Peace in Nigeria goes beyond military crackdown

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On Tuesday, 5 March 2024, Nigeria’s Minister of Defence, Mohammed Badaru Abubakar, spoke to journalists in Kaduna. He had just finished addressing members of Senior Course 46 of the Armed Forces Command and Staff College (AFCSC), Jaji Military Cantonment in a seminar titled: “Imperatives of Operational and Tactical Level Leadership for Enhanced Counter Terrorism, Counter Insurgency Operations in Nigeria”.

The minister told the pressmen that insurgency in Nigeria would soon be assigned to the dustbin of history. The government was now ready to utilise a professional communication strategy that would be deployed by newly trained special forces. Badaru said the government’s commitment to defeat insurgency in the country was 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 after a tour of some of the military facilities and formations in the cantonment, Badaru said some of the facilities were acquired for the training of special forces to fight insurgency. A total of 2,400 of the special forces would be trained with a first batch consisting of 800 military personnel. Following a two-month enhanced training, these special forces would be deployed and saddled with the responsibility of end-game tackling of the insurgents and terrorists until 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.
Sadly, on 30 May, the day some Igbo people of Nigeria had carved out to remember their millions of kiths and kins who lost their lives to the Nigerian civil war on both sides of the divide, some Nigerian soldiers and some civilians were said to have been murdered at a checkpoint in Abia state by some of the celebrants of ‘Biafra Day’. The military vowed to retaliate. The army blamed the ‘outlawed’ separatist Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) movement for the Thursday attack which claimed the lives of six civilians and five soldiers deployed at the Obikabia junction in the city of Aba, according to defence spokesperson, Major-General Edward Buba.
The Nigerian military said that separatists killed at least 11 people in a “surprise” assault at the checkpoint. It was the latest in a string of armed raids in the restive region. On Friday, Buba said: “the military will be fierce in its response. We will bring overwhelming military pressure on the group to ensure their total defeat.”
The Nigerian government ‘banned’ IPOB as a “terrorist” organisation and accused it of stoking ethnic tensions by claiming genocide against Ndigbo. Gunmen have targeted police, soldiers and electoral offices in southeast Nigeria in recent years. Government continues to blame IPOB and its Eastern Security Network paramilitary wing. The movement’s leader, Nnamdi Kanu, a British citizen was arrested in Kenya in 2021,and is currently on trial in Nigeria on “terrorism” charges.
IPOB, which has consistently advocated for a separate state for the ethnic Igbo people of southeast Nigeria, denied it was behind the Thursday attack. “We condemn the attack on military personnel on duty in Aba,” spokesperson Emma Powerful said, blaming politically motivated “criminals” for the dastardly act.
But come to think of it. Why would IPOB want to kill soldiers and their own brother-civilians on the day they were supposed to be mourning for their dead? One would think that what happened was a calculated attempt by those who feel agitated by the landmark developments in Abia state since the Labour Party took control, to rubbish the progressive administration of Governor Alex Otti. And if all that madness was a ploy by political manipulators to paint the administration of Governor Otti of Abia state in dark colours, they had better realised that they have failed woefully.
The unrest in the southeast has piled pressure on a government and military already struggling to contain insurgencies and kidnappings in the northwest as well as a 15-year rebellion in the northeast and and herder-farmer clashes in north central regions.
In fact, Nigerian government has been battling insurgency mostly in northern region since Mohammed Yusuf instituted Boko Haram in 2009. The various tactics and efforts that government deployed in the war against insurgency have already cost the country billions of pounds. The insurgency which has now spread to many other parts of the country has even affected food security, leaving millions of Nigerians in conditions of excruciating hunger. Millions have been forcefully displaced from their ancestral homes and made refugees in their own country. The pathetic fact is that the country has been under consistent attack from a variety 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 agitators. With over two million Nigerians in Internally Displaced Persons’ camps in Nigeria and neighbouring countries like Mali, Niger and Cameroon, Nigeria’s security situation has become a civil war in disguise.
In an attempt to arrest the ugly situation, the Federal Government launched an amnesty programme masterminded by President Yar’adua in 2009. But since then, no strategy has been successful in halting terrorist activities in the country, especially in the North. Paying them ransom has not stopped them. Instead it has encouraged them. Releasing suspects has not worked. Amnesty and programmes designed to rehabilitate and reintegrate terrorists have not yielded positive dividends. Discouraging financial inducement to lure the bandits from their nefarious activities has not worked. Even the use of force to eliminate or capture them has not been remarkably successful. No one clearly understands their motives or their real problems.
In early December 2023, the Chief of Defence Staff, Lt. Gen. Christopher Musa, spoke to the media about the security breaches in the North. He said that in some places in the North, there were people 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 manufacture improvised explosive devices. It’s a challenge.”
That having been said, a fact that the Federal Government appears reluctant to tell the world is that a considerable percentage of Northerners in good positions in the society is sympathetic of terrorists, even though locally, that is a well established open secret. For this and similar reasons, the scourge of insurgency has continued to plague huge swathes of the northern region for years, leaving a trail of destruction and destitution. Still, among the many questions that arise in the wake of such high levels of violence, one question 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? That is what the Nigerian government must find out, and urgently too.
Insurgency inNigeria is definitely multifaceted because 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 region of the country, their objectives have skidded and somersaulted over the years. What began as a religiously motivated movement has since metamorphosed into a multifaceted insurgency propelled by a variety of grievances which probably include political marginalization, economic inequality, and social injustice.
At the core, Boko Haram’s ideology is possibly rooted in radical interpretations of Islam, which seek to establish Sharia Law as supreme, and rid Nigeria of what it perceives as Western influence and corruption. However, while religion serves as a rallying point for the insurgent groups, their actions often betray more pragmatic motivations. Boko Haram and similar insurgent organisations have been involved in various criminal activities which include 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 allurement of wealth and influence often supersedes any purely ideological objectives, and this is evidenced by their involvement in activities like arms trafficking and illicit trade.
The question then is: why hasn’t the Nigerian government been able to bring these insurgents to the round table to address their grievances through peaceful means, such as dialogue with or in the National Assembly that can possibly debate their case in the hallowed chambers and proffer a lasting solution to all the problems ?
The bare fact is that the challenges the Federal Government is likely to face in any attempt to negotiate with the insurgents are manifold and they 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 would definitely undermine any attempt 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.
Thirdly, 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 and sympathy towards the insurgents. In the absence of a comprehensive strategy that would address the root causes of the conflict, such as economic marginalization and social inequality, the prospects for peace are likely to remain elusive.
In addition to all these, external influences, including funding and support from international terrorist organizations, tend to complicate efforts to resolve the conflict locally, 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.
The Minister of Defence, Mohammed Badaru Abubakar, and the Nigerian government must not gloss over the fact that 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 insurgency in Nigeria. Therefore, achieving peace in the country will require a comprehensive approach that goes beyond military crackdown and include meaningful dialogue and reconciliation efforts.

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