Fight against Boko Haram: A rethink
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: email@example.com <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>, twitter @unicouduka