The Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) on 18th March, 2014 in Abuja unveilled what it described as Nigeria’s Soft Approach to Countering Terrorism (NACTEST). The NSA, Col. Sambo Dasuki (Retd.), disclosed during the event that the new counter-terrorism strategy was the product of multi-disciplinary collaboration that took cognizance of the root causes of terrorism with a view to applying proactive solutions.
This newspaper hopes that this new “Soft Approach,” which aims at building resilience to violent extremism through the affective strategies of mentoring, counselling, capacity-building and economic rehabilitation of the target population is not going to tone down the military offensive against Boko Haram that has just started yielding significant success?
While we appreciate the need for programmes for stemming the tide of radicalism and countering violent extremism throughout the polity, it is our view that the ongoing insurgency of Boko Haram must first be militarily subdued. This should set the stage, to be followed by the massive educational and economic reconstruction and rehabilitation in the region, and then the soft approach can be applied as a rear guard action to win the peace.
The objectives of the soft curriculum can only be achieved in the long term and should have been roundly institutionalized as a complement of the regular socialization process. It is rather belated for addressing the current challenge of Boko Haram. You do not put your hands on the plough – like starting a military offensive – and then draw back and create a stalemate. The armed forces should be fully supported to intensify the onslaught and to achieve conclusive victory.
Hallmark Newspaper ponders whether it is merely coincidental that about the time that the NSA would unveil his soft approach to terrorism, the Defence Minister of the same hue as the NSA sought to skirt the traditional command chain of the armed forces, by-passing the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to deal directly with his service chiefs and field officers. As was expected, the CDS, Alex Badeh, who hails from a part of the theatre of the insurgency, resisted the attempt to render his position redundant. It is the considered opinion of this newspaper that the authority of the CDS should not be whittled in the prosecution of the war on the Boko Haram insurrection.
Playing the ostrich
Again, why do our leaders choose to play the ostrich and feign ignorance of the roots of the Boko Haram uprising and seem to be leaning on and learning its causes and consequences from foreigners? The discontent of Nigerians in their government stems from the serial failure to keep election promises and its utterly corrupt and unjust governance, which spawns permissiveness, mass unemployment, poverty and despondency on the populace. In the reckoning of the Islamist Boko Haram fundamentalists, the replacement of this irredeemably failed system, which is an invention of the white man, by a purist Islamic state is a divine assignment for which members of the sect are willing to lay down their lives. Hence, the element of defiance has made them seemingly invincible.
Being after the corporate gain of a theocratic state and not after personal gains, it is hard to break their ranks or to ‘settle’ such religious zealots individually or in groups by material means, thus, the limited viability of dialogue, amnesty and the soft approach. You cannot intellectualise this contest without appreciating the psychological context of the fundamentalists in the uprising. It is either you concede them a territory (if not the entire country) or you utterly rout them. That is why the forceful handling of the Matatsine uprising by President Shehu Shagari, has turned out, with the benefit of hindsight, to be more efficient than the lethargic handling of the Boko Haram war by President Goodluck Jonathan, who has allowed consideration for the 2015 general elections to box him into a corner – between the devil and the deep blue sea.
We therefore, fully subscribe to the dogma that the cost of achieving victory in a short period is usually lower than the cost of a prolonged war and that for modern troops to confront such defiant and deviant forces as Boko Haram, they must be highly motivated and well-equipped and must never be outnumbered or out-gunned. In other words, the government must go all out to win the war. The NSA’s proposed soft approach to counter terrorism cannot be a substitute for military campaign at this stage.
Hallmark must also warn that every country has its peculiarities. What is applicable in one place may not necessarily be wholesomely applicable elsewhere. We must, therefore, be the ones to define our situation and not seek its definition from outside. What the 12 governors that went to Washington should ask from the United States is operational and economic assistance and not the definition, genesis or demands of the sect.
However, we agree that bad governance is the root of social instability and that there can be no end to incidents, even after Boko Haram might have been annihilated, until the dawn of people-centred and just governments that can galvanize the economy towards an inclusive economic growth and development for the benefit of every citizen at every station of life. Boko Haram is a poster boy of the failure of our educational system and socialization process with the concomitant mass unemployment and economic disenfranchisement, poverty and ignorance. Religious fundamentalism and political vendetta have only opportunistically filled a vacuum and manifested as Boko Haram and similar groups across the country.