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‘BRING BACK OUR GIRLS’: SWAP TERRORISTS FOR HARMLESS MINORS?

While global condemnations and protests have assailed the criminal adoption of over 200 teenage girls by Boko Haram, the sect is leaving no one in doubt that it is a bunch of “mindless extremists”. With an outcry that transcends every conceivable divide: religious, ethnic, political, geographical, you name it, many expected the insurgents to prove their humanity and alluded religiosity by unconditionally freeing their teenage hostages. Rather, the sect has simply reshuffled tactics by heightening suicide bombing – maiming and killing defenceless civilians in a renewed onslaught. By the last count, and within a space of four months, Boko Haram has detonated about eight bombs – two apiece at Kano, Nyanya, Jos, Kano and Kaduna respectively with heavy death tolls in their wake besides massacres with small arms and light weapons.

The relentless and heartless massacres by the sect should caution all proponents of releasing detained unrepentant terrorists in exchange for harmless teenage girls. Their argument of “nothing too great to concede to save the teenagers” is falling flat on its face because the insurgents have proven to place no premium on any life: young or old, educated or illiterate, pious or vile. As much as the lives of the teenagers we are trying to rescue are precious, the souls that the sect is sending daily to the grave are no less precious. Therefore, releasing detained terrorists in desperation outside a comprehensive peace deal and with no assurances of public safety could only tantamount to official approval for further maiming, massacres and kidnappings.

It must be admitted, Boko Haram's post-kidnapping rage is characteristic of its style – defiance of public opinion and disdainful betrayal of its most ardent sympathizers. The insurgents' knack for carrying on like an island on its own smacks of the anti-social elements that they are. Down memory lane, it was just when the Nigerian government was reluctantly bowing to pressures for amnesty last year that the sect irrationally stepped up its nefarious activities and deliberately scuttled that proposition. It even audaciously denied any wrong doing deserving of amnesty. And this time, with a now intermittent controversial debate on captives exchange to avert a military option ominous of collateral consequences, the sect is as usual contradicting proponents of captives exchange by stepping up its murderous activities.

Without doubt, the sect has always held a false sense of a superior firepower over an army that has driven and restricted its activities to largely one out of nineteen states in northern Nigeria. Therefore, until that bloated ego of superior firepower is substantially deflated, it is naivety for anyone to expect the sect to agree to either captives exchange or peaceful resolution of the insurgency. That is what foreign military assistance should facilitate, and it is only when the sect and its captives are encircled either virtually or physically that hope of a negotiated hostage release would become relevant and bright. Until the insurgents are convinced that harm to their captives jeopardizes their own safety and that of their comrades in detention, they will not play ball.

Besides, any desperation for peace or armistice with unrepentant insurgents could consume Nigeria as a whole. Perhaps, that is why in a similar situation in 2004, Russia not only discountenanced pressures to negotiate with terrorists but wondered why no one was similarly extending the olive branch to Bin Laden. Needless to recall that Russia took the fight to the terrorists and freed kindergartens taken hostage in their own school. Similarly, not deterred by nine forlorn years of trials, the US eventfully avenged the 9/11 massacre. Therefore, Nigeria should avoid panic measures and allow the world powers she has invited guide the rescue process. Or can the advocates of terrorists swap for harmless hostages prove they are keener on life or more humane than the rest of the civilized world?

Meanwhile, what has become obvious is that the sect is executing a new strategy. While it has tactically slowed down counterinsurgency efforts by holding onto hundreds of teenage hostages as human shields, it is maximizing its comparative advantage in suicide bombing. The reasons for that are twofold; on the short-run, to confuse on whether to focus on hostage rescue or halting their bombing sorties. The second, and long-term goal is the blind pursuit of global terrorism's hope of using transferred aggression – attacking soft targets to coerce governments to cave in and do their bidding. For that reason, security experts agree that for the foreseeable future, terrorists would continue to focus more on soft civilian targets rather than difficult-to-attack military targets.

By implication, we must all prepare for a long haul through concerted efforts aimed at ensuring terrorist attempts end in failure like the largely unsuccessful attack on a football viewing centre in Jos during the world cup tourney. To that end, the Nigerian government must continue to take the lead. And that is why the acceptance of foreign military expertise is welcome considering the many failed past attempts to resolve the Boko Haram insurgency through internal efforts. Also, as much as diplomacy should have continued to complement military action, it is yet to successfully resolve religious insurgency anywhere in the world. And that should not surprise anyone because local religious insurgencies take instructions or draw inspirations from central commands outside the shores of their native countries.

That might explain why Abubakar Shekau has not been prepared to discuss peace. It is highly doubtful if he has any stake in this country. After all, after Borno State denied his nativity, no state in Nigeria has owned him. And with his nationality and that of many members of the sect doubtful, what we have in our hands could actually be an external aggression and not an insurgency. While it should be treated as such, efforts should be made to re-orientate repentant Nigerian members of the sect and, those who remain obstinate handled the same way the U.S. and other countries including Egypt treat their nationals who are sworn terrorists.

In fact, it is on record that President George W. Bush Jr. had to be given special powers on 18th September, 2001 to fight terrorism without recourse to the judiciary. So, in the Nigerian situation, the desirability of such powers for the President should be explored if partial emergency rule in northeastern Nigeria again fails to bring the Boko Haram insurgency to an end. That would foreclose jailbreaks by hardened terrorists or arguments about exchanging harmless captives for unrepentant enemies of the state.

On the path of the populace, complementing government efforts at stemming the present wave of Boko Haram's bomb attacks, requires that individuals and organizations alike put relevant security measures in place. After all, internal or individual security measures should normally form the last layer of every nation's security architecture as limitations in personnel and other resources dictate how far any government can go protecting both human and material assets. Therefore, putting legitimate self-defence measures in place would reduce the size of targets of opportunity where most potential crime victims can effectively hold out against criminals until help arrives.

While it must be admitted that our present architectural structures and social habits predated present day security threats, efforts should be made to constantly upgrade internal or individual security measures as threats evolve. At all times, there should be effective access control over pedestrian and vehicular traffics. And where perimeter fences, transit points, critical infrastructure and buildings housing people cannot be given a minimum stand-off distance of 100 – 300 feet from drive-by vehicles/illegally parked vehicles, such areas should enjoy more guard patrols and electronic surveillance for quick reaction to suspicious activities. All security measures should similarly incorporate evacuation plans just in case that becomes inevitable.

Also, the modus operandi of terrorists must be borne in mind at all times. According to experts that include Straftor, it is characteristic of terrorist organizations to first engage in surveillance on their potential targets. For instance, they use surveillance on fixed targets like buildings to ascertain the physical security measures in place as well as routines of any guard force where employed. Specifically, terrorists would survey fences, gates, locks and alarms as well as times when fewer guards are present or when the guards do exchange duties. All that intelligence would then be used to decide the type of attack, the best time, location and requisite resources.

Therefore, individuals, organizations and facilities should detect unwarranted interest in their premises, especially where there are large groups of people that could generate maximum media attention globally when attacked. The goal of terrorists is always to create vicarious victims as well as negative economic impact against the targeted government. Obviously, that is why public places like transit points, market places and worship centres have been Boko Haram's targets. And needless to warn that people organizing funerals and wedding celebrations should equally be alert at all times.

Even in countries that employ draconian security measures, citizens and residents are better positioned than law enforcement agencies to notice suspicious activities in their environments. That is why individual situational awareness is a key building block for effective personal security as well as national security when dutifully practiced by many. The pivot of situational awareness lies in allowing people to notice potential threats before and as they unfold. Therefore, situational awareness should not be a responsibility for only highly trained security agents but a civic duty of everyone resident in a country. By implication, everyone within the borders of Nigeria should on the one hand be a national security asset and on the other, a security operative.

Fortunately, criminals planning attacks are vulnerable to detection during various phases of their planning and potential targets can often notice build-ups to most attacks. Unlike the more difficult to spot governmental professional surveillance teams, most criminal surveillance is conducted by one person or a small group; it means they have to show their faces more frequently and therefore, more vulnerable to detection. That should enable targets or observers to take proactive measures to save themselves as well as alert the authorities to suspicious activities.

And once there are reasons to believe someone is doing surveillance on your premises, call law enforcement agents immediately. Even if the person(s) is leaving, law enforcement agents should still be notified with details of approximate height, clothing, licence plate number/type of car (if any) of the suspicious individual and any unusual characteristics that could make the suspect(s) easy to identify. After all that, pictures could be taken of the suspect(s) only if doing that is safe. If your premises has video cameras that are actively monitored, ensure that the technicians film the incident appropriately.

Let me close with more emphasis on the imperative of individual situational awareness as I quote Gen. Andrew O. Azazi of blessed memory “...That increases the need for public awareness and public safety… I always like to give an example of Israel. They look around their houses, their cars. Are there strange people? Gradually we must teach people that those are the things they must expect but we must also act in such a manner that it doesn't seem like we are under siege. …People will know that there is a need for them to protect themselves. Those are critical issues…” This quote from a security professional of Gen. Azazi's statue underscores individual security awareness as the cornerstone of national security.

Equally instructive is the choice of Israel as an example of where national security is a collective effort because as most people would agree, that nation is making its mark in the world despite daunting security challenges. The U.S. is one other country that is similarly thriving because her citizens are highly security aware. In fact, it is patriotic citizens and not any special forces that averted a monumental calamity in 2001 when terrorists were wrestled down from the sky and so, saved the chief occupant of the White House. That is why, amongst other efforts for a safer society, the Nigerian government should raise the citizenry's level of security awareness via the mass media in lieu of any mandatory national military service foundational to individual security awareness. Doing that would definitely go a long way in plugging the kind of observable security lapses by the school authorities in the present unfortunate hostage saga.

Mr. John Uwaya lives in Lagos and wrote via [email protected]


Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of John Uwaya and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."
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