Fight against Boko Haram: A re­think

Daily Trust - - OPINION - By Unico Iregbu Uduka

In 2014, I wrote an ar­ti­cle ti­tled ‘ Why Boko Haram May Linger’. In that dis­course, I listed three (3) rel­e­vant rea­sons: Two of those rea­sons were lo­cated within the mar­gins of the gov­ern­ment, while the other one was a fall-out of the group’s mode of op­er­a­tion. The then Gov­ern­ment had a pro­pa­gan­dist dis­po­si­tion which ve­he­mently tried to wrap the Boko Haram in­sur­gency around ‘pol­i­tics’- the con­test for 2015. The com­mon mantra then was that ‘ Boko Haram ter­ror­ists are just another set of po­lit­i­cal rene­gades who are op­posed to the gov­ern­ment of the day and would want power by all means’. To that ex­tent, Boko Haram was a mil­i­tant wing of some op­po­si­tion group. For­tu­nately, the change of guard at the Cen­tral level of gov­ern­ment has re­fo­cused and prop­erly lo­cated the in­sur­gency where it should beIn­ter­na­tional Ter­ror­ism. There is re­newed vigour and fo­cus to­ward de­grad­ing this men­ace. How­ever, just like its pre­de­ces­sor, there is a sim­i­lar in­ad­ver­tent stride by the present gov­ern­ment to fall into self­in­flicted er­ror in this fight against Boko Haram. The gov­ern­ment should not be seen again to be wrongly di­ag­nos­ing this is­sue.

First, the con­tin­ued as­ser­tion by the Mil­i­tary that Boko Haram will be stamped out in 3 months is like walk­ing down a fa­mil­iar ter­rain where rhetoric ruled the day. The ramped up as­sault on the ter­ror­ists is quite pos­i­tive in this fight and will surely de­mean the ca­pa­bil­ity of the Group to con­duct mil­i­tary ac­tiv­ity but it may not de­grade the asym­met­ri­cal strat­egy of in­still­ing fear into the gen­eral public through un­con­ven­tional tac­tics . Giv­ing a timeline of 3 Months to de­feat Boko Haram gives out two po­si­tions. One, a clear un­der­es­ti­ma­tion and misun­der­stand­ing of in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism and ter­ror­ist net­works. Mil­i­tary force to ter­ror­ism is a rare so­lu­tion any­where in the World. Am­bas­sador Wil­liam Polk ( For­mer Amer­i­cas Am­bas­sador to Syria and a scholar) in his book, ‘Vi­o­lent Pol­i­tics A History of In­sur­gency, Ter­ror­ism, and Guer­rilla War­fare from the Amer­i­can In­sur­gency to Iraq’, ar­gues that mil­i­tary force is about 5% of the for­mula to de­feat­ing ter­ror­ists. He main­tained that the other 95% is un­der­min­ing both po­lit­i­cal power and other in­fra­struc­ture which in­clude tak­ing away the group’s abil­ity to re­cruit (by mak­ing them unattrac­tive to join) and dis­man­tling their abil­ity to wage war (by re­mov­ing fi­nanc­ing or weapons ship­ments, for ex­am­ple). He posits that purely mil­i­tary means rarely work and no ex­am­ple of any vi­o­lent group (in­sur­gent, rebel, or ter­ror­ist) which was de­feated through mil­i­tary means alone. It has al­ways been a pot­pourri and multi-tiered at­tacks on tar­gets and a com­bi­na­tion of non-mil­i­tary tac­tics. Two, a tar­get of 3 months casts a hazy shadow on the psy­che of the gov­ern­ment fight­ers, piles a subter­ranean feel of ur­gency and mounts a de­bil­i­tat­ing pres­sure on the sol­diers. Are we able to meet this dead­line? What strat­egy fast takes us there or at worst best por­trays us as hav­ing achieved this set tar­get? What are the con­se­quences of not achiev­ing this? As Heads of se­cu­rity agen­cies, could we be ad­judged to have failed if we do not achieve this tar­get? So many ques­tions that will jos­tle for spa­ces with op­er­a­tional tac­tics in the heads of the sol­diers. This may even­tu­ally lead to ‘by any means nec­es­sary’ and mud­dling through op­er­a­tional strat­egy to achieve as tar­geted. Cur­rently, there is a pos­i­tive energy from the gen­er­al­ity of the pop­u­lace in sup­port of the mil­i­tary ac­tion. It is in­struc­tive to main­tain such mo­men­tum over a long pe­riod of time. A timeline to de­feat Boko Haram is not such an in­stru­ment that could guar­an­tee the con­tin­ued good will, es­pe­cially if such timeline is not met. It will only lead to a crit­i­cism of the mil­i­tary and con­se­quent ero­sion of con­fi­dence.

Se­condly, in Pres­i­dent Buhari’s re­sponse to the twin bomb­ings in Kuje and Nyanya on Oc­to­ber 2 2015, he posited, among other things, that ‘… it is clear this bat­tle is not ide­o­log­i­cal’. To me, this is rather another wrong di­ag­no­sis of Boko Haram. Boko Haram Move­ment which has adopted another name “Is­lamic State’s West Africa Province” (Iswap), is founded, if you like, on a home­grown ide­ol­ogy of re­ject­ing the au­thor­ity of the Nige­rian state. The ide­ol­ogy also teaches that pol­i­tics, democ­racy, and Western-style ed­u­ca­tion - in­clud­ing any sub­ject per­ceived to con­tra­dict the Qu­ran - are ex­ploita­tive and colo­nial im­po­si­tions in­tended to de­grade Mus­lim so­ci­ety, tra­di­tions and val­ues, and aimed at con­vert­ing Mus­lims to Chris­tian­ity. So it is per­mis­si­ble to kill ev­ery­one who re­jects its own in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Qu­ran. This is the fun­da­men­tal belief of the group which has ex­panded to cre­ate a nexus with the ISIS ide­ol­ogy. Boko Haram should be seen as such. It is bet­ter that the Pres­i­dent main­tains his ear­lier stance of the ide­ol­ogy of Boko Haram as be­ing dev­il­ish and has no place in a civ­i­lized so­ci­ety.

Re­think­ing fight against Boko Haram will re­quire a mo­ment of tak­ing in new in­for­ma­tion and form­ing a nu­anced un­der­stand­ing of this group of ter­ror­ists in Nige­ria. There is no doubt that Boko Haram is home-grown, but like an oc­to­pus, it has spread its ten­ta­cles be­yond the precincts of the coun­try. As such, it re­quires a com­pre­hen­sive counter-ter­ror­ism strat­egy. Counter-nar­ra­tive mes­sages should be de­vel­oped to coun­ter­act the rad­i­cal­iza­tion mes­sages stuffed into re­cruits. Once again, I ad­vo­cate for a study on how emo­tions: fear, anger, shame and hu­mil­i­a­tion play into the rad­i­cal­iza­tion of Boko Haram re­cruits. The Army should sus­tain the mil­i­tary ac­tion while another strat­egy of cut­ting the sup­ply should be de­vel­oped. But all these will be eas­ier if there is a pure un­der­stand­ing of the ide­ol­ogy of the group and less no­tion that is a just one of those crim­i­nal gangs.

Uduka can be reached at: uni­couduka@gmail.com <mailto:uni­couduka@gmail.com>, twit­ter @uni­couduka

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