Boko Haram: Negotiate from Position of Strength
Every military defeat is summarized in just two words: too late. Too late to deploy troops. Too late to understand the operations of the enemy. Too late to take a decisive decision about the enemy. Too late to deploy necessary weapon and many others. This vividly describes the experience of the previous administration which initially witnessed a slow progress but made combative efforts in the eleventh hour of the life of the administration to “defeat” Boko haram. However, recent resurgence in the activities of Boko Haram shows it was not a comprehensive defeat. Indications to this emerged within the last one month when not less than 400 people have been killed. This is in addition to about 15, 000 Nigerians, with alien flag unknown in our constitution continued to be hoisted in some parts of Nigeria. According to Amnesty International, about 1.2 million people have been displaced due activities of Boko Haram.
The new administration has displayed an understanding that Boko Haram poses a significant threat to the peace and unity of Nigeria. But the group’s recent activities suggest the need for this administration to learn from the mistakes of the previous administration and not to engage in what usually lead to every military defeat: too late. There are three intertwined strategies that the present administration should unwaveringly pursue in order to completely neutralize and decimate the group. These strategies are: coalition building, getting the necessary weapon including effectiveness in intelligence gathering technique and if need be negotiate with the authentic representative of the group from the position of strength. Unfortunately, the previous administration did pursue these strategies in a haphazard manner and too late which ultimately robbed it of the desired victory.
Defeating Boko Haram would have to start with coalition building within the region. This administration has started on a good footing by first of all meeting the leaders of countries within the Lake Chad Basin. Already, the coalition building has started yielding fruits and more cooperation. For instance, Benin Republic has promised to supply 800 soldiers to prosecute the war. Part of coalition building also involved President Buhari’s visit the United States to resuscitate US-Nigeria relations which was at the low ebb towards the end of the previous administration.
The relations between the two countries became frosty over the ways and manners in which the war against insurgents was prosecuted, how military was managed and also the overall country governance context. During the period, corruption was reported within the military including the mismanagement of soldier emoluments and weapons not adequately accounted for. The direct effects of these problems are lack of cooperation from citizens thereby preventing effective intelligence gathering and low confidence and fighting morale which resulted in soldiers often chickening-out from combative confrontations with insurgents.
Coalition alone does not actually win a war. A good coalition must be complemented by getting the appropriate weapon, training and improved intelligence gathering techniques. One of the key complaints by the previous administration was lack of weapon. This was because some key countries were reluctant to sell weapon to Nigeria. The dwindling US military support manifested in the unwillingness to sell to Nigeria the appropriate weapon and offer other military related assistance. This was also more visible in other military cooperation. According to data from Security Assistance Monitor, the US-Military and Police Aid to Nigeria reduced by 74 per cent in 2014. The US commercial arms sale authorisation to Nigeria was also reduced by over 80 per cent in 2014. At some point the administration resulted into buying of weapon in open and often precarious market exposing the country to ridicule when her agents illegally exported large volume of cash to South Africa allegedly to purchase weapon.
At the same time, succeeding in the fight against Boko Haram requires getting necessary training for soldiers. But curiously, President Jonathan led administration terminated the US military training for Nigerian troops in December 2014 without a clear alternative provided for military training. The number of Nigerian soldiers trained in the US declined from over 6000 in 2012 to just about 500 in 2014, the lowest in years. Apart from the fact that inadequate training would ultimately affect intelligence gathering, insurgency is a new kind of threat that requires more innovative and proactive ways with respect to intelligence gathering. That means intelligence gathering ought to be more innovative and above all security agencies must collapse together their intelligence gathering and sharing. There is no way Boko Haram can be defeated with the conventional intelligence gathering methods. In the past, one security agency had been accused of not passing on appropriate intelligence to others to thwart Boko Haram activities. This fight against Boko Haram requires alignment in the operations of all the security agencies and prompt intelligence sharing.
Another thing to consider is the civilian Joint Task Force (JTF) and their proper roles. How best can the civilian JTF be used? No doubt, the fight against insurgents cannot be won without the support of the locals. In the past, members of the JTF had tipped off the military with concrete information that led to hitting appropriate targets and fire-fights which either resulted in killing of insurgents or disrupted their heinous activities. At the same time, a handful of the tips had been a false alarm. But cooperation with the military is ruined when relatives of the JTF members are thrown into jail. What sort of cooperation is expected from someone whose family members are languishing in detention for no just reason. Nevertheless, this does not mean members of the JTF are not useful. But their usage is hindered by lack of clear incentives.
Routing Boko Haram therefore requires members of JTF to have some kind of incentives. We should not nevertheless forget that the economy of states affected by Boko Haram is in tatter. For their efforts in providing information and assisting the military “a token” can be paid monthly to the JTF members. The advantages for this are numerous. First the token would vividly demonstrate that their efforts are recognized. Secondly, of what use is being a JTF member when one cannot provide for his family or put food on the table for doing such an arduous task. Thirdly, most of the people who are members of Boko Haram do so for a mere token and when such tokens are paid to JTF members it is quite possible those who flock to Boko Haram for mere token would deplete. Fourthly, many information that were hitherto undisclosed to authorities would be disclosed. And lastly, such a payment would create some level of mistrust among Boko Haram members as to who really is part of them or for government. The latter would obviously enable them to continue to make more and more mistakes that would be useful for the military to plan tactically and strategically.
It is widely agreed that every military confrontation always ends through negotiation. Despite the superior US military power, it has opened up the possibilities of negotiating with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Interestingly, the present administration has publicly said that it is willing to negotiate with the authentic representatives of Boko Haram. This is fine. However, the way things are right now it would be a tactical error to negotiate with representatives of Boko Haram. Since the inception of this administration not less than 400 people have been killed excluding the wounded and destruction of valuables. This goes on to vividly demonstrate that Boko Haram is still a much stronger group which can still kill and main innocent civilians. That means negotiation ought to be the last card to be employed just to mop up the remnants of the group. If the Nigeria government is negotiating with Boko Haram right now it would be doing so from position of weakness, given the capability of Boko Haram.
The collaboration already being explored with other nations (Chad, Cameroon, Niger etc ) should be allowed to bear fruits. In the past Boko Haram members did end up in those countries seeking sanctuaries but that is changing now given the challenges that Boko Haram pose to those countries as well. The results of the military confrontation with the group should be used to measure their strength and capacity to unleash more harm to innocent civilians. Should it be that the capacity has been considerably weaken, then it is necessary to proceed to negotiation with remnants members of the group. This way the Nigerian government would be negotiating from the position of strength and not weakness. It would be able to dictate the terms of settlement because the group would realize that it would be folly to continue when they have witnessed the superior military fire –power from countries involved and its members been depleted considerably. In this regard, negotiation would be nothing but a mopping up operation.
While the previous administration admitted that it mis-judged Boko Haram’s potency at the inception, the present administration cannot offer that line of defence. Millions of Nigerians overwhelmingly voted for this administration on the promise of Change and this includes addressing security challenges. To effectively address the menace posed by the group, President Buhari led administration must use the best strategies and resources available to it. This government owes peace-loving Nigerians to live to its promise on Boko Haram and security. It should not just be one of those campaign promises.