The recent call by the United Nations for the federal government to combine dialogue with the deployment of force to combat insecurity in Nigeria made headlines. The UN was quoted as saying that Nigeria’s security crisis is complicated by a conflation of banditry and terrorism in the North-west, which makes a purely military solution unlikely to succeed. Briefing State House reporters on August 24 2020 after leading a UN team to a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Mr. Edward Kallon reportedly posited that given the complexity of security conflicts in Nigeria, a multi-pronged approach has a higher chance of succeeding than a purely military solution. He classified the security crisis bedeviling the country into three – identity-based conflict, resource-based conflict and power-based conflict. He argued that each of the three required a different approach.
There are a number of issues in Kallon’s diagnoses and prognoses for action:
One, the UN’s call for Nigeria to explore political solution to the problems of insurgence and terrorism in Nigeria is not exactly new as several commentators and analysts have over the years made similar calls. In fact it can be argued that Kallon’s call received the sort of attention it did only because of the legitimizing name of the United Nations attached to it. For instance as early as September 2018 another globally respected body -the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace – published a report which it called, ‘Achieving Peace in Northeast Nigeria: The Reintegration Challenge’ in which it argued that a purely military solution to the problem of insurgency and terrorism in the South East would not work and that a broader demobilization, rehabilitation, and reintegration strategy was imperative.
Two, it can be argued that Nigeria’s approach to fighting terrorism, insurgency and banditry has always been multi-pronged. For instance under Jonathan, it was widely reported that the government was willing to negotiate with Boko Haram over the kidnap of the Chibok girls. Again in March 2018, the Information Minister Alhaji Lai Mohammed, was quoted as saying that the government was negotiating with Boko Haram about a possible ceasefire and ultimately a permanent end to the conflict. He was quoted as saying that the talks had been underway for “some time.” In 2016, the Kaduna State Governor El Rufai reportedly said he traced some Fulani to their countries and paid them money to stop them from attacking some communities in Southern Kaduna. Again in the same 2016, the Governor of Katsina State reportedly entered into a deal with the bandits but pulled out of the deal in June 2020 claiming that they betrayed him. In Zamfara State, the Governor, Dr. Bello Matawalle, reportedly said he had no regret entering into an agreement with bandits and that such an arrangement is working. These instances show that Nigeria has really never used a purely military solution in trying to combat the problems of terrorism, insurgency and banditry.
Three, the Federal Government has actually, pari-passu, with military solution tried to institutionalize the non-military approach to the problems of terrorism and insurgency in the North east through a number of de-radicalization programmes. De-radicalization is generally understood to involve having people with extreme and violent religious or political ideologies to adopt more moderate and non-violent views. The approach is predicated on the assumption that terrorists, and others with extremist views, can be engaged in a way that can reduce their risk of re-offending. One of the earliest of such programmes was set up in Kuje prison under the Jonathan government in 2014. Under the programme, participants are combatants convicted of violent extremist offences and inmates awaiting trial. The aim of the programme is to combat religious ideology and offer vocational training as a prelude to re-integrating them into communities. There is also the federal government’s Operation Safe Corridor which was set up in 2016. The programme targets Boko Haram combatants who have surrendered. The focus is on three key issues: religious ideology, structural or political grievances and post-conflict trauma. The project engages Imams to work with those in the programme on religion. Participants are offered training in rudimentary vocational skills. They are also offered therapy to help them overcome the trauma they faced as members of Boko Haram.
In addition to the above government-supported programmes, there is also the Yellow Ribbon Initiative which was set up in 2017 in some communities in Borno State, the epicenter of the Boko Haram conflict. The programme, which is organized and run by an NGO, the Neem Foundation, targets women, children and young people associated with Boko Haram.
Again from these de-radicalization programmes and other efforts by state governments to reach a deal with either Boko Haram elements, insurgents or bandits, it is clear that contrary to the UN position, Nigeria has always combined military and non-military options in its approach to fighting banditry, terrorism and insurgency.
Four, a question following from the above is why the crises seem to persist: Here the UN position that the conflicts are complex is correct because the conflicts mutate such that the original causative elements quickly acquire new forms as they conflate with several other issues. Conflict scholars would often talk about the nested theory of conflict – there are several layers of conflict such that treating the original causative element may not be enough to permanently resolve the problem just as treating the outer layers of the conflict may pacify some of the aggrieved but not all. The fact that the conflicts mutate means the government must constantly be one step ahead of the game by knowing at all times which combination of the tools it uses in fighting these problems need adjustments and in what proportions.
Five, another thing that is obvious from the government’s approach to fighting terrorism, insurgency and banditry is its reliance on fire brigade approach. The government usually waits for a conflagration to break out before it begins scampering for a solution. For instance there are several conflict spots in the country which are merely waiting for trigger events. Quite often the grievances of groups and communities are hardly paid attention to even when some non-governmental organizations have early warning system in such communities. There is also manifest failure of governance at all levels (manifesting vividly on illiteracy and poverty levels, swathes of ungoverned spaces across many parts of the country, corruption and impunity of the governing elites.
Six, to effectively deal with insurgency and terrorism, it is important not just to understand the layers and dimensions of the various conflicts but also to pay attention to people and group’s grievances instead of waiting until such grievances are weaponized. In the country at the moment, there are groups and communities both at the national and regional levels which feel excluded and alienated from the country. Not only must the federal government re-start its stalled nation building process, it must also ensure that equity, justice and fair play should be the guiding principles in dealing not just with groups and communities across the country but also in its approach to fighting terrorism, insurgency and banditry. Unless people feel they are not only stakeholders in the Nigeria project but also that the state offers them possibilities to fulfill their individual aspirations in the state, de-radicalization programmes will continue to face challenges while the current de-Nigerianization process (a process through which groups and individuals de-link from the Nigeria project, often regarding the state as the enemy) will continue.
Jideofor Adibe is Professor of International Relations and Political Science at Nasarawa State University Keffi and founder of Adonis & Abbey Publishers (www.adonis-abbey.com), a London-and Abuja-based publisher of professional books and peer-reviewed and indexed academic journals.