Time To Change Strategy On The Insurgency

Eze Onyekpere

Nigeria is challenged in every facet of national life. The economy is undergoing a crisis and is expected to enter a recession whilst the state is no longer able to guarantee law and order and security of lives and property in many parts of the federation. But there is a government in place at the federal, state and local government levels. This discourse will focus on the law and order issues and the failure of the state to live up to its basic security obligation. I contend that while the constitution declares the security and welfare of the people as the primary purpose of government, it seems that security comes first because the pursuit of welfare can only be done within the confines of a secure environment.

The obligation to provide security and dominate the environment through the constitutional law and order mechanism is part of the attributes of statehood. A state is expected to have a government in firm control of its territory, with a monopoly of the instruments of the legitimate use of force and coercion. This is imperative for a guarantee of the territorial integrity of the state. The maintenance of law and order demands an outlay of proportionate resources for the task. In the last couple of years, security has taken the largest chunk of public expenditure. But instead of the killings abating, more Nigerian blood is spilled daily. Recall that in the earlier part of the year, the two chambers of the National Assembly unanimously called for the sacking of the service chiefs in charge of the counterinsurgency operations. In his usual tradition, the President did not honour the motion and left the service chiefs in their place. Essentially, he endorsed and reinforced failure.

The conflict situation especially in the North-East, to a large extent, reflects a breakdown of law and order and a situation where armed groups have denounced the authority of the Nigerian state and overtly and covertly through violence seek to establish a state to be governed under their religious preference. Yes, the government has responded with military force but at the same time, still offers an amnesty and reintegration into society programme for the so-called repentant insurgents. But this is not working as the insurgents are fighting an ideological war as against the experience in the Niger Delta, where the youths became violent for economic reasons and once they were given jobs and other economic opportunities, they dropped their agitation. Amnesty and jobs will not change the course of a group which insists that the entire nation must covert to their religion before they make peace. Economic empowerment will only embolden the group to make more war.

In the North-West, we have armed groups operating above the law and the security agencies seem helpless to curtail their activities.  In the last one week, over 150 Nigerians have been murdered in cold blood by these criminals between Borno and Katsina states and the major response from the state authority is to send condolence messages and the usual assurances which have not stopped the killings.

In the North-East, these groups have been properly designated for what they are- terrorists. But in the North-West, the language and description were twisted, and terrorists are simply referred to as bandits. The Nigerian law is clear on what constitutes acts of terrorism. The Terrorism Prevention Act of 2011 defines terrorism in Section 1 to include: an act which is deliberately done with malice, aforethought and which: (a) may seriously harm or damage a country or an international organisation; (b) is intended or can reasonably be regarded as having been intended to- (i) unduly compel a government or international organisation to perform or abstain from performing any act; (ii) seriously intimidate a population; (iii) seriously destabilise or destroy the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a country or an international organisation; or (iv) otherwise influence such government or international organisation by intimidation or coercion. Furthermore, it includes actions which (c) involve or cause, as the case may be -(i) an attack upon a person’s life which may cause serious bodily harm or death; (ii) kidnapping of a person; (iii) destruction to a Government or public facility, a transport system, an infrastructure facility, including an information system, a fixed platform located on the continental shelf, a public place or private property, likely to endanger human life or result in major economic loss; (iv) the seizure of an aircraft, ship or other means of public or goods transport and diversion or the use of such means of transport for any of illegal purposes.

In the North-West, the refusal to recognise and treat these criminals as terrorists and even negotiations and payments made to them have emboldened them. The pictures in the media over a year ago of state governors and senior police officers exchanging pleasantries and views with terrorists on a so-called amnesty programme were very disgusting and called to question the quality of our governance. Men who should have been prosecuted for the aggravated and multiple murders they committed were humoured by officials entrusted to bring them to justice. It was huge failure of governance and now that they have reinforced and escalated the killings, what is the way forward? It is also clear that many of these terrorists in the North-West may not be Nigerians. Governor Umar Ganduje of Kano State made that disclosure recently when he asked the Federal Government not to leave our borders with neighbouring countries open.

For the Federal Government, there is no more time left to continue the old track. So much is at stake in terms of human lives that have been wasted and that would continue to be wasted if we continue this track. Even the denial and scoring the administration high on security as happened in the presidential June 12 speech appear like a dance on the grave of the thousands of victims of these terrorists. We cannot continue to play politics when lives are at stake. Change is a constant part of human life and if we need to check the insurgency, we must change the extant strategy. It is obvious the extant system, strategy, personnel and everything about the counterinsurgency are not working. If they are not working, they should be changed. The United States of America is on fire for the loss of one life but we lost over a hundred in a week and continue to pretend that all is well. No, it is not well.

In the final analysis, there is a message for President Buhari; it is time to change strategy, hire new service chiefs, motivate the frontline troops and their commanders; bring in fresh ideas and unleash the energy of the Nigerian people to defend themselves against their adversaries. The terrorists in the North-West must be properly addressed as terrorists, not as bandits.