Instead of inspiring hope and hastening a return to normalcy, the outcome of the one year of intensive, all-out military campaign in the terror-stricken north-eastern part of the country has left many Nigerians utterly depressed. What many had thought would be a fleeting moment of stark lessons in military efficiency targeted at putting the shadowy and nihilistic Boko Haram Islamist extremists to rout has turned into an embarrassing and endless nightmare. The one year of emergency rule in the three states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe has failed to stem the alarming rate of bombings, looting, killings, destruction of settlements and kidnapping of innocent schoolgirls.
Right now, the whole world is grieving over the kidnap of close to 300 schoolgirls who were preparing for their secondary school certificate examinations at the Government Secondary School, Chibok in Borno State. What is becoming increasingly evident is the very strong possibility that the security agencies are being bogged down by the presence of an enemy within, which has been thwarting their bid to root out the terrorists.
There are reasonable grounds to believe that moles, sympathisers and leaks in our security system are collaborating with terrorists. The issue of fifth columnists in the war against terror has continued to feature prominently in recent media reports, but our government continues to live in denial.
One of such reports involved a soldier who purportedly told the Hausa Service of a Voice of America news programme how a military unit of the Nigerian Army was ambushed while trying to give support to a sister unit in Bama, one of the troubled towns in Borno State. The soldier claimed that his own unit, which was poorly equipped, was actually tricked into a combat which turned out to be one-sided and patently suicidal. By the time the operation was over, the unit that called for assistance had withdrawn, abandoning the reinforcing unit to its fate. “We had only light arms and our men were being picked off one after the other,” the soldier said.
What was even more surprising was the aspect of his narrative that hinted at some members of the Nigerian Army fighting for Boko Haram. The soldier who spoke under anonymity said fellow soldiers recognised some of those doing battle on the side of Boko Haram as “mercenaries from the Nigerian Army …hired to fight us.” One such soldier, a lance corporal, described as a trainer at the Nigerian Army Training Centre, Kontagora, Niger State, was reportedly killed while training Boko Haram members.
Similar views have also been expressed by soldiers currently involved in the bid to rescue the abducted girls of Chibok. A soldier was quoted by The Guardian of London as saying, “We are trying but our efforts are being countered in a way that is very clear they are being tipped off about our movements. Any time we plan to rescue (the girls), we have been ambushed… Definitely somebody high up in the chain of command is leaking information to these people.”
These blood-chilling revelations of a house divided against itself are not new, as a former Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika (retd.), once said that some soldiers were arrested for divulging sensitive information on troop movements to the terror group. He had also confirmed the arrest of some customs officials for allegedly assisting the terrorists in smuggling arms into the country. Fifth columnists were actually fingered in the attack on Nigerian soldiers on their way to Mali that resulted in the loss of two soldiers and injury to four others.
These are indeed very worrisome revelations, but they should not come as a surprise, as activities of moles have become an integral part of what commanders must deal with in war situations. During the Cold War period, it was very common to have double agents passing on information from either side of the divide. When situations like this arise, it is the way they are handled that makes the difference. An Inspector-General of Police in Karachi, Pakistan, once admitted that 30 per cent of his policemen were terrorist sympathisers.
Unfortunately, when his comments were sought, the Director of Defence Information, Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade, was quick to dismiss the claims. Instead of a hasty dismissal, what is required in these circumstances is a thorough investigation. When the situation arose under Ihejirika, he was not only able to bring out the culprits, he ensured that they were put to trial.
So where does this lead? Law enforcement and intelligence agencies must be incredibly vigilant in monitoring their members who can provide a support network for terrorist attacks. Nigeria is already very different from the one its founding fathers aspired to build. People who subscribe to Islamist extremist ideology are everywhere and their ranks are growing. Fighting a war against mindless ideologues, in a situation where the fronts and even the enemies are not clearly defined, is bad enough. But it can only be made worse when renegade soldiers start playing the role of spoilers.
It is needless to say here that, without weeding out the fifth columnists providing aid and comfort to terrorists, the ongoing war against Boko Haram is likely to stretch much longer than is currently being anticipated.
The Punch opinion has failed to drive its exact point. It should have been collaborators,and leaks and not moles, sympathisers and leaks
The Punch Opinion points to a larger issue that should be discussed; i.e., is the Nigerian military – formed to engage external aggressors – the appropriate organization to fight domestic terrorists? One only needs to read reports of civilian casualties in this war against Boko Haram to recognize that none of us would want the Nigerian military battling local terrorists in our own community; this is because the Nigerian military does not have the local sensitivity and intelligence required to effectively prosecute domestic crimes or terrorism, hence the indiscriminate killing of civilians in this war. If the Nigerian military killed your neighbour or your family member would you also not be against the military?
It is time that we stepped back to think critically: is there another way to fight domestic crimes and terrorism? What about amending our constitution to allow “community policing” (as opposed to “state policing”)? Community police would be composed of the people from the community. The community police is likely to have the support of the community and would obtain better intelligence, with the support of the community, to identify terrorist organization members. The community police would nor kill its citizens indiscriminately as there would be better sensitivity since members of the community that is served socialize together in the church, mosque, market, school, etc., with the members of the community police. When required, the community police would obtain funding and resources from the state or federal government.
If we think far into the future, it is clear that the Nigerian Police or Army can’t effectively fight crime and terrorism in far flung communities across Nigeria. Local/community policing is worth experimenting with to determine if they would be far more effective and, if so, we should then adopt this structure.