Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari posited that security agencies in the country were capable of winning the war against Boko Haram terrorism. He said that with the 30-month civil war experience of the Nigerian military, it was capable of handling the crisis rocking the North-East. Buhari made the assertion while receiving Janez Lenarcic, the European Union (EU) Commissioner for Crisis Management in the State House, Abuja. He said: “If we were capable to fight a 30-month civil war and reorganised our country (sic), I wonder why people are thinking that Nigeria cannot do it. We have the experience of the civil war. I could recall the role of the military, the army, each commander had in his pocket how to behave himself and how to allow international bodies like yourself to go round and see for themselves that people are treated in the most humane way. We have this experience and I assure you that we also have this confidence in your organisation. That is why I feel that Nigeria is capable of handling this crisis. It may take long but we are capable of handling it.”
The president, while blaming the inability of the Nigerian military to subdue the insurgents on the increasing proliferation of arms in the G5 Sahel region, said that the government was trying its best to disabuse the minds of the people regarding Boko Haram and that they understood the basic dishonesty behind it. The president then told the EU that one of the next priorities of his administration was to rehabilitate the internally displaced persons in the North-East, adding that this informed his decision to create the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.
In expressing confidence in the ability of the government and the military to tame Boko Haram terrorism, the president apparently means well. The international community certainly needs updates and assurances regarding what Nigeria, now the world’s third most terrorised country, is doing to reverse its unenviable status. At the same time, it is clear that the officers and men of the country’s armed forces need all the moral support and encouragement they can get from the government and Nigerians as a whole in undertaking the arduous task of ridding the country of terror. However, given the nature of terrorism in general and the manifestations of Boko Haram’s mindless rage in the country, particularly in recent times, it seems sufficiently clear that the president’s optimism is misplaced and his prognosis suspect. Shorn of its rhetorical pretensions, the president’s averment amounts to comparing apples with oranges. To say the least, comparing the Boko Haram terrorism that the country has had to contend with for over a decade with the three-year civil war of 1967-70 amounts to a gross over-simplification of extant security challenges. For one thing, the civil war, as the president himself who was an active participant knows, was a conventional engagement. The strategies used in ending it do not therefore recommend themselves for the extant security challenges.
For another, citing the example of the civil war which the South-East geopolitical zone, one of the country’s major pillars, struggled for decades to recover from, was quite tactless and indelicate. The president’s postulation, broken down into its pragmatic presuppositions, is simply the following: “Since we defeated the Biafrans during the civil war, we will certainly defeat Boko Haram terrorists.” Here, it is not difficult to see the inherent false equivalence: Boko Haram, a terror group, can never, and should never, be placed on the same pedestal as a major ethnic group in the country even if it attempted, albeit unsuccessfully, to exercise the right to self determination in a military fashion. That can easily reopen old wounds and breed suspicion. At issue then, apparently, is the quality of thinking behind the administration’s approach to the Boko Haram terrorism, and indeed to security challenges in general. As the president himself no doubt would agree, things have changed quite drastically since 1970 when the civil war ended, and combating terrorism in 2020 would require far much more than civil war tactics and experience. Terrorism in the country must be defeated militarily, but it must also be defeated socially and economically, with governments at all levels waging a serious war against poverty and social inequality, as well as conducting new media wars to tackle Boko Haram’s propaganda wars, micro and macro aggressions and the invasion of the country’s religious space for subversive ends.
We call for new strategies to address the security challenges confronting the country, particularly the Boko Haram and herdsmen’s undending reign of terror. It is apparent that the current strategies are not working. At the same time, we urge the president to accept the inevitability of state, regional and community policing. The consequences of failure to embrace the restructuring imperative will be too dire for the country.