ONSA’s new approach to counter-terrorism

On Tuesday, March 18, 2014, the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) launched Nigeria’s soft approach to countering terrorism. JIBRIN BABA NDACE writes on the significance of the new approach

Threat to Nigeria’s Unity
There is no doubt that Nigeria is currently facing threats from various criminal groups that is clearly derailing its difficult but promising journey towards prosperity. Defence and security experts have admitted, and consistently warned that ‘not since Nigeria’s experiences with civil war in the 1960s have it been confronted by an existential threat so determined to shake the foundation of its unity.’ Today, in addition to state of emergency in Adamawa, Yobe and Borno, military is currently in joint operations with other security agencies in 28 out of 36 states of the federation.

In the inaugural lecture of National Defence College (NDC Course 22),  with a theme: A Comprehensive Approach to National Security Management in Nigeria,   former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar,   raised concern about the raising levels of insecurity in Nigeria, especially since the return of democracy in 1999. He said: “since the return of democracy in May 1999, Nigeria has been battling a raft of security challenges. While old security threats such as the proliferation  of small arms and light weapons (SALWs), armed robbery, oil theft, maritime piracy, ethno-religious conflicts, assassinations, human trafficking and kidnapping, have persisted or even assumed worrisome dimensions, new and asymmetric threats such as violent extremism and domestic terrorism have dramatically changed our internal security landscape.”
“The frequency and extent of damage and destruction brought about by the outbreak and persistence of insecurity and violent criminality, have partly contributed to the classification of Nigeria as a fragile state, by assessment reports and by scholars including Smith and Vivekananda who ranked Nigeria among the seventeen countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, that are on the list of the world’s most fragile states.”

The New Approach
Globally, there are always two approaches to dealing with insurgencies fuelled by ideology. The first is the hard or kinetic approach, which presupposes the use of force or military might. The second approach is the deployment of soft power. Evidence has shown from experience of some countries such as United States, Pakistan, and United Kingdom that hard power alone cannot solve the challenge of insurgency. Indeed, strategic theories of Joemini has consistently maintained that military cannot on its own combat insurgency and terrorism. In their seminal work, titled Weapons of Mass Persuasion: Strategic Communication to Combat Violent Extremism; Steven German et al posited that, “The war of ideas is a communication struggle. It cannot be won militarily on the battle field but must be won rhetorically and narratively in the hearts and minds of those on all sides of this ideological front who can-who must- come to believe that finding a better way of respectfully exchanging view is preferable to finding better ways of destroying each other.”
In the same vein, the National Security Adviser, Colonel Sambo Dasuki (rtd), in his key note address at a Strategic Communications Plan Workshop for Counter-Insurgency Operations against Boko Haram in December 2013, admitted that, “Nigeria realizes that military action on its own will not counter terror if not accompanied by a robust public diplomacy aimed at defeating the ideology of hate and building consensus against violent extremism. That is why strategic communication is an essential part of our counter terrorism operations.”

In line with global trends and in recognition of the limitations of the hard approach and the need to find a lasting solution to insurgency, terrorism and other forms of criminalities, the ONSA rolled out a new approach tagged Nigeria’s soft approach to countering terrorism.
In his opening remarks, the Coordinator Counter Terrorism, ONSA, Major General Sarki Yaki Bello (rtd) disclosed that  the roll out was based on over two years careful study of pathways to radicalization.   “Through careful analysis of trends, operations and narratives of violent extremists, particularly those of Boko Haram and its splinters, we now understand the threat better than we did. Our understanding has been shaped by events both at home and abroad, and this is why we applied cultural intelligence and behavioral analysis in designing a program that addresses the conditions that make it possible for our youths to join terror groups while preventing those who are at risk from joining.”

Bello sums up the roll out thus: “While working towards a complimentary nonmilitary approach to countering terrorism we have learnt from the experiences of other countries and made sure, we designed a program that is sensitive to the needs of our people. We have tried to build a program that interconnects security and development and at the same time opens a new window for community engagement and resilience. The soft approach to countering terrorism seeks to empower communities and stakeholders to reclaim their leading role in peace building and conflict mitigation at the grassroots. In essence, we seek to counter radicalize through a whole of society approach.”

Beyond the protection of regimes
In his presentation, the NSA, Colonel Sambo Dasuki rtd said that he was ‘conscious of the fact that his office was not known for public engagement such as the roll out plan. He also admitted that throughout the military era, ONSA was seen as an organization concern with protection of regimes and coordination of security and intelligence agencies. Dasuki insisted that with globalization of threats and ever changing nature of challenges, it can no longer be business as usual for   those tasked with responsibility to protect.”

“With the increasing democratization of our institutions of governance and the rapidity of the new media enabled by technological advances, access to multiple information dissemination channels has become much easier allowing groups with violent tendencies to advance their cause to manipulate religion or radical ideology to recruit and radicalize thousands of individuals using multiple tools, and riding on the same principle of freedom of speech that underpins who we are. We in turn have realized that those tasked with the responsibility to protect can no longer function within a framework of the past.”
The NSA said the signing in law the Terrorism Prevention Act 2011, which was improved upon by the legislature in the Terrorism Prevention (Amendment) Act 2013 has further empowered ONSA on its role. The Act provides the office with the mandate to: “ensure the formulation and implementation of a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy, build capacity for effective discharge of the functions of relevant security, intelligence, law enforcement and military service under the act and do such other acts or things that are necessary for the effective performance of the function of the relevant security and enforcement agencies under the act.” He disclosed that the new mandate led to establishment a Counter Terrorism Centre (CTC) which houses the Joint Terrorism Analysis Branch (JTAB) and the Behavioral Analysis and Strategic Communication Unit. “The establishment of these structures has enabled us to better perform a coordinating role that has ensured intelligence sharing and cooperation amongst agencies. The new spirit of cooperation has led to the disruption of plethora of terrorist cells and prevented attacks across the country. ”

Inter-agency cooperation
Dasuki told the gathering that terrorism compels a nation to reform its laws and processes adding that the approach of ONSA is partnership with relevant stakeholders along horizontal and vertical lines. “Since 9/11, the United States of America has had to make probably the most comprehensive reform of its security architecture which has helped deter and prevent threats to their homeland. Nigeria is taking this important but difficult and slow path.”
“The Counter Terrorism Centre (CTC) in consultation with our international partners, experienced academics and practitioners in security, select non state actors has developed a counter terrorism strategy (NACTEST) which defines roles and responsibilities of ministries, departments and agencies, as well as the role that civil society has to play in the fight against violent extremism. The strategy was developed taking into account the root cause of terrorism.”

Prevention is better than cure
One of the key issues NSA’s presentation seeks to address in the new approach is the PREVENT approach.  He disclosed that ONSA has commissioned a number of studies to unravel why Nigerian Youths have taken the path down radicalization adding that the approach was aimed at understanding the problem in order to apply the appropriate solutions.

“And what we have learnt is that there is not one particular path that leads to terrorism rather there are many, often complicated paths that lead to terrorism. While there have been established push factors, conditions conducive to the  spread of terrorism such as poverty, joblessness, prolonged unresolved conflicts, social injustice, a growing youth bulge, we know for instance that poverty in itself is not an automatic ticket to radicalization. We are also concerned with the pull factors that are often personnel and frequently rest on factors such as unfiltered desire for self actualization, wanting to belong, individual grievances or identity deficit, one that confuses and creates a situation of conflict in identities based on religion, tribe or region. It is this identity conflict that fuels the narrative of the Jama’atu ahlul Sunnah lidda’awati wal jihad and had proven so attractive to some of our youth. ”

He said NACTEST is concerned with preventing attacks before they happen through ensuring that Nigerian Youths do not become terrorists in the first place. “18 month ago, I directed the Behavioural Analysis and Strategic Communication Unit in my office to develop a program that seek to implement the PREVENT work strand of our national counter terrorism strategy. They visited Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Singapore, Algeria and Australia and to talk with officials of the United Kingdom, the United States and European Union, academics and members of the civil society both at home and abroad. ”
“Simultaneously, I directed the Economic Intelligence Unit in my office to explore the efficacy of economic interventions that will contribute to the PREVENT programme. The team has investigated what other nations facing terrorism have done successfully in the areas of job creation, poverty alleviation and economic development. Based on these, we identified the need for an economic turnaround initiative in the aftermath of the State of Emergency in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe state. ”

The three streams approach
In building a soft approach, ONSA developed a Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program which is both vertical and horizontal consisting of three streams. “The soft approach to countering terrorism which has resulted in the development of a Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Program,  that is both vertical and horizontal involving three tiers of government, federal state and local; horizontal involving civil society, academics, traditional, religious and community leaders. It consists of three streams with different layers of partners: ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), including civil society. The program utilizes existing structures within and outside government to deliver targeted programs and activities that further the overall goal of stemming the tides of radicalization and through families, communities, faith based organisations build resilience to violent extremism.”

The NSA said the first stream would focus on de-radicalization of convict terrorists, suspects awaiting trial and those who might be released through court orders or such other government arising from the ongoing engagement and dialogue with repentant suspects. “The De-radicalization program is prison based and the ministry of interior along with prison service will deliver the program. The initiative will require substantial capacity building of prison staff in areas of psychology, sport and art therapy, faith based instructors and vocational training experts that would engage beneficiaries. The objective is to engage violent extremist convicts/suspects in theological, ideological, physical and entrepreneurial value change that leads to a change in behaviour.”

He said that ONSA had refurbished 2 prisons and was also working with international development partners to provide appropriate structures for the program adding that ONSA would also provide training for 60 prison psychologists and prison guards on handling terror suspects.
The second stream, according to Dasuki, was a paradigm shift from a whole government to a whole of society approach. “We believe that we can win the war against terror by mobilizing our family, cultural, religious and national values. Through fear and violence, extremist groups are bent on changing the way we see and relate with each other and the only way to defeat this is to remain united and confront the threat as one nation under God. The counter radicalization stream seeks to build community engagement and resilience through building trust, creating awareness and resilience.”

He said the expectation of ONSA is to fast track the process through partnership with various stakeholders.  “Government is partnering with faith based organisations, community based organisations, NGOs and other stakeholders to deliver counter radicalization programs at community levels. It is our expectation that this process will be shaped and delivered by civil society actors especially those who are already intervening in conflict resolution, peace building and inter faith advocacy. ” He  disclosed that the United Nations has agreed to provide  targeted capacity building and training over a 2 year periods for NGOs working in Nigeria to build their awareness of CVE program.

Guiding principles of the soft approach
At the heart of this new approach is the deployment of narratives that demonstrate that terrorism is un-Islamic; counter terrorism is not against Muslims and encourage and empower Muslims to speak out against terror. It is also an effort that would foster Muslims Christian relations; and show that counter terrorism is apolitical.
He said:  “We will ensure that the fight against terror is not misconstrued by Muslims in Nigeria as a fight against them. The terrorists are an influential minority who live with and claim to be Muslims but through their activities bring harm and ridicule to Muslims and the religion of Islam. Concerted efforts are being made tom isolate the terrorists from the communities in which they find sanctuary.”
He said the major goal of the ONSA is to unite Nigerians through aggressive interfaith response and building of interparty collaboration.

Terrorists as better communicators
Dasuki, who admitted that terrorists are better communicators, told the gathering that the third stream of the approach was building capacity and institutionalizing these capabilities through strategic communication for the military and law enforcement and public diplomacy for civilian institutions on how to communicate national values.
“This has become necessary because at the heart of terrorism is a deadly communication plan that furthers the aims of terrorists. Unfortunately terrorist groups have over time been clearer in communicating what they stand for than government has. ”

 Media as strategic partner  
Even though the Minister of Youth, Boni Haruna is his comment blamed the media for over reporting   terrorists, the NSA recognized the effort of the press in the fight against terrorism. “Though, we may not agree at all the times, but a careful analysis of the press since the insurgency, would reveal that the press has sided with the Nigerian people at great risks to the safety and security of their businesses. We recall the attack on journalists and newspaper houses in Abuja and Kaduna.”
He said already ONSA has developed a media training workshop for government Public relations practitioners and independent media on conflict sensitive reporting and protection of right to know under the laws. “ while it is our national security interest that terrorists do not find unfettered access to free publicity we respect the media’s freedom to report and that is why is shall be supporting the training of about 200 reporters who report on conflicts.”

The heart of the matter
The kernel of the soft power emphasised by the NSA is a new spirit of corporation that link security to development.  To achieve this, ONSA has developed an all inclusive stakeholders –based approach at all level of governments in the most affected states. This approach is in line with global best practice in addressing terrorism and also tallies with    views of experts in counter-insurgency. In Military Review, February 2014, Samuel Abrams said: “success for counter-insurgency can be reached when the government secures its citizens continuously, sustains and builds legitimacy through effective governance, has effectively isolated the insurgency, and can manage and meet the expectations of the nation’s entire population.”

Since the unveiling of this approach various stakeholders have continued to commend ONSA.  However, there have also been concerns about implementation of the robust strategy, issues of funding and inter-agency rivalry. However, it is believed the greatest challenge to the success of the approach would be from the political elites, who in their comments always fan the ember of discord and sow seed of violence. In their columns, Waziri Adio ( Dasuki, Metuh and Boko Haram, Thisday, Monday, March 24, 2014  ) and Is’haq Modibbo Kawu  (Blueprint, Thursday, March 27, 2014) agreed that there are two  competing narratives on Boko Haram. While the narrative promoted by ONSA is focused on finding permanent solution to all manner of insecurity in Nigeria, the other by the National Publicity Secretary of (PDP) is designed further alienate various criminal groups.

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