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Terrorism And National Security: Who Really Is Winning This War?

 “Defeating terrorism is more difficult and far-reaching than we have assumed.... We may be advancing the ball down the field at will, running over our opponent's defenses, but winning the game is another matter altogether” – Wesley Clark, Winning Modern Wars

 “Defeating terrorism is more difficult and far-reaching than we have assumed.... We may be advancing the ball down the field at will, running over our opponent's defenses, but winning the game is another matter altogether” – Wesley Clark, Winning Modern Wars

Although made in a different context, the above quote by Wesley Clark, a retired General of the US Army quite aptly describes the Nigerian situation. Many years back, no one would have thought that terrorism would be so firmly rooted in Nigeria. The situation has graduated from the solitary bomb attempts to a coordinated terror network, unleashing mayhem on countless innocents. There is hardly a week without some kind of gory headline: another bomb blast; another suicide attack; another blown limb; another soul lost. And then, you are sure to see a grieving President Jonathan asking for calm and promising that the situation is under control. If he doesn’t turn up, be sure to hear from Dr Abati. Just when you are trying to grapple with this despicable reality and you’ll get another sad broadcast, another suicide attack in a church! And then you ask yourself – Is the situation truly under control?
It would be an outright fallacy if I stand here to say the security agencies have been completely on top of the situation. How can they be said to be on top of the situation when it has only gone from bad to worse? How can one say they are on top of things when a prime terror suspect was allowed to escape in questionable circumstances? President Jonathan’s first real taste of terrorism was during the independence celebration marking our fiftieth year as an independent nation. A bomb went off, killing a few persons and causing the government some real embarrassment. Then the Boko Haram sect went on rampage with their insatiable appetite for blood. It’s almost impossible to keep track of the number of bombs that have exploded and the number of casualties the nation has witnessed.  From the reckless bombings in Maiduguri to the outright carnage in Kano the nation has been in perpetual mourning. The situation has graduated from time bombs to that of suicide bombs. They have grown in leaps and bounds to the extent of having the audacity to bomb secured places like the Police Headquarters (imagine bombing Scotland Yard), the UN House, etc. No one ever imagined that we would have youths happily strapping bombs in their under pants with the intent of blowing themselves and other unsuspecting civilians.  Yes, the situation has become that complex; as complex as Michael Marshall’s description of modern day terrorism in his book Blood of Angels: “Terrorism isn't James Bond or Tom Clancy. Even al-Qaeda is looking old school these days--now it's just some guy with a bomb. He walks the same roads as us. He thinks the same thoughts. But he's got a bomb”. I can’t agree less!
Boko Haram rightly fits into Michael Marshall’s perspective above. They now operate in a loosely bound cellular structure with “regular” guys (husbands, fathers, brothers…) now in their employ. To worsen the situation, they seem to have mutant affiliations, quasi-terrorist groups and sympathizers in the society they operate, and so they’ve gotten that fine blend that can defeat first level espionage. They seem to have perfectly integrated into the society, with each cell connected to the other, albeit loosely. The implication of this is that they behave like unicellular organisms, when a cell is clamped down upon, the cell undergoes mitosis, with the nucleus dividing into nuclei, each carrying the boko haram DNA. This way, while the security forces are making their victories in arithmetic progression, Boko Haram is recording their victory exponentially in Geometric Progression. This is so because the act of terrorism has been so simplified. The hardest part is to get the recruits fully radicalized; once you are radicalized you are only a few ideas away from killing yet another innocent soul.
In those days, it took super intelligence and in-depth knowledge of explosive science to make a bomb, today it’s as easy as pulling the pin of a grenade. Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) are easily made and readily available. Our society has made it even easier by providing a conducive shelter for budding terrorists. Therefore, all it takes for a terror attack is have a willing mind and boom the bomb goes off and your charred remains will grace the headlines. One man, one bomb, one explosion, many deaths! While the terrorist has a one-to-many relationship with his victims, the security operatives have a many-to-one relationship with the terrorists. In developed countries what the security agencies use to fill this void is technology, but in Nigeria we do not have the technology, infrastructure or the luxury of a retinue of competent and highly motivated officers. Considering our unique situation, what can improve our condition is not broad based espionage but what I would call “man-marking” or “bumper-lock” operation, where suspects will be tracked round the clock. At the moment, do we have the technology, skill and personnel for that? Do you now see the enormous tasks in the hands of our security operatives? You do the math…
I hate to make excuses for our national security setup especially when you are sure to see a rubble and some charred bodies of innocent Nigerians in the headlines in the coming days or weeks, however, one must face certain basic truths. I had in the past written an article on the Real Cost of National Security that was published by the Guardian Newspaper. In that article, I x-rayed the financial cost of having a combat ready security unit using major world players as reference. I still stand by my inference that considering the growing challenge and increasing sophistication of terrorists, our security is grossly underfunded, poorly motivated and ill prepared. Be it military hardware, intelligence gathering tools, Research and Development, we do not seem battle ready to handle the kind of terrorism now amongst us. This is not to make excuses for the wrong spending of the little appropriated thus far. Our security outlook has always been in this embarrassing state long before now, the peace we had then was not that we had better security, but because there was no terrorism and other sophisticated violent crimes. What do you expect when it is only recently that the current National Security Adviser, who by the way is one of the most cerebral military officers of his generation, put together a well articulated and comprehensive National Security Policy. Little wonder there have been unnecessary bureaucracies and very little cooperation amongst the various security agencies. That is not to say our security agencies have not been working. In fact, they have been working overtime, it’s just so sad that one little blunder that is made and it looks like nothing has been done. Not really surprised because that’s what the fight against terrorism is all about. Just like Paul Wilkinson wrote in the London Daily Telegraph of 1st September, 1992, “fighting terrorism is like being a goalkeeper. You can make a hundred brilliant saves but the only shot that people remember is the one that gets past you”. That sums it up!
Although it’s difficult to chronicle all of the “brilliant saves” made by our security agencies, I shall attempt to list a few in the past one year as reported in various national dailies. In September, 2011, the man who supplied materials for making IEDs to the Boko Haram sect was reported to have been arrested by the SSS (Vanguard Newspaper, 2nd September, 2011). This was a significant breakthrough in cutting off their supply from source. A few months later in December, 2011, 14 suspected Boko Haram members were arrested with explosives and ammunitions in Kano State. Items recovered include 4 AK-47, 1,125 rounds of ammunitions, 9 magazines, 19 bags of ammonium chemicals, one bag of iron scraps for making bombs, 20 bags of substances for making bombs, etc (BBC Africa, 19th December, 2011). On 25th of March, the SSS discovered a bomb factory in Kabba, head quarters of Kogi-West Senatorial district, Kogi State (Thisday Newspaper, March 26th, 2012). About two weeks later, JTF discovered yet another bomb factory in Adavi LGA, Kogi State (Thisday Newspaper, 2nd April, 2012). One week later, JTF discovered abandoned vehicles filled with explosives in Kano State (Thisday Newspaper, 9th April 2012).  Less than 10 days later, another bomb factory was uncovered in Adamawa State. Items recovered included 30 pieces of electronic detonators, 19 improvised explosive devices, 50 kg of ammonium nitrate, fuses and 20 kg of phosphorus (PM Newspaper, 18th April, 2012).  A few days later, the JTF made yet another break through. Another bomb factory was uncovered in a mountain cave at Esomi Village in Kogi State. Items recovered include: unprimed hand grenade, gas cylinders used for manufacturing massive explosives, 43 bomb canisters fabricated with water pipes, a double barrel gun, 1.5 KVA electricity generator, iron grinder, wires, ammonia, gun powder, time bomb devices, remote starters for motorbikes used for distance detonation of bombs, batteries,  iron cutters, clamp, welding materials, gloves, super glue, tools, bottles, syringe and needles, anti-personnel devices and other primary explosives (Thisday Newspaper, 22nd April, 2012). Less than a week later, the JTF also discovered another bomb factory at Hotoron Arewa Nassarawa Local Government Area in Kano State. Items recovered include IEDs, prime drum, liquid substances, etc (Thisday Newspaper, 24th April 2012).
Again on 30th April, 2012, it was reported that the mastermind of the BUK Bomb blast was killed in a shootout with JTF. Also, a bomb factory was discovered in Bubugaje, Sharada, Kano State. Items recovered include 3 drums of explosives, 458 rounds of ammunition, AK47 Riffle, 6 High caliber remote control IED, etc (Point Blank News, April 30th, 2012).  A few days later, the SSS also arrested the supplier of explosive chemicals to Boko Haram; 35 drums of highly combustible chemicals used to make IEDs were recovered from him (Tribune Newspaper, 3rd May 2012). On the 11th of May, there was yet another breakthrough as it was reported that JTF arrested a high ranking Boko Haram suspect. Items recovered from the suspect include one AK-47 rifle, one pistol, IEDs and 1000 rounds of ammunition (Punch Newspaper, 12th May 2012). Less than a week later, there was yet another breakthrough. A huge weapon stock was discovered by JTF in a thick forest between Okenwe end of Kogi State and Igara end of Edo State. Items recovered include 2 revolver pistols, 1 sub-machine gun. 10 AK-47 riffles, 545 live ammunitions, 55 rounds of MM-pistol rounds, 14 units of locally made hand grenades, 8 anti-tank IEDs, etc. (Daily Trust Newspaper, 16th May, 2012). If you imagine the combined devastating effect these weapons (by the way, this is not all) could have caused had it gotten to the wrong hands, then one cannot but commend the officers who made this possible. Apart from these, a lot of high profile suspects have also been arrested – from Kabiru Sokoto to Abu Qaqa.
Looking at it from this perspective, one could rightly say there has been tremendous progress. But you see, like Paul Wilkinson rightly stated above, as a goal keeper, the only shot people remember is the one that gets past you. The only statistic that people look at is the casualty figure, not the terrorist plans that were proactively foiled. This is not an attempt to glorify our security agencies. No, the task at hand dwarfs whatever achievement they may be brandishing. But considering the one-to-many relationship terrorists have with their victims, each bomb or IED intercepted could have killed scores of innocent Nigerians if it got to the wrong hands. Remember the exponential relationship? Again, do the math…
The situation leaves more to be desired. Our security agencies have been acting more from the reactionary perspective than from a proactive perspective, understandably due to technological challenges and poor intelligence gathering network. General Azazi who I have a lot of respect for must galvanize his team from the various agencies to work in a more proactive manner. I know the government has been campaigning and advocating for birth control to address our surging population, but I’m sure exposing our citizens to these barbaric killings is not one of the prescribed population control tool.  We cannot afford yet another death. The life of every Nigerian is so precious and we cannot afford to claim that the battle against terrorism has been won until Nigerians can freely move about without the fear of yet another bomb blast. I know sometimes the criticisms might appear misguided and politically motivated but what is sovereignty if the lives of the citizenry cannot be protected? John Warner was very correct when he said: “The very heart of being a sovereign nation is providing security of one’s borders, of one’s internal situation, and security against attacking one’s nation. That is the very heart of what I believe is sovereignty”.
The security agencies are not the only guilty party here; members of President Jonathan’s cabinet from the flash point (or should I say tipping points?) states have not been helpful in combating the scourge of Boko Haram. There is the socioeconomic angle to this fight which they could have exploited but either lack the ability or have deliberately refused to exploit for our collective gains. Let’s cast our mind back to the Niger Delta militant struggle and the eventual amnesty programme. The relative peace we now have in the Niger Delta region was not gotten on a platter of gold, neither were the militants beaten to submission by the military. Leading members of the late President Yar’adua’s cabinet, including the then Vice President Jonathan and state governors of the region embarked on dangerous trips to pacify the militants and preach the message of peace down to the creeks. Some persons even went to the point of being blind folded and taken to the dangerous creeks just to preach peace and show them the sincerity of government in offering the olive branch. You think these militants just got intercepted by the Holy Spirit on their way to Damascus? Think again!
Only recently, the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta affairs, Hon. Kuku, was on hand to appeal to the Itsekiri youths who were reportedly “erroneously” omitted from the amnesty program. He could have ignored them or feigned ignorance but he chose to go down to their level to pacify them and promised to take their message to the President. That brought some respite! The traditional rulers of Niger Delta also stood up to compliment government’s efforts by pacifying their wards. If only the serving members of Northern extraction in this cabinet can take responsibility and preach peace to these people; if only the traditional rulers could come out boldly to condemn these dastardly acts and preach peace to them; if only the society could stand firm against these acts of terrorism. If only…
So, who is winning this war? If you ask me I’ll say the battle is a work in progress. Let me leave you with a quote from the 34th President of United States of America and a former 5-Star General in the United States Army during World War II, Dwight Eisenhower.
“If you want total security, go to prison. There you’re fed, clothed, given medical care and so on. The only thing lacking is freedom.” Dwight Eisenhower
What is important is finding that perfect balance between National Security and Personal freedom. Let’s find and sustain that balance!
Robinson Tombari Sibe is an IT/Geospatial Expert and Public Analyst. He can be contacted via [email protected]

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