How to Confront Terrorism in Nigeria


|  By Ebongabasi Ekpe-Juda  |

BY now it has become crystal clear that the war against the Boko Haram insurgency is not as simple as we initially thought. Boko Haram did not just spring up like that; it came from a carefully planned destructive scheme. That is why assurance and reassurance that the war against terror will soon be over has turned out to be a mirage or the very opposite of it. Right know, we are witnessing more ferocious attacks by the insurgents almost on a daily basis, and this will continue as we approach the 2015 elections. There is therefore no denying the fact that we are in a very dicey situation like what O. B. C. Nwolise said in his 2005 publication entitled “International Terrorism: America’s September 11, and Britain’s  July7, Is Humanity In The Jaws of A New Genre of Warfare And What Lessons For Nigeria?” In that paper published in the Nigerian Army Quarterly Journal (Lagos. Nigeria volume 1, Nos. 2 and 3), Nwolise opined that “Nobody is safe and that terrorists can attack anytime, targeting children, women, travellers and installations”.

This makes it necessary for us to plan seriously against terrorism, and the plan must be eclectic and multidimensional in purview. The dimensions taken by the terrorist has drawn attention to the damaging effects on the political, economic and social lives of this nation. As at today, terrorism has increased its capacity to frighten humanity, destroy lives and property, threaten national and international peace and security. This is not only because terrorism is asymmetrical warfare, employing unconventional tactics, as we have seen in recent times, it indicates that it is backed by serious people and even nation states. It is not therefore for the army high command to seek for cheap publicity by going to Maiduguri to have lunch in the open field with soldiers heavily armed to the teeth guarding them and proclaiming that we are winning the war. Terrorists are not cowed by such antics. Every terrorist wants to attack to generate maximum publicity because media attention helps to achieve the needed success. And to do this, they usually adopt most unheard off strategy like the kidnap of school children. A serious army should not engage in such publicity stunt, as the eating session in Maiduguri.

Terrorist acts are carefully planned and executed. They include hijacking, suicide bombing, murder, assassination, arson, sabotage of installations, arrest and detention of victims, indiscriminate use of violence or threat of violence. To counter this will require a high level of an integrated information/intelligence gathering process at multiagency level and cross border operation. The components for countering and fighting terrorism as currently in use in Nigeria is based on our desire to deter and defeat terrorism and hovers around policies and methods like law enforcement and use of military. However, an expended method should involve the use of diplomacy, diplomatic information/intelligence gathering and sharing, financial regulation through the adoption of malware war tactics. Besides, eliminating existing terrorist, effective counter measures also attempts to discover and remove the causes that motivate terrorism. These should also include strengthening of governmental institutions to checkmate all sorts of impunity, evolve policies and programmes that ameliorate the biting economic hardship, multi-agency approach, strong legislation, international cooperation and counter agency plans.

Speaking on the need to intensify our military actions against terrorism, Senator David Mark, Senate president, made a good suggestion and a diplomatic blunder at the same time. The good suggestion was that, we should fight the insurgents hard so that they be the ones to ask for dialogue and a blunder when he blamed the neigbouring countries for not helping us. You do not make such comments in the open but apply diplomacy and diplomatic offensive against any nation collaborating or abetting the insurgents, to get them to help you. For all you know, they may be benefiting from the troubles that the insurgents are causing you and they may be aiding and abetting the insurgents for diplomatic revenge, hoping to cow you to venerate them.  For instance, some Nigerien business ventures, and by extension, the government, are benefiting from our not being able to refine petroleum products locally. So what you do is to find out, what they may be profiting from by your troubles and block those interests. There is no doubt that some of the fighters, whether of Boko Haram or Fulani herdsmen, are foreigners mostly from Sudan and Chad among other nations. Therefore, there is  the need to dialogue at diplomatic level with those countries involved, while also engaging them on mutually benefiting level to support your military action, and if need be, fighting first diplomatically and also calling on your allies to join fight them diplomatically. They will do this, if what they get from you is better than what they get from your enemy.  If our security agencies and those in government pretend not to know this, then they are only fooling themselves. If in conventional war situation, you need the assistance of the contiguous states, like Gowon did with Cameroon during the Nigerian Biafra war, in an asymmetrical warfare, you even need more of it.

As identified by Efiok Sampson Ibokette (Rtd. Gen) in his seminar paper on security awareness for officials of the National Sports Commission titled “Terrorism and Counter-terrorism in Nigeria,” systematic frustration is a fundamental causal factor of political violence. He asserted that systematic frustration occurs when persons feel that things they value are threatened by the socio-political system. He evolved four factors capable of spiralling political violence that often may take the form of terrorism. These are government’s ineptitude, relative economic deprivation, blocking of the channels for expressing discontent as well as vagaries of cultural heterogeneity in the population. In broad terms, the causes that have mostly compelled people to engage in terrorism are grievances due to political oppression, cultural domination, economic exploitation and ethnic and religious persecution. In our own case, a section of the country considers it their birth right to govern the others, so that when they consider that they are alienated, they resort to tactics aimed at arm-twisting the government to submission. Grundy’s hypothesis and my submission are that the factors that were very heavily implicated in the annulment of the June 12, election and its aftermath and one can say without hesitation or equivocation that, that was when the seed of terrorism germinated on our turf, though it had been anticipatively sown many years before. When our northern brothers were romanticizing with the idea of Arabianism and Islamisation, the rest of the country sleepily took it for freedom of worship and association. If this country is to stick together, our Northern brothers must be made to realise that we all have equal claim to it. No side is or should be treated as an appendage of the other otherwise we should all agree to go our different ways or, at best, operate a confederacy, as we have in Canada. It is on this note that I make bold to say that Emeka Anyaoku’s prescription for regionalism, where the current state structure will be dissolved and made development centres will not work. The state structure has come to stay. Even if, for purpose of true federalism, we adopt the regional structure, the states must continue to exist and operate as distinct political entities.

This brings me to what should be done to help this nation. A study of countries that have been faced with this situation in the past and even at present, will reveal that they did some other thing, aside from the conventional methodology. It is this paradigm shift that has grown the emergent consensus in the literature among counterterrorism analysts, experts and practitioners that to defeat the threat posed by extremism and terrorism, there is a need to go beyond theoretical security and intelligence measures. They advocate a determined and sustained effort, which will require much political will, leading to taking proactive measures aimed at preventing the vulnerable individuals from being radicalised. Doing this successfully requires some understanding of the purveyors and the targets of violent extremism. This effort must seek to understand not only what people think, but how they come to think what they think, and, ultimately, how they progress or not from thinking to doing. This is the greatest task of deradicalisation enterprise, and it is not a task for a single theory or discipline, but must be eclectic and multidisciplinary. Any useful framework must be able to integrate mechanisms at micro (individual) and macro (societal/cultural) levels. This therefore underpins the fact that “one size does not fit all” when it comes to creating a violent extremist.

In this matter, internally, a deradicalisation programme is needful. We will need to identify those who are prone or susceptible to being radicalised and work towards dissuading and discouraging them from taking to the extremist pursuit, while also rehabilitating those willing, who may have already embraced extremism or who have been radicalised. Those who think that the insurgency is just against Jonathan’s government miss the point completely. Remove Jonathan today, the insurgence will continue. It may not be Boko Haram, but the tactics will be the same as well as the result. Did Yar’ Adua not fight insurgency? After he left, has another not come up again? Did Obasanjo not fight insurgency? Did it end? It will therefore require identifying the predisposing vulnerability factors that lead to or make people to want to take to extremism. This means it will be a process, rather than an event which will involve a lot of stages and departments. Hence, it must adopt an interagency collaborative approach, which implies working together and not trying to outdo the other. It will require collaboration between contiguous nations.

This approach does not mean abandoning the military offensive, but rather combining them, as was done in Jordan and Egypt among others. In the case of Egypt, the authorities adopted iron-fisted measures against extremist organisations. By it, top Islamist figures were imprisoned, exiled, or sentenced to death. When those imprisoned completed their sentences, they remained detained in prison under administrative incarceration. At the same time, the regime launched an ideological fight back against Al- Gamaa Al-Islamiyya for the hearts and minds of the public.

Our president had made a valid statement to the effect that Boko Haram has infiltrated his government. This statement is valid to the extent that the President meant that Boko Haram has gained the sympathy of people in government, particularly those who think that they have the sole right to govern  but infiltration is a more inappropriate term to use in this context. To infiltrate would give the impression that they have moved in or joined the government unnoticed or serendipitously. This is not the case. Therefore, to counter this, the government needs to evolve a society-wide approach to eliminate this sympathy and this must be seen as a compulsive inevitability. In Saudi Arabia, the deradicalisation  programme there is rooted in the recognition that violent Islamist extremism cannot be defeated by traditional security means alone. Equally essential is discrediting its intellectual roots and defeating the ideological mindset that supports and nurtures political violence. The Jordanian programme approach is based on the hypothesis that violent extremism is not a political issue, but rather stems from misguided youth taking a perverse view of Islam. The state has tackled this issue with a two-pronged approach that focuses on military measures and an education initiative.

The Bangladeshi deradicalisation programme is characterised by a strong state presence. It targets primarily those involved with Harajatul-Jihad-al-Islami, HuJI, and Jama’atul Mujahideen of Bangladesh, JMB, and rests on four mainstay: incarceration, intelligence, intellectual intervention (particularly religious discourse to counter radical interpretations of Islam), and investment in all of the above. These four “i’s” are at the crux of the programme, which operates in three targeted districts identified on the basis of historic events and the recruitment levels of various extremist groups.

The Nigeria’s case should not be too difficult or pose such a staid problem to identify the vulnerable ones; as they abound in our society. Those who are more susceptible to radicalistion are said to have a combination of the following characteristics: trusting a person already involved with a radical group; being “spiritually hungry” and dedicated to their faith, but having limited knowledge of their religion; and being desperate, na￯ve, or simply in need of money. Those seeking to recruit such people try to cater for their economic needs and interests. Here we have them as the reserved soldiers of unemployment, readily available for violence, the down-trodden members of our society, the armed, used and discarded vanguards of politicians and political parties. The deradicalisation programme should have as its cardinal programme, the reversing of the economic fortunes of the downtrodden members of our society. One thing we should note with violence, whether terrorist or other forms, is that once it is birthed, it is difficult to uproot completely. It very easily changes form and modus operandi, but the aim and the outcome remain the same.

Radicalisation is the process by which an individual or group of individuals come to adopt increasingly extremist political, social, or religious ideals and aspirations that fundamentally castoff or undermine the status quo, or reject contemporary ideas; and attempts to compulsively limit the expressions of freedom of choice of others. While radicalism is the pursuit and/or support of highly fundamental changes in society that may pose a threat to the democratic rule of law, perhaps by applying undemocratic methods, which may prove detrimental, inimical, whimsical and is at variance with the operational norms of the democratic rule of law.

But before we swing into the realms of illusion and confusion, classifying every radical as an extremist or a terrorist, let me give a word on radical thinking. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, RCMP, have said that radical thinking is by no means problematic in itself, but becomes a threat to national security when its citizens or residents espouse or engage in violence or direct action as a means of promoting political, ideological or religious extremism. By this they infer that radical thinking, as in academics, is not synonymous with radicalisation. Radicals might subscribe to an ideology that is oriented at generating political and physical distance between their own social group and others without engaging in violence. As an ideology, radicalism challenges the legitimacy of established norms and policies but it does not, in itself, lead to violence. On the other hand, terrorists are simply the members of the society who are the most optimistic about the usefulness of violence for achieving goals that many, and often most, support. Terrorism is a political tool and as such comprises a conscious act of terror and intimidation. There have been many radical groups in European political history which were merely reformists rather than revolutionary. It therefore means that there can be radicalism without the advocacy of violence to strive for the realisation of social or political change. The process of radicalisation is a slow complex interaction of factors that do not necessarily lead to violence. The process can evolve in vey many different ways, even in non-violent ways, just as radicals can engage in nonviolent behaviour without terrorist intent but are still radicals. Notably, not every radical becomes a terrorist, but every terrorist would have necessarily undergone a radicalisation process. This surmises that terrorism is the worst possible outcome of the radicalisation process. However, to focus narrowly on ideological radicalisation risks implying that radical beliefs are a proxy or at least a necessary precursor for terrorism.

In contrast, the subject matter of this article, deradicalisation, is a socialisation process aimed at reversing or changing an individual’s belief system, his cognitive behaviour and attitude, by making the individual to reject extremist ideology, and embrace and imbibe the mainstream values. Deradicalisation as a reengineering process, is therefore a set of programmes that is generally directed against or geared towards individuals who have become radicalised; with the aim of deprogramming their minds, debriefing and detoxifying their ideas, so as to be realigned with the mainstream thinking, and so reintegrate them into a larger society or at least dissuade them from violence.

It implies a cognitive transformation, a fundamental transition in understanding, behaviour and a reorientation in outlook, often due to some personal traumatic experience of the violent ideologies to engendering post-traumatic growth in the form of rehabilitation. From this we can notice that deradicalisation implies a different change than those associated with just disengagement. It implies change at the cognitive level, not simply the physical cessation of some observable behaviourial trait which disengagement is all about as a subset of deradicalisation programme. A deradicalisation programme implies and focuses on long-lasting change in orientation, such that there is presumably a reduced risk of re-engaging in terrorist activity.

Programmes of deradicalisation that are geared toward peacefully moving individuals and groups away from violent extremism have grown both in popularity and scope in the past five or so years. These programmes vary widely in purview between nations, having differing subjects like prisoners, potential terrorists, convicted criminals, repentant extremists etc; aim  at the abandonment of extreme views, disengagement from terrorism, rehabilitation into society etc; sizes from just a handful of participants to hundreds, and forms from arranging jobs, meeting their social and financial needs, marriages, and new lives for participants, to merely educating them on nonviolent alternative methods as opposed to their actions, common themes and discernible problems. An issue worth noting here is that, the range of resources required for the development of such programmes is extensive, from qualified practitioners like clinical psychologists, Imams; subject matter experts, for instance, terrorism, reformed ex-terrorists, economic resources, networking between and within agencies, NGOs and civil society, participants’ families, and so on. Nonetheless, with recent high-profile cases of recidivism by supposedly “deradicalised” individuals, questions were raised about the efficacy and potency of these programmes, but with no better alternatives, the question now is on how best to redesign or reengineer them for effectiveness.

As with the process of radicalisation, whereby the “target’s” characteristics are identified to determine their suitability for terrorism, just as in cultism recruitment, they do not just pick on anyone they see; but they try to ascertain his suitability in terms of certain criteria. Deradicalisation just like redicalisation does, must also seek and engage them in dialogue, befriend, and ensure their social, financial, or psychological needs are addressed as a means of gaining their trust. With social networking, deradicalisation will become even easier to embrace and facilitate.  As it happens in radicalisation recruitment process, radical groups will often isolate the targeted individual and indoctrinate them about the cause. If they appear unwilling to participate in violence, they may then be asked to do something seemingly innocuous, like making contributions to help out the group. This act is then leveraged to elicit continued participation. Subtle threat may be employed. They may be told that the security forces now know about them, and they may be tortured. The targeted individual is consequently drawn closer to the radical group or takes a flight. So must our deradicalisation programme proceed.

We must distinguish between deradicalisation and counter-radicalisation. Deradicalisation defines a process “whose efforts are generally directed against individuals who have become radical, with the aim of reintegrating them into the mainstream of the society or, at least, dissuading them from more violence”. My choice of phrase, “who have become extremist” and not radical, is borne out of what I said above about radicals. Deradicalisation seeks to reverse the evil effect of radicalisation process for those already or partly radicalised or help them to disengage from radical or extreme groups they are involved with or of which they are members, as well as dissuading others from taking to it. The approach takes a social psychological perspective, as it aims to work on individuals more than groups. In contrast, counter-radicalisation is defined as “a package of social, political, legal, educational, religious and economic programmes specifically designed to deter disaffected (and possibly already radicalised) individuals from crossing the line and becoming terrorists”. In other words, counterradicalisation seeks to prevent individuals and groups from becoming radicalised, and is usually done ‘upstream’.

Sociologically speaking, deradicalisation is the process of not only moderating one’s beliefs but changing it (cognitive), which consequently leads to attitudinal and behavioral change, while disengagement is simply the process of changing one’s behaviour by refraining from violence and withdrawing from a radical organisation. By this, disengagement envisages a transformed role for an affected individual by undergoing behavioral and social changes such as leaving a gang or changing one’s role within the band, by discarding the commonly shared norms, values and attitudes of the terrorist network. Therefore, deradicalisation is a more inclusive and holistic enterprise. In this discourse, we should note that disengaging from a terrorist organisation does not necessarily entail leaving the group, as disengagement is a behavioral disposition, while deradicalising is cognitive.

Disengagement refers to the process of moving a person away from his extreme group’s activities, without necessarily deradicalising that person or changing his views is more precise. It is the process whereby an individual experiences a change in role or function that is usually associated with a reduction in participation in violence. It may not necessarily involve leaving the movement or discarding their belief, but is most commonly associated with a significant temporary or sometimes permanent role change. Additionally, disengagement may stem from role change, which may be influenced by psychological factors such as disillusionment, burnout or the failure to reach the desired expectations that influenced initial involvement. This can lead to a member seeking out a different role within the movement. Also, a person could exit a radical organisation and refrain from violence but nevertheless, retain the radical view point. These are two different things not symbiotic or mutually exclusive.  Therefore, deradicalisation should be the concern of nations, which rightly refer to the process of divorcing a person, voluntarily or otherwise, from his extreme views. It can be both a social and psychological process wherein an individual’s commitment to, and involvement in, violent extreme radicalisation is reduced to the extent that he is no longer at risk of involvement and engagement in violent activities. Deradicalisation involves any initiative or programme that tries to achieve a reduction of risk of re-offending through addressing the specific and relevant issues. Counterradicalisation, on the other hand, encompasses those measures taken to prevent a new generation of extremists, and is thus less reactive than deradicalisation.

It is my recommendation that this nation adopts this programme, for terrorism has come to stay, and to fight and minimise the scourge of this malignant growth, we need this therapeutic intervention.


Ebongabasi Ekpe-Juda is a social commentator, a security awareness expert and the author of security awareness.


— Jun. 2, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

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