Editorial: Buhari and Nigeria’s Miserable Global Terrorism Index

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The ordinary Nigerian may not be a soldier or military strategist; but it is logical to question the innocuous claims by President Muhammadu Buhari that, the recent spike of attacks by Boko Haram and the rising wave of criminality and insecurity that continues to claim the lives of Nigerians were signs that the murderous Islamist sect was losing the battle to the Nigerian military; and that the army and other security agencies have the situation under control; and sooner, rather than later, the conflict in the war-ravaged Northeast will be over. The President, who spoke last Friday, when he received the European Union (EU) Commissioner for Crisis Management, Janez Lenarcic in the State House, said: “If we were capable to fight a 30-month civil war and reorganized our country, I wonder why people are thinking that Nigeria cannot do it.” This kind of glib talk is laughable where it not pathetic. The president was obviously trying to put a spin on what appears to be an embarrassing and shocking inadequacy by security forces, to curb insecurity and end the orgy of violence that has claimed more lives since 2015 when he took office. This fact was underscored by the distressing 2019 Global Terrorism Index report by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), which ranked Nigeria as the third country with the highest level of terrorism in 2019, after Iran and Afghanistan and worse than war-torn Syria. Regardless of what might have informed the president’s state of denial, false hopes are unhelpful in this dreadful matter of pervasive insecurity.

 

The details of the Buhari administration’s security and counter-insurgency strategy may not be known yet, but it is reckoned that Buhari was aware of the dire security situation and the expectation was that the kidnapping, killing, maiming and terror would at least have been contained in the past four years. This has not happened. While the Northeast part of the country has been reduced to a killing field, the president is yet to take any decisive step in ordering the apprehension and prosecution of perpetrators of acts of terrorism including the mass killing in Adamawa, Benue, Borno, Nasarawa, Bauchi, Taraba, Kogi, Yobe, Zamfara, Kaduna, Ekiti and other parts of the country. The reality must therefore be recognized and addressed very urgently and honestly, and the President needs to do more to reassure Nigerians of their safety.

 

It is worth-recalling that ahead of his first official visit to the United States after he took office in 2015, the president in an op-ed in the Washington Post wrote that: “Already we are beginning to see a degrading of Boko Haram’s capabilities as a fighting force. In recent weeks, it appears to have shifted away from confronting the military directly to an increase in attacks on civilian areas, as we saw only last week when an elderly woman and 10-year-old girl blew themselves up at a Muslim prayer gathering in northeastern Nigeria. We should not be confused by this change, hateful as it is: It does not mean that Boko Haram is succeeding in its aims - it shows that it is losing.” That was almost five years ago. Today, amidst the ongoing carnage and repeated claims that Boko Haram has been downgraded and even defeated, it is evident the president has been less than forthcoming in his assessment of the situation. 

 

Little surprise the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in a statement by its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, described the 2019 Global Terrorism Index report as distressing “particularly as its indices show that insecurity and deaths from acts of terrorism increased in Nigeria in spite of promises by the current administration.” The party noted that the IEP rating “has further confirmed its position that the security of life and property in our nation has gone beyond what the Buhari administration’s security architecture, as presently composed, can guarantee. “Our party posits that the issue of security has gone beyond partisan and sectional sentiments as well as propaganda and now requires concerted effort by all stakeholders to compel a review of security structure and method by Mr. President.” The PDP said: “As a pan-Nigerian platform, it urges the National Assembly to step in by persuading Mr. President to heed wise counsel and rejig his security high command so as to inject new blood to tackle our security challenges.”

 

Nigerians read Buhari’s statements comparing the current security situation with the civil war with an admixture of cynicism and genuine apprehension. “We have the experience of the civil war. I could recall the role of the military, the army; each commander had in his pocket how to behave himself and how to allow international bodies like yourself to go round and see for themselves that people are treated in the most humane way. We have this experience and I assure you that we also have this confidence in your organisation. That is why I feel Nigeria is capable of handling this crisis. It may take longer, but we are capable of handling it,” Buhari told the EU envoy. The ridiculous assertion that Nigeria fought a three-year civil war from 1967-1970; therefore the country will weather the storm of insurgency and insecurity in 2020, is laughable and should attract no further comment. 

 

Honestly speaking, this kind of apples-to-oranges comparison points to a pedestrian understanding of the security challenges facing the nation. Cautioning against public expectations of quick decimation of Boko Haram; while expressing confidence that the insurgents and criminals would be defeated, is misguided optimism by Mr. President. Against the failure of the Buhari administration to provide security as a basic ingredient of national governance, the question must be asked on behalf of Nigerians: is there something in the security and counter-insurgency effort that Nigerians need to know and no one is saying? Obviously, this indolence explains the lack of urgency, or modicum of seriousness, to match the bravado of kidnappers, criminals and insurgents, but is this attitude an affirmation of the kind of Nigeria the president desires? Was Mr. President just expressing in the most obscene manner his helplessness? Surely, no government with the resources available to Nigeria would respond so feebly to the tenacious effrontery of criminals and an Islamic terrorist group wantonly violating its territorial integrity. 

 

Unconventional war may be new to Nigeria, but the intelligence apparatus ought to, by now, have overcome initial setbacks and become proactive in operations to stave off senseless attacks on hapless Nigerians. The increased dimension of the Boko Haram attacks and their havoc-wreaking tactics of using suicide bombers are too devastating to be considered as evidence of desperation as the president would want the world to believe. The toll of Boko Haram killings, bombings and kidnaps is unquantifiable. If the President can afford to put a bold face on the precarious security situation, then it is pertinent to question his willingness to frontally address the insurgency, beyond mere lip-service. 

 

Irrespective of the state of mind of the president, a war between Nigeria and criminal gangs, including Boko Haram has been raging and the criminals; including kidnappers, Fulani herdsmen and insurgents are not losing; rather they seem to be winning. Not only have people been massacred and villages sacked, territories are also being occupied and flags hoisted to establish the occupation of conquered lands. All the territory recovered is now being threatened or has recently been retaken by Boko Haram. This is the simplest understanding of winning. So, Buhari should not be deluded that he is grappling with a mop-up operation; rather the country is contending with a murderous band of criminal gangs, religious bigots and fanatics. This, by all means, demands whatever resolve Nigeria can muster to confront it. 

 

While the efforts of the Nigerian security forces on the frontlines are commendable, the security forces ought to assume more offensive posture in engaging the fundamentalists. The conventional wisdom is that the security agencies have not been proactive; and the army only responds to the activities of the criminals and terrorists. Why would soldiers wait to be attacked before reacting? Much as the men in the trenches are doing their best in the prevailing circumstance, the ease with which kidnappers and insurgents have operated is worrisome. The standing view is that Nigeria is not asserting with the necessary force, the full authority and power of the state in dealing with criminals and curtailing their activities. How can the president claim the terrorists are “losing” to the army only for the insurgents to thumb their nose at government by more sustained acts of violence? 

 

To extricate himself from this debacle of denial, the president must face the painful truth about the nation in crisis and stop playing the ostrich. He must be humble enough to realize that all is not well with the polity; and that leadership has a lot to do with the problem. The President must also face the shameful situation that given its resources, the government has not acted as sagaciously as a country of right thinking leaders. Above all, the president should be under no illusions that Boko Haram, unlike other criminal gangs could be dealt with military force alone. It is just as well that Mr. President has opened the door to dialogue with Boko Haram leaders. But with all the soft and hard power available to the Nigerian state, the country should not negotiate from a position of weakness. It is not done. It must not happen.

 

While pursuing the military option, there is need to rally and mobilize all stakeholders, particularly in the north, to explore a way out. Other non-confrontational options should not be ruled out; but the nation must never again be taken for a ride because kidnappers are on the rampage and Boko Haram is not losing the war. In any event, the group has been vigorously pursuing its grotesque campaign of human savagery and barbarism with remarkable success. The worst is already happening, and the President cannot continue to treat the unending bloodbath flippantly. Boko Haram once declared a caliphate over captured areas; hoisted its flag and instituted quasi-administrative structures to govern the territories under its control. Nothing can be more suggestive of Nigeria’s threatened disintegration than those acts. And the President should make no pretense about it. What is now required is the political dexterity and strategy to confront the myriad security challenges facing the nation. In this regard, the President must rise up to his responsibility as commander-in chief.