Responding to terrorism in Nigeria
Terrorism in Nigeria is a direct consequence of the people’s deep dissatisfaction with their government,
said participants at the fifth policing executive forum held recently in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, which dwelt on responding to the emerging trends of terrorism in the country.
A lecturer of Mass Communications at the University of Maiduguri, Abubakar Mu’azu, while tracing the antecedents of several dissenting groups along Nigeria’s geographical lines, including the Niger Delta militants in the South South; the Oodu’a People’s Congress in the South West; the Bakassi Boys and the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra in the South East, and the Jama’atu Ahlus Sunnah Lid Da’awati Wal Jihad, otherwise known as Boko Haram, in the North, said Nigerian leaders mishandling of national issues gave rise to these groups.
“There is widespread disenchantment with the Nigerian State arising from its failure to meet its obligations to the people and the perception that State policies are implemented to advance private interests for personal accumulation,” Mr Mu’azu said. “All these groups emerge because of the failure of governance, a complacent security regime and absence of strong culture that enables citizens to make effective demands from their rulers.”
Violence begets violence Mr Mu’azu, who dwelt on the activities of Boko Haram, which he said he had monitored over time in Borno State, stated “the environment creates the terrorist group”. He said the sect’s recurring attacks including suicide bombings in the country is the direct result of the Nigerian government’s “brutal suppression of all forms of dissent” by its predictable use of force.
“The resort to suppression using the State’s stock of arsenal of violence often sends the wrong signal to groups that have grievances that civil approach was unworkable,” Mr Mu’azu said. “Some scholars have observed that the security services, especially the Police and the State Security Service (SSS) are employed to oppress rather than protect, the citizen.” He however added that the military are the worst offenders for their reported indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians. “The military are aggravating the situation, as illustrated with their inhuman and degrading handling of people, to the extent that people are now saying it is better to join Boko Haram and get security since the military is not protecting them.”
Civil society activists also disclosed that the situation in Borno State, the sect’s base, has taken a new dimension with at least four different types of killings identified - those perpetrated by Boko Haram, others by security forces, some by ritualists, and others termed “hatred killings” being carried out by people settling scores with opponents.
The criminalisation of the state
Also speaking at the event, Chidi Odinkalu, the Africa director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, said the greatest threat to Nigeria’s existence is the Nigerian government’s continuous condoning of corruption and crime.
“Our biggest single national security crisis is not Boko Haram. It is the total failure, corruption and criminalisation of the state. We have being witnessing a descent into this particular situation over at least 25 years since when Dele Giwa was killed and the government at the head level covered it up,” said Mr Odinkalu, referring to the assassination of renowned journalist Dele Giwa via a letter bomb on October 19, 1986.
“In Nigeria nobody has being convicted for any of the killings that took place in this country in 25 years since Dele Giwa. That is state incapability. That is a state security crisis.”
Mr Odinkalu, a lawyer with 23 years experience, said the failure of the Nigerian government through its security agencies and the judiciary has led to the agitations of dissident groups across Nigeria.
“The government promoted the elimination of Nigerians as a method of government and as a method of alienation of the state and security. The killing of Saro Wiwa further showed this. In every part of this country, the language is the same - marginalisation, alienation! Now, every geo-political zone in Nigeria has its own language of killing. And they kill without accountability because they have seen the state do so without accountability” he said.
Dealing with ‘terrorists’
While state and non-state actors have advocated dialogue with perceived terrorist groups, a discussant at the event, Felix Ogbuadu, a retired Assistant Inspector General of Police, said the government’s challenge with dealing with Boko Haram, unlike other agitation groups, has been the sect’s refusal to dialogue ever since the Police extra-judiciously exterminated the sect’s leader, Mohammed Yusuf, in 2009.
“I agree dialogue is desirable but how does government dialogue with a group that does not operate in the open and no one has been able to convince them to come out. I plead with all Nigerians to please prevail on them to come out; and also with government to assure them to fair hearing so that they can table their grievances,” Mr Ogbuadu said
while reminding participants that the failure of security agencies is a reflection of the failure of government in all sectors of the country.
But the State Security Service (SSS) through a representative, Usman Abubakar, while giving several accounts of how Boko Haram since 2003 has launched series of attacks across Northern states leading to numerous deaths, said the group’s ideology goes contrary to Nigeria as a democratic nation.
“I am a Muslim but honestly speaking I’ll tell you this group means bad for humanity, for the Nigerian State, for everybody,” Mr Abubakar said. “Their goal is to islamise the whole of Nigeria. What they are doing is to create confusion everywhere so that they can do whatever they want. We must do everything humanly possible to ensure they are rehabilitated and those who are not ready to be rehabilitated they are arraigned in competent courts of law.” Solutions to an endemic problem
As discussions continue nationally and globally on strategies of curbing terrorism, Mr Odinkalu says Nigeria can only be taken seriously once the country’s two decade old national security policy reflects modern times.
“We need to comprehensively change our national security document. The last review of our national security doctrine was done under General Babangida which resulted in the promulgation of the National Security Agencies Act in 1986. It is now 25 years old and overdue for reforms as it was based on a regime’s security doctrine that is not valid in a democracy.”
Other recommendations arrived at by the over 50 participants drawn from law enforcement agencies, civil society organisations, the academia, local and international development organisations, at the instance of CLEEN Foundation, which promotes co-operation between civil society and law enforcement agencies, include the withdrawal of the military from high-risk locations “as they are grossly unsuited for such a function and may have exacerbated the security situation”, promoting effective collaboration between all law enforcement agencies “to encourage information exchange”, the establishment of a research grant to support academic studies aimed at “providing better understanding of extremist groups operating in Nigeria and their activities”, amongst others.