Nigeria: War on Boko Haram terror group begins

By Konye Obaji Ori

Posted on June 21, 2011 13:26

Urgent measures have been drawn out to tackle terrorism in Nigeria following the country’s first suicide bomb attack by extreme Islamist group Boko Haram. While reports indicate that all security agencies have been integrated into a comprehensive assault, this all-out mêlée against Boko Haram brings the dilemma of the use of force and the dynamics of diplomatic negotiations to the fore.

Following Boko Haram’s attack on the country’s police headquarters, the Federal Government has moved to review its existing approach to anti-terrorism with the country signing an agreement with the U.S. to train and deploy in-flight security officers or Air Marshals on Nigeria-U.S. routes. The Nigerian Navy has also begun a training exercise involving several naval combat ships, mantra boats and a helicopter, in order to tighten security at oil platforms.

Despite these efforts, the use of force – while trying to find a lasting solution to the country’s problem with violent groups – is highlighted by the fact that the approach of deploying the army to combat built-up terrorism yielded no results as the July 2009 offensive against Boko Haram in Maiduguri showed.

Opponents of the use of force argue that forceful military operations often yield great collateral damage, which consequently facilitates further radicalisation of the general populace. And as witnessed in Iraq, the use of force sometimes transforms sympathisers into active combatants, or hardens existing combatants.

“If it were so easy, there would have been no dialogue with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) after years of military campaign against it,” a statement from the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), a political party, read.

Dangerous mix

Nonetheless, the security arrangement against Boko Haram – being facilitated by the Nigerian government through the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), the State Security Service (SSS), Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) and Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) – displays a narrative that invokes a just war theory.

Opposed to the use of force, ACN has asked the Nigerian government to consider engaging Boko Haram in dialogue, arguing that the use of force by the authorities against the Boko Haram sect may not yield the desired results.

“Because of the dangerous mix of politics, religion, economy and international terrorism (alleged Al-Qaeda connection), this monster [Boko Haram] cannot be subdued by force,” the group says.

While the dynamics of diplomatic negotiations is often a safe fall back in many political tight-rope situations, experts believe that Boko Haram’s extremist ideology and violent methods place it beyond the range of reason and dialogue – asserting that the group’s demands are unconditional, its terms, invariable and its means, oppressive.

Argues ACN: “It is apparent that a sect that has claimed responsibility for bombings at military barracks as well as the headquarters of the police cannot be intimidated by six Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs), which the police said they have moved to Borno State”.

In line with ACN’s belief that “Nigeria currently lacks the capacity to use force to crush the Boko Haram sect”, the Arewa Youth Forum (AYF) has suggested that the offer of amnesty will be a complimentary approach to diplomatic negotiations.

According to AYF National Chairman, Ibrahim Gujungu, it was sad that most of those allegedly in the Boko Haram fold were youths, who found themselves in their current situation due to socio-economic and political contradictions wrongly garbed in religion.

Arewa Youth Forum (AYF) has advised President Goodluck Jonathan to declare a comprehensive amnesty – measures similar to those employed in the Niger Delta programme, for Boko Haram members.

But while the variables, except the variable of religion, are similar to the case of the Niger Delta militants, some experts argue that receiving militants in the presidential villa unintentionally classifies them as “freedom fighters” and sets a pattern whereby groups can use terrorism to pursue their goals.

And considering the theological framework in which Boko Haram operates “the offer of amnesty may not be a viable solution because, unlike some militants of the Niger Delta, they [Boko Haram members] will not be convinced of the error of their ways, or enticed by the Federal Government promises”, says ACN.

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