Recently, terrorists operating in North West Nigeria almost sent the nation into a mourning mood when they shot down a Nigerian Air Force alpha jet on a mission. Luckily enough, the pilot, Flight Lieutenant Abayomi Dairo, was able to eject to safety. If the terrorists had succeeded in their intentions, it would have been one tragedy too many.
That incident emphasizes the point that it is time the federal government deployed all security and military might to crush these terrorists, Boko Haram, bandits or whatever they are called. Nigeria has lost so much in terms of human and material resources in the course of prosecuting counter-terrorism war that enough ought to be enough.
In the opinion of this newspaper, terrorists are merciless and should deserve no mercy. This is no time for any ‘stick and carrot’ approach as championed by some political leaders in the early days of the war. We have lost the best and finest of military officers to terrorism and it is time the government proved that they did not die unsung.
In March this year, President Muhammadu Buhari had directed security agencies to shoot on sight anyone seen with an AK-47. This directive was targeted at flushing out bandits in northern Nigeria. In June, he reiterated the same call when he ordered the security agencies to treat criminals in their own language. Most parts of the country have been affected by the menace of insecurity, especially the North, which has witnessed an unprecedented rise in armed groups’ violence. This has resulted in thousands of deaths and displacements as well as large scale kidnappings for ransom. In the North East alone, over 350, 000 persons have been killed by Boko Haram, not to mention the thousands of others killed in North West, North Central and other parts of the country.
According to the United Nations, in the 11 years of Boko Haram (bandits, killer herdsmen and terrorists) about three million Nigerians have been displaced, including some 210,000 taking refuge in neighbouring countries.
The emergence of Buhari, a retired Major General as president in 2015, heightened expectations that the terror group would be brought under control and defeated fast enough. Instead, we have witnessed the emergence of the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) – a breakaway faction of Boko Haram and escalation of the violence in the form of banditry and what have you.
However, between 2015 and 2016, there were a measure of success in efforts to roll back the expansionist tendencies of Boko Haram. The military moved the War Room to the Theatre of War in Maiduguri and this yielded some result.
Soon after, all the gains of that time were wind-swept when the government sought to dialogue and negotiate with the terrorists. And so, instead of sustaining the initial military onslaught on the terrorists, the government paid ransom which invariably re-energised the terror groups.
Due to the rise in violence, many non-state actors such as local hunters and militia groups have joined to defend the communities against armed bandits’ menace. The many years of poor handling of the security situation has led to the proliferation of non-state security units poised to fill in the security gaps and manage rural violence. Therefore, the reinvigorated military responses to banditry must take cognizance of the assortment of quasi-security units providing policing functions in rural locations.
The new wave of these informal security actors is already creating violent tensions, especially those established along ethnic lines. In some instances, identically-diverse communities are forming vigilante groups to defend themselves against known enemies.
Terrorists may also be capitalizing on the state’s absence in peripheral areas to exploit the latent ethnic animosities. This situation may explain the recent spate of violence in the bandits’ rampaged North West and North Central zones. Security agencies are faced with more significant challenges of combating existing security challenges and new group tensions.
The recent rise in banditry and demonstrations against it show that the stick and carrot approach can no longer work or isn’t working. There is no denying the fact that Boko Haram, ISWAP, bandits and kidnap gangs are threats to Nigeria’s peace, stability, security and economic prosperity. To that extent, therefore, dialogue, negotiation, ransom payments, amnesty and re-integration of repentant insurgents into the society are not the solution. Even worse is attempt to infuse some of them into the military where they are most likely to serve as the internal seeds of destruction. Experts had cautioned that any attempt to integrate the so-called ‘repentant’ terrorists into the military will expose the system and the entire security architecture to intelligence and operational compromises.
It is our opinion that the government has the responsibility to provide genuine leadership in the war that is going on. This it should do by demonstrating the will to fight the terrorists devoid of any form of sentiments in the war. This will also include dealing decisively with corrupt tendencies in the mobilizing processes.