Why Nigeria Can’t Negotiate With B’ Haram – Ekhomu | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Why Nigeria Can’t Negotiate With B’ Haram – Ekhomu

Posted: Jul 16, 2015 at 1:11 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Ona Ekhomu is an international security expert. In this interview with IFEOMA ONONYE, he explains why Nigeria is yet to win the war against terrorism. Excerpts…

What do you think could be responsible for the sudden upsurge in Boko Haram activity?

There are so many factors at play here. The biggest factor at play now is that there is a power vacuum right now in the country. The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has just exited office and All Progressives Congress (APC) has stepped in. The APC is yet to find its rhythm of governance and the PDP is considered an expired force in terms of governance. There was really no smooth transition because part of the APC government strategy for winning election was to severely criticize the PDP government. In fact, they polluted the drinking well and so, right now, they cannot drink from the same well. They do not want o continue the same strategies. This is why the president said in his inaugural address that the military commander should move to Maiduguri. But if the military commander moves to Maidugri, it is assumed that you are fighting a conventional war. Boko Haram has gone to strict asymmetric warfare. They have left conventional warfare which was what they were doing when they held down those territories in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states when Jonathan went in there and crushed them, then drove them back into Sambisa forest. They left their playbook of conventional warfare and they now moved to asymmetrical warfare. They have moved to strict guerilla warfare where they send a 10 year old girl with a bomb strapped on her; who looks harmless and she detonates and kills many people. Just like what happened last Tuesday in Zaria. A lady sneaked in, detonated and killed almost 50. That is a different kind of warfare.


You said that former President, Goodluck Jonathan, at some point crushed them and drove them back to Sambisa Forest. What do you think he should have done when he achieved that temporary victory?



Yes, former president Jonathan fought them well back then, and that was why he was able to rescue more than 2000 women, but he should not have stopped there. Boko Haram terrorists are everywhere. They are in Chad, Niger, Cameroon, and all the northern states. It’s a cellular structure. Boko Haram had millions of followers before the conflict began in 2009. So, it’s not a new thing. All they were waiting for was some kind of guidance, command, and control. When Jonathan chased them into Sambisa, what we should have done then was to up our game in terms of intelligence architecture. This is the only way to frustrate a terrorist attack. If you don’t learn of their intentions ahead of time, you cannot do anything. You will just be there and it will happen, then you’ll start carrying dead bodies again, which is what we have been doing.


Is that scenario very evident at present?

Since president Buhari got into office, within 35 days on the seat as president, we have lost over 600 people to Boko Haram violence. That is too much to bear. The attacks are so varied. They attack in mosque, market place, church; from my studies, we are able to know where they typically attack. They also attack drinking joints, anywhere that there is high concentration of people. That is why I am sad about what happened in Kaduna when the governor asked people to go for their biometric verification for workers and there was no adequate security. The government failed in its duty to protect lives of citizens because Kaduna has been known to be the hotbed of Book Haram terrorist attacks for a long time. So they should not fool themselves and say they did not know that Boko Haram would attack. Book Haram has been very active in Kaduna.


How has politicization of counter-terrorism been hindering us from winning the war against these terrorists? 

The point here is that our government is kind of confused in terms of what it wants to do about this war on terror. This was the case under Jonathan also. The government is not very clear on what it wants to do. The government is not approaching terrorism with one-mindedness. You cannot approach terrorism tentatively. The government blows hot and cold. The government says ‘Oh, they are our brothers’ and at another time ‘we are going to crush them’.  Which one is it? Are you going to crush them or are they your brothers. Former president, Jonathan did that for a long time before he realized that these were real enemies. That is why he mounted the spring offensive in February 2015 which resulted in flushing out the bad guys and sending them back to their caves.


Was that why we didn’t hear bombings during the elections? 

Yes. Having said that, the new government has fallen into the same trap; they seem not to have clue of what to do when they are supposed to be more determined. After all, they promised us that they were going to end Boko Haram within a few weeks of taking over power. He should keep his promise. What I am after is our intelligence infrastructure. The policy directions that we have assumed are mistaken. This interest in foreign intervention is not going to happen. No one is going to come here to fight Boko Haram for us. We can fight our fight. We have the money; the $5million that USA is giving us cannot buy mopping brooms to clean up blood on the street alone. We need to look inwards. If the Chadians, Cameroonians and Nigeriens will agree to secure their borders so that BH cannot run easily in and out of those places – that is the only international help we need. But going to beg America and Britain has no value for us whatsoever. We need human assets. We need common Nigerians on the street. Those are the people who will give us the intelligence we need to fight these people. We have to build it from bottom up. The information these citizens should give must be timely to government agencies who will respond to impending attacks.  We want to stop attacks not counting how many attacks. We should be training our own agents. I am not talking about training the SSS, I am talking about lay men on the streets. There is no programme for IED identification. There is no programme for threat identification. In America, the first person that gives information about terrorists is an ordinary person who notices something unusual. How they know it is unusual is because they have been trained to have eyes to see. There was bombing in Sabongeri, Kano, recently. A young man came there with a wheelbarrow of oranges and he had explosives at the bottom. He was going around the place not selling the oranges to anyone. People relaxing in a drinking joint, called him to buy oranges, he never answered anyone. It would have sounded odd that a boy that was supposed to be selling oranges was not selling, but no one paid attention until he left the wheelbarrow and disappeared and that was how the explosion rocked that place, and 25 died. We don’t have that awareness of how to save our own lives or to save the lives of our neighbours. I know this will get people to get upset with me, but I don’t care. In Chad, someone wearing hijab went and bombed police headquarters and killed 27 personnel. The Chadian government declared ‘No more Hijab’ the next day. We do not have the strength of political character here. I am not saying that hijab should be banned, I am just giving an example of the kind of things we should put into consideration.


What about the call to negotiate with Boko Haram?

That is agreeing that you are negotiating with the position of weakness. Boko Haram now knows that they have the upper hand. Why should we be the ones waving the white flag. They will hold us to ransome and can never stop, because their battle is an ideological struggle. They don’t have anything to negotiate. What Boko Haram is doing in Nigeria is pure terrorism. We don’t want to call it that. There is a difference between insurgency and terrorism. What happened in the Niger/Delta is insurgency. They were tired of us exploiting them and destroying their land.  They were not looking for people to kill. They were destroying federal government assets and oil company assets. They disrupted oil-lifting, and when the federal government saw that is was biting the pocket, they gave them amnesty programme. BH is not representing anybody. The people hate them.


Boko Haram insurgents have killed thousands. Does this mean the federal government does not care about the lives of citizens that are being wasted on a daily basis, or is it not enough to take a decision to end these killings once and for all?

If you ask government officials, they will tell you they do care. I think they probably care; after all, they were voted in by citizens of Nigeria. They have a duty to protect Nigerians. The issue here is that it is a different kind of struggle. This is a more insidious enemy, the enemy that wants to exert a high toll in blood and in grief. Federal government cares; it’s just that they don’t have the answer. Perhaps, they should start looking for people who have the answers.