No one wants to say the 'T' word -By Stephen Davis

Listen to article

No one wants to say the "T" word. "Terrorism" is a frightening word for a nation. It has a range of economic, political and financial implications that could seriously wound a nation's international standing. The question is whether the "T" word is appropriate for the events that Nigeria is experiencing and more importantly, how did this suddenly happen?

On June 16, 2011 the bombing of the police headquarters in Abuja narrowly missed killing the Inspector General of Police who only days earlier had publicly pronounced the eradication of Boko Haram. In provocative public statements, the Inspector-General of Police said Boko Haram's days were numbered. (The Chief of Army Staff would come to call the Boko Haram "cowards".) Boko Haram quickly responded to the taunt by targeting the nation's police headquarters in Abuja and subsequently claiming responsibility for the bombing.

Boko Haram has been prominent in the national media for the last two years. A dramatic escalation in the actions of Boko Haram came in reaction to the extra-judicial killing of their leader, Mohammed Yusuf, and his father-in-law, Baa Fugu Mohammed, in Maiduguri on July 30, 2009.

Nigeria has reacted with surprise at the seeming explosion of Boko Haram onto the national scene propelling Nigeria into a state of heightened national security alert. Various media have accused the Jonathan Administration of a catastrophic security failure. The truth is the Federal Government was warned about Boko Haram on several occasions from as far back as 2005.

Jonathan inherited a dysfunctional national security apparatus that urgently requires overhaul.

Last week, we had the revelation in the Sunday Tribune (July 10, 2011) that the Presidential Action Committee on Control of Violent Crimes and Illegal Weapons set up in 2005 and tasked with reporting on threats to national security "had predicted the uncontrollable activities of religious sects and their capacity to paralyse the country, if not checked on time". It is difficult to find any action Nigeria's then National Security Adviser (NSA), General Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, took upon receiving this warning. The warnings seem to have been ignored or buried.

In 2006, the issue of Al-Qaeda affiliated cells in the northeast was raised directly with President Obasanjo. Mr President referred the matter to the then NSA, General Gusau. In response the President received internal security advice that there were no such cells and certainly no groups that would pose any security threat to Nigeria. The President accepted the advice.

In July 2007, the presence of cells with Al-Qaeda sympathies in the northeast of Nigeria was raised with President Yar'Adua. Mr President sought advice and once again the possible threat was dismissed.

Goodluck Jonathan became President of Nigeria upon the death of Umaru Yar'Adua in May 2010. Former NSA Aliyu Mohammed Gusau was once again National Security Adviser. Gusau could not possibly have missed the threat of Boko Haram. If his security operatives failed to raise the matter in their reports then the public statements released by Boko Haram and printed verbatim in Nigeria's national newspapers should have raised questions from the NSA, if not alarm.

Boko Haram's activities had generated widespread instability and the then termed "Nigerian Taliban" had been operating in clear public view since 2005 when Gusau was NSA and his faithful compatriot, Are Kayode, was DG of SSS.

By October 2010, when President Jonathan replaced Gusau with General Owoye Azazi as NSA the Boko Haram group was publicly challenging Borno State's security apparatus and that of the nation. The handling of the Boko Haram matter while Gusau was NSA resulted in a dramatic escalation in the conflict to the stage that it threatened the nation's security.

It seems the death of Boko Haram's leader was supposed to have resulted in the group melting into the sand and becoming a distant memory. The reverse was the case. The group had the added impetus of revenge. It mutated into a core Yusufiya, another cell armed and financed by politicians and a third cell of opportunists that robbed banks and perpetrated criminal activities.

The Yusufiya is clear in its call for action against the former Borno Governor, Modu Sherif, whose interactions with militant groups in his Administration requires immediate and thorough investigation. If the former governor is implicated in the arming of any groups or the extra-judicial killings in Maiduguri then every effort must be made to ensure that the full force of the law is brought to bear. It is high time that a strong message is sent to politicians that employing thugs, gangs, vigilantes, militants or whatever other groups are available to influence elections or exert force unlawfully will simply not be tolerated. On this point alone the immunity from prosecution enjoyed by governors should be rescinded.

The security situation that now confronts Nigeria is laid at the feet of President Jonathan, National Security Adviser General Azazi and Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima. Ironically, none of these three were in power when the Boko Haram situation was escalating or when it exploded in 2007 and again in 2009.

Former NSA Gusau has side-stepped all the blame for a massive security failure that has compounded over at least the last seven years apart from the brief time when Mukhtar held the position.

J onathan, Azazi and Shettima have inherited a security mess. To unravel the mess, they first need to clearly understand what it is they have inherited and then decide if the nation's security apparatus is fit-for-purpose. That requires an urgent review of Nigeria's security apparatus which must be followed by swift corrective action.

The reverend Stephen Davis,served as an envoy and adviser under two Nigerian presidents on the Niger Delta.

Canon Dr Stephen Davis
+44 7841 381 018