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Missing Links in Nigeria’s Counter Insurgency strategies

Ada Peter, Ph.D. (SUSI Scholar on National Security and Policymaking)

  • Fixating only the security-centric approach 
  • Discounting community led interventions that address underlying drivers of the insurgency phenomenon
  • Welfare of troops and military personnel
  • Government investment rhetoric on prevention efforts vs available resources

The ever evolving challenges of non-state actors like Boko haram insurgents that have pledged allegiance to ISIS, caused over 20, 000 deaths, 2.15 million displacements, hundreds of kidnappings, loss of homes, investments, businesses, aspirations etc., suggests that there are missing links in Nigeria’s counter insurgency strategies and approaches. It also means that the Nigerian government will need to pay more attention and invest wisely in evidence based policies that cater for these missing links in both the security-centric and community-centric approaches and in activities that can prevent any return of safe havens for insurgencies in north east Nigeria.

Although several criticisms of the security-centric approach of the fight against insurgency in Nigeria have consistently emerged, the criticisms are largely because a securitized counter insurgency response alone causes retaliation or blow backs that occur when damaging army strikes produce resentment and create endless warfare against insurgents; cannot prevent a reset of a safe haven for insurgents group in Nigeria; leads to escalations caused by killing insurgents without settling the underlying conflicts that produce them; cannot alone break ties with long standing insurgency groups viewed as beneficial to meeting diverse hierarchy of humans needs and certainly misses opportunities that could prevent or mitigate new violent avengers, new sympathizers of insurgents and new entrants into insurgencies. Citizens in north eastern Nigeria affected by the insurgents argue that these damaging military strikes generate more support for insurgents and thus an endless warfare. Slow to manifest and tough to measure, but victims and some captured insurgents cite anger about military strikes as motivation for retaliation and blow backs. A victim in one of the camps (Borno) reiterates: ‘I will make sure others feel the pain I felt’. 

Against the preceding odds, the security centric approach is still essential to stall the activities of extant extremists in the Lake Chad region particularly to prevent forceful recruitment and diabolic initiations that make innocent individuals lose their sense of humanity to strange influence.

 However, the success scope of the security-centric approach is still limited without devoting huge attention to the community centric approach as well as fixing the missing links in both approaches. On one hand,  there is the  missing continuous re-evaluation; re-assessment and re-strategizing of defense and military capacity, methods and systems that Nigerian security agencies depend on to protect Nigerian citizens. On the other hand, the successes of the security centric approach will remain limited without improving the palpable poor welfare of the larger percentage of Nigerian security service men and women.  Rather than episodic response to their welfare challenges, which may suggest poor government commitment to citizens that put their lives on the line to protect the nation, a well-researched policy-relevant decision is essential. The outcomes of such well-researched policy should focus on easing the stresses of military life, motivating service members, improving salaries, amenities, ensuring regular upgrade and sustaining the wellbeing of service members and their families’, improving deterrence and combat capabilities of service members, and improving their ability to leverage on knowledge and skills in civilian jobs which helps some of them transition out of the regular military service. Without this link, it may be impossible to stall and deal with the activities of an evolving extremist group.

But beyond law enforcement and security actors’, government devotion to community-centric counter insurgency approach is also essential. The community led intervention involves a more dynamic and complete set of policies and program and involvement of a more diverse set of actors, particularly at the local level including teachers, parents, researchers, businesses, service providers, religious leaders at all levels of the community, women and youth leaders, police and correction officials. It is an approach that focuses on prevention of being recruited. The approach helps communities identify potential insurgent, early signs of radicalization that can help alter the process of recruitment and radicalization before it becomes violent. It is also more effective for improving intelligence gathering and a more dynamic strategy difficult for insurgents or terror groups to counter plan against attacks.

For the community approach to be effective, the government must recognize that the government-citizen relationship is one of the most prevalent drivers of violent extremism. That is, how the government treats its citizens. Strengthening government-citizen relationship and building trust at all levels of government and local communities in Nigeria is a crucial links in the community-centric counter insurgency approach. Too often as cited by Eric Rosand in Communities First, governments are reluctant to acknowledge that their behavior matters when it comes to utilizing the community centric approach to mitigate some of the drivers that fuel violent extremisms in under serviced communities. Also, an effective community centric approach requires extensive evidence based deliberations with issue researchers about the risks, consequences, and benefits especially about the costs of diverse responses to the insurgency problems. 

So to attain and sustain the challenging objectives of countering and defeating insurgencies through both  security and community centric led prevention approaches, groups like the Presidential Committee on the North East Initiative, policy makers, particularly the senate committee on national security, should seek to close-up the preceding missing links. Simultaneously these national security groups and their staff should identify and understand how to recognize the early signs of extremism in underserviced communities in the north east, evaluate government rhetoric of investment on prevention efforts vs matched resources, identify viable of public/ private sectors partners, understand how government can deepen and sustain community led work, deal with challenges associated with supporting local actions, balance counter insurgency policies to ensure they are not working at cross purposes, ensure the international counter insurgencies structure meets our local counter insurgency agenda, objectives and outcome, own a working national definition of terrorism, violent extremism and insurgency, proactively identify the risks, consequences, and benefits of moving away from the traditional zero tolerance approach for insurgents, to a rehabilitation and reintegration approach that fitly identifies the objective and defines what success means  for such a rehabilitative and reintegration approach.


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