• Sunday, July 21, 2024
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Countering Boko Haram


 The emergency rule announced on May 14 and the offensive that started 12 days ago have drawn widespread support. President Goodluck Jonathan’s message that the aim of the offensive is to “to restore public order, public safety and security” must resound in order to keep the people on the side of government.

This ‘single narrative’ must cascade down, from the president to Lt. Gen. Onyeabo Azubuike Ihejirika to the lieutenant colonels leading the 22 Battalion, Ilorin; 22 Armoured Brigade, Ilorin; 82 Battalion, Jos; 2 Mechanised Division, Ibadan; and 81 Division, Lagos.

According to David Kilcullen, a COIN expert, counter-insurgency “is a competition to mobilise popular support”. As the army cordons, searches, arrests and gets rid of insurgents and their bases, the safety of Nigerians residing in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States must be paramount.

Alas, Nigeria’s armed forces are notorious for extra-judicial killing. The government must continually seize the initiative: big guns and body counts don’t win counter-insurgencies. Since July 2011, the Nigeria Security Tracker, compiled and updated by the Council on Foreign Relations, puts cumulative deaths per week at 6,867. Boko Haram, sectarian violence and state violence (from clashes with Boko Haram) have accounted for 26 percent, 31 percent and 16 percent of the total, respectively.

A research paper ‘Victory Has a Thousand Fathers’ by Christopher Paul, Colin Clarke and Beth Grill states that restricting insurgents’ access to “tangible support (such as new personnel, materiel, sanctuary and financing) is the single best predictor of COIN force success”.

Popular support was found to go only so far, so long as the factors of tangible support remained. In Rwanda, for instance, though there was popular support from the majority of the people, the insurgents received tangible support from outside the country. Hence, cooperating with the governments of Niger, Chad, Cameroun and Mali to check the borders in order to disrupt the supply chain of insurgents is critical for a successful campaign.

COIN strategies such as repression, “crushing them”, don’t work. Repression and collective punishment must thus be avoided. We commend President Jonathan’s directive that all women captured in the offensive be released – this bold move sends a clear message: government will neither adopt nor descend to the insurgents’ strategy.

Rather, a successful campaign is a function of simultaneous implementation of COIN best practices, e.g., getting the local government areas to function, to win hearts and minds legitimately through good governance, respect for human rights and strategic communication. For the boots on the ground to maintain legitimacy in the conflict areas, they need adequate intelligence, and thus must engage with the local and state governments to get investments in infrastructure, provision of basic services, and rebuilding of destroyed homes, schools, hospitals, churches and mosques. 

Furthermore, the president must follow up on unravelling and addressing the root causes of insurgency. Insurgents, capitalising on popular disaffection, have spread a “fanatical agenda of mayhem, mass murder, division and separatism”. As armed forces do all within their rules of engagement to end the insurgency, the president’s efforts at persuasion, dialogue, and widespread consultation with political, religious and community leaders must continue.