Monday, 16 December 2013

Defanging Boko Haram and Similar Groups: A simple strategic approach

Groups such as Boko Haram appear to have taken centre stage in the daily security/insecurity narrative in Nigeria’s media space. We hear of their impending attacks on innocent citizens and perhaps government alike, we also hear government’s guarantee to its public that they should not be afraid, as the government will protect their lives and properties.  No one would expect a government to state otherwise, irrespective of its ability to back its statement.  Interestingly as well are statements from various personalities of perceived repute across the country which try to control or spin the narrative in order to give birth to more chaos or achieve their own ideological or political aims. I have heard some link Boko Haram’s menace to the increase of resource derivation formula for resource producing states to 13%, while others have blamed it on the elections in 2011. I believe and will explain why Boko Haram and all other groups are the offspring of a single phenomenon: The failure of government at all levels. Now it is important to understand that this statement is not an indictment of the current government alone because government is a continuum and the seeds of this crises were sown in previous governments while this government perhaps watered it a little by not deploying the appropriate instruments at its disposal in order to begin resolving the matter once and for all. There have been various intermediaries or purported intermediaries who seem to want to intervene or bring demands from the group to the government for a negotiated settlement.  While I think these suggestions might be noble irrespective of the various agendas its participants may have, I believe the government should not take this bait as this would create precedence and elevate one group of citizens above another in their minds.  Boko Haram and other groups arose from government failing in their sacred duty and only a return to these duties can these groups be extinguished.
Securing the lives and property of its citizens is the foremost duty of a government. Creating a conducive environment where its citizens flourish in peace is another duty of government to its citizens: A perception of equal opportunities for all citizens only helps reinforce these in the minds of citizens and prevents seeds of any kind of rebellion. It is the absence of these that have fueled groups such as Boko Haram and the likes. The absence of development in their lands, the absence of opportunity, the absence of hope, perceived injustice, and most importantly, the perception of negligence by government  are the toxic mix that help such groups flourish.  I believe our intelligence units, especially from the state security and the police would have this information, but then again perhaps the units at the local government level haven’t been equipped with such assets due to lack of funding, training or both.
The current approach to dealing with these groups by training special operation groups and deploying only military instruments is counterproductive and will certainly sow more seeds of discord by amplifying the rhetoric in the minds of the people in the affected areas that the government really perceives them as enemies. My suggested approach is to deploy several instruments concurrently: a hybrid of divide and conquer but the main difference being rather than crush with military might, the crushing is done with ideological and economic might. The output is change in perception which increases security and indirectly allows government to fulfill its duties.  The instruments that I suggest the government deploy concurrently are of the following classes:  military/security, political and economic.

Military/Security instruments
I begin my suggestion with the use of security instruments available to the government to achieve the following goals:
·         Restoration of order (albeit somewhat)
·         Positive intelligence gathering
·         Support of more viable instruments
Restoration of Order (Albeit Somewhat)
 The introduction military instruments to deal with the fallout of the Boko Haram issue going out of control should have been to restore order only. I am not sure what the current operational objective and strategy of the troops that have been deployed in the affected areas might be, what orders ground commanders have been issued from operational headquarters and what orders they have in turned received from the political leaders. Be that as it may, if the objective and the means being used to achieve it project any perception other than allowing people to be able to live without fear of harm, then the deployment would have only achieved in sowing more seeds of discord.  The minimum use of lethal force and the friendly posturing of troops achieve more to restore order than any aggressive posturing combined with scorched earth and brazen destruction of lives and property.  Troops deployed in these areas must be made to understand the short term and long term objectives of the deployment, the political and economic impact of each operation. They are not fighting against enemies but against fellow citizens whom the government intends to re-engage into society, hence the need for minimal loss of lives and property, and the avoidance of undue harassment and intimidation.  Confidence is restored only when the minds of the people are at rest from fear of harassment and intimidation by security agents.  This helps to keep the people safe and in turn ensures the safety of the security agents.

Positive Intelligence Gathering
Another reason to deploy security instruments in this case is also to build and gather intelligence about the different factors that birthed the crisis. I guess most of this information is already in the public domain but there are probably other elements that such exercise can unearth. In the case of book haram, it appears that either the intelligence gathering apparatus was nonexistent, or the intelligence provided was ignored. Either way, at this point in the process, the correct intelligence gathering resources and infrastructure need to be put in place so that it can help in effective deployment of other tools available to the government.  My favored focus will be the socio-economic conditions of the people in the affected areas, the prevalent local narrative, and their perception of the boko haram crisis as a starting point for creating counter doctrine to stem the spread of the ideology if any and prepare a plan to deploy economic instruments to improve socio-economic conditions. Intelligence gathering will also help create a profile of the foot soldier of the sect with the objective of identifying possible foot soldiers for counter doctrine exercises and reducing their numbers so as to isolate the leadership. Without foot soldiers, the leadership will crumble.  In addition a profile of the leadership and their ideological drivers also helps de-fang the movement because, the ideological drivers are the tools for recruitment and propagation of ideology, hence it is essential that these are identified, countered , in order to also influence other members of the movement that the premises on which they are built are no more true.  This exercise can also help identify any political elements that took advantage of the situation of the crisis for nefarious gains, and also help the government deploy tools to counter this occurrence.

Support of more viable instruments
The use of military/security tools are meant to help the government identify and deploy more viable instruments at its disposal that achieve both short and long term stability in the affected regions. Having deployed troops to restore some order in the area and built in intelligence infrastructure, it is important that the government at all levels identify and deploy economic and political instruments that will surely bring lasting peace to the affected regions. The economic and political instruments I suggest are discussed in their respective sections. The security instruments will help ensure that when these other tools are deployed, they are deployed correctly and the gains are built upon.

Economic Instruments
One of the prevailing factors that allow people in the region affected by the Boko Haram crisis is the dwindling economic fortune of the region.  Perhaps this is as a result of corruption in many guises or the improper deployment of the wealth and allocation within that region or failure of the administration at the local and state levels. Be that as it may, the most important thing now is to ensure effective deployment of existing economic tools that would spur development and addition of new tools to enhance economic outlook.  The following are my suggestions:
·         Enhance utilization of existing state and local government  allocation
·         Increase education grants and investments (a student loan program for post secondary could work)
·         Create economic research institutes in the educational institutions in the region with offices or reps in LGAs
·         Invest and support local private enterprises through loans and business support units
Enhanced Utilization of Allocation:
I believe that financial intelligence units should work with states and local governments in these regions to enhance the utilization of allocations provided the state and local government respectively.  The premise of course is that these governments have the best interest of their people at heart and just need some assistance in the case of best practices in allocation utilization.  This will help ensure that the current economic situation is improved at the grassroots level (the breeding ground for such unrest), and decrease disenchantment based on misappropriation.  Focus should be on providing the basics such as good water, healthcare, roads and power supply in these regions.  This places a perception in the minds of the people that they are not being left out and counters other narratives that promote otherwise.
Increase Education grants:
Increasing educational opportunities for people in the affected region will certainly help show them the various career paths that they can aspire to take and dissuade them from being enchanted by those intending to use them as cannon fodder.  All tiers of government should work with private sector to invest in these programs and inspire hope and possibilities within the minds of the citizens in the region. Loans can be provided to students based on merit and other factors that may be relevant to specific area, decreasing the burden o n poor parents that may not be able to send their children to school.  This increases the esteem amongst the people, families and units, ensuring they believe that they can make it on their own having been so empowered.
Create Economic Research Institutes
The objective of deploying this tool is to generate information on the economic activities and outlook of different sections of the affected region so as to provide economic intelligence that will help in decision making and future allocation of resources and new instruments. It will also provide feedback which can be used by businesses and other elements of the society alike to make better decisions.

       Investment in private enterprise and provision of Business support units
       An economic tool that is also useful is investment in private enterprise and provision of business   support units. An investment bureau that provides the people with loans and advice that help them realizes their entrepreneurial dreams is a hope building exercise as well as an economically liberating one.  Business incubation teams could also help monitor the business as it grows.  The benefits of successful enterprise will spread across the region and help employ hands that may otherwise have been idle.

Political Instruments
The use of security and economic instruments help restore normalcy and promote hope and ambition respectively in the hearts of the people, but the use of political instruments by the government will go a long way in cementing the normalcy, hope and ambition the previous instruments provided.
The political instruments I suggest are justice and protection of human rights.
The Boko Haram episode can be said to have been fueled by the rounding up and extra judicial killing of members and their leader, Sheik Yusuf Mohammed in an episode of brazen disregard for law and order by the people who are meant to uphold it. I saw a few clips online and it was horrible to watch. It sent a message to the people that they were expendable from the point of view of government and nothing will happen to the culprits. If the government responsible for providing security of life and property decides on its own or via its agents the right to take lives at will, then such insurgencies are going to arise all the time. However, if the government ensures that there is always justice for the man who doesn’t take up arms, the man would not believe he needs to be armed to the teeth before his cause is listened to or his pleas are heard. When any person, irrespective of position commits a crime, the person should be made to go through the established justice system to determine his/her fate.  This Boko Haram case in particular, should have the police officers who shot the members as well as those who watched without stopping their colleagues all tried in the court of law for the various offence in the criminal code that may apply.  It is important to understand that this is not bowing to the demands of the Boko Haram group, but the minimum requirement of any government that upholds law and order and expects peace to reign.
Justice prevents rebellion and it also prevents citizens from taken it upon them to exert what they may view as revenge for any crime committed against them.
Protection of Human Rights
The funny thing about this point is that one wonders why governments do not see its people as a resource whose rights should be protected. As valuable as the oil in the deltas of south are the human resources that are gifted to the nation. It is the job of a good government to find ways to unearth the talents within each human resource and protect their rights to live in dignity and peace while contributing their best to the entity nation to which they belong.

I believe if the government considers the few instruments I have suggested and the manner of deployment of these instruments, the issue of Boko Haram and other elements with the same characteristics will be greatly minimized if not eliminated.

It is about time we focus on de-fanging Boko Haram and focusing the national narrative on something more productive.
This piece represents my two cents contribution to the nation in crisis

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