Recovering lost territory from terrorists – Punch

The bad news coming out of North-Eastern Nigeria reveals the telltale signs of a failing state. The seizure of, and imposition of authority on, large swathes of territory by Boko Haram terrorists, is indeed alarming. Most Nigerians and our global partners are dismayed that despite international attention on its woeful handling of the insurgency, the Federal Government and its security forces continue to dither while terrorists rampage with impunity.

The impunity has been very much in evidence in the last few months. From audacious attacks on military formations and detention centres, Boko Haram riveted global attention in April when it captured 276 teenage schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno State, and walked off calmly with them. The unprecedented global spotlight provoked by that incident and offers of assistance by world leaders were expected to galvanise the government’s hitherto tepid reaction that saw it doing nothing three whole weeks after.

But over two months after the capture of the maidens, terrorists not only continue to strike at will, but have also started seizing villages and hamlets in remote settlements across a wide territory. Every day, the government and military, despite much bravado, appear clay-footed while terrorists spread mayhem, arson and death. In Gwoza Local Government Area, about 350 terrorists, riding in four-wheeled vehicles and motorcycles, were reported to have attacked six border villages – Attagara, Amuda, Agapalawa, Ashgashiya, Ngoshe and Chkedah – in an orgy of killing, arson and looting that left nine persons dead, many injured and the villages in smouldering ruins. The attack was in revenge for the way the villagers had repelled a similar attack a week earlier, in which the terrorists razed three villages, killed scores of people, but lost about 37 fighters when the villagers counter-attacked.

Reports by fleeing residents, local leaders as well as foreign and local media, detail how terrorists have been seizing villages unchallenged, with army units retreating while government officials flee. One account suggests that up to 100 villages, hamlets and settlements are now under the Islamists’ control.

The march of the terrorists has triggered alarm bells around the world for it fits perfectly into the established modus operandi of international terrorism. According to the International Crisis Group, a Belgium-based non-governmental organisation, Islamists of the salafist persuasion always seek to take over all or part of a territory as a stronghold from which to train, equip and send out jihadists in their quest for a global caliphate. This strategy played itself out in Afghanistan under Taliban rule from where the September 11, 2001 outrage and numerous terrorist attacks were planned by jihadists granted refuge by the fanatics. It has been playing out in Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Mali and Pakistan. All five countries are either failed or failing states. Last week, a rejuvenated terrorist group, ISIS, taking advantage of a government that, like Nigeria’s, is corrupt, its politics factionalised and its military infiltrated, seized Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and eight other towns and is threatening Baghdad, the capital.

Nigeria is in grave danger unless the government and the security forces rise up to the challenge. There should be urgent action to recover our lost territory. The military need to change their current, ineffectual strategy and fortify the border areas with adequate troops and equipment. The capacity of the Nigerian state to control all its territory has been degraded. In its Worldwide Threat Assessment 2014 report, the United States Intelligence Community warned that unless the Nigerian government overcame its inertia, corruption and inept approach, terrorism would continue to make gains and weaken the state from within.

President Goodluck Jonathan and the military are losing the fight against terrorism and need to change tactics very fast or Nigeria could implode under their watch. The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project of the University of Sussex, England, reported that civilian casualties of Boko Haram actually tripled in the first 12 months after a state of emergency was declared in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states in May last year, reflecting the flat-footedness of the military.

Jonathan should drop his self-defeating tendency of viewing terrorism solely as an opposition project. He has the responsibility and the necessary constitutional powers to mobilise all the resources of the state to defeat Boko Haram if he can think outside the box. As Ledum Mitee, the veteran Niger Delta activist, told the British Broadcasting Corporation, “People around the President, his closest allies, tell him Boko Haram is manufactured by northerners” and this, he believes, explains the President’s lame response, including denying the terrorist outrage. But a president has all the constitutional wherewithal to deal with terror and its sponsors. Jonathan and the security forces have failed to make serious efforts to unmask Boko Haram’s financiers and collaborators.

There has also been a signal failure to smoke out the collaborators and traitors within the security agencies. Jonathan, the ruling party and major opposition parties are playing with Nigeria’s survival by politicising terrorism. Our political class has been largely irresponsible in their response. From those who perversely see the Presidency as their birthright and opportunists who want power at all costs, to the ruling party whose members shamelessly gorge themselves on the national wealth and run the country with uncommon ineptitude, levity is much in evidence. Terrorism transcends partisanship and our politicians ought to know this.

To avoid a calamitous outcome and humanitarian catastrophe, Jonathan needs a hands-on approach and a fierce determination to preserve the Nigerian state. He should stop his foreign junkets and demand results from the security agencies, some of whose bosses have proved to be dismally incompetent. Such non-performers need to be sent packing to make room for new managers with fresh ideas.

Our war against terror is failing because it is not intelligence-led; corruption has seeped into the military itself and National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, as the coordinator of the nation’s security, is not up to the task. He should shape up or ship out. Nigeria’s corporate survival should not be compromised to satisfy vested interests through appointment of inept persons to strategic offices. We no longer have the luxury of time.

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