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Human intelligence at the centre of the fight against extremism in Nigeria

Since 2008/‘09, Nigeria has been battling extremism. Extremism doesn’t just pop up, it is built up over decades and years, and can be attributed to failed economic policies and developments in certain areas that help perpetuate extremism.

My article isn’t about how Nigeria got into extremism but how to navigate ourselves out of this. As we continue to fight against this, you need intelligence. You need to see what is going on and anticipate the enemy’s moves because the enemy is doing the same thing on their end.

How can we collect and analyse intelligence? There are different ways of collecting and analysing intelligence. There is signal intelligence for communication, open source intelligence, and human intelligence.

Talk to the people, take the solution to them, admit that you have failed them, and do things right

For this article, we’d focus on human intelligence. Human intelligence is generally defined as intelligence gathered using interpersonal contact. It requires interfacing with people.

I’ve drawn experience from fighting extremism in different countries and discovered that talking to people on the street helps you gauge what’s going on and the threat level in the area you find yourself. The same thing applies to Nigeria. Security agencies can go door to door in different corridors to gauge the threat level in those areas.

The next question is this. When you’re getting intel from a human source, how do you ensure it’s the correct information? This depends on a lot of things. For Nigeria to get ahead in the fight against extremism, we have to be able to turn the tide on human intelligence because we are often a day short or a step back. Most people will not talk to you because extremists have used their position to overwhelm them. You can enter a village trying to gather information, but the people are unwilling to help because of threats from extremists.

However, there are ways to turn things around in this situation. Most times, bandits, their sympathizers, or people that live where these things are prevalent don’t want to give them up because they’re providing what the government trying to counter them isn’t providing. Imagine a village left desolate for years, and bandits came around to give them money. The villagers won’t expose them.

If the government is trying to look at areas where supposed bandits or extremists are flourishing, look at the rural development in those areas. What has been done to help those communities and lift them to economic prosperity? Has the government communicated plans to improve the area?

Having neglected these communities, what can the government do to turn things around? Talk to the people, take the solution to them, admit that you have failed them, and do things right. Putting these in place can increase human intel on the enemy activities and place the government one step ahead of the extremist groups. Else, the government is always going to run a day late.

I understand that certain people don’t believe extremism is because the government has done the communities wrong, but you can find the link even though you don’t think that way. Some people don’t believe there are other ways to get the government to hear them out without taking adverse actions.

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I believe that the people, communities, and society can convince these bandits to drop their arms or turn on them. In turning on them, security agencies will be able to get legit information about the movement of bandits, ISWAP, and Boko Haram, and knowing their movements, you’d be able to break those networks.

These networks have not been broken because no one is giving them up, and that’s because it’s tied to human intelligence.

Security agencies are running their clandestine operations to get information to map out their operations, and the enemy is doing the same. They are using their human intelligence, and because the security agents are also talking to the people, they can find out what the security agents are saying or what kinds of questions they are asking.

So, it’s a battle of human intel between the state agencies and the community in which people believe these extremist groups are residing. If some of their problems are elevated, human intelligence will improve, and people will rat on them or convince them to work with the government to get things done.

If half of the money spent on security in Nigeria is diverted to developing these communities, insecurity issues in Nigeria will decrease significantly. Often, when your method of fighting insecurity isn’t working, you have to seek other methods.

Shooting and pounding communities with artillery is an ideology deeply rooted in people’s minds but using economic development in those communities will turn the tides of human intelligence, and human intelligence is the centrepiece of planning operations to uproot extremism in Nigeria.