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Published On: Wed, May 7th, 2014

Boko Haram: Responding with new language and action

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By Ola Onikoyi, Jr

The recent bombings and abduction of innocent schoolgirls in Abuja and the North-eastern part of Nigeria by Boko Haram have sought new meaning against previous assumptions and strategy of counter terrorism by state and its wider apparatus. The new meaning begs for objective reality and at the same time asks for a new language th at goes beyond current rhetorical modes and metaphors.

The new meaning requires political and social consensus and far more than the use of force and propaganda. It requires the deconstruction of old narratives and dominant strategy – while simultaneously seeking rigorous examination and scrutiny of state power. Unchecked, the lies, actions and inactions of state has contributed to the rise of the group and to the proliferation of the on-going threats posed by it and its accomplices.

Previous assumptions about the motivation of the boko haram, has been that it detests western education and seeks to create a sharia state. Other narratives locate the revulsion of the group for peace as rooted within the North, South-South political debate. From the way it operates, the boko haram simply wants to undermine the efficiency of state security and promote anarchy to gain legitimacy towards its own end as a criminal cum political movement.

Deeply embedded in its continuous rise has been the alarming weakness of state institutions that seeks to protect public peace. The Nigerian army as a case in point is not fit for purpose or, better put, is out-dated and inefficient. Personnel of the army are poorly trained, lack motivation and lack resources to win the war. Yet, it is surprising why in spite of budgets worth billions of dollars every year, combatants still fight to get basic pay. Still, no heads have rolled.

Part of the new language, as Andrew Noakes recently wrote, must be nothing short of a revolution in strategic capabilities. The United States offer to intervene in the crisis should be welcome as part of the new counter terrorism strategy, but Nigeria must set boundary for its allies no matter who. Strong alliances must be built with neighbouring states, particularly Cameroon and Niger in terms of border security and defence.

I propose a Joint West African Terrorism Commission led by Nigeria – with Cameroon, Niger and Chad included as priority members. The task force will operate under the scope of gathering intelligence and frustrating inter-border terrorist activities and movement across the northern and the ECOWAS border hemisphere. It will operate with a special military brigade that is fully trained to respond to inter-border threats in every form.

We would see that in the past 2-3 years, the boko haram has built cross border ties along the northern hemisphere and sources its manpower from across the border. With this increasing cross border network, the group is international in the make and is a potential threat to Africa’s future security.

Back in Nigeria, the military must be totally reformed. Its capabilities cannot win the war of the 21st century. It is alarming that since the emergence of boko haram threat and crisis, there has been no aerial bombardment known to the public, no visibility of unmanned drones and no serious counter terror initiation by the Nigerian air force. On the civilian side, there has barely been any court conviction, implicit counter terrorism strategy document, intelligence report or signs of serious inter-agency cooperation amongst existing security establishments.

The existing joint task force operating in the north under the banner of “war on boko haram” is ill equipped and misconceived. I propose the establishment of a new agency that will not only oversee the terror threats in the north, but will respond to terror emergencies in Nigeria no matter where. Such agency should not be simply mandated as an outfit that responds to threats as the joint civilian task force; its mandate should enable it to act across the length and breadth of terrorism management which would include predicting, managing, responding, preventing and taking care of victims of terrorism.

The serious security threats posed by the Boko Haram cannot be unravelled through the convention of ad-hoc committees and convocation of state of emergencies at every moment of crisis as has become the modus operandi of the Nigerian state. These modes of response are overly reactionary and causes setback for the local and national economy.

Unravelling the boko haram threat requires the institution of a proactive agency that understands the workings of terrorism and the tactics of Boko Haram and their sponsors. And if the establishment of such institution must come into fruition, it must be independent of existing military forces and other state security institutions but must maintain close ties and strategic relationship.

As a method that has proved successful in other climes, all national political parties and civil society groups should unite to establish a bi-partisan action group on national security that will involve policy making and common co-operation in strategic actions and decisions. This will be both healthy for solving the current crisis effectively while at the same time building a strong democratic future.


Ola Onikoyi, Jr. via


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