by Omololu Soyombo
Recent events indicate that the Federal Government is gradually losing the initiative in the fight against terrorism. Three of such events are worth discussing here. First is the reprisal in Kaduna following the attacks on churches on Sunday, June 17, 2012. Second is the invitation by the House of Representatives on Tuesday, June 19, 2012 to President Goodluck Jonathan, to brief the House on the security situation in the country. Third, on June 21, the United States announced its decision to label three Boko Haram leaders, namely, Abubakar Shekau; Abubakar Adam Kambar; and Khalid al-Barnawi) as “global/foreign terrorists”.
Following very closely on the three issues identified above, Jonathan on Friday, June 22, 2012 announced the removal of the Minister of Defence, Dr. Bello Haliru Mohammed, and the National Security Adviser, Gen. Owoye Azazi. The NSA was subsequently replaced by Col Mohammed Sambo Dasuki (retd). What the effect of the change of the Minister for Defence and the NSA will have on the state of insecurity has yet to be known. However, it is interesting to note that this action came after the three events listed above. As the Presidential spokesperson remarked, the change of guard by Jonathan was also to demonstrate to the National Assembly that he was doing something about the problem, although one would have wished that the action was taken before the invitation by the House of Representatives.
Now, how do these events relate to the loss of initiative? A major function of a good government is the security of lives and property. According to early philosophers, people gave up part of their rights to a sovereign leader, who in return was to ensure the security of their lives and property. They further argued that a government that cannot guarantee the security of lives and property does not deserve the support of the people. The resort to reprisal as demonstrated in the response by victims in Kaduna State is a demonstration of the frustration/lack of confidence in the capacity of the security agencies and the government to protect the citizens, thus, the resort to self-help. It is an indication of the impatience of the people to wait for the government for their security – thereby seizing the initiative from the government. It is noteworthy in this regard, that there has been increasing endorsement of self-defence, albeit within the ambits of the law, by potential targets of the attacks.
Second, security is an executive function. When the House of Representatives seized the initiative by issuing the invitation to Mr. President, many people heaved a sigh of relief that it was a necessary, long-overdue opportunity to take the Executive up and make it accountable to the people – beyond the repeated assurances from the government in the face of incessant carnage by the Boko Haram sect. Truly, as indicated in the response of the Presidency, the invitation yielded a response!
Third, we may also say that when the US seized the initiative by declaring the Boko Haram leaders as “foreign terrorists”, Jonathan immediately realised the potential implication and responded swiftly by sacking Haliru and Azazi.
Various issues are raised by the decision of the US. Some have asked: What concerns the US in the Boko Haram issue? In other words, how is the US affected by the activities of Boko Haram which have been limited to Nigeria? How is the labelling of the Boko Haram leaders as terrorists likely to affect the activities of the group? Another issue is the involvement of the US in the war against terrorism in Nigeria, coming on the heels of the inability of the government to ensure the security of lives and property of her citizens given the activities of the Boko Haram group. The US government has never hidden its strong resolve to protect its citizens anywhere in the world under any circumstance. The bombing of the United Nations building in Abuja is a direct threat to the lives of citizens. Shootings were also reported recently around the US embassy in Abuja. In recent times, there have been some cases of foreigners being kidnapped or killed across the country. Given the leading role of the US in the global war against terrorism, it is understandable if it considers its citizens to be potential targets of terrorist attacks anywhere in the world, including Nigeria. It has also demonstrated this through the issuance of travel warnings to its citizens, despite protests from Nigeria. As it argued, it has a responsibility to protect the lives of its citizens.
What are the possible implications of the listing of the Boko Haram leaders as terrorists? We may think of many possibilities. One, the listed leaders are definitely not welcome in the US and would be arrested immediately if they show up anywhere there. They can also be arrested if they are seen in any other cooperating countries. Their assets and property interests subject to US jurisdiction would be frozen/blocked. The collaborators/sponsors and people who protect or offer refuge/safe haven to the listed people would also be treated as enemies and may be potential targets of attack/arrest in line with the US avowed policy on terrorism. Also, in this regard, it could take pre-emptive actions against “foreign terrorists”, including cross-border targeted strikes against identified terrorists. It has done this before when it entered Pakistan and killed Osama bin Laden before the Pakistani security agencies knew what was happening. It also went into Panama to capture/arrest President Manuel Noriega. If Nigeria does not take necessary action, it is reasonable to believe that the US or other interested countries could, without warning, launch pre-emptive strikes against identified terrorist targets.
It is surprising that all along, the Federal Government has always said Boko Haram is a faceless group, and that the leaders are not known. It is for this reason that the government said it was incapacitated in discussing with the sect because it did not know who to talk with. This, on its own, points to both a lack of political will to take any decisive action in dealing with the matter and at the same time, an embarrassing lack of intelligence capacity – more so as the group continues to wreak havoc, speak and issue threat warnings to citizens and the media and oftentimes counter the orders of the Federal Government. If the intelligence agencies in Nigeria are incapable of identifying the leaders of the group and another sovereign country has helped to unmask them, they would be best advised to seize the opportunity by going after them, rather than waiting for a foreign nation to do it. The only snag is that the US may not be willing to release necessary information unless they are sure that the nation they are giving the information to is a serious one that would put the information to concrete use in a responsible way, rather than making unnecessary noise to enable the suspects escape arrest.
In order for the government to regain the initiative, it needs to take concrete steps that would yield concrete results. One possible action is to honestly enlist the support of socio-political and religious leaders for meaningful dialogue to restore peace and security to the country. In this regard, the government must demonstrate seriousness of purpose and commitment to the implementation of agreements reached to address whatever their grievances may be. The group would also be best advised to eschew violence, and embrace dialogue and peace, rather than shedding innocent blood.
Also, the government must demonstrate the capacity and political will to deal with the situation, for instance, by arresting, prosecuting and appropriately punishing the people causing the carnage, as well as the masterminds/sponsors of their action. In the typical US approach, the Federal Government of Nigeria should also treat anybody associated with them by sponsoring or protecting/providing safe haven for them as an enemy of the state.
The security agencies should also take concrete steps to stop the unnecessary carnage by stepping up intelligence activities to pre-empt and prevent the carnage, rather than always responding after the havoc has been done. The leadership of the agencies should also be held accountable for lapses or shortcomings in the anti-terrorism campaign.
This is the time for action. We should move beyond rhetoric. Otherwise the assurances by the government (which are now trite) about its capacity to deal with the situation would cease to have any meaning for the people.
*Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija. This piece was originally printed in Punch