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‘Military should halt operation safe corridor now’

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Renowned security expert, Dr Ona Ekhomu, in this interview with GODWIN IJEDIOGOR, blames the resurgence of insecurity in the country on what he describes as “strategic blunders and poor choices by the authorities.”

What is responsible for the upsurge in insecurity?
Generally, insecurity in Nigeria can be traced to the three socio-economic factors namely endemic poverty, high unemployment and impunity. Poverty in the land is quite harsh. Nigeria has overtaken India as the country with the largest number of poor people – 87 million people. Poverty is insidious. It reduces the moral bar for many, particularly the young and the ambitious.

Fulani herdsmen kidnapping people often rationalise their behaviour by saying they no longer have cattle to herd and they have no alternative means of livelihood. Armed with an AK47 rifle, they resort to targeted acts of violence such as kidnapping for ransom to survive.The high rate of unemployment is another key casual factor. Unemployment creates idle hands, which are available for criminal enterprise.

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The biggest causal factor is impunity. Many criminals in Nigeria believe they can get away with the crime. Some believe that they belong to certain “privileged” ethnic groups or political groups and will not be punished. Others count on the fact that crime detection in Nigeria is constrained by multiple poor policing factors such as lack of forensic science capability, lack of criminal database, poor training and welfare of police detectives, etc. Others feel that even if detected, arrested and prosecuted, the adjudication by the courts of law will be another weak link in the criminal justice chain that could be exploited to escape punishment. Until we understand Beccarian severity, celerity and certainty of punishment we will continue to have impunity in the system.

The Northeast insurgency is being fuelled by vulnerabilities created by tactical errors such as the adoption of Super-camps, which is good for force protection but creates vulnerabilities by exposing the citizenry to incessant attacks. The terrorists merely exploit the absence of capable guardians in the Borno countryside. Another factor is the so-called de-radicalisation of repentant Boko Haram fighters. To me, the Operation Safe Corridor programme amounts to recycling of Boko Haram fighters. Terrorists that have been taken off the battle fields are apparently being returned as new and improved fighters to cause more havoc. This is appalling. There is no evidence that these people were in fact reprogrammed and de-radicalised successfully. There is no objective measure of the success of de-radicalisation. There is no proper monitoring of the fighters after their release. Pertinent questions include: who is their case officer? How are they monitored? Where are they employed? Where do they live? Who are their friends and associates? I know that these data do not exist. The de-radicalisation programme is a sham and it should be stopped forthwith.

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Why is the military unable to finish the war?
Because it is being refueled by strategic blunders and poor choices by the authorities. The Federal Government feels that it can appeal to Boko Haram to have a change of heart. This is patently mistaken. In my new book ‘Boko Haram: Security Considerations and the Rise of an Insurgency’ I argue that Boko Haram must first be defeated militarily before other conflict resolution strategies can be put in motion. They have shown iron cast ideological commitment and with the factionalisation with ISWAP, there is a new complication. ISWAP, being part of the ISIS global terror organisation is well funded and resourced. In the prelude section of my book named “Boko Haram” I quote Information Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who said in February 2019 that Nigeria is now fighting international terror (ISWAP).

Huge arms expenditure
Despite the huge sum of money expended by Nigeria on arms purchases, the extant conditions will not allow the crisis to finish. To give a medical metaphor – if you have a wound which you are treating, and you keep re-infecting the wound with bacteria, that wound will never heal despite the amount of treatment you apply. The organic condition for the wound healing is for the bacterial load to reduce or diminish.

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Calls For sack of military chiefs
I had previously voiced my opposition to this simplistic, brain-dead solution being canvassed. The security chiefs didn’t cause the conflict in the first place. They have been trying their best under difficult circumstances to solve the problem. While the observed inter-service rivalry is unhealthy and condemnable, I think the integrated battlefield tactic, which the Army and Airforce have adopted, is very potent. This has helped our military to contain the insurgents. In this tactic, air power is used for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) and also for attack while the troops engage on the ground.

I have said that we should develop measures of performance of the various services and present the scorecard to the Commander-in- Chief to determine if the Service Chiefs are effective or not. Anything else is polemics.

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Negotiation with terrorists
Never a good idea. Terrorists don’t have integrity and lack honesty. That’s why they are terrorists in the first place. Often, reference is made to Niger Delta militants and their negotiation with President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s government. The Niger Delta boys were violent protesters. That is why they took pain to avoid civilian deaths in their attacks on oil facilities. Same cannot be said about Boko Haram that on February 25, 2014, laid a four-hour siege to the Federal Government College Buni Yadi, Yobe State and cremated 59 students who were half asleep in their school dormitory.

Way out
In chapter 15 of my book, I gave a new security architecture called risk mapping. I have promised to paraphrase this new security tapestry for the Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Nigeria’s Security Challenges. The rest of us will get a peek at the book on March 26th when it is publicly presented. My point is: complex ill structured problems require innovative, cerebral solutions. Nigerian leaders should endeavor to attract the best and brightest to help solve important national problems. Merely relying on the advice of available political jobbers is not a smart way to solve complex problems. God save Nigeria. Amen.

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In this article:
Ona Ekhomu
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