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OPINION

Reappraising Nigeria’s Counter-terrorism Efforts

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The most challenging internal security threat to Nigeria since after the Nigerian civil war (1967-1970) is the terrorist activities of Boko Haram ravaging the entire northeast Nigeria which is responsible for the over 2.3 Internally Displaced People’s (IDPs) Camps scattered across the country. The situation has further impoverished the northeast, a region already declared the poorest in Nigeria.
The Federal Government of Nigeria, through the Armed Forces of Nigeria and other security agencies such as the Nigeria Police Force, the Department of State Services and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corp have been engaged in open battle with the group since 2009. The asymmetric nature of the operation, where the group often take cover in soft targets, has not made it easy for the security operatives to completely overrun these groups. Putting a total end to the threats of Boko Haram however remains a compelling challenge the Federal Government of Nigeria faces today.
Since 2015, the narrative from the Nigerian government being fed to the public is that the capabilities of Boko Haram has been seriously degraded, and that the group has been dispersed into obscure hiding places. Drawing from unfolding events since the beginning of 2018, the claims of completely defeating the Boko Haram group by the Nigerian security operatives remains highly contestable.
While the security operatives claim to be ontop of the situation, we still get and read reports of incessant successful suicide attacks. From these reports, we cannot establish that the security operatives are actually on top of the situation. The appropriate instrument to establish that the security operatives are on top of the situation is when it is statistically established that bombing has significantly reduced, source of funding or membership has been blocked and they have been completely chased out of circulation.
At the moment, the best credit that we can indisputably accord to the Nigerian security operatives is that they have killed a significant number of Boko Haram members and dislodged their bases in different parts of the northeast. However, for a people (Boko Haram) who are willing to die, I must confess that celebrating their deaths does not solve our problem. What can solve our problem is to actually understand these people–their motivation, recruitment system, operation, etc. It is for these reasons that it has become imperative that we review of our current counter-terrorism strategy.
The National Counter-terrorism Strategy (NACTEST), and the Nigeria’s De-Radicalization Programme Guide are key documents that guide Nigeria’s efforts to counter-terrorism. The contents of the documents are holistic and robust. For instance, NACTEST proposes a whole government approach for counter-terrorism. However, in the real sense and in reality, the counter-terrorism in Nigeria is dominated by security operations. The country need investments in evidence-based research to interpret Boko Haram narrative and messages.
We need research to ask the right questions, carry out analysis and draw deductions. At the moment, after almost a decade of fighting Boko Haram, we still don’t even know emphatically how they (Boko Haram) communicate between and within themselves.
We have not been able to penetrate the group to understand its sub-culture, structure, organization, and source of funding. This is an indication that there is gap between research and policy in the fight against terrorism in Nigeria. The way forward cannot be based on speculations, conjectures and assumptions.
The services of independent experts such as the pioneering works of NEEM Foundation in behavioral analysis need to be at the forefront of our national counter-terrorism strategy. A committee of experts (scientists, social scientists, journalists, and military) could be set up to further discuss and articulate the issues raised. Above all, the Mallams and traditional rulers must be part of the framework for counter-terrorism in Nigeria.

–Abubakar is a CVE expert and he writes from Abuja.

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