With the economic cost of the devastating effects of the Boko Haram insurgency, herdsmen attacks and militancy in the Niger Delta, Alex Enumah writes that the recent summit on national security provided answers to the country’s problems
According to Anders Fogh Rasmussen, former Secretary-General of NATO and one time Prime Minister of Denmark, the Nigerian Summit on National Security 2016 organised by the Council on African Security and Development (CASADE), University of Wisconsin Research Park, USA, in conjunction with the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the meeting is not only apt and timely going by the increasing spate of violent destruction of lives and property in different parts of the country, but is highly commended because it is dedicated to one of the challenges of our time – Terrorism.
Indeed the Boko Haram Killings in the North-east, the beheading by ISIS and their murderous assaults in Paris, and the Al Shabaab slaughters in Kenya, have compelled the international community and Nigeria in particular, to rethink national security.
The summit which had as its theme, ‘Confronting and Containing Threats from Terrorism and Sectarian Insurgency’, brought together past and present military experts, active and engaged civilians, policy makers, and members of the intelligence community who came together to share a common vision of a secure and prosperous Africa.
Addressing participants at the summit, convener and CASADE’s Director and Editor-in-Chief, Prof. John Ifediora, said, “We are coming together not only to articulate our answers to the security challenges and opportunities that face African nations, but to strategise on how to present received conclusions and suggestions to the public and government.”
While asserting that the Boko Haram has killed and maimed more innocent civilians in the past year than ISIS and Al-Shabaab combined, Ifediora told the gathering that in 2014 alone it killed 6,644 people surpassing ISIS which killed 6,073, thus making it the deadliest terrorist group in 2014 according to a report by Global Terrorism Index.
In a brief history of Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria, former US Ambassador, John Campbell who claimed that the US was not only aware of the group when it came into existence in 2004, but actually overlooked their activities, due to what he described as its harmless and non-violent posture then.
Campbell while disclosing that the “evil” of Boko Haram got to its peak following the kidnap of over 200 Chibok students in 2014 added that, available records show that there are over two million Internally Displaced Persons from the North-east, with over three million faced with the threat of food security, and millions of children in the three states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe confronted with acute malnutrition.
He disclosed further that the group which originally claimed to be opposed to western civilisation, is today, responsible for the destruction of about 910 schools, as well as the closure of over a thousand others in the North-east.
He blamed factors such as poverty, lack of education, marginalisation, human rights violation particularly by security operatives for the spread of insurgency, adding that the success of Boko Haram undermined the Jonathan administration’s ability to protect the people, which he argued is the primary responsibility of any government.
He also mentioned the high level of corruption both in the police and military, which according to him, greatly undermined their resolve at the battlefield.
Other factors the ambassador adduced to be responsible for the phenomenal growth of insurgence in the country are religious and ethnic allegiance, political agenda of some groups, deep level of distrust between government and the governed as well as the state of hopelessness of most Nigerians.
While stating that one out of five Nigerians is inclined to support the establishment of an Islamic state and one out of every 10 is favourably disposed to Boko Haram, Campbell argued that those who are deeply frustrated, feel alienated, and have trouble finding meaning to life, would easily fall for the offers of Boko Haram.
But with the economic cost of the devastation of Boko Haram put around nine billion US Dollars, it has become imperative for Nigeria and indeed the world to device a means of taming the monster permanently.
From Rasmussen to Campbell and Ifediora including a large part of the audience who spoke, all agreed that the military under Buhari had done very well in retrieving communities hitherto under the grip of Boko Haram as well as driving them aground. However they all asserted that this success may be shortlived as the battle against insurgency and other violent extremism cannot succeed without dealing with the root causes. It was also agreed that government alone cannot rout insurgency without the active participation of the public particularly in information gathering and sharing.
For Rasmussen, the efforts to counter terrorism should be centered on three main stands of work: The hard security measures; economic development and integration and lastly a stronger democratic voice in the world.
The former NATO Secretary-General said, “Although Boko Haram has dramatically lost territory in Nigeria, its spread across the region shows few signs of being contained. Under Mr. Buhari, Nigeria has cooperated more with Chad and Niger to fight Boko Haram; but to prevent Boko Haram’s further consolidation, regional partners should take a more consistent and coordinated approach, in tandem with international support. This would include broadening the mobilisation of the Multinational Joint Task Force, full funding of the force’s estimated $700 million budget, and appropriate cooperation on intelligence, logistics, and training from partners outside the region.”
However, CASADE Director advocated the use of the ‘carrot and stick’ approach. He said what is needed is diplomacy and dialogue, adding that you only use force on those that are not ready for talks. He stressed that government must find a way of addressing the grievances of these groups particularly those who have legitimate cause.
On the economic front, an improved economic climate, that will also provide equal opportunity for all was advocated. Also while stressing the need to give people quality education that would help in creating jobs, discussions were centered on how to change the educational outlook, and how to incorporate younger students into apprenticeship programmes that would facilitate the acquisition of marketable skills. This approach according to CASADE, recognises the importance of investing in human capital early on and the need to build partnership programmes that offer meaningful employment opportunities for youths vulnerable to radicalisation.
“To prosecute successfully the battle against insurgency you need to look at the root cause. What do these people want? Are their grievances legitimate? What future is before our youths?
Until people can develop and have a sense of value for life, they will easily take life without hesitating,” Ifediora said.
Closely linked to this is the call for the expansion of the current de-radicalisation programme as well as rebuilding education in the North-east. Campbell who made this call added, that the fight against corruption should be extended to the area of narcotics and drug trafficking which he says has provided a support base and strong link to Boko Haram and terrorism in Libya.
On the issue of good governance the summit advised that government should imbibe the culture of transparency and justice at all times.
While the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan argued that poverty is no excuse for what Boko Haram is doing, he advised government to strive to create a conducive environment that would enhance the empowerment of the people.
“What we need is justice”, he said. Adding that “good governance doesn’t mean everybody would become millionaires but everybody would have the chance to live fairly decently. The youth can look forward with hope and not with frustration. There is need to tackle the issue of good governance and use of our natural resources as judiciously as possible.”
He argued that the war against corruption would be meaningless, if the government on one hand is saying the price of oil has gone down and there is no money, yet the National Assembly on the other hand is buying cars worth over 36 million naira. “That kind of gesture is enough to frustrate any young man, saying the government is not for us”, Onaiyekan stated.
The bishop advised Nigerians to observe shared values such as love, justice, respect for individual differences and embracing the diversity that binds us as a people.
While agreeing to the suggestion that Nigeria partner countries like US, China and the UK in the battle against terrorism, Onaiyekan, however cautioned that the country should be careful not to go back to the cold war era where any enemy of Britain automatically becomes our enemy. He advised that the nation should identify with emerging powers such as india, Pakistan and other countries with nuclear powers.
On the rebuilding of the North-east, Campbell suggested the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that would help heal wounds as well as build trust among the people. The former US Ambassador, also stressed the need for the establishment of a North East Development Commission, that is mandated to provide a new vision of the post insurgency.
He said all this is achievable if the nation can partner with the US and other countries that have overcome similar challenges.
Campbell concluded that “My own personal view is that when we are talking about the post-Boko Haram reconstruction of the North-east in the context of democracy, government transparency and the rule of law are essential components. And transparency and the rule of law build trust between the government and the governed.”