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The Changing Face Of Terrorism In Nigeria

By Usha Anenga
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"A stitch in time, saves nine" is a phrase which means, a little effort expended sooner to fix a small problem prevents it from becoming a larger problem requiring more time and effort to fix later.

Terrorism is the unlawful indiscriminate use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political, religious or ideological aims. The first use of the word was in the 18th century, precisely during the French Revolution when intimidation and violence, including mass executions of innocent citizens, were employed by the state to compel obedience and loyalty. A century later, terrorism began to be associated with non-governmental groups.

Since then, this activity has proliferated to involve increasing number of groups and attacks that have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives; the biggest being those of September 11, 2001 carried out by Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda in the United States of America. In that attack, four passenger airlines were hijacked and deliberately crashed into the World Trade Centre in New York resulting in the death of about 3,000 people and over 6,000 injured.

Terrorism remained an unknown concept in Africa until in 1973 when an American and Belgian envoy were assassinated in Sudan. Thereafter, it was confined to countries such as Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia and those along the East African coast, until much later when it found entry into West Africa, with Nigeria leading the fray.

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact origin of terrorism in Nigeria. The country has been plagued by several incidents of civil unrest and ethno-religious crisis since gaining independence from colonial rule, however the killing of Mr Dele Giwa, by a letter bomb in 1986 is regarded as the beginning of terrorism. Since then, there has been isolated cases of terror across the country at different times in various magnitudes.

In the South where there has been perennial tension between foreign oil corporations and a number of minority ethnic groups, armed militant groups emerged in 2003 who engaged in violent destruction of oil infrastructure, bunkering, kidnapping and killing of expatriates.

In the East, agitations for a separate state of Biafra which began in the 1960s have resurfaced from time to time under the championship of different groups which the Nigerian government doesn't hesitate to label as terrorists.

In the northern part of the country, there has been several incidents of sectarian violence from time immemorial, more recently in Jos and series of bombings and killings in Maiduguri, however a car bomb explosion in August 2011 in a UN building in Abuja, marked the terrorist incident after which an organised group, Boko Haram, would claimed responsibility.

The group's name which translates in English as "Western education is forbidden" was founded as a religious study group in 2002 by an Islamic extremist, Mohammed Yusuf. After his arrest and execution in 2009, the group grew to become the world’s deadliest terrorist group, claiming over 100,000 lives and displacing about 2.3 million people internally and externally to neighboring countries.

These developments have made terrorism currently Nigeria’s greatest security challenge forcing the country to launch counter-terrorism interventions. The efforts which began first with armed militants in the Niger-Delta have yielded significant progress. Late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua granted amnesty and an unconditional pardon to militants who would surrender themselves and their weapons, and embrace a change of livelihood. Over 30,000 armed youths enrolled for the programme which led to a significant reduction in terror activities in this area. Now, even as the programme has been terminated by the present administration due to alleged corruption and paucity of funds, the country continues to count it's gains. A military operation tagged "Operation Crocodile Smile" has been launched against militants who have returned to the creeks while efforts are being made to sustain development in the region.

In the South-East, the quest for secession led to the Nigerian civil war between 1967 to 1970 wherein over 3 million deaths were recorded. The latest debate and movement in favour of awakening the thought of secession has been smashed by another military operation, Python Dance, with the championing organisation proscribed.

The country has also make inroads into quelling the crisis orchestrated by Boko Haram in the North-East. Although efforts were slow initially which culminated in the loss of 7500 lives in 2014, the highest casualty figure worldwide that year, significant advancements have been made especially during the President Muhammadu Buhari administration. Improvements in strategy, arms/ammunition, soldiers'welfare packages, and collaborative efforts with armed forces from neighboring countries have seen Boko Haram decimated into factions, only capable of isolated guerilla attacks of soft targets.

From the disastrous heights of 2014, Nigeria has recorded its second consecutive year of reductions in deaths attributed to terrorism with an 80 per cent drop, the biggest decrease recorded by any country in the world. This is according to the 2017 Global Terrorism Index (GTI) report released about a week ago. It reads, "Boko Haram killed over 12,000 people in Nigeria through terrorist attacks committed between 2013 and 2015. However it was responsible for only 762 deaths in 2016; which is a decline of 81 per cent from the previous year."

Despite this decline, Nigeria still ranks third amongst the counties worst hit by terrorism worldwide and this is down to perhaps a shocking revelation that is probably being underrated and overlooked by many, including Nigerian government. The GTI which is a comprehensive study analysing the impact of terrorism for 163 countries, covering 99.7 per cent of the world’s population and underlining the key global trends and patterns in terrorism in the last 17 years have identified a new and emerging face of terrorism in Nigeria. According to the report, even with the decline in attacks by Boko Haram, Nigeria will likely continue to face terrorism as 13 separate groups undertook attacks in 2016, top amongst which are Fulani herdsmen extremists who have been involved in violence across the country especially in the North-Central states. It reveals that Fulani extremists killed over 2,500 people in Nigeria countries between 2012 and 2016, and undertook more attacks and were responsible for more deaths than Boko Haram in 2016.

These notwithstanding, the Nigerian government has continued to put up a lackadaisical attitude towards addressing the issue of rampaging Fulani herdsmen across the country. The government has consistently ruled out the use of military might to subdue their attacking force. The Minister of Interior, Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau, retd, while answering questions on a Channels Television programme last Sunday said deployment of the military to combat the Fulani herdsmen menace was not an option because, the situation has not overwhelmed the police yet. According to him, “This is a non-military issue that borders on law and order. It is not every security issue that you call in the military. It is the responsibility of the police to maintain peace... The police are equal to the task. If you have to deploy the army, then you are going above board."

It's surprising how the government adjudges the deployment of the army against a group that carried out more attacks and killed more people than one of the deadliest terrorist organizations in the world as going overboard. It is however consistent with the government's history of "fire brigade" approach to pertinent issues of national interest.

Long before terrorism found its roots in Africa, when it was still a budding experiment in the middle-east, it was said that erstwhile Al-Qaeda co-founder and renowed terrorist, Osama Bin Laden envisioned and identified Nigeria as the future of world terrorism. This however fell on deaf ears as the leaders of the country were unconcerned. Likewise, issues have consistently been raised concerning the indiscriminate movement of herdsmen and cattle across the country and the havoc they wreck on farmlands to no avail. Recently, Fulani militants ranked behind Boko Haram as the fourth deadliest militant group in the world after claiming 1229 lives in 2014, today they are more deadly than Boko Haram. Tomorrow will definitely be worse if nothing tangible is done to solve this problem immediately.

In conclusion, as concerted efforts have yielded fruit in the fight against Boko Haram and militants in the Niger-Delta, it behooves of the Nigerian government to learn lessons from past mistakes and apply due diligence and attention towards fighting this new face of terrorism in the country, Fulani herdsmen extremists, before they becomes overwhelmingly monstrous and insurmountable. Like they say, "a stitch in time saves nine".

Usha Anenga is a Medical Doctor and sociopolitical commentator. He writes from Makurdi, Benue State.