One of the fundamental disasters about the continuous and ongoing insurgency by the Boko Haram sect is the inability of the national security apparatus to make accurate diagnosis of the sect, identify the several variants of the group, identify their various motives and come up with a comprehensive security framework to tackle the growing national instability caused by the sect.
As you may be aware, there are many theories about Boko Haram and its modus operandi currently in circulation and propounded by many analysts. But I will make an attempt to establish the variant that portends greater danger to the integrity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
CONSPIRACY THEORIES AND GENESIS
Some have said Boko Haram is unleashing mayhem as a result of the extra judicial killing of its founder, Malam Yusuf Mohammed and therefore have vowed to make the Nigerian State ungovernable.
Another theory is that the Northern Elites deployed Boko Haram to maximum effect against the government of President Jonathan because he violated the principle of zoning and this theory was given a life of its own when the National Security Adviser, Andrew Azazi attributed recently that Boko Haram became sophisticated, better funded and better organized due to the power struggle in the PDP and subsequently after the 2011 general elections.
Some have also referred to Boko Haram as a tool in the hands of the South which is being used to decimate the economy of northern Nigeria in anticipation for a break up so that the South can go on its way and leave the “parasites” to their doom, while another theory has it that Boko Haram is a franchise used by criminal groups or as some private army used for political and economic assassinations and banditry.
None of the above theories made much sense to me until I stumbled on reports linking the notorious Boko Haram sect to terrorist groups that operate in the SAHEL known as the AL QAEADA IN ISLAMIC MAGREB (AQIM). Niger’s foreign minister, Mohammed Bazoum confirmed that his government is privy to information that Boko Haram received training and weapons from AQIM, including training in camps in the Sahel region of West Africa.
The Daily Telegraph of London wrote an article sometime in February and attributed the sophistication and transformation of Boko Haram to the help received from AQIM,a branch of international terrorist group network based in Saharan States of Mali, Nigeria and Algeria.
The US State Department also confirmed that AQIM trains militant groups from Saharan countries including Nigeria. More so, the recent documents recovered from OSAMA BIN LADIN Abbotbad Mansion revealed there was some form of regular communication between Osama Bin Lad en and the Boko Haram sects. As disclosed by the GUARDIAN OF LONDON, BIN LADEN appeared to have been in direct or indirect communication with Boko Haram as well other militant organizations and leaders of Boko Haram had been in contact with top level cadre of Al Qaeda.
Boko Haram’s contact with the international terrorist group through AQIM should be a source of deep worry for Nigeria’s security agencies. Some criminal elements can band together, rob a bank and blame it on Boko Haram, some politicians can conspire to assassinate an opponent and heap it on Boko Haram and from recent discoveries, some religious groups arguing over the suitability or otherwise of a place of worship may decide to maim each other and finger Boko Haram as the culprit.
These forms of Boko Haram and its motives for crime pale into insignificance when confronted with the threat and danger of the variant of Boko Haram that has affiliated itself with AL-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb(AQIM) whose ultimate aim is to use northern Nigeria as a base for its international operations.
According to Prof. Jean-Pierre Filiu, of the Paris Institute Of Political Science, AQIM is Al-Qaeda’s North African franchise and was established in January 2007.The group has carried out attacks which were previously unheard of in Algeria. Their effort to incorporate other jihadist outfits from neighboring Morocco and Tunisia failed, hence their focus on the northern Sahara, carving out safe havens and threatening weak governments, first in Mauritania and now increasingly in Mali.
AQIM’s area of operations includes Algeria, Mali, Chad, Morocco, Niger, Tunisia and Mauritania. They are angling to include Nigeria in that cycle through the Boko Haram sect and they would not retreat until they have brought the government and authority of northern Nigeria to its knees.
AQIM is currently providing logistics and support to Tuareg rebels in Mali. A recent article by Alkasim Abdulkadir, an international freelance journalist suggests AQIM was responsible for the kidnap of the British and Italian citizens in the northern Nigerian state of Sokoto which ended in a failed rescue mission– a typical tactics of the group in some of the afore-mentioned states of influence.
The transnational threat of AQIM requires the governments of Nigeria to develop a comprehensive framework for covert operations in the Saharan States.These are states that struggle with the influx of AQIM and its nefarious activities. Nigeria became a member of the Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Partnership in 2005, an initiative of US AFRICA COMMAND which comprises of Tunisia, Chad, Niger, Mali,Mauritania, Morroco and Algeria.
Whether we have utilized these partnerships structure is now a matter of conjecture. And I make bold to suggest that we need to make use of the twin doctrines of covert operations and negotiation (The Backdoor Channel) because the military expedition, currently ongoing in northern Nigeria has failed.
If Nigeria is to be taken seriously as regards its fight against terrorism, then we need to start with the effective use of our embassies and consular posts around the world. Embassies in world capitals are centers of intelligence gathering and information dissemination to the Home government and are manned by career diplomats, intelligence personnel and competent military advisers’ .
Nigeria must not be an exception. We need to recall politicians who are designated as diplomats and replace them with career diplomats and also reorganize our defense and intelligence units within these embassies, especially in the SAHARAN states where AQIM has footholds. They must be given new briefing or executive order from the President to plan and co-ordinate secret intelligence operations (not military operation) against AQIM.
Their core duty will be to liaise with the host state and extract information, recruit host citizens and partner with them, fund religious or any organization that may have sympathy with AQIM with a view to infiltrate the organization.
Their aim will be to find out who is the Chief Operations Officer in charge of northern Nigeria cells, how do they fund these cells, where do they train these Nigerian militants, what is the mode of transportation to Nigeria, to what extent and degree is the involvement of citizens of Saharan states in the suicide attacks and operations in Nigeria, who are the financiers in Nigeria, who are the key leaders of the sect that communicate with AQIM, and a whole lot of scenarios.
Their objective will be to get these questions answered comprehensively and use it to prevent further attacks and also long term annihilation of the Boko Haram-AQIM relationship.
Some people argue that our intelligence community is too timid to attain such a venture but they equally argued then that Nigerians can never be suicide bombers.
Covert operations are not a tea party: it is difficult, expensive and dangerous, but it can be done using the right personnel and technology and that’s what a one trillion naira national security budget can address.
Recently, Saudi and British intelligence services recorded successes through a covert operation that led to their undercover agent undermining the terrorist plot of Al-Qaida On the Arabian Peninsula Group in Yemen.
The office of the National Security Advisor, needs to stop playing the victim and reach out to intelligence organizations in West Africa and beyond, particularly Algeria where they have been able to contain AQIM to a great extent.
The fight against terror needs to be fought at home but most importantly in those Saharan states. It is a shame that leaders of Niger and Chad would be pleading with us to establish a regional security group to curtail activities of AQIM and Alshaab.
Aside the foreign covert operations, there should be intensification of internal covert operations covering the whole of northern states through a well funded inter-agency unit comprising of DMI, SSS,NIA,POLICE and other paramilitary organizations.
In order to succeed and make any head way, they must liaise with local clerics, district heads, imams, emirs, the talakawas, market women, religious organizations, corporations e.t.c. They must work closely with immigration and customs to police the borders adequately through aerial and land patrols both night and day.
They must seek to penetrate the terrorist cells working in different states and ensure they are routed or on the other hand seek out the Boko Haram sect that has affiliated with AQIM to destabilize the northern states and encourage them to dialogue and negotiate with the Federal Government.
SHOULD WE NEGOTIATE?
The doctrine of negotiation was recently adopted by the government of President Good luck Jonathan anchored by a respected cleric, Dr. Ibrahim Ahmed Datti, but was aborted by those who probably continue to benefit from the insurgency.
The government through the NSA need to jump start these talks again by raising a secret negotiating team far away from the media spotlight with full powers and all sincerity to negotiate with MALAM SHEKAU or whoever is the leader of the sect. The aim of this secret team would be to lay all the cards on the table and find out the grievances of the sect.
What is their grouse with government, why are they bombing churches and mosques, schools and killing policemen and innocent civilians? What could be done to assuage their grievances?. Government should be willing to make genuine compromises and sacrifices for the interest of the one hundred and sixty million Nigerians. The government of the US is currently engaging the Taliban in negotiations with some success here and there.
The government of Goodluck Jonathan need to implement this doctrine and get Nigeria stabilized again.
The current insurgency is real and capable of disintegrating the nation. Apart from the fact that the economic and socio-political life of Northern Nigeria is being decimated, the greater danger lies in the fact that, by the time Boko Haram and AQIM succeed in shutting down the entire machinery of government and civil life in the north, and turns it into an anarchic state, then we should expect a possible migration of terror down SOUTH.
Nnamdi Anekwe-Chive writes from Lagos, Nigeria. Follow him on Twitter @nnamdianekwe