The concern expressed by the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lt-General Azuibuke Ihejirika over the unpredictable and random nature of Boko Haram activities in the country and the challenges posed by their modus operandi to the nation’s security forces is rather unfortunate. Such an expression of helplessness and defeatism shouldn’t have come now; not during an Interactive Session on Military-Media Relations in Nigeria with a well conceived theme as, “Enhancing Military-Media Relations Towards Improved Security”; and importantly, not from the person of the Chief of Army Staff.
Expectations of Nigerians
What Nigerians expected to hear from the Army Chief is how the war on terrorism is being executed; the achievements so far; what the military is doing now to defeat Boko Haram; the challenges in terms of what they want Nigerians to do to help bring the war to an end; and what they intend to do tomorrow to deter other arms group in the country, and not lamentations.
Roles of the Press
The expression of hopelessness and the call on the media to perform an undisclosed role in the fight against terrorism in Nigeria is both disorganizing and weakening. Are the pressmen expected to take up arms against Boko Haram or other terrorists groups? Is the press expected not to report when Ndigbo or Christians are slaughtered in the north? Or, publish peace when war is ongoing?
We understand the predicaments of the military. We are equally not ignorant of the role of the media in Nigeria’s multi-ethnic and multi-linguist society. The media, not the Government, has assumed the leading role of shaping public opinion, the political agenda, and the way people differentiate between right and wrong. Regrettably, the Nigerian media, for a variety of reasons that will not be discussed here, magnifies the problems mentioned above. It deems sowing distrust towards the Government as its main mission and is ready to serve as a loudspeaker of terror groups’ propaganda; too often without employing basic criticism to judge its accuracy.
This is an issue that demands serious attention if we must win the battle against terrorism in Nigeria. Besides, the battle against terrorism requires more than press censor. It calls for a wholistic approach. It is a war of ideology that must be led by civil authority, driven by law enforcement and backed by the military, not the other way round.
What COAS said
A deep peep into the speech by the Army Chief during the interaction revealed the handicap and dilemma of our military. His words, “In Nigeria, the activities of Boko Haram sect and other terrorist groups continue to threaten peace and security while their modus operandi poses serious challenge to security forces in the country,” Lt-General Ihejirika lamented.
He pointed out that, “The affiliation of the sect to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Al-Shabab has added an international dimension to its activities.”
The Chief of Army Staff said it had been established that the Islamist sect’s declared intent was to Islamize the entire Northern States of Nigeria without regards to Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, noting that any country or community whose citizens had high level of security awareness had greater chances of defeating terrorists.
He said the role of the media in warfare took root in the dynamics of the global security environment, stressing that the primary goal of terrorists was to win the attention of the media both home and abroad, and decision makers in government.
“It is for this reason that terrorists carefully select the places in which they carry out their attacks to provide the best media coverage. On the whole, terrorists rely on the media as a tool to shrink the power asymmetry between them and the governments they fight, create an atmosphere of fear and suspicion, legitimize their acts, and reach greater audience.
“All these attributes have come to play in the activities of Boko Haram here in Nigeria, and that explains why we need to continuously partner with the media to deal with the menace.”
This extensive quote from the Chief of Army Staff media interactive speech or briefing is necessary for us to imagine the predicaments of our military in the face of rising insecurity in the country and to come to terms with Boko Haram’s vulnerabilities and how the military can exploit these vulnerabilities to bring Boko Haram to their knees.
Isolate and Defeat Boko Haram
Boko Haram may be affiliated to Al Qaeda or be linked to State’s patrons or to World Terrorists Federation, our security forces should be more concerned with how to isolate and defeat the sect and not the show of unnecessary worry about the maneuverability of the group. Our security forces must be able to convince terrorists that they have the capacity and the determination to exact a price they (terrorists) will not be willing to pay.
Boko Haram’s Vulnerabilities
The most precious asset that Boko Haram insurgents have is their credibility in the eyes of northern religion and political leaders and the support they have gotten based on this credibility. It is also clear that they have proved again and again that they behave as they preach, glorifying their readiness to sacrifice and proclaim their own achievements against the Nigeria state which they see as apparently empty and burdensome enemy. At the same time, Boko Haram have ensured that their supporters do not lose hope that the war will get them closer to the set goal of Islamizing Nigeria, the immediate of which is to humiliate Nigeria security agencies.
The greatest worry of Boko Haram now, which the Presidency and our security apparatus should exploit, is the fear that their supporters are beginning to question the sect’s own commitment to the cause, or have second thoughts about the goals and the feasibility of unseating President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and of Islamizing Nigeria. The ongoing confrontation between the Presidency and Northern Elders is not helping matters; rather it is acting as Boko Haram’s unifying factor and a boost to their cause.
Another equally important asset Boko Haram fear losing is their ability to use Maiduguri to enjoy plausible deniability. But, having brought trouble to the area through indiscriminate bombing of Schools, Churches, killing of Muslim leaders and innocent citizens, armed robberies and kidnappings, Boko Haram have lost the geographical freedom it benefits from. Like any other terrorist group, they fear being held accountable and are trying to avoid responsibility as part of survival strategy. It is this fear that had made it equally difficult for their leaders to come forward to sit at a round table to dialogue or request for amnesty.
A further important asset that Boko Haram members fear losing is their lives and their freedoms of action. Boko Haram activists value their own lives and they try hard to protect themselves, and when they feel that the danger is real, they spend much time in attempts to save themselves than in contemplating martyrdom. That is why Abubakar Shekau can escape to Mali to seek medical attention after bloody encounter with the Military Joint Task Force in Maiduguri.
Next in the list of important assets Boko Haram is not prepared to lose is the support of patrons who are usually terrorist organizations or States. Boko Haram insurgents have succeeded in making some States and foreign terrorist organizations to continue to look at them more as assets than liabilities. And they are aware of the fact that if they do not deliver the political and operational goods or if the patrons begin to have doubts about their loyalties and common sense, or if the political, military, and financial burdens for the patrons grow too much, Boko Haram might risk losing their organizational or state support. To keep this reciprocal trust, the war must go on, but directed towards innocent and armless citizens.
Another very important asset that Boko Haram will do everything to keep safe and sound is the sources of arms supply, new recruits, and financial resources. Towards this end, the Federal Government of Nigeria must take necessary steps to block all sources of funds, arms and new recruits. The banks and other financial institutions must be mobilized towards the attainment of this goal. Our borders including airports and seaports must be adequately manned with modern technology to control the movements of both things and people.
From the foregoing, it is very clear that there are vulnerabilities that Boko Haram have. The challenge that our security agencies have now is to hold these vulnerabilities at risk; threaten Boko Haram where it hurts most; find what they care about and go after it. By holding Boko Haram’s vulnerabilities at risk we can properly isolate and defeat the group; or force them to succumb to the authority of the Federal Government of Nigeria, value the importance of dialogue so as to enjoy the benefits of amnesty.