Aperceptive source in government recently put the security challenge facing the nation in a perspective that should compel the attention of all those genuinely searching for solutions to the problem. He said that the worsening insecurity should be seen as a “transient” one, although it deprives the nation of the full attention that should be devoted to the issues of development. So there should be no basis for the Nigerian state to give the impression of being overwhelmed by the mindless attacks by Boko Haram in all its mutations. The flip side to this perspective is that all options should be explored as the government gives leadership in solving the problem. It is also a statement about the urgency of the solution. The increasing bloodletting caused by the attacks is enough basis for a sense of urgency to be developed. There are, of course, those who may dismiss such views as unduly optimistic or even simplistic. But it is a perspective to the problem that is worth examining.
For instance, the profile of the heinous crime committed in the bombing of THISDAY office a fortnight ago has made some observers to venture into different interpretations of the trend. In other words, there seems to be no fixation at any angle in trying to decode the unfolding tragedy in the land. Doubtless, all angles should be explored. By making a video of the bombing, Boko Haram is in a way proclaiming a level of sophistication in its operations that had probably not been acknowledged. Not only did Boko Haram make a movie of the bombing, killing people in the process, it went ahead to issue threats of attacks against other media houses. The response from the media that it cannot be intimated fits into the optimistic mould that this terrible phase is a passing one. Before attacking the media, Boko Haram had attacked security outfits, churches and the United Nations building in Abuja. The choice of its targets could possibly help in understanding the nature of the problem.
As this reporter suggested on this page sometime ago, to solve the crisis of insecurity caused by the activities of Boko Haram and other murderous groups and forces, a grand strategy is needed. Yes, terror can be defeated. But then you need an overarching strategy against this grand assault on societal peace and well being. Talking about how to make the challenge of insecurity transient, a phrase used during the Spanish civil war in the 1930s by the anti-fascist coalition could be summoned. The anti-fascist fighters used to say “all these too shall pass”. It must, however, be quickly added that this was a slogan that emerged from the trenches to buoy the fighting spirit. In other words, this phase could only be passing one if terror and other causes on insecurity are fought vigorously in the land.
The civic health is unfortunately afflicted with the feelings of helplessness. Not a few people have expressed the fear that Boko Haram is turning parts of Nigeria into a killing field with impunity. Yet it is not true that the state is abysmally lacking in the capacity to deal with the problem. What is not manifest yet is the broad strategy with the tactics.
Given the appropriate strategy by government, the Boko Haram bandits cannot overwhelm the Nigerian state. To evolve such a strategy, the sort of tactical error committed by the National Security Adviser (NSA), General Owoye Azazi, the other day at the South-South Economic Summit in Asaba should always be avoided. By the sensitive nature of his job, Azazi should be the last person to make the overtly political statements he made on that occasion. To blame the management of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)’s formula of zoning the presidential ticket as the root of the criminal activities of Boko Haram and other segments of insecurity is unhelpful. Such an approach has the potential of alienating those in the political establishment who could otherwise join the government in finding solutions to the problem. To defeat terror, the government should seek help from any genuine quarter where help is available.
To be sure, the strategy being advocated here cannot be formulated without some form of articulation on the part of those responsible for the task of securing this national space. It is understandable if the technical details of what is to be done is not publicly discussed for the obvious reasons that we are dealing with issues of security. However, the broad nature of the strategy that is needed at this hour to meet the huge security challenge facing this nation goes beyond the technical points. Certainly, making political statements would not help the process of policy articulation needed to mobilise the public around the strategy
Rather than diverting attention with tactical missteps, the government should concentrate time and energy on the elements of the strategy.
The anti-terrorism law should be made to meet the challenges. Senate President David Mark led a delegation of the National Assembly including House Speaker Aminu Waziri Tambuwal on a sympathy visit to Kano recently after city came under Boko Haram attacks. Mark promised that the National Assembly would give “legislative support” to the administration in dealing with problem by possibly amending the anti-terrorism law to make the prosecution of those charged with offences of terror more effective. This legislative step should taken immediately. Those being tried under the current law could be granted bail and loads of evidence are required to help the prosecution’s job.
That is probably why you hardly hear of any one being convicted for the horrendous acts of terror. The ridiculous news is often that the suspects escape from police custody or that Boko Haram audaciously liberates its arrested members from detention. The point at issue is that the legislative loopholes being exploited should be blocked. The NSA (along with the other security chiefs) and the Attorney-General should immediately embrace the offer of “legislative support” by the law makers and work out the technical details of how the instrument of law could help the strategy to defeat terror.
Only two days ago, former President Olusegun Obasanjo recommended dialogue and public enlightenment as part of the solution to the problem. Obasanjo seems to strike the same chord as the Borno Elders of Thoughts (BELT). The elders had earlier called for a “genuine dialogue” with the Boko Haram as a step in the process of stopping the “serial killing”. This should not be dismissed because, after all, the Boko Haram bloodletting has its origins in Borno state.
In a statement signed by elder statesman and First Republic Minister of Steel and Petroleum Resources, Alhaji Shettima Ali Monguno, the group said dialogue should not be ruled out: “It is when the real sect embraces peace that we shall identify those hijacking the process of violence to pursue their criminal agenda”. Now, no one with a strategic overview of the problem would dismiss such a proposal coming from the place where the seed of Boko Haram germinated and sprouted into a tree before developing branches in other parts of the country. Besides, Boko Haram might have been appropriated as a franchise by all sorts of criminals including armed robbers and political assassins.
There is, of course, a legitimate opposition to any suggestion of dialogue on the ground that you don’t dialogue with an enemy you cannot identify and whose cause is unclear. However, the complexity of the situation is such that a strategic mix of approaches might be more appropriate to put an end the killing and destruction going on in this country.
In the same spirit of exploring all the dimensions to the problem, those interested in fundamental solution should not lose sight of the fact there is a socio-economic root to the problem. There is a material basis of poverty in a society that provides a breeding ground for young men and women to be brainwashed to carry suicide bombs.
Without prejudice to exceptional situations, the tendency to produce suicide bombers is greater in a community defined by mass misery and joblessness than the one in which basic needs of security, food, education, health, housing and sanitation are met for the majority of the people. The government plans to acquire more gadgets and weapons to fight the killers. That is important for the process of fighting terror. It is also important to ponder the material basis of terror.
Already, there is the proposition of another federal ministry coordinate anti-poverty efforts in the north. Maybe what is needed is not replication of bureaucracy, but clearly defined pro-people programmes especially in the health and education sectors. There seems to an agreement that poverty is at the root of the problem.
It is possible to make the current state of insecurity a transient phase.