Organized terrorism, which is the number one cause of insecurity in Nigeria today, began in 2009. Before then, the nation only witnessed intermittent religious crises mostly in the northern parts. In July 2009, however, a protest by some radicalized youths against the Borno State government’s policy on the mandatory use of crash helmet by motorcycle riders in the state was to later metamorphose into organised terrorism. The leader of the protesting youths was a young Islamic cleric by name, Mohammed Yusuf, who also doubled as the group’s spiritual head and teacher. The protest soon turned violent leading to the death of some policemen who had the government’s mandate to enforce the policy. When the situation degenerated out of hand, the government sent in the military to restore order.
The military successfully quelled the insurrection and arrested Yusuf, the group’s leader, whom it handed over to police authorities. However, Yusuf died in police custody in controversial circumstances. Surviving members of the group, angered by Yusuf’s death, regrouped under the leadership of the more radical Abubakar Shekau and took up arms against state agencies. That marked the beginning of violent terror attacks in the nation by the group which later became known as Boko Haram.
Since the initial launch of its violent campaign against the state, the group has grown in size and sophistication to become a hydra-headed monster whose tentacles spread all over northern Nigeria. Besides, other armed groups have since joined the terror train, thus further compounding the insecurity problem.
The government has been battling to tackle the scourge of insecurity, driven by organised terrorism, for years without much success.
Several factors led to the steady and speedy rise of the group to its current status today as one of the world’s deadliest terror groups. One of such factors is the distrust and intolerance among adherents of the nation’s two major religions—Islam and Christianity. When Boko Haram initially targeted Christians, the Muslims saw no reason to raise alarm because to them it was a we-versus-them situation. The group enjoyed the sympathy of Muslims, some of whom reportedly served as its informants. It was not until the group started detonating bombs that the Muslim community become alarmed.
Another factor that aided the group’s fast rising is the easy access to high-calibre weapons through the highly porous northern borders. These weapons get smuggled in from crisis-ridden Libya. Also, a vast expanse of largely ungoverned territories made of forests provides cover for the terrorists to operate unchecked and to set up camps.
Yet another factor is the pervasive corruption among the top echelon of the nation’s armed forces which ensures that funds released for the purchase of weapons to prosecute the counterterrorism operations gets diverted into private pockets. Closely related to that is the wilful neglect of the welfare of fighting troops on the front lines, resulting in low morale among them.
Lastly, is the widely acknowledged sabotage by some members of the security forces who have sympathy for the terrorists because of religious affiliation?
But having examined the causes and reasons for the problem, what is the way forward? What should the government be doing to successfully tackle the scourge of insecurity currently ravaging the nation?
This piece will proffer a few solutions which if the government adopts would go a long way to end the crisis.
1. Government must address the root cause of the problem:
The root cause of insecurity and terrorism in the country is religious intolerance and the propagation of extremist religious views. Therefore, to tackle the problem, the governments must enact enabling laws to prosecute clerics who propagate such doctrines. The government must set up monitoring units to identify such clerics. This solution addresses the very root of the problem and therefore is very fundamental to the success of other solutions. However, it would require a steely political willpower and sincerity of purpose to implement because it is bound to encounter strong opposition from very high places.
2. Government must monitor Nigeria’s international borders to check the influx of arms into the country:
The government must be intentional about monitoring our international borders, especially those around the northern states to check the activities of gun smugglers who bring high-calibre weapons into the country through those porous and largely unmanned borders.
3. Government must trace, identify, and prosecute terror financiers and block funding channels
Terrorism requires huge funding to thrive. Some unscrupulous elements within and outside the country are providing this funding for the terror groups. The government should seek to emasculate the groups by starving them of funds. This it can achieve by tracing, identifying, and apprehending their financiers and cutting off the channels through the terrorists get funds.
4. Government must closely monitor military spending on purchase of weapons and the welfare of soldiers on the front lines.
The government must put in place checks and balances to ensure that funds that it releases for the purchase of weapons and the welfare of troops in the battle fields are judiciously utilized for those purposes. The government should also thoroughly probe past cases of alleged diversion and misappropriation of such funds and prosecute those found wanting as appropriate.
5. Government must never yield to the blackmail to grant blanket amnesty to the terrorists
It should be clear by now that efforts to pacify the terrorists to lay down arms have largely failed to yield the desired results. One reason for that is that terrorism is an ideological thing. It is extremely difficult and near impossible to dissuade a radicalized fellow to change his mind within a short time. Therefore, for its de-radicalization program for the terrorists to succeed, the government must engage the services of highly skilled thoroughbred professionals with proven track records to handle it.
The situation where the outlaws are the ones making demands for amnesty from the government as a condition for surrender their arms is rather absurd as it shows that they are not under any form of pressure to drop their weapons but rather are the ones in control and calling the shot. The government must seize that initiative from them. Otherwise, if the government yields and grants them amnesty, they will neither down their weapons nor stop their atrocities but would instead blackmail it into conceding further grounds to them. The government must, therefore, seek first to overpower them in the battle field and regain the upper hand to break their willpower and resolve. Then, and only then, should the government negotiate with the terrorists who willingly surrender to it.
6. Nigerians must present a unified front against terrorism and insecurity in support of government efforts
Lastly, citizens across religious, ethnic, and regional divides must unite to present a common front against terrorism and in support of the security forces for the nation to win the war. We owe the nation, especially the next generation and the one unborn this sacred duty.
And together we shall triumph over our common enemies.