As military operations against Boko Haram terrorists in the North-east enter their mop up phase to reclaim previously lost territories, Senator Iroegbu reports that the terrorists have resorted to an asymmetric warfare that requires timely information, intelligence sharing and active citizen participation including civil-military relations to overcome
In 2013, the then head of United States African Command (USAFRICOM), Gen. Carter Ham (rtd), at a symposium in Garmische, Germany,stated with certainty that Boko Haram terrorists cannot be defeated by the military might alone but by a concerted efforts of all the relevant stakeholders. Ham’s emphatic assessment was in response to a question from this reporter who wanted an expert opinion on how the rampaging terrorists, wreaking havoc in the North-eastern parts of Nigeria could be successfully defeated.
Ham made it clear that even though the military component is very critical to crushing the terrorists, it is however ineffective in the absence of strong political will and broad national support. He advised at the height of obvious geo-political divide and bickering in the country, for all parties to close ranks and deploy the needed resources including support from the local communities and neighbouring countries, for effective counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations.
Meanwhile, Ham’s position re-echoed that of the then Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt-Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika (rtd), who lamented lack of national consciousness and broader support for the raging war against terror. Ihejirika who was having running battle with the Borno Elders Forum (BEF) at the time over the cause of the war, warned that the public mood was rather too nonchalant to the military efforts to save the country from the Boko Haram menace.
According to him, the citizenry ought to have been mobilised in a war-mood to back the military efforts, especially in the area of timely information and intelligence. He was of the opinion that the environment under which the military then were operating was rather too hostile and antithetical to the whole state of emergency declared by the Federal Government in parts of the North-east.
Unfortunately, these warnings were not heeded as politicians continued to bicker and were practically accusing each other as the sponsors and enablers of terrorism, rather than forging a united front needed to tackle the terrorism menace. While the military were able to confine Boko Haram terrorists to the Sambisa forest with their leader, Abubakar Shekau, reportedly killed or sustaining fatal injuries, it was obvious that the seemingly lack of local support was impeding the whole operations.
Consequently, this polarised the populace, disenchanted the already helpless communities affected and displaced by terrorism. The prevailing situation further emboldened the terrorists who following the change of leadership at the top military hierarchy a year later in 2014, seized large swathes of territories in the three North-eastern states- Borno, Adamawa and Yobe.
Fortunately, security has improved tremendously since last year, with almost all the territories recovered. However, the concerns raised by the duo of Ham and Ihejirika, which bordered on effective civil-military relations and people-enabled intelligence led operations, persist.
According to the military experts, effective civil-military relations and public participation through provision of timely information and actionable intelligence,will be critical in the final phase of major military operations to end terrorism in the North-east in particular and the country in general.
Accordingly, Gen. Ham, three years after he made the first suggestion, was quoted to have still insisted that the war will not be won with military alone.
“The biggest step has been recognising that they need to work together, that this is bigger than Nigeria and they cannot do it alone. That’s a bigger pill for the Nigerian military to swallow, “said the former Commander of USAFRICOM.
He warned that with Boko Haram shifting tactics to offset its lost territory, the threat is different not inherently diminished.
To counter this, Ham suggested that the military needs to infiltrate the ranks of Boko Haram, to gather intelligence and stop the suicide bombings.
In the same vein, a Jos-based political analyst, Mr. Chris Ngwodo agreed with the fact that Nigeria needs a robust and critical public support to successfully overcome the menace.
“Orthodox terrorism itself — attacks on urban areas — can only be dealt with by adequate intelligence infrastructure, not by raw military power. The military is only now beginning to build that capability,” Ngwodo said.
The security expert envisioned that with the terrorists losing territories and resorting to asymmetric warfare by infiltrating communities, the information and intelligence supplied by the civil populace will be key to winning the war.
This need was also underscored by the Minister of Informational and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who disclosed that the Federal Government will soon launch National Security Campaign Policy aimed at mobilising the citizens’ support and buy-in to the counter-terrorism operation against Boko Haram.
Mohammed, who stated this at the Operation Lafiya Dole Media Centre, Maiduguri, towards the end of 2015, when he visited Borno State to inspect the military operations in parts of the North-east, said that “without the support of the civil populace there is little the military could do to defeat terrorism in the country.”
The minister expressed regret that Nigerians instead of supporting the military have viewed the war against terror from religious, ethnic and regional perspective, saying the country needs the kind of citizens’ participation of 1967-70 civil war periods.
He said, “We are here to get the first hand information that the military is winning the war. This is because there are so many resettlement centres where the civilians are coming back. The military has been better than the civilians in this war against terror because the population has not taken the war as theirs. They still see it as an ethnic, religious and regional angle.
“We will launch national security campaign for Nigerians to take possession of the war. The same way they took control of the war during the 1967-70s. While the military has done their beat, we the civilians have to do ours, which is intelligence gathering. Our ministry will take possession of this, especially in this period of festivity. We will partner them. National Security Campaign Policy, which we will launch very soon. We will meet regularly with ONSA (Office of the National Security Adviser) and other security agencies on how we can bridge the information gap.
“Nobody in the world has succeeded in the war in fighting the insurgency through the military alone; some of the causes include bad governance, poverty and unemployment. However, we need to put more emphasis on deradicalisation and to say Boko Haram is not about Islam but pure evil.”
President Muhammadu Buhari was very strategic in his decision to appoint some of his security chiefs and government officials from that part of the country ravaged by terrorism. It is on record that both the National Security Adviser (NSA), Maj-Gen. Babagana Mungonu (rtd); COAS, Lt-Gen. Tukur Buratai; Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Babachir Lawal, came from the North-east.These are people who could communicate and speak the language of the affected people, understood the terrain and geopolitics of the environment where they grew up.
Nevertheless, amongst all these appointees, none exemplifies the home coming and the importance of connecting with the people than Buratai, who has led the war campaign from the battle front. He has often travelled through the dangerous routes, interacted with the people, visited the war front and led operations even at the risk of his own life, having survived ambush on two occasions.
He has since then held a crucial meeting with the very influential Borno Elders Forum at the Military Command and Control Centre, Maiduguri, to seek their all-important support for the ongoing operations.
Buratai, during the maiden meeting declared that the war against Boko Haram terrorists in the North-east has now entered into mop up phase of the operation. He however appealed to the Borno Elders for support and to exercise patience in allowing the military complete the work of clearing the region of terrorist activities and restoring normalcy.
He stated that their target of defeating Boko Haram has been achieved except few setbacks of which the military is determined to complete the clearance of the terrorist remnants.
According to him, two out of the three targets set by the military in the quest for successful counter terrorism and counter insurgency operations in the North-east has been achieved. He listed the targets achieved to include military defeat of Boko Haram and the ongoing rescue of all terrorists’ hostages with Chibok girls as a top priority.
He said: “The three things we promised you, two have been carried out. The first task is to defeat Boko Haram and I want to tell you that as at today Boko Haram has been defeated. When I said defeat it doesn’t mean that there won’t be hiccups here and there but we are doing the mop up operations. So we are at the mop up phase of the operation. We are also making efforts to rescue those who are being held hostage at some marked locations. We hope to rescue the Chibok girls but our target is not just limited to the Chibok girls but all the hostages.
“The second task is to support the civil authorities in caring and protecting the Internally Displaced Persons. The last task is to help the civil authorities in restoring normalcy and rebuilding those areas that have been liberated. It has already commenced as you had the Minister of Defence setting up a committee. Most of these liberated areas like places such as Bama, Gamboru Ngala, Baga, Mungonu, are deserted because they are afraid that they could be attacked. So we will embark on confidence building to encourage them to come back by assisting the civil authorities.”
The Army Chief however commended the Borno Elders Forum for their contacts and influence that have contributed to the return of socio-economic activities and return of some of the IDPs back to their homes
“You know the significance of Borno State to counter-insurgency efforts. Your role has been very vital in this military operation through your contacts. Without your cooperation and inputs this would not have been possible. You know the kind of damage this terrorism has caused this region and the state in particular.
“Thank God that today things are returning to normal, socio-economic activities are picking up and the IDPs are returning back. We have cleared many towns and rescued more hostages. We know it has not been easy as this affect you directly or indirectly. There are certain measures we need to take to control the flow of movements and logistics, to stop where these terrorists transact their markets. We have to close this market because we discovered these are where they conceal some of their weapons. We appeal to you to be patient with us for the closure of these markets until we finish our operations so that the socio-economic activities can fully return to normal,” he explained.
“Apart from few challenges like communication, mobility, and command and control have been addressed. We want to assure that the Nigerian Army will do its best to ensure that security is restored. We also continue to solicit your support to use your influence in support of the state and federal government for the rebuilding of the area,” he added.
It would be recalled that the Nigerian Army, as ealier highlighted, has had a running battle with the Borno Elders Council with regards to the counter terrorism operations. It was however expected that Buratai unlike Ihejirika who was viewed as an outsider,would have enjoyed the maximum cooperation of Borno elders,since he is regarded as the “son of the soil.” Unfortunately, this was not to be, as the incumbent Chief of Army Staff had to work hard to endear himself to the elders whose hostile posture initially irritated the military authorities.
Not ready to take chances, Nigerian Army who had earlier voiced their frustration over seemingly lack of cooperation from the Borno elders were forced to clarify that “some indigenes of the state are planning to prolong the Boko Haram-led terrorism in the North-east.”
The Director of Army Public Relations (DAPR), Col. Sani Usman, who made the clarification, explained that the Army did not refer to the elders in their ealier statement, adding “the attention of the Nigerian Army has been drawn to observations and concerns by well-meaning Nigerians especially the Borno Elders Leaders of Thought (BELT) about the misinterpretation of the warning.”
Therefore, he added, it becomes necessary to clarify to the effect that the statement does not refer to the leaders of Borno Elders Leaders of Thought or majority of the good people and law abiding prominent citizens of Borno State.
He however noted that the warning was to inform a specific group of people whose activities are inimical to the collective quest for peace as enumerated in the said release.
Usman said it is important at this crucial period for everyone to rally round the Federal Government to bring to a speedy end to the wanton destruction of lives and property by the Boko Haram insurgency.
“The Borno Elders and Leaders of Thought cannot hold any clandestine meetings and therefore as a responsible organisation the Nigerian Army holds them in high esteem.
“We however wish to reiterate unequivocally that the Nigerian Army has credible information that certain individuals and groups are losing out of the successes being achieved and therefore want to discredit the renewed fight against Boko Haram. We would not tolerate nor allow them to actualise their nefarious intents,” he assured
Also recognising the importance of the civil populace in the war against terror was the involvement of vigilante groups popularly acknowledged and known as “Civilian JTF”. This security set up are localised in different towns and communities of the North-east to maintain and sustain security in collaboration with the Nigerian military.
Moreso, the role of these vigilantes cannot be over-emphasised and that was why the Governor of Bauchi State, Mohammed Abubakar, recently advised the group to be mobilised and empowered to support the security agencies within their respective areas of operation.
“As a responsible government, we have promised to provide security to our citizens. We have serious security challenges like Boko Haram terrorists, cattle rustling and arms banditry.
“Today Bauchi State is one of the safest in the North-east and the country as a whole. We urge the citizenry to participate and support by providing information to the security agents and as well as forming Vigilante groups,” Abubakar said.
Accordingly, the Civilian JTF were fully represented together with the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), when Buratai re-opened the Maiduguri-Damboa-Bui road, which was closed for the past three years as well as during the launch of the Motorbike Battalion to maintain security along the major route connecting the state capital with the central and southern part of the state.
In continuation of the civil-military cooperation, Buratai had after launching the specialised Battalion in Damboa, also released another list of 100 suspected members of the terrorist sect, Boko Haram, wanted for various acts of terrorism in the country.
This effort, which has been one of the most effective civil-military relations information and intelligence gathering strategy ever adopted by the military since the counter terrorism and counter insurgency operations, was a follow up to the first set of 100 suspected members of the Boko Haram terrorists published last year.
Assured of its effectiveness, Buratai had appealed to the public to come out with information that would assist in the arrest of terrorists, adding that many terrorists in the first list of 100 wanted were identified and arrested.
He also said that the new list of 100 suspected terrorists was for the members of the public to identify and report their whereabouts so that they could be brought to justice. He since then one of the kingpins with number 95 has been gunned down.
In the same vein, effective information dissemination and intelligence sharing tool was utilised at apprehending four Boko Haram suspects, one of whom were among the masterminds of the 2011 Christmas Day bombing of the St. Theresa Catholic Church, Madalla in Niger State.
The suspect named Victor Moses, was paraded alongside three other accomplices, at the 33 Artillery Brigade, Bauchi State, were exposed by information from members of the public who alerted the security personnel.
Parading the four suspects, the Brigade Commander, Brig-Gen. Abraham Dusu, said that Moses, was apprehended at Alkaleri in Bauchi State, while he was conducting surveillance for the Boko Haram terrorists inside a mosque in the town.
Dusu disclosed that upon further interrogation and investigation, the four others suspects were apprehended including Messrs- Abubakar Shettima Bama, Umar Sadiq Madaki, and Salisu Mohammed Bello.
“Our troops in Alkaleri were alerted about someone trying to convert to Islam but they noticed he wasn’t from the area and the community people informed us. He was subsequently arrested, and revealed his name as Victor Moses, who also said he was among those that made the Madalla bombing successful,” he explained.
In addition, the Army Chief has also reorganised and re-invigorated the Department of Civil-Military Affairs (DCMA) at the Army Headquarters, which has since embarked on a positive mission to enhance the Nigerian Army’s image and human rights records.
Armed with Buratai’s support, the Chief of Civil-Military Affairs (CCMA), Maj-Gen. Rogas Nicholas, has established a human rights desk that will be open to the members of the public to air their grievances and register complaints.
Nicholas with the approval of the Army Chief has also brokered a dialogue with the team from Amnesty International to resolve the impasse regarding the allegations of gross human rights violations against some officers and soldiers of the Nigerian Army.
Meanwhile, it is apt to state that despite the fact that all these efforts that hinge on cordial civil-military relations, strategic information and actionable intelligence, is very crucial in the ongoing war against terror and more efforts should also be made to get the maximum cooperation of members of the Lake Chad Basin Commission.
Many believe that the current administration has consolidated on the pact initiated and reached by Goodluck Jonathan’s administration with the member countries of Chad, Niger and Cameroun to secure their contiguous borders. There still remain some grew areas, particularly the ambiguity of Chad, which must be resolved urgently. It is however, significant to note that the Federal Government has bolstered relations with neighbouring countries with the creation of an 8,700-member regional military alliance under the re-structured Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) to combat the Boko Haram terrorists.