Deterring Armed Groups in Nigeria
The fight against Nigerian Armed Group such as Boko Haram has generated much concern as the group continues to wreak havoc and mayhem across the northeastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, calling to question the efficiency and effectiveness of the military in tackling the menace. Some Nigerians have called for the moving of the Army Headquarters to Maiduguri, the Borno State capital. Others have requested for unconditional dialogue with the terrorists’ group; while yet others have insisted on military operations to end the group’s onslaught against innocent and armless citizens. Prominent Nigerians are also known to have suggested that the military make public their operational strategies against Boko Haram.
Boko Haram recent attacks on sleeping secondary school children at the Federal Government College, Buni Yadi in Yobe State in their dormitory on Tuesday, 25th February, 2014, which left over 43 people dead and the series of attacks on multiple communities of Izghe Village, Konduga, etc. in Adamawa State, which killed 109 people coupled with the 35 persons killed as twin bomb explosions rock a football viewing center in Ajilari ward of Jere council in Maiduguri, Borno State, yesterday has seriously injured the public psyche and raised much worry and condemnations across the country and beyond, necessitating the call for probing the military’s sincerity in ending the menace. It is really worrisome that between January and February 2014 dead tolls arising from Boko Haram activities have risen to 335. And thousands of Nigerians are continuing to lose family members, houses, businesses, their belongings and means of livelihoods to Boko Haram rebellion. It is truly unacceptable.
But, Nigerians must come to term with simple facts that the world is a global village; that terrorists no longer operate in isolation but network; that armed groups are abreast with information and communication technology dynamism which is ruling the world; and terrorists all over the world are united by common enemy, common ideology and common goal. Their readiness to anarchy and disorder in their environment or destabilize the world is unquestionable; their mobility system is flexible and active; the continuously expanding Nigerian labour market is providing them uninterrupted source of supply of new recruits; they also have good mobility and logistics support; their training curriculum are regularly updated; and their survivability and sustainability is guaranteed by the increasing number of patrons, sponsors and financers who disguise under various tithing-for-terrorism umbrellas such as charity and Zakat. They also share intelligence, information and equipment for targeting and attacking; networking on and sharing strategies, tactics and procedures and are regularly adopting global strategy to local conditions. What all these portend is that these terrorists are intelligent, educated and creative.
Boko Haram has perfected the act of provoking heavy-handed reactions on the part of the Nigerian military. This strategy which favours attacking targets like the police, military personnel, public institutions and innocent citizens resulted in the declaration of State of Emergency in the northeastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa by President Goodluck Ebebe Jonothan; the commissioning of full-scale military operations to dislodge the terrorists thus provoking public outcry and condemnations. The demonstrated vulnerability of security personnel to Boko Haram’s terrorists’ acts also created fear and loss of confidence in the government’s capacity to contain the insurgents and provide the needed security. Our military forces are in dilemma. Whenever the military resort to a heavy-handed crackdown, the results have always been public sympathy, passive acceptance and even active support for the Boko Haram terrorists group and one begins to wonder what a people we are and the magic we intend the military to perform?
The call for the disclosure of military strategy is unnecessary and ridiculous. Military strategies, tactics and procedures are matters of top secret, developed in the operation’s room, managed by military top brass and executed in the field by field commanders. Even political parties don’t disclose their strategies for winning elections. Similarly, business Organizations never make public their managerial strategies; even their research and development information, customers’ lists, supply chains, market penetration plans and so on are protected secrets. It is therefore demoralizing to ask the military to publicize military operational strategy against a known armed group like the Boko Haram. The military as an institution of state deserves our respect and support. All we owe the military is to suggest the best practices possible. When we advise, we should also be patient with the military. Our concern should go beyond the apportioning of blames and witch-hunting to include best possible ways to deter the armed group.
Strategic deterrence is one of the hitherto cherished pillars of a nation’s military strategy. But this notion has been weakened as concepts of warfare have shifted from traditional warfare to irregular warfare. Traditional warfare between nations had a predictable chilling effect that sometimes prevented war, or limit the way force is used. Each side’s calculation of how the adversary would react to a specific strategy, or the intent to attack certain targets, has a restraining effect on the way wars are fought and won. The threat of mutual destruction had a profound impact on the way nations treat their military capabilities. For instance, the USSR surrendered and backed out of the Cold War because the Soviets feared they could not maintain their counterstrike capability due to the “Star Wars” programme, which changed the entire strategic perception of the Cold War and contributed significantly to its termination with what everybody perceived as a decisive victory without the use of any weapons, ( Yose Kuperwasser, 2009).
The theory of deterrence is based on the premises that if a nation wishes to affect its adversary’s strategy, it has first of all to:
1. Balance the cost and benefit for the adoption of a particular strategy.
2. Analyze the way the adversary develops its assessment about what the country is going to do in various circumstances.
Applying this knowledge, the country has to convince the Boko Haram or other potential enemies that it has the capacity and the determination to exact a price they are not willing to pay. This, I doubt, if we have done as a nation! Proactive security strengthens all democracies while reactive security weakens liberal democracy.
Strategic deterrence is an emerging problem in Nigeria democracy. Our security system is still at the reactive level. The development of our intelligence security is still at the infancy. Besides, the traditional Nigerians’ value for human life is now a factor militating against timely Boko Haram’s defeat.
One of the fundamental human rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is “right to life”. President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has demonstrated so much respect and value for human life in his handling of the Boko Haram activities. Mr President has proved that he honors the value of life higher than any other intrinsic concept. He believes that almost nothing is worth risking life for and that the manner in which force is being used against the Boko Haram insurgents should minimize casualties.
This value of life is the fundamental element in the relationship between Nigeria as a country and its citizens. Mr. President is cognizance of the fact that it is the responsibility of the Federal Government to protect citizens’ lives and, in turn, the citizens have granted power of authority to the government to govern and levy taxes. Mr. President is also aware of the most important aspect of this contractual relationship which is not only the protection of the lives of the citizens that should be considered before using force but the protection of the lives of the soldiers too.
The protection of the lives of the soldiers is of course an important issue because it is needed for preserving the force and achieving the desire victory. The sanctity of human life must be understood by all Nigerians, including those who support Boko Haram. That is why Mr. President is hesitating to take steps that would endanger the lives of the masses, including citizens who support Boko Haram. Unfortunately, this has made it possible for Boko Haram to continue to perpetuate their atrocity to the level that Mr. President is being described as weak, wicked or inconsiderate; or as if the military cannot contain Boko Haram within days or the Federal Government does not know exactly what to do.
The truth must be told. Over the years, the war against Boko Haram has turned into a count of the number of the dead soldiers Nigeria has suffered and the innocent civilians on the one hand, and both have become a burden that Nigeria is finding difficult to sustain. This problem is exacerbated because Mr. President tends to adopt a wider meaning to the value of life as well as the quality of life. To Mr. President, life is not only about existence, it is about welfare; it is about enabling people to pursue their happiness. Anything that interferes with that, namely, anything that contradicts what the Constitution term as fundamental human rights, is unacceptable, regardless of if it refers to the citizen of Nigeria or to anybody else.
However, when there is a contradiction between the security needs of the people and the commitment to human rights, it is the responsibility of the government to draw a demarcating line between what it terms to be of superior value and of inferior value; and then the summing up of political courage to choose which to pursue. . This is one of the perceived weaknesses of the President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s administration.
The other is the commitment to accountability and the guilty complex that is attached to it. In the case of Nigeria, Mr. President is accountable for any breach of the safety and security arrangements between Nigeria and Nigerians and for any harm done for the wellbeing of civilians. This perception is that the Federal Government is at fault when harm befalls its population. This notion has a paralyzing effect on military and political leadership who try to avoid the blame and guilt that will follow any full-scale military move against Boko Haram if it put the lives of civilians in the region or of soldiers in danger.
Of recent, Mr. President and the military have been severally blamed for being unable to achieve a decisive victory in the war against Boko Haram within the shortest time frame. Members of both the upper and the lower house have raised the alarm that their constituency were never prepared for this kind of war and were led to believe that it is an asymmetric war in which the military is supposed to have the upper hand quite easily. The reason why the reverse is the case is now known to us all.
Another way in which, the Federal Government played into the hands of Boko Haram is the role of the media. In Nigeria, 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. The social media has also added a new dimension to the problem of sowing distrust towards the government as its main mission and is ready to serve as a loudspeaker of Boko Haram’s propaganda too often without employing basic criticism to judge its accuracy.
On the other hand, Boko Haram is committed to an exactly opposite set of values, which is making it impossible for them to be deterred. In the first place, it is clear that they have adopted a totally different approach to the value of life. To Boko Haram terrorists, life is just a tool to gain more important values (an entrance to paradise). The readiness to sacrifice and to suffer replaces the sanctity of life and the commitment to provide public welfare, hence Boko Haram’s willingness to make the people of northeastern Nigeria suffer.
The pursuit of cultural cum religious respect and of their version of justice (often revenge) is their alternative to life’s sacredness and pursue of happiness. Over a period of four years, they have managed to build a philosophy that justifies the use of deadly force against civilians and that puts the responsibility for all their problems and sufferings on the shoulders of the Christians whom they continued to massacre on daily bases. Relying on this viewpoint, Boko Haram have managed to avoid any accountability or responsibility. They now find refuge in ungoverned areas and are determined to develop more areas of the kind. They have also established control of the media and are shaping the political agenda and the political vocabulary within the northeastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa and elsewhere in the north.
Since those who search for martyrdom cannot be threatened by death; those who fight a mighty demon cannot fear being blamed for failure; and those who are not sovereign entities cannot be afraid of losing the control over a certain piece of land or being held accountable; the Boko Haram insurgents have succeeded to create a win-win situation where suffering means success and failure proves the authenticity of their interpretation of national order and why it should be changed.
How then can the Boko Haram terrorists group be deterred and deprived of the ability to stop the Nigeria state? The first step is to identify those things that Boko Haram insurgents fear losing most. The most precious asset they have is their credibility in the eyes of their own constituencies and the support they expect to get based on that credibility. They have to prove repeatedly that they behave like they preach. They must glorify their readiness to sacrifice and proclaim their own achievements against the nation and its security forces. They have to make sure that their supporters do not lose hope that this sort of war will get them closer to the set of goals they set forth, the most immediate of which is to humiliate the ruling government. Their greatest fear is that supporters of the group begin to question the group’s own commitments to the causes, or have second thoughts about the goals and the feasibility of their objectives.
After that, the most valuable asset they fear to lose is their ability to use ungoverned territories or areas that are governed by state supporters as a way to enjoy plausible deniability. If an armed group brings trouble for its own constituency, it may lose the geographic freedom it benefits from. That is why the closure of Nigeria’s border with Cameroon is a welcomed development in our effort towards ending the Boko Haram activities.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government of Nigeria should as a matter of urgency set all diplomatic mechanisms into motion to prevail on French President Francoise Hollande to make good his promise to support Nigeria in the war against Boko Haram insurgency. The war to combat Boko Haram extremists in the defence of democracy is a global war. Nigeria is a strong voice in the committee of nations and a power to reckon with in Africa. Nigeria struggle is Africa struggle. France is strategic in issues concerning Nigeria and Cameroon. Nigeria is an emerging power in Africa with huge French investments and strong diplomatic ties. Cameroon, on the other hand, is France ally and former colony with historical, cultural, linguistic, economic, military and political ties. Having conceded Bakassi to Cameroon without grudge, Nigeria’s interests deserve protection, her feelings ought to be respected and her sovereignty must be esteemed.Another important asset that terrorists’ group fear losing is the lives of the activists and their freedoms of action. Contrary to their philosophical approach to the value of life, all terrorists' groups including Boko Haram activists and leaders value their own lives highly. They must try very hard to protect themselves, and when they feel that the danger is real, they spend much more time in attempts to save themselves than in contemplating martyrdom. This is especially true for the supreme leadership.
Next on the list of importance for terrorists group like the Boko Haram is the support of the patron, who is usually a state. The group has to make sure that their patrons continue to look at them more as assets than as liabilities. 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 the group constitute for the patrons grow too much, the group’s supports may be affected by the way other nations regard the group. Therefore, it is very important from the supporters’ point of view to be acceptable by the global terrorists’ community (GTC).
The safety of the sources of supply of arms, new recruits, and financial resources are very important to armed groups. They fear any step taken against them by the government or international community that aims to disrupt their arms supply, new entrants and funds flow.
These are vulnerabilities that Boko Haram group has. The challenge is to hold these vulnerabilities at risk. Threatened Boko Haram where it hurts. Find what they care about, and go for it. This is not time to debate or argue about strategies. Military strategies are not for public talk-show. It is time to fight a war of ideas in the media; threaten the lives of the key Boko Haram leaders like never before; identify and take actions against states that support the Boko Haram group; intimidate those who give arms and money to Boko Haram under whatever guise.
The widely suggested Odi Strategy of using brute force without developing a strategy that is relevant to specifics of the Boko Haram war will be counterproductive since it will only serve as proof for the Boko Haram’s group claims that the Federal Government is ruthless and hideous and, at the same time unable to beat them.
Conclusively, the problem with Nigeria is not with knowing what should be done but with building a posture of deterrence by demonstrating the political courage to act and ensuring that Boko Haram terrorists believe it. Specifically, the Federal Government, through its various security agencies must endeavour to understanding the way Boko Haram make their decisions and convincing them that the government is able and determined to charge them with a heavy price if they continue to try to carry out terror attacks on innocent Nigerians.