Countering terrorism: The non-military option

 (By Gbenga Ogunremi)

However, rather than unite and find ways of tackling the threat that the Boko Haram insurgency poses to the stability of our dear country, members of the political class, the Opposition in particular, have been playing transactional and divisive politics, selfishly exploring the security challenges purposely to further their political mileage and therefore heating up the polity to the detriment of our collective interests.

BEFORE the emergence of the Jamaatu Ahlis Sunna Liddaawati Wal Jihad commonly called Boko Haram insurgency and its attendant terror activities which date back to 2002, was a thing alien to our culture and environment. It is something relatively new here in Nigeria, and as such, dealing with it is fraught with several challenges. The closest we had was the Kano Maitatsine religious riots which were promptly put down in the early eighties.

   Initially, it was a local insurgency in the North Eastern Nigeria, and then it snowballed into a new frontier of the global war of terrorism against our people, our culture and our nascent democracy. It remains a huge threat not only to our country’s stability, but also to all of us as individuals.

    Today, we are all witnesses to the venomous hostility being perpetuated by the Boko Haram sect, whose incomprehensible lethal and gruesome acts have attained a new virulence. This might have, in part, informed a recent declaration by the National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Mohammed Sambo Dasuki (rtd) at a security summit in far away Washington D.C., that the activities of the Boko Haram sect was a huge threat to the very democratic foundations and good governance structures of Nigeria.

   The NSA, I believe, was merely expressing the deep-rooted fears of millions of concerned and patriotic Nigerians who are desperately wishing for a quick end to this nightmare that has caused so much bloodshed, terrible humanitarian crisis and heavy distractions from good governance.

   The solution to the problem, therefore, lies in a robust and strategic approach to countering terrorism. This calls for a concerted effort by all stake holders irrespective of political, religious or ethnic affiliations to tackle the Boko Haram insurgency and terrorism that has assumed a global dimension.

   However, rather than unite and find ways of tackling the threat that the Boko Haram insurgency poses to the stability of our dear country, members of the political class, the Opposition in particular, have been playing transactional and divisive politics, selfishly exploring the security challenges purposely to further their political mileage and therefore heating up the polity to the detriment of our collective interests.

   This group of people and their cohorts have chosen to pursue the negative, to attack, to belittle, to accuse and to always find fault with our beloved country and her leaders.   Consistently, they exhibit deep-seated criticisms that are often hate-centric, political and destructive. They even go as far as feeding the foreign media with a catalogue of falsehood, speaking disparagingly about the Jonathan Administration and its efforts at checkmating the criminal and violent activities of the Boko Haram sect, all in view of their inordinate quest for power.  Deliberately, they have refused to acknowledge the Federal Government’s resilience in tackling insurgency, terrorism and other criminal acts.

   This set of unpatriotic people would, however, do well to borrow a leaf from eminent and patriotic Nigerians who have come together to launch a private initiative called Nigeria: Our Heritage Project, aimed at creatively engendering a positive global perception of Nigeria. The private team is collaborating with the Federal Ministry of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation, as well as some of Nigeria’s international friends, to correct negative perception of the international community about our dear country especially in these trying times of serious security challenges.

   They must also take a cue from a non-governmental organisation, Put Nigeria First, which is in the vanguard of re-awakening the true Nigerian spirit of patriotism and doggedly rallying a support base for our soldiers who pay the ultimate price for our country’s stability, unity and peaceful co-existence.

   The guiding principles of the United Nigerians Forum (UNFO), an NGO, tally well with the positive outlook of these patriots. At UNFO, positivity is the hallmark of their very existence. They are committed to advancing efforts to promote good governance and sustain democratic best practices in Nigeria and more importantly to constantly highlight, by bringing to the fore, the appreciable efforts and achievements of our leaders, both in government and in the corporate world. This, we believe would spur and encourage such leaders to be more outstanding in taking our nation to the next level of progress and development.

   Because we would never lose sight of what is good, the purpose of this article would therefore be to highlight laudable efforts of the Presidency and the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) in particular to safeguard and stabilise the political, economic and security apparatus of the country in the face of unrelenting onslaught posed by the challenges of terrorism, kidnapping, oil theft, political violence and intolerance, religious and ethnic violence, and economic challenges.

   Against the background of the Northern region of the country, particularly the North-Eastern States of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, being the butt of mindless terrorist attacks characterised by wanton killings, kidnapping, maiming, and untold loss of property  and livelihood which has negatively impacted on the socio-economic fortunes of the region, combating terrorism and crippling Boko Haram became a national priority, making it imperative that potent security strategies be put in place to mitigate these terror activities.

   In identifying and selecting appropriate policy instruments, intuitively, the Office of the National Security Adviser was quick to realise that while the use of force is a necessity in countering terrorism, it would not be a sufficient tool to win the war against terror, especially in addressing most of the underlying root causes escalating the crisis situation. It, therefore, commenced the blending process of hard line security measures with a soft line approach that focuses on prevention, human rights, peace building, socio-economic development and engagement with the civil society.

   To this end, the NSA’s office promptly launched a multi-dimensional soft approach as a trajectory towards a permanent solution to the scourge of terrorism in the northern part. These include, among others, the North East Economic Transformation (NEET) and Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Programmes.

  The NEET is a comprehensive programme that is expected to profoundly address the underlying economic problems in the north east region, a subsequent action of which was President Jonathan’s leading action of instituting a Presidential Initiative for the North-East (PINE). This is an intervention plan designed, “To mobilise targeted resources to jumpstart the economies of the North-Eastern States while strategically repositioning the region for long term prosperity.”  PINE is also expected in the short-term to provide for emergency relief and assistance, restore means of securing the basic necessities of life such as food, shelter and clothing in the region.

   To show that the government meant business in addressing urgently the untold human suffering and thus cushion the effect of the collateral damage inflicted by the insurgents, a 26-man Victims Support Fund Committee led by retired Gen. Theophilus Y. Danjuma was set up by the President as a short-term measure and part of an overall PINE strategy to achieve the objective of providing relief and succour for all those that have been adversely affected.

   It is to the credit of the Jonathan Administration and the Danjuma-led committee that a very swift action by the committee in leveraging the capacities of public and private sectors resulted in the raising of about N60 billion at a well organised fund-raising ceremony personally supervised by the President himself.

   The other prong of the soft approach to counter terrorism is the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Programme which the NSA’s office designed and adopted as a policy aimed at “stemming the tide of radicalisation, reducing the incidence of violent activities, change the behaviour of violent extremists and counter the narrative of extreme groups while promoting core national values.”

    According to the Directorate of Behavioural Analysis (DBA) under the office of the NSA’s Counter-Terrorism Department charged with the responsibility of providing the prevention module of government’s counter-terrorism strategy, the CVE has three streams of Counter Radicalisation, De-radicalisation and Strategic Communication.

   The Counter- Radicalisation approach is designed to prevent ordinary innocent but vulnerable people, especially the youths, from buying into the terrorist mindset, that is, to prevent those not yet radicalised from doing so. It is about government taking appropriate steps to combat incitement to terrorism by focusing on community engagement, economic and education-based projects. This invariably would help stem the flow of recruits and reduce the potential for radicalisation.

   On the other hand, De-radicalisation policy is targeted at those earlier radicalised and who were set to be released from prison. It aims to reintegrate extremists and their families back into the society through a number of activities, including prison interventions and vocational training that would significantly change a terrorist’s perception and belief system and ultimately make him reject extremist ideologies and embrace mainstream values.

    The strategic communication aspect of the CVE is more or less a follow-up to the de-radicalisation process. It is a means of fostering a culture of dialogue and understanding that would eventually stamp out misunderstandings and misconceptions among the people, their cultures and religions. This is because the process may not be complete if the ideological underpinnings that actually led to radicalisation in the first instance are not distilled and redirected to suit the objectives of de-radicalisation.

   The communication tool is being employed, for instance, to rehabilitate extremists in prison through religious re-education by bringing moderate Muslim clerics to convince them of the deceptiveness of their views and direct them towards a more ideal and correct version of Islam.

    At this juncture, it would only be appropriate to make mention of activities and projects so far implemented by the government in support of these policy programmes. These, according to reports , include an education summit organised to raise awareness on the importance of education as a tool for CVE; piloting a creative curriculum that encourages critical thinking and logical reasoning; Positive Voices Campaign which will promote community champions that stand up for tolerance and national identity;  identification and training of Imams to present moderate Islamic views; identification, registration and training of FBOs, CSOs and NGOs that can aid the overarching goal of countering violent extremism.

   Others include; arranging town hall dialogue meetings to improve internal community relations and relationship with the state; establishing community post-traumatic stress disorder centres,  sourcing of pastoral support by psychologists, therapists and religious leaders for prisoners; organising vocational training for prisoners and providing sustainable methods of livelihood. Others are reintegration of reformed extremists to their families and communities; and media initiatives that form a counter-narrative, that is, creating a rapid response media team that promptly address extremist messages in print, electronic media and the internet.

  Other national security strategic interventions, among others, include securing Nigeria’s Cyber Space which ensures blockade of unwanted intrusion into our data base and communications system, and a master plan put in place to protect the Critical National Infrastructure and Assets (CNIA) nation-wide.

   In conclusion, while the Federal Government’s commitment towards enhancing the military’s capacity to deliver in the fight against terror is duly acknowledged, we must applaud the military’s commitment, dedication, sacrifice and resilience despite operational challenges. All Nigerians must indeed give total support to the military in its bid to end the problem of insecurity facing our dear country.

• Gbenga Ogunremi is the media coordinator of United Nigerians Forum, an NGO based in Abuja

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