Understanding soft approach to counter-terrorism

The unveiling of a comprehensive new strategic approach to the disheartening and often frustrating war against terrorism in Nigeria by the National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd), was timely and apt in responding to the mounting public concern and agitation in the face of callous massacre of the innocents by rampaging insurgents. The roll out of Nigeria’s Soft Approach to Countering Terrorism, NACTEST provided much needed evidence that the Jonathan Administration had not been besieged by an unwinnable unconventional war waged by faceless insurgents. Rather, while the deadly hostilities between national security forces and the insurgents raged on, the Office of the National Security Adviser had gone back to the drawing board to develop a counter-insurgency strategy that also targeted the unconventional characteristics of the insurgency from which it derived its “unwinnable” posture.

In the waves of public hysteria triggered by ceaseless cycles of catastrophic attacks on defenceless innocent folks, especially in the protracted north-east skirmishes, the formidable challenges involved in combating urban and rural guerrilla-style insurgencies are rarely factored into assessments of the performance of the military and security forces. It is a typical example of arm-chair criticism from the distanced view of a spectator that is unfortunately adopted by the general public in the heat of emotional emissions which becloud thoughts. The sheer vastness of largely uncharted areas of operation and the disproportionate disposition of security forces combine with the drone-like precision attacks on identified vulnerable locations by insurgents in hit-and-run strikes, to complicate and amplify the barely concealed limitations of conventional forces. Such scenarios tend to dampen the morale of even ardent patriots among members of the public especially when they result in wanton killings and destruction of property.

Related to this public pessimism is the undeniably static record of operational strategies deployed so far by security forces to counter insurgencies. Nigeria is certainly no stranger to insurgencies therefore it should not be seen to be a novice in combating them. From as far back as 1980, when the Maitatsine sect unleashed the first major outbreak of highly organized armed insurrections under the banner of “religious” creed, the northern region has intermittently been the theatre of several widespread outbreaks of bloody encounters with terrorist insurgencies. What was regarded as a job for the police mobile force soon proved to be no walk over even for combined military security forces, leading to repeated recourse to army as the first line of offensive against insurgents.

It is instructive that the Office of the National Security Adviser has been assuming higher visibility in the implementation of counter-terrorism strategies of government in the last decade and a half since the scourge began unfolding menacingly as a formidable security challenge. By definition and public expectation, this office should be pre-occupied with the development and articulation of dynamic framework of effective strategies and implementation modes in response to major security challenges for containment and eventual neutralization of the threats in a timely and intelligent manner. Its function is therefore distinct as a veritable trans-service think tank and coordinating centre for the respective corresponding intelligence and security enforcement units of the armed forces, providing overall direction and guidance in addition to routine monitoring.

The significance of Nigeria’s Soft Approach to Countering Terrorism, NACTESTcomes into focus against the backdrop of past fixation with an operational strategy that has been tried, tested and testified to be tactically defective in effectively checking the upsurgein security challengesand the desired elimination of militant insurgencies. The urgency of breaking this spell and restoring the vibrancy, resourcefulness and credibility of the Office of the National Security Adviser, was a compelling concern of Dasuki. He had responded to a call to national duty in the eye of a swirling storm of bloody insurgencies and related terrorist attacks in more than half of the northern flank of the country, flaring wildly over emergency restrictions. The gruesome reality of a strategy-deficit dimension to the security challenge posed by the insurgents was manifesting in the heavy toll of innocent lives.

Dasuki has subtly but robustly redressed the lingering limitations the one-track approach to the combating militant challenges to the security of the nation and its people as demonstrated in the unique concepts and ground-breaking strategies incorporated into Nigeria’s Soft Approach to Countering

Terrorism, NACTEST. It is the harnessed contributions ofinternational partners, experienced academics and selected non-state actors, with valuable experience and insights into the root causes of terrorism, which have been relegated in previous strategies dealing only with combat. The new strategy also involvesseeking means of preventing attacks before they happen by preventing people from becoming terrorists and the development of a Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programme that involves the federal, state and local governments as well as civil societies, academics, traditional, religious and community leaders.

Existing structures within and outside government will be used to deliver targeted programmes and activities that further the overall objective of stemming the tide of radicalism and complement government approach to counter-terrorism with enhanced societal involvement. It also features an economic revitalization programme targeted at states that are most impacted by terrorism.There is every hope that this approach will greatly facilitate active involvementof the general public and all stakeholders in implementing the Soft Approach strategy which is packaged to complement the on-going military operations, especially in addressing the unconventional factors that defy military options. Nigerians should rally round this new initiative and identify with the national effort to move forward in pursuit of effective and lasting solution to insurgencies in Nigeria.

Bartholomew wrote from Jalingo

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