towers by the Al-Qaeda terrorist group then headed by Osama Bin Laden. It took more than 10 years for the American nation to hunt down the terrorist leader who was later killed in Pakistan. Since his…


THE present generation was jolted to the reality of global terrorism by the 911 bombing of the American twin towers by the Al-Qaeda terrorist group then headed by Osama Bin Laden.

It took more than 10 years for the American nation to hunt down the terrorist leader who was later killed in Pakistan. Since his killing, global terrorism has been on the increase, with the Al-Qaeda group splitting up and having the Islamic State (ISIS) as one of its offshoots.

Today, ISIS is known as the most dangerous terrorist group in the world with record of no mercy for its victims. Nations such as America, Britain and Japan have had their citizens beheaded by the group while France had some of its citizens luckily released probably after paying ransom. Lebanon had a share of the violence when a video depicting the brutal execution of its young military pilot, Moaz al-Kasasbeh was posted online. King Abdullah  of Lebanon had reacted to the burning alive of al-Kasasbeh by vowing to avenge his death on ISIS. Lebanon immediately ordered the execution of two ISIS prisoners in Lebanon, one of them, Sadija al-Rishawi, who was initially to be exchanged for the pilot. This is besides the brutality that ISIS has continued to unleash in parts of Syria and Iraq where the militants have seized a large swathe of land and declared an Islamic Caliphate.

   The terrorist attacks that left people dead in France has elicited a reaction that has put the whole of Europe on the alert in the past weeks. The attack on Charlie Hebdo and a supermarket in Paris where 17 people were killed drew the biggest world attention in recent times, with 40 world leaders and their officials matching against terrorism in the streets of Paris. 

All over Africa, there have been pockets of terrorist activities in Mali and Somalia especially, but the menace reared its ugly head in Nigeria in 2009 when the leader of the Boko Haram sect, Yusuf,  was reportedly killed. About 500 people died in August of that year in an offensive launched by the sect as an aftermath of the killing of its leader.

Prior to this time, there was the issue of militancy in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, though this did not translate into terrorism. According to the Chairman of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, Kingsley Kuku, militancy arose in the region to agitate against environmental degradation and for economic inclusion of the region.

The agitation which led to the killing of the environmental activist, Ken Saro wiwa, by then military government of General Sanni Abacha led to full scale militancy in the region. Recalling the activities that took place at the period, Kuku who himself was one of the agitators, stated that killing Sarowiwa gave birth to full scale militancy. Oil production which was the mainstay of the Nigerian economy was grounded to 700,000 barrels per day.

With the amnesty programme and the negotiation for peace however, the country now produces about 2.6 million barrels per day.

   According to Kuku, the fact that militancy increased in the Niger Delta because of the death of Sarowiwa, and the fact that the Boko Haram offensive increased with the death of its leader, should tell Nigerians that the solution is not in using military might.

While speaking recently at a discourse to find solutions to the issue in Abuja, Kuku stated that the best solution for Nigeria on how to rein in Boko Haram is for the elders from the north to stamp their feet and determine to end the menace by engaging genuinely with the insurgents as was done on the Niger Delta militancy issue by then vice president and now President Goodluck Jonathan among other elders of the region.

According to Kuku, no one from outside the region or outside the country can help Nigeria find a solution to the boko haram issue except the elders and women of the north  and the north east.

The programme which was anchored by a public sector advisory firm, Nextier, was titled “Curbing Militancy in Nigeria: Lessons from the Presidential Amnesty Programme”, and hosted more than three hundred participants who all agreed that it was high time a genuine and lasting solution is found to the Boko Haram situation.

Kuku said, “the use of force cannot work”. Recalling the experience with the Niger Delta militancy, he added that the situation became worse with every military action at the time. He warned that Nigeria could be consumed by the Boko Haram situation if not urgently handled. He however noted that the military will not be able to win the war if the political, religious and community leaders do not take a strict stance to engage the insurgents in serious dialogues that will end the struggle

“With where we are now with Boko Haram, we are getting to the brink of the country if we are not careful. They are very dangerous. we know what they have in their hands. The size of the country is the saving grace for now”, he said, adding that though Isaac Boro and Ken Sarowiwa were killed, the struggle in the Niger Delta did not die and in fact, militancy became fiercer with the death of those leaders.

Kuku noted that it has been difficult for government to negotiate with the ISIS funded Boko Haram because it does not have a leader, and is funded by other terrorist cells from outside the country who do not have a stake in the country. According to him, the Boko Haram insurgency has grown to consume those who created it and that each time a truce is reached with the group, a new faction rears its head to dismantle the agreement

Though Kuku’s advice is that foreigners cannot help Nigeria on the issue of insurgency, the African Union has raised a plan for a 7,500 five-nation regional force to help Nigeria take on the extremists. Already, the Chadian troops are in Nigeria to help with the situation. The troop has reportedly killed about 200 extremists in a week of operation. 

  Also, the troops of Niger Republic will likely join the force this week as its parliament votes on the issue today. Media reports indicate that this cooperation will open a new northern front in the regional fight against the insurgents. 

Meanwhile, Director General of  Nigeria’s National Information Centre, Mike Omeri has disclosed that the 7,500 Africa Union (AU)-backed multinational force would comprise troops from countries in the Lake Chad Basin Commission areas

 “The modalities for the operationalisation of this force are being worked out at a tactical summit which started (last week) in the Republic of Cameroun. In addition, the Chadian Chief of Defence Staff is currently in Nigeria to consolidate discussions on trans-border operation with his Nigerian counterpart.” He told a news conference last Thursday, adding that the successes and offensives by armies of the various countries are results of Nigeria’s country-to-country bilateral agreements with its neighbours to enhance coordination in the fight against insurgencies in the region.

Other suggestions Kuku gave include proper monitoring of Nigeria’s borders. The amnesty boss stated that very many of those captured as suspected boko haram terrorists are not of Nigerian origin but from neighbouring countries. He also suggested a proper recruitment of personnel into the Nigeria Army, stating that some of the people recruited joined the Army because of unemployment and not because they are passionate about defending the nation’s integrity.

Despite the response of the United Nations and the African Union to the Boko Haram issue, it is obvious that it may be difficult for Nigeria to receive the kind of solidarity that France received from the rest of the world in the days following the Paris attacks. Director General of the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR), Professor Oshita Oshita, who spoke in an interview with The Guardian stated that the dynamics are different and that international politics has a role to play.

“When you compare the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris with what has happened here and how the world has rallied behind France, you will agree that the context is very different. France is a major global player, yes Nigeria is a global player but we have to understand the context. What happened in Paris is to the extent that it involves other nations like Israel. That will play a different dynamics in the scenario”.

“We are part of the global system and Nigeria has played frontline roles in peace support operations in the world. We can only hope for the best. Our military are doing a great job in dealing with that situation. In real global politics, it is a combination of real political calculations”, he said.

It would be recalled that in the week when 17 persons were killed in Paris, the Boko Haram group attacked Baga and Maiduguri in Nigeria. About 2,000 people were reportedly killed in Baga while 20 were reportedly killed in Maiduguri. Though there was a statement from the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, condemning the attacks and promising to help Nigeria deal with the challenge “with every available resources”, Nigeria has never seen the kind of response the world gave to Paris during the attacks even though scores, and sometimes hundreds of people are killed in boko haram attacks in Nigeria almost on a weekly basis.

This elicited a reaction from the Catholic Archbishop of Jos, Ignatius Kaigama, who called for the same international support to tackle Boko Haram as France received since it was hit by Islamist attacks.

“I see the very positive response of the French government tackling this issue of religious violence after the killing of their citizens. We need that spirit to be spread around, not just when it happens in Europe, (but) when it happens in Nigeria, in Niger, Cameroun and many poor countries”, he was reported to have said.

  It is however, noteworthy and commendable that though Nigeria has not received the same level of solidarity from individual countries, the response from the UN, AU, Chad and Niger will go a long way. And despite the wise suggestions by Kuku for the northern elders and women to take the lead in having a practical solution to the Boko Haram issue, foreign assistance will surely be helpful because the terrorist group is not locally funded. It is funded by terrorist cells from outside the country, and the war is mostly fought by people that are from neighbouring countries as pointed out by Kuku himself.

This may make it difficult for local negotiations alone to work effectively within a short time. As pointed out in a recent media report by Head of US Africa Command, General David Rodriguez, a huge international effort will be needed by Nigeria in order to overcome Boko Haram. And taking into consideration the source of its funding, the recruitment of foreign fighters, its ideologies, its method of attack and the fact that it is faceless, it may not be entirely wise to throw away chances for international assistance either in the area of military assistance or in the area of negotiation especially.