The world of security and strategic thinking is not for the fickle minded; neither is it for the “go along” person. In this world, knee jerk reactions are often not the right ones. While emotions should give way to careful analysis, so should logic and strength of conviction be carefully weighed and ingratiated in the decision making process.
When the administration of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ) took to the waves last week, in one last gasp effort to curtail the Boko Haram menace, not less than the majority who seem to have had it with the terrorist sect (and rightly so) took to voicing overwhelming approval. It seem like Nigerians were just asking for any action (emphasis on any mine). After months of bombings, maiming, killings and attacks- we wanted the President to lead! And he finally, did.
Not surprisingly, the rare voices of caution either from the regular opposition (Action Congress) or the marginalized but vocal northern elders (ACF) or from foreign governments (United States or Human Rights Watch) have been roundly dismissed by ordinary Nigerians as nothing but nagging nabobs of negativism when the policy of matching force for force with Boko Haram is concerned. While like the majority of Nigerians I wish nothing but success for the ongoing operations, I’m concerned that we’re ignoring the risk of failure.
First, the history of application of force to quell uprisings in Nigeria has been checkered and more recently has been an abysmal failure. Short the full scale quelling that military strongmen applied in Maitatsine and Ogoni that only allowed these crisis to boil over years later, the force applied by former President Obasanjo in Odi against Niger Delta militancy and State of Emergency in Plateau by the same have proven many years later to be utter failures. In the former, only a negotiated amnesty led to some temporary peace brokered by his successor while in the later, peace to date have escaped the people.
Secondly, the Goodluck Jonathan is notoriously inept. What will you call an administration that bungled the renaming of a University after a popularly acclaimed icon of democracy? One which can’t seem to get the simple task of getting a petroleum reform bill, already speeding to conclusion under a sick predecessor, to become law in three years? I can bet our dithering leader that occupies Aso Rock have not even given the thought of how to pacify the North-East region after the assault. His yes-men are busy buzzing around with braggadocio that they’ve forgotten that it will be easier to win the war than the peace. What are Goodluck Jonathan’s pacification plans for Borno, Adamawa and Gombe?
And just before you have enough reasons to start doubting the inevitability of this “new tactic” working, we should reexamine the reality of combating terrorism in other climes, and the nature of the enemy. The ink had not yet dried up on Jonathan’s declaration when bombs went off in Kano, and Katsina received the Boko Haram visitation – blowing up the Daura emirate’s police station after sustained battle that killed several security agents including soldiers and policemen. Right on cue, a church leader in Maiduguri was killed by Boko Haram thirty minutes after the President went on TV talking tough!
Fact is Boko Haram is more likely to disperse to surrounding states- melt away for a moment and return more virulently- than just disappear. The process of creating a terrorist is a gradual and long road, that sudden match of force is unlikely to convince the adherent to reverse course. The first rule of combating terrorism like any open wound is to stop the bleeding. In Nigeria, we’ve ignored this lesson. The North of Nigeria educates less people, breeds more poor and despondent Nigerians and has the lowest development indices comparative to their Southern Nigeria peers. This condition cannot be allowed to persist and without quick emergency action, we’re losing the plot and may live to regret it.
Nigeria, and Nigerians unfortunately, is also a fertile ground for any potential insurgent. With a mixture of ethnicities and religions, and a thoroughly corrupt elite class feasting large on the scarce resources of the land and increasing the gap between them and the very large pool of the poor- despondence persists.
This social structure is encouraged by an exploitative faith system of religions falling on themselves to replace a non-existent government, and a strong believe in miracles including “sudden riches” syndrome that keeps the poor subdued: but clearly not for too long. It is this Nigeria that Jonathan administration is trying to apply a quick fix of matching fire for fire; a problem that requires a thorough cleansing will not tolerate a quick fix. Will the entire country or half the country become the theatre of open warfare if Boko Haram disperses and refuse to surrender as most analysts expect?
While we ponder that point, imagine for one second the impact of internal militarization on the polity. What foundations are we laying by putting soldiers on civilian streets, instructing some perhaps to apply their tactics of violence on civilian population that are sometimes their kits and kins? Well, think back what happened in 1966 and remember how the foundation of those first coups like many across Africa was laid by the injection of military power to internal conflicts that soon took on a life of its own. Well, analysts call this the law of unintended consequences; I hope the President’s men are thinking.
Of course, as the government realize in about a year or two that the state of emergency that allows unbridled show of force won’t work forever, I expect their inept self to keep hitting harder and loose international support. If anything, this will amount to winning the battle and losing the war. We will rue the day we went to war with Boko Haram the day these insurgents and rag tag mercenaries of death start dictating the terms of peace like the Malian Tuareg rebels are doing under the auspices of the French today. Our government should step around this carefully, as it could be the fatal blow that grants these terrorists the legitimacy they do not deserve.
All said it might be the external factors rather than the internal that will ultimately lend itself to the failure of GEJ’s mission. Boko Haram under persecution may attract an influx of support of the strong international network of funders of terrorism, now losing ground in their familiar theater and seeking new homelands in the deserts of Africa where governments have long abandoned their responsibilities.
Indeed, the answer to terrorism may just be what Goodluck Jonathan and Nigeria’s group of elites and their yes men find most difficult to comprehend or adhere to- good governance. For why will a people turn to death as an end to itself if they have a reason to live under a government that guarantees their general welfare and eschews corruption?