Editorial: Boko Haram as Metaphor for Failed Leadership
The recent attack, in which over 400 suspected Boko Haram gunmen unleashed mayhem in the Borno State capital, Maiduguri, once again highlights not just the magnitude of the security challenge facing the nation, but also the octopoidal dimension of a transmogrified insurgency that has reduced the northern part of the country into a killing field and exposed the leadership ineptitude at the highest level. Insecurity in the country is rooted in the failure of intelligence, the state and leadership at all levels. Nigerians do not deserve this hellish life and needless saying, the nation has reached saturation point in the groundswell of violent terrorist attacks. President Goodluck Jonathan must wake up to his primary responsibilities and restore order, security and peace at whatever cost. Citizens must be reassured of safety in their country. Nigeria must not be allowed to descend into anarchy and chaos.
In defiance of the state of emergency and efforts of the Joint Task Force (JTF), the gunmen attacked the 204 Nigerian Air Force (NAF) base, used by the 7 Division of the Nigerian Army in fighting terrorism in the state; killing several military personnel and residents in the area. They also attacked the 777 Housing Estate police out-post; the trailer park under construction; Maiduguri International Airport, several petrol and police stations and houses, including four NAF quarters in Gomari ward located south of the base. The attack made authorities to shut down Maiduguri international airport and all roads leading to the town; and slammed a 24 hour curfew on Maiduguri. In effect, the gunmen took on Nigeria's military might, in a clearly designated military facility, literally challenging the nation's national security, and thereby advertising their brazenness to an already traumatized civilian population. This is an affront on the government and the people of Nigeria that is inexcusable. How could this have happened? And to think that no one has been held responsible for this unacceptable breach of national security is even more confounding. Mr. President, stand up to Boko Haram or stand down!
It is indeed unfortunate that, the official reaction to the latest attack has been the same refrain of lament and vacuous aspiration that the terrorists would soon be apprehended; plus empty assurances that, security agencies were doing everything possible to maintain lives and property of the citizens. The Nigeria military and security agencies certainly should fight to retrieve their credibility; otherwise the standing view is that they are overwhelmed by the magnitude of security challenges befalling them; and as soon as the narration of this horror fades away, the siege on the citizens will continue in its full dastardliness. Security agencies' action having proven disastrously inadequate, the government had in May, declared a state of emergency in the three northern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe. The expectation was that a change of tactic, a strong military presence, and firmer action would bring peace to the region. Alas, the terrorists have responded with a change of tactics too. And the authorities seem to have run out of ideas on how to handle the insurgency.
The latitude the terrorists now have reiterates the hapless state of insecurity in the country. Today, all over Nigeria, the sense of fear is palpable: insecurity is so prevalent that all citizens are helpless. Hardly, a week passes without reports of citizens killed. The overall impression is that the terrorists appear to be more proactive with the repeated consequence that security forces arrive after the damage is done. This is not good enough: a band of insurgents cannot be allowed to outsmart and dictate the pace of action in its confrontation with the security apparatus of the Nigerian State.
It is perhaps trite to say that never in the history of Nigeria have there been acts more shocking in violence and cruelty than the carnage that Boko Haram continues to perpetrate. It is, therefore, appropriate to say that never has there been a greater need for the Nigerian government to re-assert its control over the territory called Nigeria and assure all citizens of safety in their country. It is worth noting that the Borno attack came in the wake of the presentation of the report by the Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenge in the North. Although the government is yet to issue a formal statement on the report, the fact that the Boko Haram leadership did not participate in the exercise, says a lot about its ultimate capacity, or lack of it, to end the insurgency. The President (who received the report) and his administration should admit that resolving the insurgency still needs more proactive effort from government. Without Boko Haram as the key stakeholder involved, the committee's report can hardly meet its charge.
It is instructive that the Boko Haram strategy has increasingly emphasized the expressed desire and avowed goal of the sect: to stop the acquisition of western education that it considers a sin. This must not stand; their misguided acts of criminality notwithstanding. The Nigerian government may have allowed the Boko Haram menace to fester for too long with the result that the sect has now moved to a new stage of what may be a long-drawn guerrilla tactics in its war against the Nigerian State. Obviously, this is not the kind of war that conventional soldiers are familiar with. Therefore, a new strategy is required to confront it.
Given that this is not a conventional war, further questions are worth asking: Is the JTF sufficiently equipped - men, material, and skill - to meet the challenge posed by religious fanatics who seem to have access to continuous supplies of weapons and funding from whatever sources? What is the degree of coordination among the security services and vigilante groups? Are the nation's security men sufficiently motivated to fight this terror scourge? Are there ill-motivated fifth columnists within the security system compromising the intelligence strategy of the JTF? These are just some of the issues that need to be urgently considered by the relevant authorities.
Whether government admits it or not, what the insurgency has been advertising is weak presidential leadership and the failure of government to meet its constitutional obligations to its citizens. From the style of operation, it is clear that the insurgents receive training, funding, and other forms of support from external state and non-state sources. Even as government exerts military pressure on the sect, it bears repeating that dialogue should remain on the table if and when the insurgents are willing to talk on realistic terms. It is wishful thinking that an insurgency, especially one motivated by religious belief, can be put down quickly and by military action.
Ultimately, grievances are resolved at the discussion table. But because a part is never greater than the whole, the state must, as a rule, maintain integrated authority and power to negotiate from a position of strength. This requires, as a matter of course, strong leadership from a Commander-in-Chief who provides the wherewithal, sets the targets for, and demands result from his security forces. That is the only way to put an end to this recurring security embarrassment that is shaming Nigeria.