Calls on the government to secure greater foreign assistance to crush terrorism have peaked as insurgents continue to slaughter and kidnap Nigerians and vandalise communities. A Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, adding his cerebral voice to those of security experts, governors and traumatised victims, said Nigeria’s situation had become desperate and required robust external assistance. The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), must face the cold reality that no country on its own can defeat terrorism and urgently seek a massive scale up of foreign technical, financial and military support.
The complexity of jihadist terrorism, especially since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, has shaped a global response based on multilateral cooperation. The International Security journal said global reactions “show that neither isolationism nor unilateralism will suffice in the fight against terrorism.” The European Union member-nations base their strategy on counter-terrorism on the principle that, “International cooperation is the only way to effectively tackle a threat that cannot be dealt with on an exclusively national basis.” Countries afflicted by terrorism take this to heart and act accordingly.
Though it receives training and limited intelligence support from some countries, Nigeria has not pulled in the full-blown multinational coalition deploying troops, materiel and intelligence required to defeat the scale of terrorism ravaging the country. The suggestion by Babagana Zulum, governor of the embattled Borno State, that the government should re-hire mercenaries has gained support.
Soyinka put it bluntly: “Let them (government) get away from the issue of sovereignty. If they have to pay people to come and help us, then call them whatever you want. Please go ahead because we’ve reached that stage of desperation.”
The anguish is horrendous: the country, for the fourth year, is the third most terrorised in the Global Terrorism Index 2020. Boko Haram/ISWAP, Fulani militants and bandits are among the world’s five most deadly terror groups. Warnings by experts and the US military’s Africa Command that the three had forged an alliance have been confirmed in publicised confessions by captured bandits. Terrorists have spread beyond the North-East to parts of the North-West and the North-Central. And the body count is mounting: massacres of civilians and security personnel, mass kidnappings, random burning and pillaging of towns and villages have crippled farming and transportation. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre ranked Nigeria as having the seventh highest number of IDPs. Famine threatens many states and food scarcity has triggered higher inflation.
About 173 soldiers and 39 police officers were killed between April and June 2020, said SBM Intelligence. Bandits and kidnappers operate with impunity on the highways. Capturing girls and boys on an industrial scale distinguishes Nigeria’s home-grown terror groups. With COVID-19 ravaging the economy, by drawing scarce resources away and derailing productive activities, terrorism further incapacitates the ability of the country to climb out of its second recession in five years.
Adaptable, fearless and tapping into local sympathy, the terrorists are formidable. As the government admits, jihadists are converging in Nigeria and the Sahel from around the world with expertise, fighters, funds and weapons, transforming Boko Haram and its spin-offs from a crude rabble into a deadly guerrilla army.
Defeating this force, as experience in Iraq, Syria, Mali, Somalia and elsewhere has shown, requires extensive resources. The Brookings Institution’s prediction shortly after 9/11 that the war on terror would “be nasty, brutish and long” requiring a global coalition has proved prescient. NATO’s five-pronged intervention strategy is to provide military assistance, impede the flow of foreign fighters, block the terrorists’ funding, address the humanitarian fallout and expose the true nature of the salafist ideology. Truly, Nigeria signed on to the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force; Multinational Joint Task Force that involves it, Benin Republic, Chad, Cameroon and Niger Republic. Money has come from some partners and a $600 million deal ratified with the US in 2018 to purchase 12 Super Tucano fighter jets. There are reportedly small contingents of foreign military advisers training some Nigerian troops.
More is however required. Buhari and the service chiefs should drop their misplaced resistance to accepting foreign troops and military contractors on the worn-out excuse of protecting “national security.” It is totally outdated. Nigeria should actively seek experienced military contingents from friendly powers and contractors, technology and intelligence assets to destroy Boko Haram. Air superiority, drone arsenal and coordinated attacks with neighbouring countries and embedded foreign advisers are crucial.
Mali relies on external assistance to fight terrorism. The UK recently approved 300 troops to join 14,000 soldiers from 56 countries stationed in Mali; when a terrorist army overran most of the country’s north in 2012, it was French troops that recovered captured territory. Under its Operation Barkhane, France has 5,100 troops in the Sahel region. The US, France, Canada, Germany and Italy have troops in Niger Republic. The Institute of Security Studies estimates that 2,000 US commandos are assisting with counter-terrorism operations in 13 African countries.
The short-lived Islamic State in Iraq and Syria episode demonstrated the inevitability of external intervention: the brutal terror group was defeated not by one, but by several shifting multinational coalitions that provided the intelligence, decisive airpower and resources that neither country could muster. At an early September 2014 meeting with its NATO counterparts, the US put forward five mutually reinforcing lines of effort to degrade and defeat ISIS. These lines of effort are providing military support to its partners; impeding the flow of foreign fighters; stopping financing and funding; addressing humanitarian crises in the region; and exposing the true nature of ISIS. Boko Haram terrorism demands a similar action plan.
Once a disreputable activity, the world’s most powerful militaries now hire Private Military Contractors (formerly mercenaries), well-organised companies of well-trained private soldiers. About 30 per cent of the US intelligence community are PMCs; they are active in Afghanistan and Iraq. Operating in about 50 countries, Russia, the UAE, Kurdistan, Saudi Arabia and Ukraine are among other countries cited by the National Defence University Press as hiring PMCs. South African contractors were in 2015 pivotal in dislodging Boko Haram in a few weeks, a feat the Nigerian Army could not achieve in six years. The PMCs should be part of the new strategy.
Buhari should seek the required help today and end the 11-year-old terrorism nightmare.