Boko Haram In Igbo Prisons: Rethinking Onitsha Protests | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Agenda, Opinion

Boko Haram In Igbo Prisons: Rethinking Onitsha Protests

Posted: Jul 9, 2015 at 5:45 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Against the backdrop of Boko Haram prisoners’ movement protests in the south-east region of Nigeria, Dr Vitus Ozoke, a Public Affairs Analyst based in Maryland, United States of America (USA) believes these protests exposed the lapses within the country’s security network, arguing that the planned transfer should have been done in the cover of night..

I guess Republicans in America who screamed and kicked against the transfer of 911 terrorist prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to their neck of the woods are neither alone nor unreasonable after all. But the Boko Haram prisoners’ movement protest in Southeast Nigeria is fundamentally different than the elite level debate in the United States. It speaks to how vastly fractured and deeply segmented the Nigerian state is. There might be an ideological debate, but I can’t imagine a state in America resist the transfer of federal prisoners to a maximum or whatever security level prison located within its boundaries.

Federal prisoners are routinely moved from one part of the United States to another.

But, like I said, it exposes a fundamental flaw in our nation structure and body politic. What I get from the tenor of the ongoing Boko Haram prison site debate, and many allied topics, is that Boko Haram is a Northern, particularly Northeastern, problem. In other words, let them deal with it. On its face value, it may sound like a very rational position to take, especially if the goal is to localise and contain terror and its operatives within a particular geographic radius. In addition to fostering a sense of operational disharmony, one other danger in that thinking and approach is that it may encourage complacency in parts of the country considered as “safe” regions.

What anti-terror plans and protocols are in place in the South East of Nigeria? What forms of intelligence network are in place? What forms of critical incident and emergency response protocols are in place in the South East? Are there very well trained and specialised emergency response teams in place? Are hospitals trained and equipped for potential mass casualty emergencies? Are there functional blood banks in Enugu and other major cities in the South East? Those are very serious questions and concerns that should agitate and engage our thoughts.

Protesting the transfer of terror suspects and prisoners to South East prisons, without more, is the wrong anti-terror strategy. It is simply not enough.

We, South-easterners, have been relatively fortunate thus far. Boko Haram, for whatever reasons of logistics, has concentrated its mayhem up North, for the most part. But with its increasing sophistication, and alliance with ISIL, it is reasonable, sadly, to expect a wider operational reach. This is not intended to create alarm, but to poke us awake. Terrorism requires a round-the-clock vigilance. By its nature, terror is designed to instill fear in an entire community. A community must decide what it does in response. Fold up in fear or confront the threat head on. Most communities have embraced the latter.

However, confronting terror requires a coordinated and concerted effort on interstate level. And part of the interstate coordination is the movement of terror prisoners to any part of the country so long as such

movement meets a clearly defined strategic objective. If Nigeria is still one country, then, we should be in it together. If we are in it together, then, the least any region of the country can do is to provide padlocks for the lockdown of the bad guys.

I was utterly disappointed when the planned transfer of Boko Haram terror suspects to Southeastern prisons was made public. Clearly, it

goes to show how unorganized and immature our intelligence and security agencies are. There are hundreds of terror suspects in prisons across the United States whose exact locations are not public knowledge. Only those who need to know, know. Terrorism is a high crime, and high crime management requires some degree of secrecy. Everyday citizens do not need to know everything their government is doing to keep them safe.

Carefully and professionally handled, even terror suspects could be kept in the dark as far as their location is concerned. Guantanamo Bay prisoners were moved into that Cuban facility blindfolded. And there are many such cases when high value dangerous prisoners are involved.

I don’t know how the planned transfer of the suspects became public knowledge. I have strong doubt that the Comptroller of Prisons took out a page in national tabloids to announce the initiative. What I suspect is that somebody, for pure political motive, leaked the move. It must be huge political capital for those politicians who have come out to kick against the proposed transfer. How can it not be when it has sparked a very popular movement in Onitsha as in elsewhere in Igbo land? Yet, as popular as the anti-terror suspect prison transfer is, it is fraught with grave danger on a big picture level. It politicizes national and governmental efforts at combating the menaces of Boko Haram. The one big mistake Nigeria cannot afford is national disunity in the campaign against modern terrorism. It is either we fight and win it together, or we lose it together. As the Igbo say, the house does not fall leaving the ceiling.

Look, I am all for localizing and containing Boko Haram in Nigeria’s northeast. If we can do that, that will be great. But if part of that strategy is the movement of captured terror suspects away from the ground zero, then every part of Nigeria should be willing to play a role. I wish this initiative had been handled with greater tact. Until his death in prison on December 8, 1997, how many Nigerians knew that Shehu Musa Yar’Adua was in Enugu prison from where he was later transferred to Abakiliki few days prior to his death? I guess one could argue that we were able to keep a lid on that because it was a military government. Well, that level of operational discipline is also required

in the current effort against Boko Haram terrorists.

***Those who play populist politics with such an existential threat as terrorism, by leaking what should have been a highly classified secret, and inciting protests in Onitsha, do a huge disservice to the country as a whole***, but even more particularly, to the Igbo.

Any region of the country that thinks it can stand and watch from a distance does not understand the reality of our new world. The fireballs of the bombs in Maiduguri emit smoke plumes that reach the farthest skies of Oshogbo and Onitsha. If all we are asked to do is man the gates of the terror big house, we should not protest it.

It is a better and an easier task than digging mass graves. But I wish this had been done in the cover of night. I wish classified meant something to populist politicians. I wish we did not play regional politics with a national threat. But most importantly, I wish us well…