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Boko Alarm and Unmasking the Terrorist Next Door

September 7, 2011

Yes, Boko Alarm!  Or how else can one forewarn of the grave dangers the activities of the Boko Haram sect – the reigning tormentor-in-chief of the “Giant of Africa” portend for us as a people.  When the late President Shehu Musa Yar-adua first made a bold attempt to curb their menace the problem was only then an intra-religious one.  Hence both Muslims and citizens of other religious persuasions unanimously supported the very first step of our government. 

Yes, Boko Alarm!  Or how else can one forewarn of the grave dangers the activities of the Boko Haram sect – the reigning tormentor-in-chief of the “Giant of Africa” portend for us as a people.  When the late President Shehu Musa Yar-adua first made a bold attempt to curb their menace the problem was only then an intra-religious one.  Hence both Muslims and citizens of other religious persuasions unanimously supported the very first step of our government. 

But subsequently, like an untended festering sore, the more slip shod our intelligence gathering efforts, the more the sect plays the ethno-religious card and the more their onslaught assumes ethnic and religious dimensions that are now threatening not only our corporate existence as a nation but aiming to yank us off from the rest of the world.  Otherwise, what was the attack on a symbol of global unity like the UN office meant to achieve?  As some global bodies and embassies are already flirting with the idea of relocating their offices, no one would contest the true motive behind that terrorist attack.

The masterminds of the sect do not pretend about the aims and objectives of their war of attrition.  From all intents and purposes, they are bent on severing the cords that bind us together as a people.  As traitors, they know that religion and ethnicity are proven Achilles heels of this country. So, both societal dynamics are now being negatively exploited by Boko Haram and their principals in their unholy quest to make this country ungovernable.  Right now, how close we are to the precipice is perhaps better imagined from the viral effects of their sustained attacks. 

Out of their now numerous escapades, I will cite just two and try to alert on possible consequences if their menace is not curbed.    About two months ago, a beggar of northern extraction was nearly lynched in one of the southwest cities on suspicion of gathering intelligence for attack on churches.  Were it not for the prompt intervention of law enforcement agents his death by a mob action might have sparked retaliations and a conflagration of ethno-religious cleansing nationwide. 

Again, it would be recalled that a two-star general accused of complicity in the escape of two Boko Haram suspects in Plateau State faulted the membership of the court marshal set-up to try him.  If such a high ranking officer is eventually found guilty that would confirm the suspicion that Boko Haram has infiltrated the ranks of our security forces.  And with a grave foreboding, a guilty verdict returned on him might never go down well with others still hiding in our barracks. 

As a consequence, their retaliation could deal a death blow on our security forces’ already ebbing impartiality or neutrality as the pivot for effective law and order maintenance in a pluralistic society like ours.   Your guess as to where we could go from there as a nation is as good as mine.
But as precarious as our situation is, the authorities appear to be handling the unfolding anarchy with kid gloves. 

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A situation where fifth columnists are suspected for the seeming indivisibility of  enemies of the state calls for more emphasis on technology driven intelligence gathering with proven advantages of being proactive, accurate and transparent to assuage suspicion from both ethnic and religious divides.  That is the only way suspected saboteurs in our security forces can be taken unawares and unmasked.  There is less likelihood that investigation leads from a largely technology driven intelligence gathering system would be controversial. 

For instance, had the preceding nocturnal meetings, call logs and conversations between the sect or their sponsors and the army general fingered in the jailbreak of two terrorism suspects been recorded, allusion to bias in the composition of the court marshal constituted to try him could be inconsequential.

Also, deploying technology for intelligence gathering and counter-intelligence activities should break the hitherto invisibility of the sect.  These days, terrorist groups’ headquarters are not geographical but virtual on cyberspace and telecommunication networks.  Hence they can be in constant contact beyond the prying eyes of law enforcement agents that are not information technology savvy.  Even with a membership scattered over far-flung geographical locations they are able to meet, plan, train and even shop for armaments online. 

There is no single terrorist attack that is not preceded by some reasonable period of training and planning.  Fortunately, that is why it is easier to use technology driven intelligence gathering to proactively halt terrorist attacks at their conception stage.

Even for the investigation of attacks, technology still holds the ace.  Although the final leg of a suicide bombing is often anchored by a single individual, his accomplices always track the execution from safe distances and in frenzy, pat one another on the back for successful missions or compare notes on those that failed.  Again, all this can be done through electronic communication, which is why technology should impartially capture vital evidences for the speedy investigation and arraignment of suspects.  Until that is the case, even if foreign investigators are flown in from outer space, there would be little they can do to unmask our tormentors-in-chief and their sympathizers. 

Otherwise, why have previous investigations by ‘foreign experts’ achieved so little or nothing?  It is doubtful if those experts would ever tell us the futility of investigations premised on suspicions or speculations.  How would they without losing earnings of scarce foreign exchange and opportunity to gather intelligence on us for their own national purposes?  Without doubt, that is why other countries would hardly compromise their sovereignty by out-sourcing the investigation of domestic security problems. 

The relevance of technology in preempting and hence forestalling terrorist attacks was earlier exhaustively discussed under Recruiting Technology For National Security, Nigcomsat-1r And National Security and Our National Security And The Raging ICT Revolution.  Also, a confidential proposition entitled: National Security Intelligence Gathering And Surveillance: Mobile Phone And Internet Tracking was submitted to the authorities in early April this year.  Except the confidential write-up, logging this writer’s name or topics into any Search Engine would throw up those works on the Web. 

Even though the President’s campaign organization was not the appropriate agency to respond, they were in constant contact from August last year till a few hours before the presidential election.  The probable reason for that is not far-fetched but patriotism should know no bounds. Apart from this country, there is no other that we can call our own; so we should all continue to seek the wellbeing of Nigeria.

Meanwhile, in addition to using modern tools for intelligence gathering, technology should lead the way in present day security checks of motor vehicles for concealed bombs, biological weapons and firearms.  We all know that although soldiers and police in full battle gears have been searching vehicles, there has been neither “water-tight security” nor are our security forces “on top of the situation”.  Rather, the terrorists’ bombs still find their targets.  Also, traffic gridlocks by law-abiding motorists awaiting manual security checks now disrupt the daily socio-economic life of our cities while, at the same time, running the risk of being cheap targets for intentional or inadvertent terrorist attacks.

Instead, as a better and the now global practice, the authorities should deploy drive-through occupied vehicle scanners on strategic roads and entrances to public buildings to detect weapons of mass destruction and firearms.  A mobile version can be deployed to patrol and scan both moving and stationary motor vehicles within the precincts of high risk areas.  With both versions of occupied vehicle scanners, the contents of motor vehicles plying our roads should be deciphered from safe distances and alerts triggered for appropriate counter-terrorism action whenever necessary.

On the international front, Nigeria should solicit the understanding and cooperation of neighboring countries suspected as havens for terrorists.  Otherwise, we would continue to have our hands full back home.  No cost should be too great to preserve the territorial integrity or sovereignty of this country.  If the U.S. could be waging war on terror thousands of kilometers away from their home soil, we have every moral backing to over-run or invade any unscrupulous neighboring country.  In other words, we should railroad our invaders to their international havens and there give them a fight without any fear of self-destructing our country.   

On the whole, all hands must be on deck to win the war on terrorism; therefore, individual citizens have a role to play.  As the other name for terrorists is urban guerillas they have their dwellings among unsuspecting citizenry.  Therefore, for our collective security, every patriot owes it as a duty to supply useful information for combating terrorism.  To that end, the tell-tale signs of a terrorist if one lives nearby include:

1.    Undue reliance on the Cell Phone – In these days when cell phone is used for audio communication, internet browsing, photography, entertainment and audio-video recordings, terrorists rely heavily on the gadget.  With the cell phone, they are able to communicate among themselves and also share intelligence on select targets.  So, it is not surprising that terrorists go about with multiple mobile phones, swap SIM cards and handsets to conceal their identity.  Most of their phones were either stolen or acquired by supplying fictitious personal data. Therefore, a prompt report on loss of phone should be made to the Police as well as making efforts to disable such a set ever before attempting to retrieve the SIM.  Above all, patriots should be wary of characters with multiple handsets.  For its part, our government should hop on the global train by placing usage of the cell phone on surveillance for national security. 

2.    Multiple identification documents – Similarly, for the purpose of concealing identify, terrorists fraudulently acquire multiple identification documents. In monolithic environments like our communities sharing boundaries with other countries, this is a real problem.  There, even non-Nigerians can roam about and pretentiously obtain personal identification documents from parallel administrative centers.  But like some non-Nigerians were stopped from registering to vote at the last general elections, every patriotic Nigerian should be on the watch-out for criminal elements who engage in identify theft of all sorts. Above all, our men and women of the immigration service should roll up their sleeves.

3.    Usage of Spacious Vehicles – Because of the need to convey their armaments or materials for making weapons, terrorists mostly use small trucks, vans and wagons.  Therefore, those leasing out or selling such vehicles should be on the watch out for any special interest or obsession with such automobiles.

4.    Strange movements or presence – No attack takes place without surveillance.  So, be wary of utter strangers in your vicinity with cameras, vehicles with excessively large side mirrors parked or making repeated trips even though they are not part of public transport fleet.

5.    Large scale purchases – Terrorists as guerillas, always aim to be self-sufficient.  So, whenever they shop either for weapons or daily needs, they do so in excess to create large reserves for eventualities or long periods of time.  Therefore, for our collective security, any group with the trait of periodic big spending should be placed on close watch.

6.    Insatiable drive for funds and shady financial transactions – Money is the fuel by which terrorism drives.  That accounts for why terrorists broke into a bank somewhere in Gombe State some weeks back.  They need cash for their operations and would do all they can to have money.  Apart from committing armed robberies, they engage in financial crimes.  Any one or group given to shady financial transactions should not be spared; otherwise we all would suffer the repercussions of any negligence.  In the same vein and more than ever before, government agencies like the EFCC should track sources and expenditure of large sums of monies.

7.    Cyber savvy – With the unparalleled ease of connectivity and privacy offered by the raging revolution in information and communications technology, terrorists are getting more and more cyber savvy.  They network to swell their ranks with recruits, raise funds, spread propaganda and coordinate activities.  Therefore, uncommon addiction to the Internet should be suspect.  Also, this is why like other nations, Nigeria should invest in electronic communications tracking technology.

8.    Eye for Safety  - Because terrorists handle hazardous chemical substances, firearms and bombs, they surround themselves with safety gadgets like masks, goggles, hand gloves, overalls, hard hats, chemical resistant clothing, portable respirators, etc.  Therefore be on the watch-out for anyone or group routinely handling or conveying such items and alert law enforcement agents.

9.    Interest in storage facilities – Investment in storage facilities is another tell-tale sign of terrorists.  They need spacious accommodation to stockpile weaponry and consumables.  So, be suspicious of any non-merchants or contractors frequenting warehouses, garages or mysterious residential buildings.

10.    Suspicious trips and visitors – Terrorists sneak out or in for some practical training.  Also, at odd hours they play hosts to their colleagues or those who help them.  Be security conscious and report nocturnal movements or meetings to law enforcement agents.

11.    Change in conduct – As guerrillas, terrorists always blend perfectly into unsuspecting populace but a few hours to an attack they behave differently.  Any sudden avoidance, withdrawn or other strange behavior should not be taken for granted.

12.    Threats – Terrorists are uncompromising in their beliefs and viewpoints while discussing religion, societal ills or politics.  So, their uncompromising stance which naturally gives rise to anger, shouting or boasting about plans for utopian world orders is a tell-tale sign.

13.    Mind where you park your motor vehicle – Except you mind where you park your automobile, you could unwittingly deploy a terrorist bomb.  So, do not park overnight on a road or in unsecured public garages.  Otherwise, terrorists could strap bombs underneath your vehicle.

If ethno-religious cleansing must not herald a break-up of Nigeria into economically and politically unviable fragments, all hands must be on deck to preserve her unity and sovereignty.  Therefore, the earlier we nip the Boko Haram irritant in the bud, the safer.

 Our action or inaction should not continue to enamor other anarchists watching from the sidelines to join the foray and so, accelerate the decimation of Nigeria.

Mr. John Uwaya resides in Lagos, Nigeria and wrote through [email protected]

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