The most authentic thing about us is the ability to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love, and to be greater than our suffering -Ben Okri
For Nigerians, very few words evoke horror like Boko Haram.With almost 13,000 deaths and at least 2000 abductions of women and girls attributed to the terrorist group, terror is an understatement. The threat posed by this group is even more potent for the residents of Yobe, Adamawa and Borno states where the sect established strong holds in various communities and villages.
At some point it looked as though the terrorists would overwhelm the military and extend their influence even to state capitals.In torrents, news of captured towns and villages and heavy casualty on both sides of the conflict rent the air.
While neighboring towns were getting overwhelmed with the surging numbers of internally displaced persons, swats of territories lost to the Boko Haram kept increasing with each passing day. Just when everybody thought the worst of the terror group has been seen,they resorted to using little girls as suicide bombers. To compound an already messy story came the news of obsolete weapons, inadequately equipped soldiers, desertion of soldiers from the war front and other unflattering developments.
With the tide turning against Boko Haram,we may be tempted to forget and confine these inglorious experiences to the past and continue with business as usual, pretending all is well. This may be an admirable mindset but it is quite naïve to think that with destruction of the sect’s physical structures, the war is won, let’s go home and make merry. That would be suicidal.
This mindset lured the country into a sense of false security with the killing of the sect’s leader Muhammed Yusuf in 2009 and allowed Boko Haram to fester and grow into the monster it is today.
Now that the Nigerian Army has once again re-asserted her dominance with the help of the multinational task force comprising Chadian, Nigerien and Cameroonian forces, the government must realise that the war is far from over.I have always contended that Boko Haram spiralled out of control because of bad intelligence in our security framework and reactionary approach to the war.
No country fights terrorism the way we do. We wait for Boko Haram to strike before we respond. They overrun a town. We make frantic efforts to recapture it. They bomb a market. We cordon it off to search for the perpetrators. By and large the tempo is dictated by the antics of Boko Haram. What about neutralising the attacks before it occurs? The world moved from this method long ago. Pre-emptory approach to security is the way to go. We cannot look on while calamity looms.
Countries of the world with similar experiences engage in extensive intelligence gathering and analysis. This puts them ahead of the terrorists to preempt any attack before it happens. Though expensive, this method cuts the risk of loss of innocent life and properties to the barest minimum and saves the country involved the psychological effect of an attack.
In February 17, 2012, Amin El-khalifi, an illegal immigrant from Morocco went to the Capitol building in Washington wearing a suicide bomb vest and a handgun. He had the intention of blowing himself up, killing as much people as possible and causing colossaldamage.The only problem was that the handgun was inoperable and the bomb-laden vest was found to be fake. Persons whom he assumed were Al-Qaeda operatives were in fact FBI agents, poised to nullify his venom. He is now serving a thirty-year prison sentence.
Farooque Ahmed, a Pakistani- American was arrested in that same approach in October 2010. In his case, he planned to bomb various Washington subway stations. He interacted with FBI undercover agents posing as Al-Qaeda operatives for over six months, planning and strategizing. He too got a lengthy prison sentence.
This may sound cozy and easy. But it involved extensive intelligence, planning, resources and manpower. It involves years of consistent training, preparation, and improvement of process. It is not a reactionary approach common in the Nigerian clime.
Beyond recapturing territories, the army must not only work to fish out those members of the sect who have melted into the community for prosecution, identify sources of radicalisation to neutralise them, the government must reorganize the whole security apparatus in the country.
In the war on terrorism, intelligence is crucial. Countries that evolve ways of gathering and refining them for proper usage will always be ahead. As terrorists and terrorism continues to evolve world over, Nigeria must get prepared. It took 9/11 for America to sit up. Boko Haram is enough wakeup call for the Nigerian people.
Most importantly, those factors that predisposed the northeastern region to the growth of the monster of this magnitude must be curtailed. Ignorance, poverty,joblessness, poor family upbringing and dearth of morals in the society are some of the viruses that fuel the scourge. Though these are ills plaguing the Nigerian society in general, but most analysts have pointed out that illiteracy is one major contributing factor to the growth of this terror group.
The 2010 Literacy Survey of the National Bureau of Statistics paints a clear picture of the literacy level in the north. In the 36 states surveyed, four states in the north had the lowest literacy rate. Sokoto pooled a pantry 33.1 per cent, Bauchi39.1 ,Zamfara 41.1 and Kano 41.9.
The region still led the pack in the states with the highest level of poverty, with Jigawa having the highest figure with 88.5 per cent, closely followed by Sokoto with 86%.
These are grim statistics that are enough to keep a government awake at night. Large numbers of uneducated and seemingly unemployed population on its own constitute structural violence. It is lame to think that BokoHaram will die out with the destruction of the sect when the realities that instigated it still exist.
It is time for the governments in this region to take responsibility. It is time for them to take responsibility for educating the large population of youths in their states and provide an educational system that will be embraced by the general populace. It is time for them to take responsibility for providing sustainable means of livelihood for the citizens. It is time for them to find alternative means of income apart from the allocation from the federal government. The complete dependence on oil money from the federal government is no longer sustainable neither is the argument of negligence by the federal government tenable. As for Boko Haram and its ugly memories, we may not forget but we surely shall overcome. We must move beyond recapturing lost territories. It is time to ascend to the mountains and restore peace to a troubled nation.
•Philip, is a Corps member, NYSC Abuja (firstname.lastname@example.org)