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It was distressing to hear the news of the murder of the Christian leader, Rev. Lawan Andimi by members of the notorious terrorist group Boko Haram. This has once again brought focus on the Nigerian government’s self-praising efforts in improving security. It also highlights doubt on the claimed eradication of the terrorist group. It is a figment of the imagination of the Nigerian security officials, who had not long ago boasted of this feat.
A few honest officials played the “clever by half,” game stating that although the original terrorist group had been defeated, there are remnants still parading. It sounded humorous at the time, but it makes sense in light of the recent attacks in the north-eastern part of the country. The reality is that Boko Haram, the original or the splinter group, was at no time defeated. It is much like cutting the tail end of a snake and afterwards claim that you have killed it.
I should not be alarmed as much as I am right now with the turn of events. Yet, as much as I tried downplaying the comeback, I struggle to come to terms with the many 2015 election promises of the All Progressive Congress (APC). The most remarkable was the “vow” to clear Boko Haram and put a stop to their rapacious activities. The presidential candidate, Muhammad Buhari, did not mince his words. He was unequivocal in the promise that the terrorist group would become history if elected president.
Before the elections, Buhari in an interview with The Guardian UK on 26th February 2015 said “Nigeria will return to its stabilising role in West Africa and no inch of Nigerian territory will ever be lost to the enemy because we will pay attention to the welfare of our soldiers in and out of service. We will give them adequate and modern arms and ammunition to work with. We will improve intelligence-gathering and border patrols.” These were reassuring and believable words from a retired army general.
Buhari frowned at the government in power for sustaining, rather than plan to defeat the terrorists. He said the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration did not produce any “efforts towards a multi-dimensional response to this problem, leading to a situation in which we have become dependent on our neighbours to come to our rescue.” All is history. Buhari got elected as the president.
Terrorism has created a major quandary in global affairs. Nigeria has obtained its fair share. The population in the north-east of the country has been under constant attacks by the ruthless band of irresponsible individuals who parade as religious champions. They invade villages and towns at will and take residents captive. The story of the 276 school girls kidnapped on 14 April 2014 is still fresh in our memories. Some of them are still missing till date, despite the global awareness of their plight. They got taken from their hostels and marched to the “headquarters” of Boko Haram – Sambissa Forest.
Things have not been the same for residents of these areas since Boko Haram made their inglorious entry into Nigerian history. There is no official statistic on lives lost in the various attacks, yet, a conservative estimate will be in thousands. Terrorism might be alien to Nigeria in the past, but the last decade saw many unfortunate attacks.
These attacks altered the political dynamics of the north-east area making terrorism a currency in the general elections. The situation became excruciatingly embarrassing for all Nigerians, home and in the diaspora. News networks led daily with news of attacks by Boko Haram. The situation was dire and Nigerians looked forward to the conquest of the terrorists. The expectations were excessive when Buhari assumed office. They felt it was time for him to put his words into action. But unfortunately defeating terrorists was not a hot burner issue as fighting corruption. The president’s approach to terrorism would be a bit innovative.
Nigerians learnt of this approach in comments in an interview with the CNN. He had, during a visit to the United States of America (USA), signalled the intention of his government to negotiate with the terrorists. He had said: “If we are convinced that the [Boko Haram] leadership that presented itself can deliver these girls safe and sound, we’ll be prepared to negotiate what they want.”
It is imperative to grasp the thoughts of Buhari. As a retired army general and a reformed democrat, negotiating with the terrorists did pay off. A considerable number of the kidnapped schoolgirls and many captured by Boko Haram got released. We cannot verify if it was a hefty price to pay, but it kept the terrorists away for some time.
In the last decade, we learnt that terrorism transcended borders. I will buy a part of the Nigerian government story that the comeback of the terrorists in the North East is the influx of citizens from neighbouring countries, especially the failed Libya. However, this is where the seriousness of the government should be questioned. If intelligence reports suggest that foreign citizens are invading a part of the country, naturally you will expect a determined government to deploy adequate resources to man the porous borders.
Terrorism is evolving. Territories once regarded as safe had become recruiting grounds for wannabe terrorists. It is no longer a regional or continental problem. It is worldwide. From Europe to Africa, the Middle East to Central America and Russia, the fear of terrorism is the beginning of wisdom. Europe, for example, witnessed many attacks on its front yards. These attacks were all “home” coordinated by citizens of the countries. This development is blamed on the conflicts in various parts of the world. They have radicalised many people, especially the disillusioned younger generation. They have the impression that destabilisation in some countries represents the handiwork of the western world.
Responsible governments have set up counter-terrorism agencies to ensure attacks are foiled. We may say that, despite the measures, terrorism has not faded. It may be practically impossible to eradicate terrorism because of the massive scale of operations, but the reduction in fatalities is a success. This is achieved by the deployment of appropriate security personnel to gather intelligence and make use of them at the right time.
Governments have various priorities and responsibilities to their citizens. But the provision of adequate security, food and infrastructure are top in priorities. In any forward-looking society, security is the most important. This is reflected by the resources allocated to ensure all is well and good in the land. This is understandable because an unsecured society can never develop.
I sympathise with the families of Andimi. Same also goes to all the families that are affected by the activities of terrorists. The pattern of the attacks has been the same since the foray of Boko Haram to the country’s playground. Christian towns and villages are targeted for wipeout while the residents are kidnapped or massacred.
The question is, how responsive is Nigeria’s security and intelligence officials? It’s not just about claiming success for the negotiated release of the kidnapped schoolgirls, but for citizens to recognize that security remains a priority of the government. I often marvel at how residents of these areas feel about the government and the officials. And flipping the coin I imagine what goes on in the minds of these political leaders. Do they genuinely care for these people? Do they shed genuine tears for the murdered Nigerians? I doubt.
As written for the Diaspora Matters Column, Sunday Vanguard, January 26, 2020.