Monday, April 27, 2015

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Boko Haram: Fighting Fire with Fire

Why does President Jonathan favour force over dialogue in dealing with Boko Haram?
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Members of Nigeria's police force. Photograph by S Martin.

In June, suspected members of the Islamist militant group Boko Haram attacked Yobe prison freeing over 40 inmates and concluding a week of violence in which around 150 Nigerians were killed in attacks. Frustrated by the government’s inability to check such attacks, President Goodluck Jonathan sacked both Minister of Defence Bello Haliru and National Security Adviser General Andrew Owoye Azazi.

That arbitrary and short-term reaction is representative of Jonathan’s approach to terrorism over the past two years. His counter-terrorism policies have been overwhelmingly reliant on state force as opposed to negotiation, dialogue, or counter-radicalisation programmes in the north, and they have so far failed to deliver.

Licence to Kill

Boko Haram – which means “Western education is forbidden” – is based in the northeast of the country and has rapidly overtaken militants in the oil-producing southern Niger Delta as the country’s biggest security threat.

The precedent of using bullets to tackle the group was set in 2009 when security forces clashed with militants in Maiduguri. Nearly 200 people were killed and thousands displaced. Forces also managed to capture Boko Haram’s leader, Mohammed Yusuf, who was later killed in detention.

Since 2009, Boko Haram have reportedly killed over 1,000 people in attacks on churches, mosques, government buildings and schools as well as assassinations of high-profile politicians and religious figures.

Operations by Nigeria’s security forces have also, however, led to numerous deaths of bystanders as well as Boko Haram suspects with little accountability. One security officer, for example, worryingly explained, “When we receive intelligence that Boko Haram members are in a particular location, we usually arrive on the scene spraying bullets. Innocent people die but that happens all the time in Nigeria.”

Legally, the 2011 Prevention of Terrorism Act gives the police, security forces, and Joint Task Force sweeping powers to counter terrorism. Most importantly, section 13 states that law enforcement officers have immunity “from civil or criminal liability for the use of force as may be necessary for any purpose that results in injury or death to any person or damage or loss to any property”.

This goes hand-in-hand with Police Force Order 237, which permits officers to shoot suspects and detainees who attempt to escape or avoid arrest – this helps explain why no-one has yet been prosecuted for the death of Yusuf.

The world is not enough?

The preference for the use of force and state violence to counter Islamic terrorism is not unique to Nigeria, and could be seen to be part of a global paradigm led by the US in its War on Terror. Subsequently, it could be argued that Nigeria needs to continue to use force against Boko Haram in order to maintain the economic, political, and military support of the US.

Already embarrassed by allowing Umar Abdulmutallab – the Nigerian terrorist who failed in his attempt to detonate explosives whilst on a plane headed for the US in 2009 – to slip through their net, Nigeria was then placed on America’s terror watch list as a “country of interest”, alongside Iraq, Iran, and Yemen. Though that policy has since been changed, the international framing of Nigeria as a country that harbours terrorists could be harmful to Nigeria’s economic prospects. Being seen as unstable, dangerous, or insecure deters foreign investors.

This perhaps explains why Nigeria follows America’s lead and perseveres with its aggressive counter-terrorism policies. In this pursuit, the government has been accepting support from the likes of the UK, Pakistan, France, Israel and Italy in the form of training, arms, and finance. The biggest supporter of Nigeria, however, has been the US which has sent counter-terrorism advisors to Nigeria, while its Anti-terrorism Assistance Programme and Trans-Sahel Counter-Terrorism Program has provided Nigeria with significant funds to strengthen counter-terrorism units.

Never say never again

Negotiation, on the other hand, has been given little serious consideration, under the old mantra that “we don’t negotiate with terrorists”. Boko Haram has demonstrated a willingness to negotiate with the government, offering terms for laying down arms, but has also, from time to time, violently rejected government offerings.

In July 2010, Boko Haram spokesperson Abu Zayd stated that the “government must be sincere and stop terrorising Muslims in Maiduguri and parts of the North, then there should be a time limit for ceasing fire to gauge government commitment in keeping to its promise, which cannot be more than ten years”.

Then in October 2010, Boko Haram gave further conditions for a truce, including releasing detained members, allowing those in exile to return, reopening closed mosques, just treatment, and “practice [of] our religion according to our belief”.

Up to now, talks have come to little, and many suspect that neither Boko Haram nor the government is taking negotiation seriously. Efforts by Babakura Fugu, a relative of Yusuf, to mediate between the government and Boko Haram concluded in his murder by Boko Haram members in September 2011. In March 2012, negotiations collapsed again with the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria blaming the government for leaking details of the meetings to the press and creating friction between the different parties.

Calls for negotiation were again made by the militant group in May this year, sparking renewed interest by the government, but the discussions stalled later that month.

Live and let die

Last July, Jonathan stated that he would be willing to negotiate if the group was not “faceless”. The group is too fragmented, he suggested, to engage in meaningful dialogue, making military solutions backed by the US the best of the undesirable options available.

There may be some truth behind Jonathan’s claim that the group is factionalised and internally incoherent, but these assertions may also be an excuse to continue violence in place of confronting the genuine economic, social, and political problems that allowed for radicalisation in the first place. Indeed, it is for these underlying structural reasons that Boko Haram has a degree of grassroots support in the north, and until the Nigerian government recognise this, their aggressive military strategies will at best only be able to deliver short-term respite, if that.

Editorial note - further reading:

Zach Warner on the historical dynamics of exclusion that produced Boko Haram.

Mark Dearn on the group's development and evolution.

An expert panel discuss the sect and strategies to combat it.

Exclusive Analysis on the link between Boko Haram's actions and sectarian violence across Nigeria.

Exclusive Analysis on splits in the sect and ties to politicians and international groupings, such as AQIM.

Alex Thurston on Boko Haram's February 2011 threats of war.

Rom Bhandari on how the group is a political as well as security problem, following Goodluck Jonathan's announcement that Boko Haram had infiltrated government.

Lagun Akinloye and Chris Kwaja provide context on Nigeria's security sector.

Alex Thurston reports from Kano on Obasanjo's attempted diplomacy with the group.

Think Africa Press welcomes inquiries regarding the republication of its articles. If you would like to republish this or any other article for re-print, syndication or educational purposes, please contact:

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The author obviously does not understand the dynamics of Boko Haram. Why should any govt negotiate with an asymmetric politicized terrorist organization? The US govt invaded two countries, rather than negotiate, to attack terrorist organizations. Why should our govt?In fact, I think the GEJ administration has been lenient with the terrorist group. Please, keep comments about a country you clearly did not grow up in to yourself. 


the first thing which you have to bear in mind is that all federal-level appointments in Nigeria, at some level, represent a balancing act of sorts since Nigerians are wont to flip out their crystal balls with a view to checking for ethnoregional and religious undertones in everything - projects, appointments, postings etc.

It may interest you to know that in a Nigeria where ethnocentric intrigues and blackmail are often deployed to make the task difficult for an unwanted postholder, the Northern power establishment have always seen the posts of NSA, Defence Minister and Chief of Army Staff as their birthright. Being the first man of southern extraction to emerge as NSA, Azazi was up against a brickwall from the get go. The clear plan was to make sure that he did not succeed and as such, the myth that there is something about the office of NSA which is known only to Northerners, would have been propagated.

In appointing Sambo Dasuki, President Jonathan has delivered a masterstroke in a number of ways. So if the Azazi era was characterised by the use of force, let us systematically let us look at the new era whereby the FG has saddled a number of senior Northerners with the responsibility of fashioning out a response to the Northern Insurgency.

The new National Security Adviser, Colonel(rtd) Sambo Dasuki is the son of a former Sultan of Sokoto. The Sultan is the leader of Nigeria's 80-million strong muslim community and the most senior traditional ruler in the North. The incumbent Sultan Sa'ad Abubakar is his cousin and they both served in the Army together.

Dasuki, who was the senior of the two, belonged to the Artillery Corps while the incumbent Sultan, a retired Brigadier General who was a coursemate of the incumbent Chief of Army Staff, belonged to the Armoured Corps.

Now, the Sultan is a modern ruler with exposure who is close to President Jonathan. The moderate traditions of Sokoto predate the current crisis. Way back in 1966 during pogroms against christian Easterners in the North which ultimately precipitated the Nigerian Civil War, the weighty admonition of the Sultan's grandfather (late Sultan Abubakar Siddique III) it was which ensured that pogroms did not take place in Sokoto.

As we speak and relative to the turbulence in the Far North, Sokoto was almost totally calm until yesterday's suicide attacks(July 30th), a curious twist given the current push for the dialogue which you have eloquently championed its cause.

Unlike his predecessors who were past Directors of Military Intelligence/Provost Marshall of the Corps of Military Police AND who all later rose to be GOC/Chief of Army Staff/Chief of Defence Staff, Dasuki was basically an artilleryman with formal training in security matters and the practical experience which goes with having been a former President's ADC. In every way, Dasuki's emergence does break the mould.

It is clear that Dasuki's connections to Buhari and B
abangida afford him easy access to both men. With Babangida whom he served as ADC, he is able to serve as go-between in his former boss's simmering love-hate relationship with President Jonathan. He is sure to be able to do that competently. The latent state of hostility between General Babangida and President Jonathan looks set to ease up a bit.

This is unlikely to happen with General Buhari's whose vaulting ambition to become President overrides everything else. Admittedly, the famously rigid and unforgiving Buhari might still bear grudges against Dasuki himself. This stems from Dasuki's role in the coup which toppled Buhari's military government in 1985.

Concerning the conservative northern power elite who are still miffed at the fact that the North got beaten in the race for the Presidency, it is clear that they tacitly support the antics of Boko Haram insofar as it does not affect them personally. However, their feudal structures and outlook on life shall see the blue-blooded Dasuki exercising a large measure of influence on them, directly and through the offices of the Sultan, his cousin and close confidante.

Dasuki is a Sokoto Prince and that counts A LOT in the conservative political establishment up North. A senatorial seat in Sokoto State has all but become the heritage of Sokoto princes - passed from one Sultan's son to another. That tells you how much that institution is reverred.

In appointing Dasuki to the post of NSA, President Jonathan has tacitly passed on the responsibility for fashioning out a political solution to the Northern insurgency to the traditional and political leadership of the North. With the Sultan as his friend and the NSA on his side, the apex leadership of the Northern traditional structures and the security machinery of the Nigerian Federation have been brought together to bring respite to the embattled Jonathan administration.

In what replicates the relationship between a Federation and its States, the relationship between the Sultanate and Emirates in Northern Nigeria has the Sultan akin to a President while the Emirs are akin to state governors.

The exception to the rule is Greater Borno (Borno and Yobe states) which always existed independently of the overlordship of Sokoto and were answerable to the Shehu of Borno. Be that as it may, Dasuki's royal antecedents stand him in good stead for cooperative relations with over three-quarters of the Emirs of a somewhat hostile Northern Nigeria still smarting from a bruised ego after the crushing defeat of the region's grassroots political champion - Buhari, a largely untainted man of principle who leads an ascetic lifestyle, is largely honest but is an ethnoregional hegemon and a religious zealot.

The structures of the North are such that the Emirs wield enormous influence in traditional and political leadership. With the Sultan and the NSA working to fashion out a political solution, the Emirs are expected to fall into line and with that, the political leaders would be more amenable to the designs of the NSA.

With the enormous patronage available to be dispensed by the political leaders, the jobbers in political and activists circles all of whom have a price, can be more easily manipulated through their stomachs and pockets, Nigerian style.

By the same token, WATCH as the nexus of blackmail which has seen activists, politicians, journalists and intellectuals waging a campaign of calumny against the JTF with a view to forcing the FG to have them pulled back, reconsiders its very hostile stance.

It has not been in doubt that some JTF troops have over-reacted or been unduly heavy-handed. But your allusion to JTF troops "arriving and shooting indiscriminately" sounded like the kind of drivel which only the 'respected Kaduna-based rights activists' feeds to impressionable Nigeria watchers. It is ironic that you have not mentioned Boko Haram who are the ones who typically arrive lobbing canisters of IEDs in the manner of grenades at every battle ground. They fling these IEDs indiscriminately and that causes more civilian casualties than stray bullets do. Again, Boko Haram are not trained in urban warfare or Close Quarter Battles.

Conversely, the JTF troops are put through a 4-week programme of proficiency training in Close Quarter Combat, house clearing, Fighting in Built-Up Areas, anti-ambush tactics, hostage rescue etc PRIOR TO deployment - at Jaji and Kachia in Kaduna State. More than 3,000 troops have been thus trained since March. It is a training regimen given in lieu of pre-deployment and it is mandatory for JSTF and STF troops in the Far North and on the Jos Plateau. The Quick Response Group are also put through similar paces at Jaji before deployment. These are things which are well chronicled on my blog.

It is also ironic that you are talking about the same JSTF/STF which typically forewarn civilians to evacuate an area where operations are imminent - at Sokoto, Kano, Okene, Damaturu and most recently, the quit notice given to residents of highland villages on the Jos Plateau(see my blog archives).

Your work seems badly slanted and reads like an apologist treatise put together in conjunction with Boko Haram sympathisers masquerading as activists which most Western commentators have found themselves doing business with as a matter of always courting the favours of subversives everywhere that they go.

It is WRONG for journalists to pretend not to know that the bulk of civilian casualties have stemmed from the indiscriminate detonation of IEDs by terrorists during gun battles..even as the northern press pretend not to know this, seeking instead to create the impression that the JTF, who coincidentally are the ones trained in Close Quarter Combat and urban guerrilla warfare, are responsible for the civilian casualties.

In broad outlines, the appointment of Dasuki does represent a paradigm shift. For one, the consultations and back channel communication geared towards resolving the security crises in the North, look set to become stepped up to unprecedented heights while frontline troops continue with their exertions simultaneously - beating back attacks and raiding insurgent hideouts/IED-manufacturing facilities.

The North has just been empowered like never before to fashion out a northern-designed response to a cankerworm which the region unleashed on the country. If in doubt, you might ask to know why it was that the first action of the new NSA was to visit and hold consultations with the Vice President, who is the most senior northerner in government. This same approach was precisely what transpired during the Amnesty in the Niger Delta when President Jonathan, a son of the Niger Delta, was still Vice President. He led the in-house deliberations and consultations in the Niger Delta and midwifed what has been a largely successful Niger Delta Peace Process.

Vice President Sambo, Sultan Sa'ad Abubakar and the new NSA, Colonel Dasuki have now been placed in the driving seat of that process which is expected to bring peace to the troubled and failing North.

Unfortunately and flying in the face of the charm offensive by Colonel Dasuki which has taken him to conflict-ridden cities such as Damaturu, Kano, Maiduguri and Jos, it is clear that the hardline and dominant leadership of Boko Haram have other ideas which transcend the mawkish idea of a dialogue with mindless killers

* BH have been complicit in the massacre of over 100 christian highland villagers on the Jos Plateau this month, including the unprecedented deaths of a Senator and a leading state legislator albeit by default

* a botched attack on the Shehu of Borno and the Deputy Governor of Borno at a mosque in Maiduguri

* a botched suicide attack on a Kano mosque on July 29th

Contrary to your effusive protestation about the necessity to pursue the option of dialogue, the most powerful and hardline wing of Boko Haram on July 30th made a clear statement which signposted the fact that they are not interested in the dialogue which you keep on talking about.

That wing of Boko Haram which is violent and by far the dominant faction launched attacks which were aimed at sending a clear message to VP Sambo, Sultan Abubakar and the NSA, Colonel Dasuki who are the leading lights in the drive towards getting the terrorists to the negotiating table.

This was done by staging the first-ever attacks on Sokoto, the hometown of Sultan Abubakar and Colonel Dasuki and also, the country home of Vice President Sambo at Zaria.

If anything, BH synergies with AQIM, Ansar Dine, MUJAO and such Sahelian terrorist groups has reinforced their belief that they are able to secure men and materiel for joint operations inside Nigeria, alongside these allies who they aided in their fight to seize the NE Malian town of Gao - an unreturned favour.

So what is to say that these men of Boko Haram for whom the fear of death has lost its deterrence factor, have any reason to contemplate your option of dialogue? They commenced their campaign of suicide bombings last year and have scarcely exploited all their options as far as alliances go. Yet you surely believe that they are war weary even as the Algerian terrorists are still fighting 20 years down the line? I doubt that you understand the psyche of these men, Madam.

The most powerful hardline faction of the insurgents are not likely to climb down from their cause which is a lot more underpinned by cravings for a utopian Islamic State than with anything related to the human condition such as poverty or illiteracy.

That said, a moderate and patronised faction of Boko Haram, indulged by political and tradional leaders and by moderate muslim clerics shall soon emerge. Back channel communication with the insurgents shall advance the furthest BUT deadly in-fighting shall also commence within the group.

Few watchers appear to realise that there is a hardcore group of fanatical ideologues and extremists who shall pursue their jihadist dreams regardless. That faction cannot be pacified, except they recant on their own volition or are forced to do so by sustained military action directed against them.

An insurgency which has people blowing themselves up in the name of suicide bombings surely has FANATICAL underpinnings which have nothing to do with any illiterate needing or wanting to become educated or a poor man seeking a better life. That was the point which they proved to the well-meaning harbingers of the option of dialogue when the attacked Sokoto and the Zaria home of the Vice President yesterday.

The average Nigerian seeks a better tomorrow. The path to that tomorrow does not entail getting killed today - a path which clearly signposts FANATICISM.

We need to be less simplistic about these matters.

@Jessica Brandler, you have demonstrated a very shallow understanding of the issues at stake. I advise you to go back to your country and negotiate with the terrorists threatening it. When it comes to African or Nigerian issues, you make a fool of yourself when you attempt an analysis. .

 Jessica, there are several gaping problems with this article on Boko Haram.  I apologise if this reads as a polemic.  It is meant as pointers towards further research on the subject before publications such as this.  I think that there are some errors in the analysis and the tone of the piece.The first issue that I would draw attention to is not so much the content but the manner in which it is discussed.  Providing incongruous James Bond sub-headings to every section trivialises what has been a brutal insurgency responsible for thousands of deaths.The sackings of Haliru and Azazi were in no way ‘arbitrary’.  In the preceding line you have posited a possible reason for their removal so the use of this term is confusing.  Nor were they ‘short-term’ sackings.  The change in these positions has been the most obvious sign of a change in tactics by the Jonathan administration which had been progressing for some time.  Some cursory research would have provided evidence for this.Your line of reasoning : ‘Boko Haram – bad/ JTF – also bad’ is reductionist to the point that it makes both groups out to be equally culpable.  The security forces of the Nigerian state have certainly carried out injustices in an incredibly difficult security situation but the conflation implied by your writing does a huge disservice to those attempting to fight back against Boko Haram.  It is such writing that rightly dissuades many in Nigeria from reading any British publication when dealing with terrorism in Nigeria.  Such clumsy narratives must be avoided.The comparison of US and Nigerian tactics is strained at best.  You make the assumption that the Nigerian state is defending itself against Boko Haram in order to ‘maintain support’ from the US.  This deprives the Nigerian state of any agency for itself, seemingly claiming that they could have no self-interest in fighting Boko Haram.  The state of Nigeria is being threatened.  US interests are not the most important factor in play for the Nigerian state.You then continue with your point about ‘following America’s lead’ in the War on Terror.  The use of violence to put down Islamic extremists far predates any concept of the War on Terror.To your final point of the Government needing to ‘realise’ that Boko Haram has grassroots support.  This is outright arrogance.  Of course the Jonathan administration realises this.  They have attempted negotiations that have been largely unpopular and unsuccessful due to the fractured nature of the group they are dealing with.  Due to the burgeoning nature of the violence they are being forced increasingly to fight fire with fire. The initial work and speeches of the new NSA, Sambo Dasuki, discredits any notion that the Govt is simply using wanton violence without regard for the consequences.  It does not take James Bond to figure that out.

 Author should retire. Commenters have chewed her out. Shouldn't have taken on Nigeria. Your otherAfrican experience doesnt count here.

Reasoning with Islamic insurgents (Boko Haram) in Nigeria
Abstract writing: Tapped from infinite wisdom of God
The origin of the Islamic violence can be seen from the book of Genesis 16:12 in the Holy Bible (And he will be a wild man, his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him. And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren) KJV.
That pronounciation alone from God released a violent lifestyle into the DNA of Ishmael and his descendants. It made them live life or wars as a regular life. When people see them act, the question is always “don’t these people have conscience”, well the answer is they do, and their conscience is just what they acting out. To them its right and  everybody will want to do what his conscience tells him its right.(Let us pause for a moment at this time, stop blaming them and think of a way out of it)
The other reason for their action is this ( they are angry over the western education that is creeping into their religion and attracting a lifestyle that is alien to their religion and holy beliefs) . The truth be told, what they believe they are doing is simple or fanatically fighting for their God. They respect their God, and they reverence him and will do anything to protect the name of their God. Many other religious fanatics can do the same. As we can all do the same when fighting for what we believe is right.
For instance, back in the days of the Israelites up to the days of Jesus Christ, when Jesus (which can be said to represent the present day western education) came into the religious circles of the Jews and started teaching new bizarre doctrines that did not seem in line with the law of Moses, even though Jesus did miracles, the people that in their own opinion loved God, felt like his has come to bring in a sought of western education and the then Pharisees and Sadducees   fought him with all their might and all their strength. In their own opinion, they were fighting for God. What happened at the interim? They seemed to have won by crucifying Jesus. God allowed Jesus to be sacrificed for the sake of an eternal peace, and after three days Jesus rose up and became the savior of the world, the same person they persecuted, was the same person that was used to save the world and now the majority of the world looks up to him.
To be realistic every other person can do what these Boko Haram as they are popularly called are doing, they seem to want justice for their God and religion. Everybody wants justice; everybody believes he has the right to be justified.
Taking a second look, they can actually be transformed to become calm people; God can actually change their minds. They can be peaceful people, but God will assist in achieving that for us if we are ready to let God change our strategy, use wisdom and do it peacefully and not with violence.
Two violent forces can never bring peace but will lead to further violence and continuous destruction, but violence and peace will surely bring about peace. Let us show them some love, let us show them that we care and understand how they feel and we will all be surprised at the outcome of their peaceful reaction.
Love never fails
To be continued