Boko Haram/ISWAP incursions: Implications on political transition

President Muhammadu Buhari and the gallant men of the armed forces, including military intelligence, the State Security Service and the police have endeared themselves to the people of the North-east by the way they stopped the insurgents’ daring reign of terror and virtual take-over of this part of the country some years ago.

It will be recalled that the attacks by the terrorists in the North-east and the country in general was characterized by massive kidnapping and hostage taking. Today, nobody can give the exact number of people who have been kidnapped or killed by the Boko Haram and their ISWAP allies. Sadly, the mayhem and killings by criminal groups have continued unabated in many parts of the country especially in the North-east.

It is important to note that no president before President Buhari has dealt a serious blow to the onslaught by the Boko Haram and other criminal groups in the country. Although the present government has substantially put a stop to the criminal activities of the insurgents in the last one year, the other security challenges, especially banditry, have diminished its success. Very scary are indications that the Boko Haram and their ISWAP affiliates have infiltrated various parts of the country. Although their criminal and subversive activities are more pronounced in the North-east especially in areas around the Lake Chad Basin, Kala Balge and the Askira-Lassa axis which were not reported, events in other parts of the country in the last few months show the group’s dangerous activities are spreading. The situation in Zamfara, Niger, Kaduna and Katsina states are equally very scary. Some days ago, it was reported that the terrorists even attacked the advance party of presidential movement and broke ino Kuje Prison where they freed their captured colleagues. The Kuje Prison attack raised serious concerns about the security of the Federal Capital Territory. Many concerned citizens have wondered who then is safe in the country. The concerns are well founded and demand swift action.

Insecurity arising from activities of Boko Haram and their ISWAP affiliates and armed bandits currently pose unprecedented threats to counter insurgency efforts. There are fears that unless something is done fast, the successes of the last couple of years would be lost. Unfortunately, some areas witnessing the incursions are those most devastated before the terrorists groups were dislodged. Evidently, the activities of armed bandits, terrorists and sundry criminal groups have wreaked unimaginable havoc on socio- economic activities in many states and communities. Continuous attacks by the Boko Haram and ISWAP are currently the most devastating menace that have aggravated the plight of most communities in Borno, Katsina, Kaduna and Zamfara states which have become very dangerous areas for even official business, as well as gateway states to southern parts of the country.

As consistently pointed out by some experienced military strategists and intelligence officers, the strategy of just dislodging the terrorists and armed bandits is fraught with the dangers of their eventual regrouping. This is what has happened in the war against the Boko Haram in the North-east. Many of the insurgents were simply dispersed and therefore had the opportunity of regrouping with deadlier groups such as ISWAP. Also, the persistence of conditions that promoted their emergence continues to drive their resurgence. As previously pointed out, the Boko Haram/ISWAP alliance has survived this long because of lack of will of some stakeholders and lack of appropriate fighting equipment. Almost all the security forces are short of well trained personnel which resulted in over stretching them. The failure to flush out their cohorts is another major catalyst for the resurfacing of the Boko Haram/ISWAP attacks currently being witnessed in the country.

The spill-over effects of the incursion of ISWAP into the sub-region should not be discounted as almost all neighboring countries are currently very fragile after succumbing to the take-over bid by ISWAP. Nigeria has already been infiltrated by ISWAP and is also a prime target. Also lessening the tempo of the counter terrorism efforts is the emergence of several other security challenges across the country. Very noticeable are armed banditry, highway robbery and kidnapping. These have distracted attention and resources required to fight the Boko Haram. The emergence of election politics has also played a role in slowing down the fight against terrorism in the country.

Many isolated and ungoverned areas especially forests in remote parts of the country provide ideal cover for the terrorists to hibernate. Security experts believe if the fight against ISWAP and terrorism is to succeed all forests and remote places must be thoroughly cleared.

Deficiencies in our immigration laws especially the ECOWAS Protocol must also urgently be looked into. The Immigration Services as presently constituted cannot discharge its functions effectively considering the size of the country, low level of security consciousness of people and lack of appropriate technical capacities and inadequate training. In my considered view, the counter terrorism fight in the country should be hinged on well thought-out and aggressive counter-terrorism strategies. Something needs to be done to strengthen monitoring and fortify the country’s porous borders.

Counter insurgency forces in the North East and other parts of the country could be helped by reinvigorating aspects of national strategy against terrorism as there are indications, terrorism in the country will worsen in the coming months especially with the incursion of ISWAP. Notwithstanding the plans of those behind the insurgency, the menace should not go beyond the Buhari government. This is why allowing the ISWAP to entrench itself will complicate the security challenges in the country. Obviously, the incursion of ISWAP will roll back the achievements of the Buhari government especially the war against the terrorists plans to take over parts of the country. This definitely is the time to stop the insurgents from executing their dastardly plans, once and for all.

In my considered view, insecurity especially as masterminded by ISWAP could get out of hand at the expiration of the Buhari government if no drastic steps are taken now. Political office holders at all levels must therefore have the will to fight and overcome all the security challenges honestly before the exit of the present government.

To achieve the desired security that will allow for orderly handover, the limitations of the security forces must be holistically remedied. In particular, re-organising the security forces should be accorded priority. In this regard, competence, loyalty and thorough re-examination should be the yardstick for appointments to higher service positions. At a time like this, only those who can speak truth to power should be appointed to positions of leadership in all the security forces. Those to be appointed should also have the knowledge, capacity and competence. The security forces should be strengthened and re-equipped. Above all, the country must also strive to have all-inclusive governance henceforth where there is fairness, equity and justice. All these should be seen as some of the critical requirements for orderly political transition and peace in the country thereafter.

Gadzama OFR, mni

Former DGSS and Chairman

National Institute for Security Studies.

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