It was predicted that with the incursion of the Islamic State into the West African sub-region recently, the threat level is expected to heighten. The attack on a Catholic Church in Ondo State was therefore not unexpected as it noticeable that the activities of the Boko Haram and its ISWAP affiliates have been on the increase recently. The security forces, particularly those involved in the ongoing counter insurgency operations in the North East, have gallantly confronted the terrorists. Similarly, security forces in neighboring countries have raised alarm on the upsurge of ISWAP activities in their respective countries. It should be noted that the activities of the group in the country is a spillover of what is happening in the neighboring countries, especially Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.
It is suspected that the attack on a church in Ondo State might be the result of the upsurge in the activities of the group. This might have informed the Minister of Internal Affairs’ comments on the incident indicating that ISWAP was responsible for the attack. As things are at the moment, one cannot take the statement of the Minister for Internal Affairs lightly, even it was faulted by many and there were no corroborative facts from the Security Forces and the office of the National Security Adviser initially.
It is important to mention that in other climes, the office of the National Security Adviser which is the central collection point of intelligence has at its disposal verified information from all organizations on such a sensitive national security breach. The office would have provided an authoritative statement on the incident and everyone would have been better informed.
It is noteworthy that there have been attacks by the group in several parts of the country in the past few weeks. For example, there have been reports of ISWAP related attacks in parts of Borno and Yobe states and communities in Kaduna, Sokoto, Plateau, Benue, and Nasarawa States. Lassa town in Askira/Uba in Borno State was more than twice attacked by the group in the last month. Many towns and villages are under siege of the group and as a result have been deserted.
Although the Nigeria Army and Nigeria Police have gallantly confronted and repelled the Boko Haram and the ISWAP affiliates, attacks by the group are currently having very serious effects on socio-economic activities and are the major source of insecurity and disenchantment in the affected communities and states. The activities of the Boko Haram and armed bandits are also providing convenient covers for the Islamic state terrorists. The alliance between these groups will certainly compound the plight of the people in the affected areas and the ongoing anti-terrorism efforts.
There have been disturbing reports that the groups have infiltrated many communities in the South West, South East and the North Central. From available intelligence, there is no part of the country that has not been infiltrated by the criminal groups at the moment. Also very scary is the fact that there might be an upsurge in the activities of the group in the South West and South East very soon. This could have serious implications for these parts of the country, threatening the security of the country as a whole.
It is important to mention that the South West is a favored destination of many terrorist groups and armed bandits in the country at the moment. This is why the establishment of Amotekun should be commended. The existence of many ungoverned spaces and groups whose activities should be of security interest, makes many parts of the region attractive to the ISWAP elements. Some isolated communities in the affected areas and many ungoverned spaces have little or no government presence. The thick forest areas in many states have definitely also facilitated the movement of suspicious subversive groups across the country.
The lawless groups including the ISWAP move freely in many areas in the Northern States. They even reportedly collect taxes in some areas and enforce their rules. An undercover operative said that recently you could even identify some of them in some rural markets. Many have taken residence in the country due to deficiencies in our immigration laws and ECOWAS protocol. From available intelligence, the suspected terrorists are currently hibernating in isolated areas, communities and forests in Nasarawa, Benue, Kaduna, Kebbi, Katsina and Zamfara States. Well informed sources have also reported that there are many sleeper cells in several other Northern States.
The Falgore forest that traverses Kano and Bauchi states for example is suspected to be a haven for armed bandits and terrorist groups including the ISWAP elements. The forests are linked to each other and extend to southern parts of the country. It is therefore not unlikely that the terrorists that attacked the Catholic Church in Ondo State might have used these forests as a cover to move freely to other parts of the country. Such clandestine movements could have been facilitated by the sleeper cells and other undesirable elements sympathetic to the group’s activity already in existence in these areas.
The incursion of ISWAP into the country should not be treated the way Boko Haram was handled until it got out of hand. In the absence of helpful information from security agencies, especially the Police and the Military, one cannot delink those responsible for the attack on a Church in Ondo from the ISWAP. This demands that there should be caution and vigilance on the groups activities in the country.
If the terrorist attack in Ondo State was by the ISWAP all stakeholders particularly the security agencies should be on appropriate level of alert to forestall a repeat. Also, given the confusing situation, stakeholders, especially the security organizations, should maintain a heightened level of alert across the country. Special attention should be paid to facilities and institutions and those who want to make political capital out of the incidents in areas adjudged venerable to terrorist attacks. The Chief of Defense Staff, General Lucky Irabor has stressed that requisite intelligence is necessary to deal with these terrorist groups. There should be public participation in checking and reporting the groups’ presence. The attack on the Catholic Church in Ondo State should meanwhile be thoroughly investigated.
The following should be enforced in all states:
i. Reports of all threats of terrorist attacks should be immediately investigated.
ii Appropriate level of security presence should be maintained across the country to prevent further ISWAP terrorist attacks.
iii. Appropriate monitoring of areas and occasions adjudged vulnerable to attacks by the terrorists should be put in place.
iv. All security and paramilitary organizations should step up surveillance at the borders and places occupied by terrorists to forestall illegal entry and attacks.
v. Areas likely to be harboring terrorists should be closely monitored and raided.
vi. Efforts of all stakeholders should be heightened. Organizations should not take the threats by terrorists and related subversive and criminal groups for granted and
vii. Considering the fact that the ISWAP and others could move freely and attempt to embarrass the government, movable and aggressive surveillance of forests, isolated communities should be embarked upon. In addition, all relevant immigration laws should be implemented in the country.
viii. All efforts should be made to deal with the terrorist- master-minded situations in the North East and the North Central parts of the country.
Attack by ISWAP in the country should be pre-empted because it would reverse the gains made by the President Muhammadu Buhari’s Government in reversing the near take over of parts of the country especially in the North East by the Boko Haram terrorists some years ago. Threats by ISWAP should therefore not be casually handled.
Gadzama, OFR, mni
Former Director General SSS
Chairman, National Institute for
Security Studies, Abuja.