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Terrorism: Realising Buhari’s December deadline

President Muhammadu Buhari

WITH the eight-week ultimatum given by the National Assembly to end insecurity about to expire, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has issued a fresh deadline to the military to wipe out the outlaws. As terrorists, bandits, Fulani herdsmen and ‘gunmen’ persist in their nationwide rapine, Buhari ordered his troops to decisively stop the siege by December. This is just about  three months away. Certainly, Buhari will have to do more than handing out unenforced orders to defeat the extremists.

Evaluated at 8.23 points (out of 10) or of Very High Impact, the Global Terrorism Index 2022 lists Nigeria as the sixth most terrorised country in the world. Afghanistan (9.10), Iraq (8.51) and Somalia (8.39) top the list, with Islamic terrorism as the chief culprit.

Since 2009, Nigeria has been bedevilled by jihadism initiated by the Boko Haram Salafist sect. A report by the Centre for Democracy and Development, an NGO, said terrorists have slain about 60,000 persons in Northern Nigeria in the past 10 years. Beacon Consulting’s Nigerian Security Tracker calculated that the terrorists massacred 7,222 persons and kidnapped 3,823 others between January and July. The United Nations Migration Office counted 2 million internally displaced persons.

As the government dithered, jihadism conflated with banditry, Fulani herdsmen’s scorched earth campaign, gunmen attacks and militancy in the oil-bearing areas. On Buhari’s watch, insecurity has pushed the country towards state failure.

A national newspaper has mapped Buhari’s record of 29 directives to the security chiefs in the past three years to “crush the insurgents,” as of last August. None has delivered. Twice in one week, the latest order to crush the insurgents has been reported. At a joint news conference, the ministers of defence, information, interior and police affairs reiterated the presidential deadline.

Arguing that the situation improved after troops bombed insurgent locations and captured terrorists, Defence Minister, Bashir Magashi, said “… this administration is doing everything possible to ensure the safety and security of all citizens.” The reality overturns the claim. Oil theft has severely constrained output, enabling Angola and war-torn Libya to displace Nigeria as Africa’s largest crude producer. Nigeria’s output fell below 1.0 million barrels per day to 972,394bpd; Angola and Libya pumped 1.18mbpd and 1.12mbpd respectively.

Unfortunately, Buhari persists in denial. To Nigerians, he is overwhelmed and inept. Instead of acting like the Commander-in-Chief, he sermonises, giving ineffectual orders after each atrocity. After terrorists ambushed the Abuja-Kaduna train, killing and abducting passengers on March 28, Buhari directed the security agencies to “fish out” the perpetrators. Five months later, 23 of the victims remain in captivity. When terrorists overran Kuje Prisons in the Federal Capital Territory, he lamely ordered the insurgents be brought to book.

After Fulani herdsmen massacred over 70 persons on New Year’s Day in 2018 in Benue State, he gave an assurance of “total commitment to the security of lives and property” and of deploying additional security resources “to fish out attackers, bring them to justice, and prevent further attacks.” Nothing happened. Worse, his directive to the then Inspector-General of Police to relocate to Benue was ignored, only for Buhari to abjectly complain publicly. The errant IG was never penalised.

The military received similar fiats in August 2021 when terrorists invaded Nigeria’s premier military training institution, the Nigerian Defence Academy, killing two officers and abducting another. After terrorists abducted students at Bethel Baptist High School, Kaduna, in July 2021, his directive to the security agencies “to act swiftly” proved to be pointless, as one victim remains with the kidnappers.

Earlier in November 2020, his order to the military to destroy the Islamists who massacred 43 rice farmers on their farms in Zabarmari, Borno State, yielded little.

In August, the President also directed the military and civil defence corps to eliminate the oil vandals in the Niger Delta. Nearly a month after, industrial scale oil theft remains rampant, with estimates of 400,000bpd stolen cited.

Based on this sorry record, the December deadline does not reassure. Some observers suggest that Buhari is trying to buy time ahead of NASS’s resumption, or just desperately seeking a respite by early 2023 when general elections would hold. While it is desirable to hold elections peacefully, defeating Islamic terrorism, banditry, Fulani herdsmen rapine, gunmen atrocities and oil theft require extensive planning and long-term perspective rather than a short reprieve to facilitate elections.

The Goodluck Jonathan administration similarly drove the insurgents who had occupied 27 LGAs in the North-East underground just to allow the 2015 polls. Today, Boko Haram, its splinter groups and bandits are holding down territories again.

Nigeria is at war. In Zamfara, a former governor estimated that there are 30,000 bandits there and about 120,000 others across the North-West. This is a large army, but it can be defeated.

Buhari should establish a ‘war council.’ The initial step is to restructure the security system. The police, the first line of protection, are hopeless because it is an aberration to have a single police force in a federation. He should compel the IG to immediately withdraw the overwhelming number of officers attached to VIPs and deploy them in operations. State police can no longer be delayed.

Nigeria alone cannot win the war against terror. In Iraq and Syria, it took the United States-led global coalition and the local militias combining to overcome the Islamic State. ISIS still conducts attacks despite this. Therefore, Buhari should secure international assistance in terms of equipment, drone technology that the US has deployed effectively against ISIS, funding, and intelligence-gathering.

The State Security Service should be reformed quickly to perform its core duty of gathering usable intelligence instead of hounding regime critics. Buhari should appoint security chiefs based on merit; security chiefs under whose tenure security breaches become prevalent should be replaced and performance targets set.

Nigeria should prosecute terror suspects, including the 400 bureaux de change operators accused of financing Boko Haram operations. The intelligence community should follow the money trail deployed in oiling the insurgency. The regime should effectively block the porous borders and curb the influx of arms into the country.



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