Following the recent attack on military formations in Maiduguri, Borno State, by gunmen suspected to be members of the militant Boko Haram sect, the National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd), has admitted that military force alone cannot stop terrorism in the country. He also disclosed the decision by the Federal Government to change tactics in the prosecution of the war against the menace, instead of relying on military might alone.
The NSA, who aired these views at a workshop on strategic communications organised by the National Defence College (NDC) in Abuja, explained that security experts and stakeholders in the nation’s development had called for a total overhaul of the approach to the counter-insurgency war, because the terrorists have refused to give up their quest to make the country ungovernable.
According to Dasuki, government’s new approach to fighting terrorism would be anchored on “a robust public diplomacy” that would involve all facets of the society, and aggressive mass media participation. He explained that the new approach is aimed at defeating the ideology of hate and building consensus against violent extremism through strategic communication. The strategic communication programmes would aim at fostering unity and indivisibility of the country as a nation; democracy and fundamental freedom of worship and belief; public safety and good governance; and zero-tolerance for violent extremism. His office, he added, has resolved to build capacity for Muslim students association to serve as intellectual assets in the battle against terrorism and to enlist their support for counter-terrorism.
In all, the strategic communication goals are targeted at all Nigerians with a view to creating a nation that is in constant conversation with itself, employing communication to heal wounds and build trust as it confronts violent extremism. Themes of the strategic communication were listed to include: Terrorism is un-Islamic; Counter-terrorism is not against Muslims; Encourage and empower Muslims to speak out against terrorism; Muslim-Christian relations; Mass literacy and Counter-terrorism is apolitical.
It is good that the security experts in the country have, at last, come to the realisation of the need for a review of tactics currently employed in the war against insurgency. There is no doubt that government must overhaul the present strategies, if it really wants to stop terrorism in the country. We have, on several occasions, advocated a strengthening of the strategies deployed in this campaign.
However, while the government may enlist the support of the mass media, muslim students and the public as part of new strategies for fighting terrorism, we do not believe that public communication, which is mainly ideological, can do much now to stem the current tide of terrorist attacks in the three North-East states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. That idea has come late. It may stem the tide of terrorism in future, but it does not address the very present problem of insurgents raiding and killing people at will in the troubled parts of the country today. Although wars are not won by military might alone, the Boko Haram attacks have gone beyond what can be won with rhetoric, theories or ideological posturing, when insurgents are already engaged in killing sprees in the affected parts of the country. We, therefore, sympathise with the NSA over his frustrations in the battle to rein in the insurgents.
We recall that his immediate predecessor in office, the late General Andrew Aziza, faced a similar predicament, which informed his statement that terrorism had come to stay in Nigeria. The supposed new thinking of our security experts on the counter-insurgency war is not quite different from the earlier “carrot and stick” approach, which also proved unworkable.
While it is the desire of every well-meaning Nigerian to see the end of the bloodletting in the Northern part of the country, we are worried by the picture that is being painted that the government cannot contain the terrorists. Despite occasional reversals of gains earlier made by security agencies in the battle against terrorism, as illustrated by the attacks on military bases in Maiduguri, we believe that the Nigerian Armed Forces have the capability to win this war, if they have the mind to do so.
For that to happen, they must remain focused and coordinated in their approach to the campaign. All the security agencies involved in the terror war must share intelligence and be resolute on the objective. They should embrace a collective vision and mission.
Therefore, let the security agencies appreciate that the war on terror is fought more with intelligence than mere brutal force. Uncoordinated intelligence, which has remained a bane of the current military campaign, cannot help Nigeria win this war.
Also, inter-agency rivalry and sabotage are counter-productive. Conflict among the security outfits involved in the campaign is also a very big problem. While not discountenancing the importance of public communication and the mass media to the battle against religious extremism and insurgency, the Nigerian security agencies must work harder at ending this war. If they share intelligence and work from a common vision, the war against terrorism will be won.