Nigeria’s war on terrorism is plagued by outdated protocols that need a change to tackle Boko Haram.
The terrorist attack by Boko Haram on March 14 is one of the more recent in a number of incidents occurring in northern Nigeria. What sets this attack apart from others is the whole incident was filmed and placed on YouTube. The video footage was clearly taken by an amateur as it is very jumpy. It is difficult to assess where the attack was filmed, but it does show large numbers of men walking toward what appears to be a compound, with various types of weaponry and little haste. Vehicles can also be seen with heavy weapons mounted on the rear firing forward.
So why record an attack on a government installation for any reason other than to seek publicity and attract recruits? Could this be a brazen attack on the Nigerian government motivated by egotism, leading Boko Haram to believe they are invincible and can take the fight further?
Boko Haram’s recent attacks, which include a bus bomb on April 14 and a second on May 1 in Abuja, are a major source of embarrassment for the Nigerian government. The organization can operate away from the northwest, where the Nigerian army is currently conducting antiterrorist operations.
However, two incidents show the terrorist group can operate with impunity even more clearly. The first was the mass kidnapping of over 200 girls from a boarding school in Chibok in Borno on April 16, after which the group threatened to sell the girls into slavery. The second more recent kidnapping of eight girls from Waraba, again in the northwest near a stronghold of the group, shows this may be a new trend.
These incidents have now been brought to the attention of the US and Britain. The two governments have offered their assistance in the recovery of the kidnapped girls. This may be what Nigeria needs to put in place: a solid counterterrorism force that has the ability of defeating Boko Haram.
A Closer Look at Boko Haram
Boko Haram, the main Islamist terrorist organization in Nigeria, has historically caused havoc in the country’s northeast. On May 14, 2013, President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, due to rising insecurity in those areas. Boko Haram is attempting to overthrow the Nigerian government and create an Islamic state in those provinces by using violent extremist attacks.
There is a long way to go but Nigeria has the finances and the ability, along with the assistance of the US and Britain, to put its ducks in a row and beat Boko Haram.
The idealized “Islamic state,” once it has been established, will be ruled by shari’a law and stop what Boko Haram deems as Westernization. Boko Haram appears to have no clear hierarchal formation and relies on a cell-like structure. Attacks have been directed at Christians, government buildings and officials, schools and police stations. The group is affiliated with al-Qaeda through al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). In November 2013, Boko Haram was declared a terrorist organization by the US and placed on the “foreign terrorist organization” list.
Despite the state of emergency in Northwest Nigeria, there seems to be no sign that the country’s counterterrorism strategy is working. The Boko Haram problem appears to be getting worse with more and more attacks, resulting in a vast increase of casualties.
In January, Jonathan sacked several senior members of his military and immediately replaced them. The president claimed they had been holding posts for too long and that Nigeria was in fear of “imploding.” However, it is possible the senior officers were discharged because they were too set in their ways and Nigeria required a new direction in order to tackle a different type of terrorist threat. This again has shown little or no improvement by government forces, who are fighting to retain some sort of security in the country. There is no continuity when it comes to replacing so many top officials at once and could prove to be problematic.
Countering Boko Haram
In order to stop Boko Haram from becoming a far greater risk to the rest of the country’s north, the Nigerian military needs to have a clear and defined mandate that should be strictly observed. If rules are broken by its own forces, the perpetrators would need to be brought to justice. The security forces and government officials, where necessary, should implement and observe human rights and humanitarian law. Human rights are commonly used in a one-sided manner, usually on the side of security forces, when it comes to heavy-handed tactics.
By observing human rights, along with being more open when it comes to accusations of violations, there would be less support for Boko Haram. This would slow down Boko Haram’s recruitment and give the organization less of a propaganda coup. This lack of support would also limit the safe houses where arms, equipment and terrorists could be clandestinely concealed.
A task force would be necessary to find out how Boko Haram is funding its activities. Currently, the funding issue is very clouded with little or no information available. It is thought the organization is partially self-funded, with kidnappings and bank robberies. However, there are also suggestions that Boko Haram pays it operators and also gives money to the families of those who have been killed. This would suggest a greater input of funds, in addition to what the terrorist group gets from robberies and kidnappings. It has also been suggested that some of the funding can be traced back to al-Qaeda-linked organizations in the Middle East.
Intelligence would be a key factor in defeating Boko Haram, especially on its logistics trail. Nigerian security forces cannot rely on aerial reconnaissance, but need on-the-ground timely human intelligence in order to conduct a successful counterterrorism offensive.
This is a very difficult task as anyone found even contemplating working for government forces and providing information could be tortured and killed. It would be difficult to find a useful leverage system other than money, and to have a useful collaborator who would be willing to provide information on the group and its activities.
Money is not an option but some form of carrot and stick model would be needed. A member of Boko Haram could perhaps be “turned” if it is suggested to him that he provides information to Nigerian authorities. In turn, his criminal actions could be looked at in a more lenient light. On the other hand, if he did not cooperate, the full force of Nigerian law would be brought down upon him.
Intelligence has to be shared. It is of no use being kept to one organization. By sharing the knowledge, you share the spoils much later. The only time intelligence should not be shared is to protect the source that it came from. In 2011, Jonathan set up a special military task force in Maiduguri, which consisted of five arms of the security services so that information could be shared and not duplicated. Any information gleaned is done by interrogation, which probably consists of torturing those who are captured.
With the huge financial wealth that Nigerians have from oil reserves, it would be in their best interest to invest money into creating forensic teams and weapon intelligence sections that solely look at terrorist bombings, shootings and weapon models. It is believed the Nigerian police very rarely document any attack and there is no clear line of reporting for terrorist incidents. The police need to have some guidance and standard operating procedures in order to report terrorist attacks.
Logistics, weapons and training are another issue that requires addressing. Training that terrorists receive appears to be from various groups who are operating in parts of Africa and Afghanistan. Weapons are also transported through Cameroon, which reported on March 28 that a substantial amount of weapons had been intercepted. Unfortunately, there was no report of where the weapons had originated — Libya cannot be ruled out.
Close cooperation between neighboring countries in support of antiterrorism must be sought — particularly those countries that share borders with Niger, Chad, Central African Republic and Cameroon. Joint patrolling, joint border crossings and possibly the use of reconnaissance drones in those areas that are very difficult to access would make a big difference.
Furthermore, the Nigerian government must win the media war between itself and the terrorist organization. Because the government is mostly Christian and Boko Haram is Muslim, words should be chosen attentively. The government would not want to bring in any statements regarding one faction against the other, which would give the organization room to maneuver in regard to a war of words.
Tribal differences within Nigeria will also lead to numerous problems for security forces. Using different tribes to police or provide security in the location of another tribal area will only cause problems instead of gaining useful information. However, in some areas, militias have been encouraged and are being used but have also become a target of Boko Haram.
Can Nigeria Win?
Boko Haram is seen as a very successful terrorist organization. Governments who fight terrorism and win do so with decent funding, good forensics and standard operational procedures in place.
The terrorist group’s members would first need to be labeled as criminals. Second, when captured and proved to be a member of an illegal group, they would have to face a courtroom and be sentenced. Moreover, the Nigerian government needs to look at the origins of the conflict and at ways to prevent those criminals from joining Boko Haram in the first place. Then methods of disengagement should be put in place followed by ways of de-radicalizing those members of the group who have been captured or who willingly surrendered. Once this step has been achieved, the rehabilitation phase should be conducted.
As Boko Haram establishes itself more and more, al-Qaeda will see this as an up-and-coming group that has potential. When this happens, Boko Haram will have access to better training, logistical and financial rewards, making it even more difficult to stop.
To say that Boko Haram is leaderless is incorrect, as their attacks appear to be well-planned and coordinated. The group must also have its own intelligence support system that is used effectively for target acquisition, planning and attacking.
There is a long way to go but Nigeria has the finances and the ability, along with the assistance of the US and Britain, to put its ducks in a row and beat Boko Haram. Until then, the Jonathan government must accept that failure to tackle the group now will only lead to more problems along the way. By attacking the funding and logistics of the organization, the chances of defeating Boko Haram are much greater.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.