October 1, 1960 was a significant moment in the history of Nigeria; finally, this nation would become an independent, self-governing entity. Accepted with a remarkable mix of hope and doubts, Nigeria set off on a journey that thus far has been characterized by many pleasant and unpleasant events.
Regrettably, the unpleasant events continue to reoccur on this journey, becoming a definitive part of Nigeria’s identity. One such event was the over-a-decade-long insurgency in the northeast. From 2009 until today, the expenses of the Nigerian government on defence are well more than six trillion Naira. Despite the efforts of the Nigerian government, the country continues to face diverse threats from various groups, spiraling its development in a downward plunge.
Take Them Out?
“Those who are behind this insurgency will be taken out. They are being taken out one after the other, and it will get to a point that the last of them will be taken out, and then we’ll get to the end of it. It can be done within 17 months, that remains for this institution,” declared Femi Adesina, Media Adviser to the President of Nigeria.
The recent statement by Femi Adesina in response to the ongoing insurgency in Nigeria is quite revealing. Interestingly, his view on taking the insurgents out to end the menace is not foreign to the government and has hitherto fueled its defence efforts.
Nothing short of an illusion is the premise that eliminating the insurgent group members is the solution to ending the bane of insurgency in the country. The current strength of the insurgency in Nigeria emanates from the same error of the government to eliminate members of the group in 2009. The lessons from the outcome of the government’s devastating error are still not learned, hence the repetition of the same failed strategy.
A Complex Situation
Considering the nature of the insurgency in Nigeria, it is not solely a matter of eliminating those behind it. Its sustainability thus far is mainly a function of the platform and the existing gaps in society it thrives on; so long as that platform exists, it is only a matter of time before another wave of insurgency awakens. Besides, the conflict in Nigeria is far too complex for the current proposed strategy.
The multifaceted nature of the insurgency poses a dire challenge to counterterrorism efforts. For instance, the famous terrorist group, Boko Haram, is highly defragmented with numerous cells, operating independently from various bases across Nigeria and other neighbouring countries in the West African region.
The continuity and the progression of Boko Haram’s operations and activities are clear indicators of the complexity of the problem. With the support and funding from other international terrorist groups, the activities of terrorist groups, like Boko Haram, in Nigeria continue to grow. Attempting to end insurgency in Nigeria without considering this essential aspect is more or less illogical.
The Way Out
The only way out of the problem Nigeria faces lies in a simple statement ascribed to the Chinese general Sun Tzu, “know thy enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles, you will never be defeated. When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal. If ignorant both of your enemy and of yourself, you are sure to be defeated in every battle.”
Until Nigeria understands itself first and then its enemy, its efforts in achieving any progress in security and development will only meet setbacks. The weak structures and system failures are areas that the government must urgently monitor. The diversity of Nigeria, which underlies many of Nigeria’s conflicts, is a potential strength for its unity if rightly harnessed.
The insurgency in Nigeria feeds off the weaknesses and gaps present in the country. Identifying these gaps and sealing them off is key to ending the insurgency. The government must be wary in developing strategies to avoid conflict with other efforts. A take-them-out approach raises many questions on the purpose of governance and directly opposes the de-radicalization efforts that the government accords a high success rate.
Joan McDappa, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow
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