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By Olalekan Adigun

Apart from those who witnessed the Mallam Muhammadu Maitasine riots in the 80s, many would have beaten their chests that terrorism cannot be an issue in Nigeria as we know it today. These people had obvious reasons to support their optimism but it is no longer news that terrorism is now a weighty  issue in African politics. The terrorists did their very worst in early 2015 attacking Garrissa University in Kenya, leaving 148 innocent students dead in the process. The al-Shabab has since claimed responsibility for the attack and has grown even bolder and more daring than ever. The Boko Haram has constituted itself into a regular menace in Nigeria’s north-eastern region gaining notoriety for the death of tens of thousands and injuring more others. The Islamic State (ISIS) activities has gotten it world attention good enough to convince the most ridiculous doubting Thomas of the reality of the threat posed by these groups on us as a people. The question then is how to fight it!

The threat of terrorism is one that transcends any conventional solution. The military alone cannot, just as I have posited in the past, win the war against terrorism, in this case Boko Haram. Supply of Western arms has proven to be useless as the rise of ISIS attests to. Improved budgetary allocations to the military and joint military actions against terror without corresponding support of the “civilian sector” will just be as futile as pouring water into the basket.

As hard as this may sound, it is true. What we must understand is that funds allocated to fight against terror more often than not find their way into private pockets as the #DasukiGate has proven in Nigeria. If they are not siphoned, they often turn out not to be enough, no matter the face value of the currency. If it were for huge allocations, the United States will not be spending millions maintaining their soldiers in Afghanistan fighting a lost war against the Talibans. What about the Vietnam debacle in the 60s?

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If we are truly serious about winning or sustaining the victory against Boko Haram and other terrorists, there is need for a strong civilian component in the fight. By “civilian component”, I mean thoroughly-oriented, organised and systematic efforts at integrating the public in the fight against insurgency while in the process improving Civil-Military relations. Improved image of the Nigerian Army and its Civil-Military relations will do a lot of good in the fight against Boko Haram. This is where, I think, the media is going to play a key role.

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Presently, there seems to be a major disconnect between the Army on one hand and the public on the other hand. My best guess is that this gap is what insurgents are taking advantage of. Even in conventional wars, the Army still needs the civilians. This may be why there are often militias who are themselves not professional soldiers but are trained by the military during conventional wars. If the military needs civilians during war; why then the disconnection in the fight against insurgency? The truth of the matter is that it is cheaper to engage the civilians in our efforts at sustaining momentum and hopefully the total eradication of terror in our land!

During one of his visits to the Theatre Command of the Operation Lafiya Dole in Maiduguri, Bama, Konduga, and other areas affected by the crisis, Nigeria’s Minister for Information, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, recognising the need to civil engagement, spoke about the need to have his ministry to inaugurate a national security campaign against insurgency to sensitise Nigerians on the need for active participation of individuals in security matters. In the minister’s own words, “No nation succeeds in the fight against insurgency without the civilian component; so, we will let Nigerians know that the fight against insurgency is a national issue…’’ Before I proceed, let me be clear that I am not a fan of Lai Muhammed as Information Minister, though I once applauded him as APC spokesman and in that capacity alone. But even if I don’t agree with his appointment in that portfolio, I have to on this matter.

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Many people tend to have forgotten the fact that Britain once had the challenge of terrorism like Nigeria. Northern Ireland used to be a troubled spot thanks to the violent activities of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and its affiliates. The group terrorized people in the region with reckless abandon in the 20th century. This is where I propose “Attrition by Charm” launched by the Royal Irish Regiment to seek a permanent solution the Irish problem in the late 90s.

What did they get right? First, the British anti-terrorism strategists understood the fact that the regiment, which is an amalgam of the Royal Irish Rangers and the Ulster Defence Regiment, had a particularly poor image among nationalists making them vulnerable to attacks in spots with strong Dublin or Catholic attachments. Second, the fact that the soldiers were largely seen as “foreigners” which reminded the locals of colonialism (which most Irish resent) led to a decision by a number of soldiers to take lessons in the Irish language and the Gaelic culture to improve their image in the nationalist community.

If we adapt this into our own fight against terror, we can achieve similar result with minimal budget. What we need to do are the simple, minutest things. Our soldiers fighting in the northeastern part of the country should be made to take lessons in Kanuri language. I say this because it is spoken by about 500,000 people who use it as a second language. Since the most troubled areas are Borno and Yobe, speaking the language of the locals, other than simply Hausa will make the soldiers no longer look like strangers who the locals should not trust. When this is done, our anti-terror strategists should consider seeking the support of local opinion leaders and farmers and make them see “feel” being part of the solutions to the challenge of Boko Haram. The support of media platforms like Aboki News and the likes may also be sought on behalf of the military.

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As useless as dirty water is compared to tea, so is media without a message. The message in this regard should be simple, easy to understand and ruthlessly effective. We can have a message as simple as making the locals and civilians to be “part of the solution, not the problem”.  

Civilian engagement can help the military in identifying insurgents, providing critical intelligence reports and spotting supplies and logistics to the insurgents. This is why many nations during war engage in powerful propaganda just to mobilise their people to support the military efforts. They do this because they know the military alone cannot win the war. War can be costly in terms of human and material resources, but if we adopt the right tactics and strategies – two key elements of any successful war – we can see the end of terrorism in our nation.