Nigerian forces in the face of Boko Haram
By : Robin Renee Sanders
Weaknesses in the existing security structures are becoming more evident as the security forces find themselves unable to cope with this new threat. It is good that Nigeria has accepted international assistance to begin to address some of these structural challenges.
Nigeria is at the beginning of a long conflict. This is no longer a localized insurgency. The security services need to acknowledge that there is no easy fix, and develop a strategic plan for dealing with Boko Haram.
There are people and elements in the Nigerian military that are committed to this cause, but they are under-supported and need resources. Past reports of corruption and failure to respond are real challenges, as are institutional weaknesses.
If the entire security structure becomes demoralized, who will fight this war? A few incidents have already been reported where military units have shown their frustration by shooting at commanders’ convoys.
Intelligence gathered from villagers in Nigeria and neighboring countries will be critical to fighting this war, so we need to help build trust among neighboring countries’ security services. The international community also needs to monitor the food-security situation. Food shortages could become an issue down the line, since Boko Haram’s brutality has caused several villages and markets to simply disappear.
Boko Haram is not a new organization. It has been around, in some form, since the late 1990s. Before 2010, it was responsible for localized sabotage, attacked police stations, and recruited young people, but it was not involved in kidnappings.
Evidence of some contact between Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) began to surface in 2010, about nine months after the extrajudicial killing of Boko Haram’s leader, Mohammed Yusuf, and his lieutenant, Alhaji Buji Foi.
In August 2011, Boko Haram bombed the United Nations building in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, using Al-Qaeda-inspired tactics to show its power. Since then, it has become expansive in its reach and its brutality, and has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization.
In April 2014, Boko Haram militants kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls in the town of Chibok. Despite reports out of Nigeria, it is unlikely that the girls remain in the country. It is more likely that most of them have been taken to Chad, Cameroon, or elsewhere.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau is acting on one of his stated goals. In May 2013, he said that he would make the mothers and daughters of Nigeria suffer in revenge for the capture of some of Boko Haram’s family members by Nigerian security forces. Communication with the families of the missing girls must be improved, and more trauma and grief counseling should be offered. These are areas in which the international community could be of assistance.
Not enough has been done to locate the missing girls. The same level of financial and technological resources that have been used in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane should be used to find the abducted girls, no matter which country (or countries) they are in. Furthermore, A number of village task force groups have cropped up in Borno State, northeast Nigeria. They are usually called joint-force, vigilante, or village watch groups. These groups exist to fill the security vacuum left by the Nigerian official security forces, who are unable able to respond to the Boko Haram threat in certain villages. More attention needs to be paid to this dynamic.
We have also seen in the case of the Central Africa Republic (CAR) the emergence of the Anti-balaka groups that have become in some cases just as violent and uncontrollable as the Seleka rebels that they want to eliminate. Another example is the situation in Libya today. Some of the militia groups that the international community depended on have now become forces unto themselves. They can add another dimension to an existing crisis if they operate lawlessly.
The international community needs to monitor the Borno-based vigilante groups and make sure that they do not become a part of the problem.
The writer is the former US Ambassador to Nigeria.
(In partnership with The Mark News)