Thursday, 21 August 2014

Arise Nigerians, Unite Against Insecurity, Terrorism and Insurgency!

Written by: Don Okereke

Agreed Nigeria has never been the most peaceful country in the world but the current spate of insecurity, terrorism and insurgency is unprecedented in the annals of this country. What started like a child's play has metamorphosed into one of the world's deadliest terrorist organizations. Prior to now, the concept of suicide bombing was alien to Nigeria, now it is becoming voguish even to females (mothers and potential mothers!) One is amazed how Nigeria snowballed to this ignoble position within a short period of time.

Born in Jimeta-Adamawa state, a place I still have a strong emotional affinity for, to parents of Igbo extraction, I vividly recall childhood memories of all members of my family sleeping outside our house, under dogonyaro trees from dusk to dawn when the heat (temperature) is unbearable without any threat to our lives or properties. I doubt any sane person will try this adventure anywhere in the north and other parts of Nigeria now.

So far Boko Haram have reportedly hoisted their flags and control swathes of land in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states. While the foregoing are their established hotbeds, sporadic incidents in Abuja and lately the botched bombing attempt at Apapa-Lagos State amongst other places, lends credence to the growing frenzy that the length and breadth of Nigeria may as well be the 'catchment area' of this dreaded Sect. The fear of Boko Haram permeates the nook and cranny of Nigeria. 

It is tasking precisely chronicling acts of terrorism in Nigeria credited to Boko Haram as it increasingly became a daily phenomena. The sanctity of life is ceaselessly bastardized. Whereas a 2012 World Bank report pegs life expectancy in Nigeria at 52.11 years, a 2014 Maplecroft analysis and report may have raised the stakes as it plausibly asserts "Nigeria has the world's highest casualty rate from 'terrorism' with an average of 24 deaths per attack out of 146 recorded in the year through June". The report goes further to aver that "Nigeria recorded 3,477 deaths in those attacks as violence by Boko Haram Islamists grew in scale and sophistication". This is mind boggling, a serious cause for concern. One of the far-reaching consequences of the ongoing bloodletting rampage by Boko Haram is that Nigerians are unwittingly becoming immune to outrage whenever people are randomly and inhumanely hacked to death as if it is now a norm. 

It is now more than 125 days and counting since the Chibok schools girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram. It did not help matters that the government initially lived in self denial, was slow in taking action. After dilly dallying, foreign assistance was thrown into the mix but notwithstanding the concerted effort by Nigeria and her potpourri of foreign partners, the abducted Chibok girls are yet to be rescued and reunited with their families. Basking, bolstered by the euphoria of its bloodletting streak  and symptomatic of having all the aces, the Sect reportedly made overtures by proffering a prisoner transfer deal between the it and the federal government even as they continue upping the ante - becoming more daring and assertive. In what looks like the handiwork of the Sect, a former Head of State - General Muhammadu Buhari and a prominent Islamic cleric - Sheik Bauchi both narrowly escaped a bomb attack on them. Not long ago, the wife of Cameroon's vice PM was also said to have been kidnapped by Boko Haram and later rescued by Cameroonian forces, of course with heavy casualty.

Granted terrorism is not a conventional warfare and there are no quick fixes to it. However many Nigerians are disappointed that a supposedly ragtag Sect is holding an entire country of plausibly 170 million people hostage despite the assortment of uniformed and plain clothe security/ intelligence establishments in Nigeria. Tongues are wagging that perhaps the attendant war chest annually allocated to these security agencies in the federal budget are not been judiciously harnessed. For example, in addition to the $6 billion allocated to Defence and Police in the 2014 federal budget, Mr. President is seeking approval from the National Assembly to borrow $1 billion to be channeled into the fight against terrorism and insurgency. We also understand that each state governor in Nigeria is entitled to upwards of six billion naira annually in the name of "security vote". While we support the government doing all that can and must be done to rein in insecurity, terrorism and insurgency, there is no gainsaying the need for accountability and transparency in the course of expending these funds. This will forestall this situation becoming a money spinning franchise as is been alleged in some quarters. Throwing money at a problem is not tantamount to solving the problem.

This is not the time for 'superiority complex' amongst the security agencies. There is need for interagency synergy and intelligence/ information sharing between the various security establishments. The Police, SSS, Nigerian Army, Nigerian Air Force etc must seamlessly interface and work for a common goal. In view of the precarious nature of this insurgency, terrorism campaign by Boko Haram and to minimize troop casualty, the Nigerian Air Force should be given greater role since it has comparative advantage over ground forces when it comes to precisely sniffing out and targeting insurgents in their camps. 

A situation where Boko Haram routinely ambushes, overruns our troops, and in one instance supposedly killed the commanding officer, a Colonel, leaves much to be desired. The military MUST mobilize adequate manpower and inventory in this fight against terrorism and insurgency.  There are reports that soldiers in the line of battle are increasingly deserting. While I do not exonerate them, I offer an extenuating explanation: those of us with military bearing know it could be foolhardy and suicidal for say 100 men armed with AK47s or FN Rifles to confront 500 men armed with general purpose machine guns (GPMG's).It is profoundly insulting hearing that Boko Haram outguns and its fighters more motivated than our security forces. It follows that our Soldiers in the line of duty must be motivated and psychologically prepared to fight. Whatever it takes for their morale to be high MUST be made available to them. We say no to 'monkey dey work, baboon dey chop'. 

The geezers at the top of Nigeria's security echelon charged with putting down this ugly miasma must live up to expectations. Where they cannot deliver, they should man up and humbly take a bow rather than finger pointing and buck-passing. You don't have to wait to be sacked, take a cue from Somalia where the erstwhile National Security Minister, Abdikarim Guled threw in the towel aftermath of the daring assault by Al-Shabaab fighters on Somali Parliament on May 24, 2014. Tendering his resignation, Mr. Guled said: "You are aware of the cowardly attack that the violent elements carried out on the Parliament. I extend my condolences to the families of the diseased...considering the current situation of the country, I officially hereby announce my resignation". Where these non-fighting billionaire generals and their ilks are more preoccupied with amassing wealth and by acts of omission or commission fail to deliver on their mandate, President Jonathan should not hesitate to wield the big stick like Cameroon's President Mr. Paul Biya did lately by promptly sacking two top military officers sequel to the kidnapping of the wife of the country's Vice PM. Again, it follows that appointment of Service Chiefs and heads of security agencies MUST be by merit as against "namune", a Hausa word for "our own person" or allowing political permutations to outweigh capability. There will be dire consequences especially in the security circles when you put square pegs in round holes.

A lot has been said and written on the remote and immediate causes of terrorism and insurgency in Nigeria. Space will not permit me to rehearse them here. Our government - federal, state and local government levels must deal with the underlying causative factors responsible for this miasma. Treating the symptom as is often the case only postpones the evil day. Let us do away with our fire-brigade approach and predilection for randomly setting up committees and sub-committees every time an incident occurs. The apparent lack of tangible results in the ongoing 'State of Emergency' declared in the hotbeds of Boko Haram calls for a review of the current strategy. Suffice it to reiterate that rather than haphazard piecemeal measures, it will help a lot if the establishment comes up with a 'coherent and comprehensive national counterterrorism policy/strategy'.
Nigeria's national security think thank should consider replicating what obtains in other climes - the Israeli's have an emergency messaging system known as “Meser Ishi” (Hebrew for “personal message”), the system sends text messages to almost every Israeli cell phone user  warning them of potential attacks. The United Kingdom have a "Terrorism Threat Level" which creates an awareness as to the likelihood of a terrorist attack in the country. UK's 5 levels of threats are:
1. Low - an attack is unlikely
2. Moderate - an attack is possible but not likely
3. Substantial - an attack is a strong possibility
4. Severe - an attack is highly likely
5. Critical - an attack is expected imminently

At the risk over-egging the pudding or been dubbed a pessimist, I  dare extrapolate that vestiges of instability, terrorism and insurgency will continue to haunt our country if urgent steps are not taken to whittle down over concentration of power at the centre. Our leaders will also do well to entrench a society that rewards hard work, creates equal opportunities to its teeming citizenry irrespective of their ethnicity, background and religion. We want a Nigeria where JUSTICE and EQUITY reigns supreme; a Nigeria that has a zero-tolerance for CORRUPTION, NEPOTISM and TRIBAL JINGOISM. We want a Nigeria where merit is not sacrificed in the altar of mediocrity, nepotism and godfatherism and where some folks are not above the law.

Security is a collective responsibility: the government and security agencies will play their own role and private citizens also have their own roles to play. You can start by been aware of your environment and goings-on around you. You don't have to be overtly gung ho about it but try to know who your neighbours are and what they do for a living. Recall the botched kidnapping of the now late Umaru Dikko by Nigerian agents in the UK years ago? We hear it was an elderly lady that peeped from her window, saw what was going on and promptly called the police. A synergy between the government on one hand and the populace will herald the safe clime we yearn for.

We are told an accused is innocent until proven guilty by a competent court. Without coming across as a sympathizer, it is pertinent to caution against unwarranted profiling, stigmatization, stereotyping, arrest, detention and extra-judicial killing of innocent individuals on the basis of their physiognomy, tribe, religion or political affiliation without establishing their culpability. Quickly recall that it was the broad day light extra-judicial killing of the erstwhile leader of Boko Haram - Mohammed Yusuf that escalated the Sect's bloodletting campaign. Where possible, it will be better to apprehend suspected masterminds of terror alive so that nuggets of information will be extracted from them. That's the global best practice.
We profoundly appreciate and commend the sacrifices and the onerous task our security agencies are encumbered with. We implore them to be more discriminating, less pugnacious, more proactive and invest a lot on intelligence gathering. 

It is unfortunate that this Boko Haram quagmire is steadily obliterating the iota of trust and camaraderie between folks from the opposite sides of the River Niger. It is commendable that the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa'ad Abubakar III and other notable northerners have consistently denounced activities of Boko Haram. Politicians must desist from making unguarded utterances and politicizing the insecurity situation in Nigeria. This is not the time for playing parish-pump politics, will the patriots please stand up! We urge peaceful coexistence and tolerance among Nigerians irrespective of religion and tribe.
Terrorism has no religion: it does not distinguish between Christians, Muslims, young or old. Terrorism destroys those who practice it. As the adherents try to extinguish life in others, the light within them also dies. Isn't that pathetic. Come to think of out: somebody procures and arms you with a bomb or an improvised explosive device (IED) to go and kill yourself and others under the guise of fighting a 'Cause' while the person that sent you is alive and probably carousing somewhere. It is only a fool that will fall for such arrant bunkum, brainwashing.

On a lighter note, please indulge me, worried by our seeming helplessness, at least so far, in reining in this prevailing haze, sometimes my thought wanders - I ask myself - where are the Generals and our world-acclaimed spiritual juggernauts - men/women of God, Imam's, Native doctor's, Witches and Wizards? Please is it not high time one of ours threw a challenge to Boko Haram, the type Prophet Elijah threw at the prophets of Baal? (1 King's 18-39). That's by the way.

No individual or country will make meaningful progress in an atmosphere of unpredictability and wanton killings. Posterity will not forgive us if we do nothing in salvaging our dear country from slipping into the precipice. Let's join hands together and make Nigeria great again. Let's #TakeBackHumanity! All Nigerians must be resilient and security conscious. Masterminds of terror cannot break our indefatigable spirit! Remember the Scripture says Watch and Pray! Perhaps theologians will reconcile us with why 'watch' preceded 'pray'. 

Our heart and prayers are with families that have lost their loved ones in this senseless bloodletting streak. May the souls of the departed rest in peace. Let us be consoled that no matter how long it takes, good will SURELY triumph over evil. 

Hear it, See it, Say it, Stop it!!! Call, report suspicious activities to Nigeria's national emergency number - 112.

Please #BringBackOurGirlsNowAndAlive!

Don Okereke
Security Analyst/Consultant, Social Entrepreneur, Advocate, Change Agent, Ex-serviceman