US alert on ISWAP’s expansion plans in West Africa

THE recent warning by Dagvin Anderson, the commander of the United States (US) special operations command in Africa, that Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) are silently taking over North-West Nigeria and also expanding to other parts of West Africa is a major cause for concern for Nigerians. This recent warning is another in a series of previous alerts from the US about the activities of these terrorist groups and the danger they portend for the peace and stability of the country and the larger west African subregion.

It is not academic that Boko Haram and its  splinter group ISWAP are growing in power and influence. From its territorial base on the banks and islands of Lake Chad, ISWAP has waged a guerrilla war across north-eastern Nigeria and elsewhere on the lake’s periphery. Boko Haram has persisted in the North-East  and continues to challenge and stretch the capacity of the country’s armed forces to the limits. Boko Haram and ISWAP have killed thousands and displaced millions in northeastern Nigeria. In response to the warning, John Enenche, Coordinator of Defence Media Operations (DMO), reassured Nigerians that the military had continued to dominate the North-West area with clearance patrols, aggressive fighting patrols, raids, ambushes, confidence-building patrols and several air bombardments of identified bandits’ locations and hideouts. “The general public should not be afraid of that at all. It’s not a new thing, it’s already in our schedule of activity,” he added.

Given the previous and ongoing activities of these extremists groups, we take  the reassurance with a pinch of salt. It is certainly not sufficient to allay the fears of Nigerians. Indeed, despite the claim by the military years ago that Boko Haram had been “technically defeated,” it continues to wreak havoc in different parts of the North-East. The situation has been worsened by the increasing banditry in the North-West.  We advise the security forces not to treat the alarm with levity. Nigeria has recorded such huge cost since the Boko Haram insurgency that every alert must be taken seriously to avoid dangerous surprises. The military must continue to work with the state governments and local communities to neutralise the plans of these extremist groups. Efforts must be made to improve security in public places, including schools, hospitals, government facilities, places of worship, tourist locations, and transportation hubs that are  often targeted by these groups.

The Federal Government should continue to strengthen intelligence and pursue soft power approaches as necessary parts of the  solution to resolve the threats of terrorism and violent extremism effectively. It should strengthen collaboration with governments across West Africa to address this threat. International collaboration cannot be overemphasised given the transnational character of these violent extremist groups.

 

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