Education and the problem of insurgency in Nigeria

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By Our Special Correspondent

 The problem of insurgency in Nigeria would come to an end if the words of the Minister of Defence, Mohammed Badaru Abubakar, become reality. According to the minister, the war against insurgency will be won with a communication strategy and newly trained special forces. The minister said this in an interview with newsmen after addressing the members of Senior Course 46 of the Armed Forces Command and Staff College (AFCSC), Jaji Military Cantonment, on Tuesday, 5 March 2023, in Kaduna State.

The theme for the seminar was “Imperatives of Operational and Tactical Level Leadership for Enhanced Counter Terrorism, Counter Insurgency Operations in Nigeria”.

Badaru said the government’s commitment to defeating the insurgency is a comprehensive security strategy, and that community engagement remained unwavering. “We are pursuing a whole-of-the-government approach in handling the counter-insurgency and anti-banditry operations.”

Speaking further after a tour of some of the military facilities and formations in the cantonment, Badaru said some of the facilities were meant to train special forces to fight insurgency. The minister said a total of 2,400 of the special forces would be trained with a first phase consisting of 800 military personnel. Following a two-month enhanced training, these special forces would be deployed with the responsibility of end-game tackling of the insurgents and terrorists till they are completely annihilated.“There are enough fighting equipment and platforms. After the training, they will go into the forests and fish out the terrorists,” he said.

The Nigerian State has battled insurgency since 2009 in mostly the North East region utilizing diverse means and efforts that have cost the nation billions of pounds. This insurgency which has now spread to other parts of the country has affected food security, leaving millions of Nigerians facing acute hunger and displacement from their ancestral homes.

Over the years, Nigeria has been under attack from groups of non-state actors. In the North East, there are ISWAP, Boko Haram, and bandits. In the North West, there are bandits and armed Fulani herdsmen. In the North Central, there are bandits, armed Fulani herdsmen, armed robbers, and cultists and in the South, there are cultists, unknown gunmen, kidnappers and tribal warlords. With over two million Nigerians in Internally Displaced People’s camps in Nigeria and neighbouring countries like Cameroon and Niger, Nigeria’s security situation sometimes looks like a civil war.

The first gunshots of Niger Delta militancy were fired in March 2003, but the situation quickly evolved into an organised threat to Niger Delta people and the oil industry. Jama’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihad was founded in Maiduguri, Borno State, in 2007 and made headlines in 2009 with its battle against the authorities. The group, now known as Boko Haram, has remained active in the North East and has inspired the formation of the Islamic State West Africa Province, ISWAP, in the North East, as well as banditry in the North West and Middle Belt regions.

While the Federal Government temporarily arrested militancy through an amnesty programme launched by President Yar’adua in 2009, no strategy has been successful in halting terror activities in the North. Appeasing them by calling them “brothers,” paying ransom and “levies,” and releasing suspects has not worked. Amnesty and programmes to rehabilitate and reintegrate terrorists have NOT worked. Depriving society of cash to discourage the use of the naira as a reward for banditry has not worked and using force to eliminate or capture them has not worked. Non-state actors in the North clearly differ from those in the South.

In early December 2023, the Chief of Defence Staff of Nigeria, Lt. Gen. Christopher Musa, spoke to the media about the security breaches in the North. He said: “In some places [in the North], you find out that there are people even supporting the terrorists, giving them equipment and food. Every day, we fight with them to stop taking fertiliser, urea, and other things that could enable them fix improvised explosive devices. It’s a challenge.”

The fact that a considerable portion of the North is sympathetic to terrorists is well known. The presence of “Sunnah” and “Jihad” in the actual names of terrorists speaks to Muslims, who see this as evidence of shared principles—believers against non-believers in a sinful world. They may disagree with terrorists’ tactics but agree with their motif and ultimate goal. Fighting terrorism and insurgencies in the northern part of the country is a battle of ideologies. The above fact is not lost on the highest-ranking military officer in the country. He said: “The centre of gravity of the terrorists is their ideology, and their ideology is in their mind, so changing the mindset is what we require.” One way this can be done is through education. Nigeria has approximately 20 million out-of-school children, accounting for 15% of all out-of-school children worldwide. This army of out-of-school children not only feeds the illiteracy rate, but it also provides willing foot soldiers for terrorist groups who do not have a full picture of what it means to be a member of a terror group.

There is an urgent need to educate the North, in particular, and the country in its entirety. Educating the North is a matter of urgent security concern, not just nation-building. While the ideology of terrorists seeking to kill and dismember the Republic cannot be completely eradicated, education will deny them legitimacy and push them back.

Boko Haram/ISWAP ideology is currently dominant in the north of Niger. If the nation is successful in making it a minority ideology, the use of force and amnesty will work better to deter terrorism because the military and the programme will target people who society has already rejected and who cannot rely on society’s sympathy to hide them or frustrate the authorities’ efforts.

Education as a tool for peace is a long-term goal in Nigeria. Governments at both the state and federal levels must be persuaded that this path to peace in Nigeria is feasible and that government ought to invest heavily in it. Of course, this is not to say that educated people do not support Boko Haram and sympathise with their causes; they do. They exist, however, because they believe they represent the majority of people’s aspirations.

In the aftermath of Usman Buda’s lynching for blasphemy in Sokoto State in June 2023, public commentator Gimba Katanga wrote in a Daily Trust article that the reason the educated class in the North struggles to condemn mob action is that “they lack the courage to denounce the extrajudicial killing of a human being,” fearing that doing so would “diminish their relevance and illusion of safety.” A society ruled by the mob is one in which the uneducated give the educated relevance in matters of ideology.

A mob-ruled society does not value its growth and development. This cannot be sustained. This has to change. It is a battle, an uphill battle, but it is one that Nigeria cannot afford to lose. It is a battle that is linked to Nigeria’s survival on multiple fronts. Food insecurity is already a problem as a result of non-state actors’ activities. Insecurity in Nigeria makes it difficult to keep and attract investments, with the costs of securing economic routes, infrastructure, and personnel constantly rising. It is everyone’s responsibility to bring peace to Nigeria through education. It is an important task that must be done. In Nigeria, the scourge of insurgency has plagued the northern regions for years, leaving a trail of destruction and despair. Among the many questions that arise in the wake of such violence, one persists prominently: What do Nigerian insurgents want? Is it the establishment of an Islamic state in the north, or are their motivations rooted in more materialistic desires like money and fame?

The answer to this question is multifaceted, as the motives driving Nigerian insurgents are complex and often intertwined. While some insurgent groups, such as Boko Haram, initially emerged with a stated goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate in the northern regions of Nigeria, their objectives have evolved over time. What began as a religiously motivated movement has since metamorphosed into a multifaceted insurgency fuelled by a variety of grievances, including political marginalization, economic inequality, and social injustice. At its core, Boko Haram’s ideology is rooted in a radical interpretation of Islam, which seeks to establish Sharia law and rid Nigeria of what it perceives as Western influence and corruption.

However, while religion serves as a rallying point for the group, its actions often betray more pragmatic motivations. Boko Haram has been involved in various criminal activities, including kidnapping for ransom, extortion, and smuggling, indicating a desire for financial gain and power in addition to religious objectives. Similarly, other insurgent groups operating in Nigeria, such as the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), also blend ideological rhetoric with criminal enterprises, further blurring the lines between religious zealotry and materialistic pursuits. For these groups, the allure of wealth and influence often supersedes any purely ideological objectives, as evidenced by their involvement in activities like arms trafficking and illicit trade.

So, why hasn’t the Nigerian government been able to bring these insurgents to the table to address their grievances through peaceful means, such as dialogue in or with the National Assembly?

The challenges in negotiating with Nigerian insurgents are manifold and reflect the complexities of the conflict. Firstly, the fractured nature of the insurgency makes it difficult to identify a unified leadership with whom the government can negotiate. Boko Haram, in particular, has splintered into multiple factions, each with its own agenda and command structure, making it challenging to engage in meaningful dialogue.

Secondly, the entrenched mistrust between the government and insurgent groups undermines any attempts at negotiation. Years of violence and betrayal have created a deep-seated animosity between the two sides, making it difficult to build trust and establish a conducive environment for dialogue.

Furthermore, the government’s approach to counterinsurgency has often been characterized by heavy-handed military tactics, which have alienated local communities and fuelled resentment against the state. In the absence of a comprehensive strategy that addresses the root causes of the conflict, such as economic marginalization and social inequality, the prospects for peace remain elusive.

Additionally, external influences, including funding and support from international terrorist organizations, complicate efforts to resolve the conflict through dialogue. As long as insurgent groups have access to external sources of funding and weapons, they have little incentive to engage in meaningful negotiations with the government.

In conclusion, the motives driving Nigerian insurgents are complex and multifaceted, encompassing a combination of ideological zealotry and materialistic pursuits. While some groups may espouse religious objectives, their actions often betray more pragmatic motivations, including financial gain and power. Addressing the root causes of the conflict and building trust between the government and insurgent groups are essential steps towards finding a lasting solution to the insurgency in Nigeria. However, achieving peace will require a comprehensive approach that goes beyond military tactics and includes meaningful dialogue and reconciliation efforts. Even if every single child and adult in the north is educated up to university level, it is difficult to assume that the insurgency will be suddenly halted. The roots go deeper than that.

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