Esteemed participants, you may not realize it but you are part of history making today because the chances are that the conference would come with the position that could help Nigeria win the war against terrorism. The conference has the opportunity to speak truth to power. It also has the chance to consign itself to other non-consequential interventions that had hugged the limelight in the past only to adopt the timid business as usual stance when the facts are all too glaring for the casual observer to see.
It is now a given that some things around how Nigeria responded to Boko Haram and other proscribed or outlawed groups changed about three years ago, which I believe is the basis for which this conference is concerning itself with assessing only those three years that terrorists were made to realize that Nigeria is a country, and one with a standing and capable Army. The terrorists have since learnt that this is not a no man’s land where they can brag about holding territory. That repulsive ambition died once generals who know what they are doing stepped to the plate.
The euphoria of the successes recorded in the war against terrorism notwithstanding, and without prejudice to the costly sacrifices being made by members of the Armed Forces, we must in our intervention today be bold to rankle moods and step on toes. Whatever is found wanting must be identified and proclaimed so as that is the only way for the country to be able to take steps that will rid it of the last vestige of terrorism.
I will therefore digress to dwell on something or some things that Nigeria should have done differently. That is the overall approach to the war on terrorism. Please note, this is not to say a lot has not been achieved but it is rather to point out that much more could have been achieved and attained faster than we did. What I find to be missing in this regard is a failure to evolve a fully Nigerian approach to dealing with a global problem that mutated a Nigerian strain for that is what Boko haram is.
Since terrorism became a global challenge, countries have evolved their own responses to the threats posed, either in isolation or part of a collective but always with the national touch that ensures the interest of the particular country is well protected even when it is constrained to honor commitments to supra-national bodies.
I challenge you, participants, to take a quick study of France – the number of terror attacks it has had in the past ten years and the number of arrests it has made in those instances. What you will find is that a higher number of the terrorists that carry out attacks in France do not live to wear handcuffs neither do they ride police patrol cars, their corpses usually make the trip from their standoff with law enforcement to the city morgue because they always invariably end up dead. The latest attacker was a mere 16 days ago and that was the fate that befell him even though his weapon of choice was what some would refer to a mere knife. So, the terrorists know France is not a playground for their twisted ideology. Former French colonies in Africa – take note of Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger – have adopted a similar approach and terrorists know not to go fooling around in these places.
Russia has even lesser tolerance and a thinner finesse to dealing with terrorists. Russian President Vladimir Putting, quoted in a Brooking Insitute article that made reference to a 2000 interview for his biography said of his brutal suppression of terrorists in Chechnya, “If we did not quickly do something to stop it, Russia as a state in its current form would cease to exist…. I was convinced that if we did not immediately stop the extremists [in Chechnya], then in no time at all we would be facing a second Yugoslavia across the entire territory of the Russian Federation — the Yugoslavization of Russia.” Putin also does not want Chechen that have fought alongside ISIS terrorists in the Middle East to export terrorism back to Russia, it is a cheaper and more effective approach, to deal with the problem before it arises.
Britain is arresting, trying and jailing its nationals that have gone to Syria to support ISIS. In fact, even contemplating or planning to travel to join ISIS is a crime for which some convicts are serving time. United Kingdom Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson asserted that Britons who have fought for ISIS should be hunted down and killed to ensure they never return to their country. Perhaps, British that fought on the side of ISIS are fortunate to only be imprisoned for their crimes; an American citizenship could have guaranteed them death right in the Middle East by Hellfire missiles fired from Predator drones simply to ensure they do not live to return home with their terrorists’ ideology and build terror networks in their homelands.
Incidentally, these are all countries that some of us have been brainwashed to regard as the benchmark for strict adherence to human rights. Yes, they adhere to human rights and follow rules of engagement but they always make sure that the collective interest is above those of individuals that have gone rouge. For these countries, it appears failure to remove threats to the larger population is what constitute violation of human rights. Their governments and military see themselves as being responsible to the civilian population that would be harmed if terrorists should successfully hijack their countries.
Ladies and gentlemen, please note how the media and civil society in the aforementioned countries react to these practices I have mentioned. They may grumble, they may criticize but they in the end join in managing the situation so that their people see the common and greater good in the steps taken to curtail terrorism. At no time have international human rights organizations been able to hound them or their militaries. If anything, reports that have recriminating titles have texts that praise the valour of the troops that kill menacing terrorists.
You should by now be asking yourselves what the Nigeria model is. What is the Nigeria model? The reality is that there is no Nigeran model in the true sense of things. What we have instead has been a Nigerian Army that has been excelling in the face of impossibilities. The same human rights activists and international NGOs that see nothing wrong in the way these other countries keep themselves safe expect Nigerian troops to approach terrorists with gift offerings so that they can be talked into giving up their evil ways. Once troops kill terrorists it would become a matter of human rights violation and threat of being dragged to the International Criminal Court (ICC). I invite you to note again that the military from France, Russia, United Kingdom and United States are not threatened with ICC when they kill terrorists, instead they get medals. So, the question is, why is Nigeria different?
This is a question for participants to find answers to. At a different forum, people told me it is because they want Nigeria to fail. But even this answer only provoked more questions. If you were to give me the same answer I will then ask: why do they want Nigeria to fail or collapse?
Other questions are: who are these people that want Nigeria to fail? How do they plan to make Nigeria to fail? What have they done so far to set Nigeria on the path of failing? Who are they using to make Nigeria to fail? Who benefits if Nigeria should fail? What is Nigeria doing to prevent itself from failing?
Whatever answers we get to these questions, they will point to the centrality of the Nigerian military, notably the Nigerian Army as the institution to counter these threats. The Army cannot safeguard the country against conspiracies of such magnitude if it has to adopt a different set of rules to the ones other Armies use to protect their country. The Army cannot be fighting Boko Haram only for agents of countries that do not allow terrorists breathing space to dictate what must not happen to known terrorists.
I therefore challenge this conference to review the conditions under which the Nigerian Military achieved its successes over Boko Haram with a view to making suggestions that will empower military personnel to do even better. You should identify groups that are being used to undermine the military’s effort to eradicate Boko Haram and make useful suggestions on how to manage such organizations.
My hope is that you will be able to come up with a template that will help the Nigerian Army develop its own approach to dealing with terrorists in a manner that ensures that the safety of Nigeria is not jeopardized.
I wish you fruitful deliberations.