Activities of Islamist terror groups in recent months have shown that the Nigerian authorities still have a lot on their plate as they seek to end 10 years of bloody insurgency that has spawned so much military and civilian carnage in the North-East of the country. Rather than slow down, the onslaughts of Boko Haram and its relatively more deadly sliver, Islamic State in West Africa Province, have witnessed a dramatic escalation and it is mortifying that more than a decade after the then ragtag jihadists launched out with their sanguinary campaign, there is no indication that the rising tide of violence will ebb anytime soon.
Despite claims by the military and government officials that the insurgents have been reasonably contained or “significantly degraded,” the Chief of Naval Staff, Ibok-Ete Ibas, recently gave a candid assessment of the situation, delivering a verdict that leaves Nigerians with no serious reason for optimism. Describing their activities as worrisome, the naval chief lamented that, in just two weeks, “we have had over 27 attacks from Boko Haram and ISWAP in the North-East alone.” This alarming statistic should redefine the approach to the counterinsurgency war.
An incident that has caught global attention and attracted sweeping condemnation has been the claim by ISWAP of executing 11 Christians a day after Christmas. Using a video as a medium of announcing its bestiality, the group first shot one of their victims before proceeding to behead 10 others. A masked man was later shown claiming that the execution was carried out to avenge the death of the Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was killed by the United States Commandos in October.
In what is becoming a frequent occurrence, the Islamists had earlier announced the execution of four aid workers. They were killed after being held in captivity for close to five months. This is an abhorrent crime, especially when it is considered that the people were just aid workers tending to some of the millions of people in need of humanitarian assistance in the three states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. The United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, puts the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance at 7.1 million.
Indeed, for aid workers, soldiers and other civilian population, the last three months have been particularly harrowing. An AFP report in September claimed that a military convoy heading towards Gudumbali in Borno State was ambushed and several soldiers killed by ISWAP members. Reporting the same incident, Reuters claimed that three soldiers died while 27 others were missing. Other news channels, however, put the number of soldiers killed at nine, besides the 27 declared missing.
Their activities have underlined the growing insecurity in the whole of West Africa, a region that is currently locked under the grip of extreme poverty. In one of their deadliest attacks, the Islamist extremists reportedly killed over 70 soldiers in an ambush in Niger, close to its border with Mali. Most times, when they are chased from Nigeria, they easily dissolve through the porous borders and eventually take refuge in Niger, Chad or Cameroun. With the cooperation of forces from the mentioned countries, the terrorists should not be allowed to move about as freely as they do.
Nobody can deny the fact that the military have made and are still making sacrifices to keep the blood-thirsty killers at bay and protect the territorial integrity of Nigeria. The Nigerian Air Force has been bombarding their known stronghold. But this is not a war that should be fought endlessly. After 10 years, this is the time for the military to review their strategies and find a way to end what is turning out to be an interminable war of attrition. A lot of human and material resources that could have been employed in national development are being channelled into the counterinsurgency campaign.
The war, already internationalised, still needs greater global input as have been noticed in Afghanistan and the Middle East. A terror war is fought in collaboration, not by just one country. The Nigerian military, at this juncture, should shift attention more to the use of intelligence and technology than the reliance on brute force. Most of these terrorists live among the people. As such, much could be achieved by using informants among the villagers to pass on information to the military about the activities of the terror groups.
Besides, the military have to start going after the commanders of these groups, which is what the global coalition has been doing in the case of ISIS and al-Qaeda. Doubtlessly, the taking out of al-Baghdadi of ISIS and al-Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden before him has greatly affected the efficacy of the two most visible terror brands; and the feats were made possible by the aid of informants. Aside from the two of them, other top commanders have also been eliminated, most of them have been made possible by the use of intelligence to trace their locations or the use of drones. Nigeria has to change tactics so that this war can end.
Also needed is the involvement of the justice system in the prosecution of the war. Most times, there are reports of the arrest and detention of Boko Haram and ISWAP members, but very little is known about their trial in Nigeria. Instead, there is the talk of de-radicalisation of the terrorists. Some even overstay in detention and are later handed back in swap deals to free captives. This cannot help the fight against terror.
For Nigeria to succeed against the insurgents, all options should be on the table. Efforts should be made to work with Western powers, who have what it takes to fight the war. Those who commit war crimes should be tried and sentenced, while the commanders should be hunted down and eliminated. In Syria and Iraq, special courts have sprung up for the speedy trials of ISIS members. Sources of arms and other supplies should be cut, especially by collaborating with the neighbouring countries through which smuggled weapons from Libya get into the country.