Mr. Franklin Nwalunor, a security expert, believes Nigeria’s unsuccessful attempts to dislodge the rampaging Islamist sect — Boko Haram – stem from the faulty security systems and the insincerity of its leaders in tackling the major factors fueling insecurity in the country. Nwalunor, a member of the International Association of the Chiefs of Police, United States of America and founder of Lagos-based DSQ Security firm, in this interview with Olisemeka Obeche takes a critical look into the security challenges facing Nigeria and proffers possible solutions. Excerpts:
We are witnessing global terrorism masterminded by groups such as Al Qaeda, Taliban, Al Shabaab, Boko Haram, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). What do you think is fuelling this storm of unconventional warfare confronting humanity?
Terrorism is a new phenomenon that has astounded everybody because no one saw it coming in this form and magnitude. Unfortunately, we are seeing what is akin to a Frankenstein monster. These ideological or faith-based terrorist organizations we are seeing today were established by the world powers in the past as a tool to enable them control the world firmly. Sadly, these groups have outgrown their own masters and are currently operating based on their own philosophy.
Today, they are no longer dancing to the original tunes but rather their own weird ideology made possible through brainwashing of members. And so, the widening appeal such teachings have enjoyed among the youth, mostly illiterate and unemployed, is fuelling this storm with those behind it trying to use it to achieve political goals of establishing their own dominion in the society.
For instance, if you watch the activities of the Islamist sect largely responsible for terror campaign in Nigeria — Boko Haram — you will notice that whether it was founded on religious or political reasons, the dimension it has assumed in recent years has gone off the intended goal of its creators. And that is basically because the current leaders of the sect have succeeded in recruiting a large army of illiterate and unemployed youths who were indoctrinated into its belief that ‘western education is sin’.
So far, governments’ strategists, security experts and forces of many nations have struggled to contain the rise and spread of Islamic-fuelled terrorism in parts of the world without success. Why is this so?
They are finding it difficult to contain terrorist activities because everything about terrorism does not follow the conventional warfare method. If you look at it from the normal perspective, you will discover that the methods being deployed is not destined to solve it (terrorism) but rather curtail it to a large extent. If you want to cultivate a farm land, you must clear it before planting seeds. Even when you have planted your crops, you must carry out regular maintenance on the farm, including watering, weeding etc. That’s how terrorism should be tackled. You don’t just start farming by jumping to start cultivation on an un-cleared land. Majority of the anti-terrorism efforts we see today, especially in this part of the world, are like that. They start tackling the problem from middle process and neglect the foundational process. You cannot start to solve a problem from the middle, otherwise, you are creating room for further complication of the problem.
I believe that for anyone to successfully stop terrorism, he must make conscious efforts to, first of all, understand the terrorism he wants to stop. And that requires establishing the complex nature of the organization and those behind it as well as the reasons he wants to stop it. It is not a simple thing to do. You must study it thoroughly and develop the tactics to stop it so that you can be able to beat them in their game.
But the federal government had severally declared its readiness to dislodge the Boko Haram sect through a number of initiatives. Why has these campaigns yielded minimal result so far?
The truth is, you cannot just wake up one morning and declare that you want to dislodge Boko Haram when you don’t know much about the sect and its modus operandi. Before such declarations are made, you must have done all the necessary work to know more about their activities as well as the persons involved. It’s only after that you can begin to initiate efforts to stop them, and this requires much more than just launching attack at a suspected terrorist stronghold to dislodge its members.
Another crucial factor in the anti-terrorism campaign is the sincerity of those people doing it. The question is: are those people championing the cause of dislodging the terrorists actually sincere? If you investigate well, you will discover that they are not sincere; rather they are doing it just to put up public appearance so that people would not say nothing is being done.
We have seen a situation where some of those in charge will appear on national television and other media platforms to tell lies. For instance, the police top chiefs would now and then come out to tell us that bailing from police custody is free; while you and I know that securing freedom from police detention is not without cost to the defendant. So, sincerity and honest in handling various security systems matter a lot and that is basically one key flaw in the ongoing efforts to tackle insecurity in this country.
The emphasis would change from the kind of security systems we run now to a more pragmatic, all-inclusive and friendly one. And that also requires putting in place strategies and facilities for preventing terrorist attacks, armed robberies, kidnapping and other sophisticated crimes that have defied our security apparatus. Preventive security measure is what is largely lacking in the ongoing efforts.
What do these preventive measures entail?
In a bid to control security in your country, there are fundamental things you must do. And that requires understanding security and security needs of your country. Of course, adequate security entails putting in place necessary measures to ensure that freedom of lives, property and means of livelihood are not violated. All these, to a large extent, will ensure socio-economic stability as well as equitable distribution of national wealth. If you want a stable nation, you must take security seriously and that requires putting in place a spiritual and physical science that would serve as a study of human behavior in that society.
Another way to get the kind of security that would stabilize the country is to look at it from a local dimension. That local concept is the most effective method that even the most powerful secret organizations rely on. And that means seeing security as ‘the mysterious powers behind numerical and alphabetical orders’. It is the inability of our security chiefs to put necessary measures in place that has made it relatively impossible to tackle security challenges.
For instance, we have hundreds of thousands of policemen armed with guns on the streets of this country, yet this public display of their combat readiness has never stopped armed robberies and other violent crimes in the society. In the western countries, you don’t see armed policemen on the streets, yet they have almost zero crime rates.
What do you consider as major factors responsible for insurgency in parts of the north?
I think this insurgency has a political undertone, even though it may not entirely be about politics. However, the people behind this insurgency are out to frustrate the efforts of the federal government to govern that part of the country. Looking at the current structure of the country, vis-a-vis its colonial experience, you will discover that ethnicity; religion and resource control play a big role on the leadership. If an Hausa man is the president, people from other tribes and religious divide may look for ways to sabotage him because they believe that the concept of ‘Nigeria’s unity’ is merely a slogan and it’s everybody to himself and his people. The same thing applies to any other tribes as well.
Indeed, certain political forces in parts of the north are not happy that Jonathan succeeded late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and that may have heightened insurgency in that part of the country.
But some people would slightly disagree with you here, arguing that Boko Haram insurgency dates back to the reign of late President Yar’Adua?
Well, if you want to analyze it from that angle, you will still see that even the choice of Yar’Adua did not enjoy widespread acceptance of northern leaders. If you recall the uproar that greeted the selection of Yar’Adua from a long list of other eminent candidates from the north by then President Olusegun Obasanjo, you will understand my argument. The appointment of Yar’Adua as PDP presidential flag-bearer, ignoring the likes of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and others was against the interest of northern power brokers. It was that snub that forced Atiku to leave PDP prior to the 2007 elections.
So, Yar’Adua’s regime did not enjoy broad-base support of northern leaders and that is why groups like Boko Haram operated then. Although some people say that those behind the mayhem are just doing it to make money, I strongly believe that a lot of people, mostly prominent leaders that are not comfortable with Jonathan presidency are involved.
The cooperation of northern elders and leaders in this anti-terrorism war is very vital because they know the territory as well as these individuals. But from all indications, it was as if we don’t have elders and leaders in this part of the country who can stand up against this terror group.
So, why is government finding it difficult to apprehend and prosecute those individuals linked to the terror group as a way of dismantling them?
That is why I identified sincerity as one of the missing links in this anti-terrorism campaign. If government is sincere and fully committed to this project, they have what it takes to uncover the mystery masterminds of terrorism in the country and bring them to justice.
However, you must understand that some of these people belong to the power cliques that determine who gets to power and who does not. And because of the kind of influence they have in the society, a sitting president is usually not encouraged to undertake certain actions that would affect their members. That may be the dilemma President Jonathan is having here. Remember that a lot of political dealings took place prior to his emergence as the substantive president as well as his first election. So, if some of these people involved in this act are members of this group, it would be difficult for him to bring them to justice in view of the secret deals he had with them.
So, all he has to do is to keep on making promises and efforts so that the masses will think that he is trying his best in dislodging the insurgents. Now and then, the media say that a lot of successes have been recorded in the war, but they know truly that the efforts are not yielding the desired results. The calibre of people being linked to this insurgency are highly placed to the extent that government cannot deal with them without risking uprising from their followers in that part of the country. That’s the dilemma. So, in this situation, the belief is that it could be tackled gradually with a lot of underground negotiation, which I believe could be the best option.
The abduction of school girls from Chibok in Borno State has remained a sore thumb for the country. Do you think some proactive security measures could have prevented the abduction or resulted to earlier release of the girls?
There are two things involved in this matter: prevention of the abduction and securing early release of the abductees. For the first, if sophisticated measures were in place, all these abductions and attacks could have been prevented. Even when it is not completely done, it would have been partially prevented. And that involves investing more in intelligence and swift response to any distress signal. All these are lacking here and that is why those guys are operating as if they are invincible.
However, when you talk about an abduction that has happened we should consider the option of negotiating their release. With such high number of our young girls in terrorist’s captivity, government should have explored options that would ensure safe and early return of those innocent school girls. Unfortunately, that important option has been neglected, allowing those girls to spend such a lengthy spell in captivity. If the truth must be told, these are people’s children and so deserve all the attention from the government and other stakeholders.
Could the government have vehemently refused to negotiate with the terrorists if any of those girls belong to top political leaders? As long as those girls are with them, they have an upper hand. Even if you have heavily armed soldiers to surround the insurgents they can hold the girls on leverage and order you to stand and if you don’t they can kill them. And if you fail to heed their request and they kill the hostages, your efforts have been a waste. This matter is like a tse-tse fly perching on a scrotum: if you hit it hard you will hurt yourself and if you allow it, it will suck your blood with its attendant consequences. Hence we need to handle it with utmost care.
Are you saying that negotiation is the best option to rescue the girls?
Sure! If I am in charge of this matter, the best thing I would have done to safeguard the girls who are of great importance to the nation is to negotiate their release, having seen the handwriting on the wall. They were insisting on one thing — exchange of the girls with some of their members in government custody. I believe that the most sensible thing to do at this juncture is to negotiate, albeit behind scene since there was no credible means of rescuing the girls without guarantee of heavy casualties or death. What they could have done in this case was to tag those released prisoners which will enable the authority to trace those guys after the girls have reached safety. Securing lives of these girls is of more importance to the nation than holding up as many Boko Haram members. The only thing that is important is making sure that the exchange did not go against government interest. In other words, put in place modalities to ensure that the girls are successfully released at the same time you hand over the terrorists. It would be a great shame to release the terrorists while Boko Haram end up reneging on their own terms. So, it is a very delicate issue that has to be handled with tact. That is why government needs to co-opt credible leaders and elder statesmen who can help talk to these people and get things done. So, the Presidency shouldn’t have prevaricated in negotiating the release of those girls because if they die it would be a big dent on the image of the Nigerian government. On the other hand, the government would receive high praises should it succeeds in securing the release of those girls, regardless of the number of detained insurgents released in the process.