Dismayed by the clandestine deeds of Boko Haram around the Federal Capital Territory and the South-West, the Nigeria Customs Service and a South-West movement have alerted Nigerians to the activities of Islamists aiming to renew their terror campaign. Essentially, the NCS and Gani Adams, the O’odua Peoples Congress leader, warned of terrorist camps in and around the FCT, Kogi, Nasarawa, Ogun and the northern part of Oyo State. This is terrifying news, but it is not a surprise. Cognisant of the havoc Boko Haram has wreaked in the past 11 years in Nigeria, the Federal Government, the concerned states and the security agencies should treat this information with utmost importance.
Adams first put the nation on alert several weeks ago. The OPC leader had warned that ISIS-trained terrorists were camping in the forests of Ogun and Oyo North, which they accessed through Niger and Sokoto states. A credible lead, Kunle Togun, a retired officer of the Directorate of Military Intelligence and chairman of the Oyo State Amotekun Corps, confirmed these claims. Unfortunately, this ominous lead was somehow disdained by the authorities.
Adams followed up with another statement recently, stating categorically that terrorists now occupied Kishi, a town in Oyo North, and the Old Oyo National Park. “The reports range from ceaseless kidnapping, rape and threat to lives of Yoruba people in the Oke Ogun area with Kishi as the present hub of terrorist attacks,” he said. According to him, the OPC arrested four suspected terrorists and kidnappers at the Old Oyo National Park.
The NCS has now raised its own red flag in a region deemed insulated from the Islamist uprising. In an internal memo, the agency cautioned its officers to be alert to avoid falling victim to the jihadists in the line of duty. It stated terrorists had perfected plans to attack selected targets, including worship centres, shopping malls, restaurants and clubs. Instantly, the United States Embassy in Nigeria advised its citizens to be wary of terrorist attacks via a travel advisory.
These warnings should be taken seriously. Nigeria has been on the edge over incessant security breaches by Boko Haram jihadists for 11 years. Although the Islamists were pushed back from Abuja when the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), assumed power in 2015, they have not been significantly degraded. Last January, they signalled their readiness to resume their campaign around Abuja by attacking the convoy of the Emir of Potiskum, Umar Bubaram. Thirty people, including four aides of the emir, died in the audacious ambush in Kaduna with scores kidnapped.
The 2020 Global Terrorism Index showed that global peace deteriorated by 0.34 per cent, the ninth decline in the past 12 years. It put the economic impact of violence at $14.5 trillion or $1,909 per person in 2019. While Azerbaijan, Armenia, Bahrain, South Africa and Honduras (in that order) recorded the largest improvement in peace in the past year, Nigeria’s rating was abysmal. Along with Afghanistan (9,603 points), Iraq (9,241), Nigeria (8,597) and Syria (8,006), were listed as the only four “Very Highly-Terrorised” countries in the world. This is the bitter reality of Islamist terrorism in Nigeria.
The bloody insurgency has destroyed over 100,000 lives (according to former Borno governor, Kashim Shettima) and displaced over two million others. At the height of their campaign, the terrorists stole 276 Chibok schoolgirls in April 2014, seized over 20 local government areas in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states and later another 106 pupils at Dapchi in Yobe. It has taken on Nigeria’s military might without flinching, attacking military formations and seizing war equipment. The terrorists have been radicalising the youth in the North, as seen in the high level of banditry in Katsina, Jigawa, Zamfara, Kebbi and Niger states. Their combination with the Fulani herdsmen has dealt a vicious blow on communities in North-Central Nigeria, and many parts of the South.
Islamist terrorism is dynamic, ever mutating. The jihadists deceive their targets by regularly changing tactics – attacking soft or hard targets with the use of IEDs, kidnapping for ransom and activating sleeper cells for their bloody plots. With attention of the military mainly concentrated on the North-East, it is highly plausible that Boko Haram and its affiliates have regrouped in and around the FCT, as stated by the NCS. Recently, the jihadists’ crusade for a caliphate has morphed into banditry in the North-West. They are reportedly aligning with Fulani herdsmen to torment the farming communities across the country.
Therefore, before the regrouping terrorists are able to gain the upper hand over the Nigerian state, the security agencies should combine to neutralise them. Apart from air power, intelligence gathering and sharing is crucial. In this vital area, Nigeria has been behind. It cannot succeed without this element. Deploying this, the United States traced al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, to Pakistan in 2011 and eliminated him with the aid of intelligence and technology. The US forces also eliminated Qasem Solemaini, an Iranian general in January with intelligence and the drone technology. By targeting the arrowhead of al-Qaeda, the organisation splintered and has not recovered significantly. The Nigerian forces should therefore target Abubakar Shekau, the Boko Haram leader and his henchmen and press home the advantage before his fighters can regroup.
Defeating terrorism demands vigilance of the security forces. Obviously, Boko Haram’s recruitment strategy is well entrenched. The Islamists operate through their sleeper and active cells. Instead of dismissing the reports of Adams and the Customs, the State Security Service and the intelligence arm of the police should infiltrate and dismantle these cells. The military should actively collaborate with the forces of the neighbouring countries and hunt down the bloodthirsty Boko Haram extremists. The Federal Government should seek military assistance and technology from Europe, the US and Israel, all who are experienced in tackling insurgency.
At the sub-national level, Oyo State, where the terrorists are building their cells, and the other states in the South-West, should review the operations of Amotekun to enable it tackle the terrorists. It should be equipped to comb the forests in the region and push out the terrorists hibernating there before they become deadly. In addition, Amotekun should have an intelligence arm that will dig up cogent information for the benefit of the security agencies.