The Joint Task Force must be called to order in the conduct of its operations
Again, the activities of the Joint Task Force (JTF) operating in Borno State have come under spotlight following a recent reprisal attack. According to media reports, JTF operatives, made up of several soldiers, went haywire in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital on Monday, October 8, 2012, after their patrol vehicle was hit by an Improvised Explosive Device believed to have been planted by members of Boko Haram. The attack on the JTF vehicle was said to have killed the leader of the patrol team and injured other members of the team.
In retaliation, scores of soldiers were reported to have stormed the street, shooting indiscriminately at residents and motorists on the road leading to the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital. By the time the reprisal attack was over, 30 persons, mostly civilians were said to have been killed, and at least 50 houses, shops and vehicles burnt in Gwange area of the city.
While an attack on any military or security personnel saddled with the arduous task of defending our nation and ensuring our common safety must be condemned in the strongest possible terms, the indiscriminate shooting of innocent civilians and destruction of their property by security agencies is unacceptable and must never be tolerated. This reprisal attack indeed reinforces the various allegations of extra-judicial killings levelled against JTF by the Borno Elders and Leaders of Thought, which had called for its withdrawal. Even though JTF denied those allegations and even labelled members of the group "sympathisers" of the violent sect, the latest incident may have given credence to those allegations.
A security outfit that embarks on indiscriminate use of force on civilians and their properties after an attack on its personnel cannot be said to have achieved an enviable level of professionalism and discipline which is the hallmark of such institutions in other climes where similar security challenges are being tackled effectively.
Instructively, one of the major challenges facing Nigerian security agencies, including JTF, is the lack of public trust. This has led to a situation in which Nigerians who live in the affected communities refuse to volunteer information to the various security agencies, thereby denying them vital intelligence needed to effectively carry out their mandate of ridding our society of violent criminals.
JTF and the various security agencies can therefore not be said to be oblivious of the importance of the support of the society in their operational areas as they have consistently implored people to provide information on the activities of Boko Haram. Incidentally, the JTF has lately recorded some successes in its campaign against violent extremism and had in fact attributed those successes to the cooperation and support of the people who volunteered vital information leading to the arrest of some key members of the militant sect.
By resorting to indiscriminate shooting of people and burning of houses and vehicles, JTF may have substantially destroyed the trust it had laboured to build and further alienated itself from the people whose support is vital to its success. Also, embarking on such brutal reprisal attack is not only capable of destroying crime scene evidence it could even exterminate witnesses whose testimonies could prevent future terrorist attack.
Apart from that, innocent civilians who have been enduring untold hardship since the outbreak of violent extremism in the state must not be denied the right to the sanctity of their lives and security of their property by security agencies deployed to their neighbourhood to maintain peace. While the battle against violent extremism and all forces of disintegration is a war which the Nigerian state must win, this battle cannot be won with the kind of reckless display of brutality by JTF as witnessed in Maiduguri on October 8.