In a 21st century world that is characterized by massive digital transformation terrorists are making global headlines with their dare-devil strikes! Only recently the news of an Alshabaab attack in the Somali capital of Mogadishu broke. The blast from a truck packed with explosives had killed hundreds of people. In the Kunu Araha area of Adamawa state of Nigeria, a teenage suicide bomber, who infiltrated a local mosque, detonated his explosive. The local media reported that this premeditated bomb attack, and that of the herdsmen-farmer clash in Safere and Kedimi villages, left over a hundred cold-blooded deaths. In Afghanistan, a suicide bomber reportedly killed eight persons in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar province. Two separate attacks on the police headquarters in Gardez had killed over 50 people and wounded hundreds. Even Western countries, known for their high degree of civility and tranquility, are now under the threats of terrorists, many of whom are self-radicalized lone-wolves inspired by Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. These kinds of devastating incidences make the threat of terrorism the greatest challenge confronting the world today.
The Nigerian situation
In Nigeria the threat of Boko Haram, a radical Islamic sect, looms. Harboring extreme hatred for Western education and civilization, the group had declared war on the Nigerian state and people after its self-styled leader Abubakar Shekau took over the reins of command. Their main objective is to turn northern Nigeria into a caliphate of some sort. In fact, in March 2015, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the Islamic State thereby becoming their West African province. With unimaginable brutality, the group’s fighters have raided and burnt down villages, tortured, maimed and killed innocent local residents, abducted women and children (many of whom are married off to fighters or taken as sex slaves), in addition to attacking schools, churches, mosques, military barracks and police stations. Its abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok in April 2014 had brought about the popular #Bring Back Our Girls campaign which, while drawing global attention, became a rallying cry against the atrocities of terrorism.
A faction of the group known as ‘Ansaru’, with ideological links to Al-Qaida in the Maghreb, came into existence in 2012. It specializes in kidnapping foreign nationals for ransom and was reportedly behind the abduction of a Briton and an Italian, and of a French engineer, Francis Collomp, among others. Ansaru reportedly executed some of the abductees after a rescue mission by the Nigerian and British governments failed.
Although the Nigerian military, in conjunction with the Multinational Joint Task Force, has seriously degraded the capabilities of Boko Haram, the group continues to carry out hit-and-run raids in the northeast. For instance, it ambushed a convoy of oil workers with military escort on exploration assignment in the region. A number of soldiers and civilians reportedly lost their lives in that incidence. Boko Harm also brainwashes captives (especially young girls and boy) which it deploys as ‘suicide bombers’ on soft and vulnerable targets.
Over 20,000 people have been killed in this conflict, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affair, while 2.1 million people have fled their homes. As at June 2017 the number of displaced persons stands at about 1.9 million. Over 200, 000 of the Nigerian victims of the conflict are taking refuge in Cameroon, Chad and Niger. While the local economy, livelihoods and vital infrastructure in the northeast have been destroyed, international aid agencies estimate that about 1.4 million people are in need of urgent emergency aid while 44,000 people are on the brink of starvation, even as $1.05 billion is needed for humanitarian assistance this year. Malnutrition in the affected areas has caused the death of 134, 000 children, according to a Vanguard newspaper report.
The ethical dilemmas
Terrorists are sociopaths with hugely distorted worldview and perceptions. By subjecting their captives to torture, decapitation, sexual slavery, etc, they perpetrate ‘crimes against humanity’.
Governments, while seeking to protect their countries and people, undertake mass surveillance programs which rights group say violate the privacy rights of their local citizens. In law a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Rights activists continue to lament the heavy-handed tactics of security forces in their counter-terrorism operations which often results in extrajudicial executions. Mohammed Yusuf, the erstwhile founder of Boko Haram, reportedly died in police custody in the wake of the military offensive of 2009 to root out the group. Accused of gross human rights violations, the U.S. Congress had blocked the sales of fighter planes to the Nigerian military, until recently when the sales of A-29 Super Tucano attack planes were finally approved.
The sexual exploitation of internally displaced women and girls in the various camps smacks of wickedness. Human rights group have accused the Nigerian government of not doing enough to protect displaced women and girls with the lamentation that their abusers (ranging from camp leaders, members of local vigilante groups to the security agencies) have not been held to account. Terrorists often compel governments to negotiate with them and make compromises. The Nigerian government had to exchange 5 Boko Haram fighters for 82 of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls. The danger in this, security experts have emphasized, is that it emboldens and strengthens the terrorists. The Boko Haram terrorists have stepped up attacks after this negotiation.
Surmounting the menace
Security personnel ought to be well motivated and equipped. At a point in Nigeria’s fight against Boko Haram, the group had gained the upper hand because it was apparently better equipped and motivated. In January 2015 they had taken control of a swathe of territory in the northeast (estimated at 50,000 square km) just about the size of Belgium. Security forces ought to be professional in their counter-terrorism operations with utmost respect for human rights. Intense intelligence gathering and sharing is needed to quickly identify and crack terror cells wherever they exist. The fight against terrorist is not a conventional one. Therefore security agencies need intensive training in the act of asymmetric warfare. Again, the war on terror is, without doubts, very expensive. For example, the air component of Operation Lafiya Dole had utilized N500 million-worth of fuel for the fighter jets on reconnaissance operations and bombing of terrorist targets in the third quarter of this year. Therefore the defense budget ought to be improved.
Regional and international cooperation is important. For example, the Multinational Joint Task Force, comprising the militaries of Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and now Benin Republic, has seriously degraded the ability of Boko Haram to orchestrate organized strikes or take new territories (making them resort to the use of suicide bombers on soft and vulnerable targets). Similarly the air and technical support the US military rendered to Iraqi forces had resulted in the successful defeat of IS in Iraq.
The failure of the Libyan state (the aftermath of the popular revolt that toppled Muamar Gaddafi) has given rise to the proliferation of small and light weapons across the Sahel region of Africa. Most of Gadaffi’s weapons (now being traded in the black market) end up in the hands of terrorist groups such as Boko Haram, Alshabaab among other criminal gangs. To help stop developing countries from becoming failed states, the developed countries should propagate the values of democracy and the rule of law by building the capacities of their institutions as well as refusing to recognize military coupists no matter the reason or excuse they give for such interventions. This will help to end the seemingly endless cycles of popular protests and revolts which, though aimed at removing dictatorial governments from power, have often ended up destroying the social fabric of society, as terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are lurking to fill social and political vacuums.
Addressing the root causes is also very important. All the social marginalization and economic disenfranchisement in society must end. Marginalization and poverty have forced many disenchanted youths in the poorest areas of Kenya into the hands of Alshabaab where they are welcomed and even paid salaries. A report by BBC’s Thomas Fessy showed five youths in the Diffa region of Niger who joined the Boko Haram sect on receiving N500, 000 each. We need to build open societies where people can freely express their grievances and seek redress, where there are avenues and opportunities for young people to channel their productive energies and actualize their potentials.
Moderate Muslims should speak out against those hardliners who tarnish the image of their religion. Islamic clerics should preach peace, tolerance and unity while countering the harmful ideology which groups such as Al-Qaida, IS, Boko Haram propagates. On their part, tech companies (the likes of Facebook and Google, among others) should employ more content moderators so that propaganda messages, instructions for making improvised explosives, videos showing decapitation, etc, that are posted on their social networks are quickly removed, to stem the incessant tide of online radicalization and indoctrination.
Student (M.sc Peace and Conflict Resolution program)
National Open University of Nigeria