The Nigerian state has embarked on dozens of programs since 2009 with the aim of figuring out and resolving the Boko Haram conflict. Each step in this direction, usually stirs a flurry of activities. Little if any effort is ever committed to seeking insight into the components of the problem. Not surprisingly, all of the programs are quickly abandoned. Not because these initiatives lacked the potentials to offer meaningful outcomes. No, only that the processes usually do not offer individual and successive leaders immediate ammunitions for cheap political points.
Sometime in June 2011, I approached the Centre for Peace, Diplomacy and Development of the University of Maiduguri to create a platform where independent Ulamas with representatives of the Boko Haram sect now Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) were to face each other to discuss over misrepresentations of Islamic doctrines that have given rise to terrorism and violence in the first place. The meeting was designed to hold outside of Nigeria, issues and beliefs as they affect terror doctrines and citizenship in Nigeria were to be the focal theme.
The sect, at the time, agreed in principle to this suggestion. As civil society platform, we required the Nigerian government provide a secure corridor, a kind of need to know engagement but government showed no interest. It would be foolhardy for the platform and the independent Ulamas to proceed on this path without government acceptance and even if surreptitious endorsement. “We have everything under control and we will shortly deal with the problem,” we were assured.
Several years and thousands of lives and livelihoods down the drain and we are still receiving similar refrain from today’s government. Nigeria has not developed and sustained any institutional and non-military initiative since the 26 of July, 2009 when the first crisis occurred. No room for long term programs or institutional development, only ad-hoc measures and knee jerk reactions have become a field day. To make matters worse, even recommendations of most of these ad-hoc committees, panels and individual whorkshops, official and unofficial research have all been thrown in the dust bins of our political and security offices.
Consistency affords government an opportunity to stick around on an issue over a long period of time, which helps in creating deeper understanding when applying strategic and adaptable solutions. When we initiate a process and abandon it each time we encounter obstacles and turn to it again, we are not only starting afresh but become ignorant of a problem we would have ordinarily been expert on. We sidetrack the opportunity and benefits of experience.
In one instance, recently, a professional that was engaged to undertake an assignment discovered to his surprise that he was the one doing the thinking for government. He also did the planning, and almost like micro-directing what deserved to be done. Such does not speak well of the professionals and the structures funded by tax payers. The designated “boss” is only barking orders and instructions unrelated to reality on ground.
For instance, in the issue of the insurgency on our hands political and security leaders do not seem to have a clue that the following components are all necessary for the success of any intervention: (1) Risk assessment (2) Operational support (3) Timely decision making process (4), and persistence are prerequisites for any credible process in resolving any dead lock to succeed.
As it has always been the case, the absence of one or two of the above components ends up making nonsense of whatever efforts and resources that had been committed. And the penchant for these political and security leaders to dwell on blame game is unbelievable. They blame one another as well as throw blames on the outsider(s) unable to get outcomes as a result of their own inconsideration.
Not willing to review all and each of the programs dating back to 2011 to assess what went wrong, why and how from an institutional mechanism rather than individual who may have a vested interest remains a draw back.
Interestingly, today, it is difficult to find any political or security leader in Nigeria that can give an accurate assessment of ISWAP. “It is a group on the run” but has attempted to overrun military units or bases recently. “It is a dying organization,” but has over a dozen undetected haphazard weapons and IED factories in West African sub region till date. Six years into one of the world’s most violent insurgencies, there is no accurate profiling of its leaders by governments, the Nigerian military, till date, scrambles still images from the sect’s propaganda videos to publish on its wanted lists.
The current deficiency of an ideological dimension in the current fight against the terrorist group is indicative of the poor understanding of the problem by the governments in West Africa that are in direct confrontation with ISWAP. Leaders are too busy with empty activities that they cannot study or understand the biggest problem that confronts their constituents.
In the current insecurity in the land, our security leaders were not able to develop a knack for seeing potentials in a process. Not even in the ones they initiated. Amongst the service chiefs and their agencies lies deep rooted mistrusts and rivalry that has always been counterproductive to the nation’s common aspirations for peace.
Thus far, petty squabbles and blackmail (caution or fear of sanction as others prefer to call it) has hampered radical decision making and new thinking by the current crop of Service Chiefs in finding solutions to the current security challenges. When leaders take in an incurable impatience; an irritation with anything that designs process, they are not exclusively bound to fail, but risk the lives of those they have a duty to protect. Apparently, the previous government was imprudent in managing this conflict, but the current one seems to have impatience, and many of its leaders have not been able to keep personal grudges aside for national security considerations.
Nigeria may likely have a lull in ISWAP activities and a heightened campaign after the expiration of the December deadline by the Federal Government. However, what is worrying is the presence of most of the ideological leaders of ISWAP as at date, indicating potential of a revival. Therefore, it is important for government to focus on prosecuting this war to its legitimate end and not get distracted by calls of dialogue.