Nigeria has serious security challenges. One of them is Boko Haram insurgency. The other is Fulani herdsmen’s terrorism. There is great fear that Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is gradually joining the fray. The greater fear is that our government and top military hierarchy appear not coordinated and sincere in the fight against these terror groups.
A few examples here will suffice. Recently, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) alleged that the Federal Government planned to recruit ex-Boko Haram terrorists, who recently underwent de-radicalisation programme, into the army and police.
President of CAN, Dr. Samson Olasupo Ayokunle, through his spokesman, Pastor Adebayo Oladeji, said CAN was visibly disturbed at the reports. It condemned such a policy in strong terms and asked the Federal Government, especially security agencies, to withdraw the directive capable of compromising the nation’s security system.
The government has not denied this allegation. If it is true, then there is a problem. It is pertinent to note that one of the strategies insurgents like Boko Haram employ when the heat is on them is to pretend to have repented of their sins. With this strategy, they infiltrate the society and get more information that will help their future plans. When they are done, they become deadlier and more vicious in their attacks.
The questions are: how committed will an ex-Boko Haram member recruited as a soldier be in fighting his former colleagues? How deep is this so-called de-radicalisation programme? Will it change their murderous and evil orientation and indoctrination? Is the government telling us that they have renounced their long-held view that killing in the name of Allah catapults one to paradise?
Honestly, the atrocities these people have committed and continue to commit do not give room for any sympathy for them. They have dispatched thousands of innocent citizens to their graves. They have destroyed property worth billions of naira. They have also displaced many people from their homes. Even, they still visit some Internally Displaced People’s (IDP) camps in the North-East with terror. To these evildoers, nowhere is sacrosanct.
The worst is that they kidnap young girls and turn them into suicide bombers. In April 2014, they raided a school in Chibok, Borno State, and kidnapped hundreds of female students. These innocent girls remained in their custody until recently when the Federal Government secured their release. Of course, some of them died in the custody of the terrorists. Some were raped. Many of them may never recover from this trauma for life.
We were still celebrating the release of some of the Chibok girls when the evil ones struck again. They went to a secondary school in a town called Dapchi in Yobe State and kidnapped over 100 girls. Some negotiations led to the recent release of the students. Unfortunately, one of the girls, Leah Sharibu, is yet to regain her freedom. She refused to renounce her Christian faith and embrace Islam. For this, her kidnappers still hold her hostage. It is heart-rending.
As if the evil of Boko Haram is not enough, the country now has ISIS to contend with as well. Recall that Boko Haram had pledged allegiance to them. Now, there are reports that these ISIS fighters are sneaking into Nigeria to plot devastating attacks.
According to The Sun of UK, the fear is that ISIS will exploit regular flights between Lagos and London to export more evil to the UK. As part of their new global terrorism strategies, ISIS spokesman, Abu Hassan Al-Muhajir, reportedly said in April that the terror group was plotting to “bring bloodshed to the skies.”
A senior Nigerian Air Force (NAF) officer, Group Captain Isaac Subi, was said to have informed the UK newspaper that ISIS trained their fighters in Nigeria and that some of our insurgents too were granted access to their training in Yemen and Syria. He described the situation as a virus that spread across our borders, leaving a trail of blood, tears and sorrow.
Similarly, in a recent report, a specialist global risk consultancy, Control Risk, said sub-Saharan Africa suffered under a sharp rise in the number of Islamist militant attacks. In the report, Control Risk discovered that the number of incidents rose from 317 in 2013 to 1,549 for the period April 2017 to April 2018. In West Africa, where 36 per cent of the incidents were reported, Nigeria suffered most (220 incidents), followed by Mali (194) and Cameroon (96).
Many Nigerians have ascribed most of the recent attacks, especially in the North-Central, to Fulani herdsmen. But it is possible that some of them were inspired by the so-called Islamic State. President Muhammadu Buhari had alluded to this fact when he blamed the rise in attacks by suspected herdsmen on foreign militia once trained by Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.
Besides, the United States military recently expressed great concern over incessant attacks by foreign extremists in Nigeria and other West African countries.
The Commanding General of the U.S. Army, Africa, Brig-Gen. Eugene LeBoeuf, said at the recent African Land Forces Summit in Abuja that the invasion of foreign extremists in the West African region had fuelled insecurity and terrorism in Nigeria and other neighbouring nations.
The other day, the Department of State Services (DSS) arrested two Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA) commanders in Kukuntu village, Gwagwalada, Abuja. The suspects were Bashiru Adams and Rufai Sajo. On April 28, the service also arrested one Umar Dogo, a suspected member of ISWA, at Muda Lawal Market in Bauchi. The suspects reportedly intended to collaborate with Boko Haram to carry out violent attacks on innocent persons.
Following some of these threats, the Federal Government alerted the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and the Nigerian Customs Service to intensify stricter passenger screening and tougher security measures for commercial flights. In line with this directive, FAAN said it had beefed up security at the major airports in the country. The move was aimed at forestalling any untoward occurrence at the airports.
It is disturbing to note that, amid these threats to the security of the country, the military hierarchy is singing discordant tunes. Last Wednesday, the acting director of defence information, John Agim, reportedly said Nigeria was not under any threat by ISIS.
Agim stated categorically that “there is no concrete evidence on the ground to back the claim.” He assured Nigerians that the military was capable of defending the country. Hence, he urged the citizenry to disregard what he called the ill-motivated stories, clips and their claims.
On the contrary, the Minister of Defence, Alhaji Mansur Dan-Ali, said the government was aware of the infiltration of ISIS, as the issue topped the agenda of the meeting of the Ministers of Defence of the Community of Sahel Saharan States (CEN-SAD), which held in Abuja between June 20 and 22. He said it would be elaborately discussed with a view to finding lasting solutions to it.
Even the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Gabriel Olonisakin, observed that the need to combat terrorism, arms proliferation and extremism had become imperative, given the wave of attacks in recent times.
So, who do we believe? Agim, who said there was no cause for alarm over ISIS, or Dan-Ali, who said government was aware of the threats and was trying to find lasting solutions to them?
In the current situation Nigeria finds itself in, there is no need to deny the obvious. What the various security agencies in the country should do is to collaborate and adopt a unified approach when dealing with internal and external threats to the country. This is why the reported decision by the Federal Government to outlaw the training of private security guards by consultants is a welcome development. Now, government will closely monitor their training. One way or the other, these private security outfits can be of help in the entire security architecture of the country.
We cannot afford to compromise our national security in any way. Realising that our uniformed men are overstretched, every stakeholder in the Nigerian project needs to collaborate to tackle our security challenges. Citizens should volunteer information to security agencies when they notice any security breach in the country.
Government, on its part, should overhaul the intelligence network of the security agencies. It should endeavour to block the sources of funding and weapons for terrorist organisations. It should also continue to seek international assistance in the war against terrorism. Although Britain has deployed 150 troops to help train Nigerian soldiers in counter-insurgency operations, it can do more than that.
In all, the Federal Government should beware of how it handles sectarian crises in the country. It should ensure that no group is favoured against the other and no individual should be unduly maltreated or persecuted on account of their belief. Feelings of marginalisation and persecution could force a group to align with a terrorist organisation to cause havoc in the country.