2019: Buhari Braces To Retain Power, But Yet To Deliver On Terrorism

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Nigeria is a top actor on the global ranking for terrorism. Apparently not jolted, President Muhammadu Buhari is upbeat with his re-election strategies, though still struggling to deliver on his earlier promise to bring terrorism to its knees.

The rampaging Jihadist group, Boko Haram has effectively stamped Nigeria on the global map as a dangerous terrorist country due to their acts of terrorism after series of deadly attacks including the one against the United Nations Building in Abuja, the country’s capital city, in August 2011 where nearly 18 persons died.

An attack on June 16, 2011 at the headquarters of the Nigeria Police obviously signaled what to come in years later in Abuja and other cities. The Jihadists effortlessly took control of territories in Borno State, the most vulnerable state so far in the North-East axis.

At the inception of his administration in 2015, following a landslide election victory with under-aged voters in the North, many Nigerians expected Buhari to be a liberator of the oppressed and the depressed, going by his larger than life pre-2015 image. To demonstrate that he meant business, he ordered the relocation of the Nigerian Command Control Centre from Abuja to Maiduguri, the Borno state capital.

Sadly, for the fourth consecutive year under Buhari’s watch, Nigeria is still occupying the third position among countries worst hit by terrorism, globally, according to this year’s ranking on terrorism. It is being blamed on the menace of Boko Haram and herdsmen.

Besides 2014 when the country was ranked fourth, she has remained in the unenviable third position in the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) ranking since 2015. Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, the 2019 presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) says Nigeria’s ranking in terrorism shows the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) failed promises. Unwilling to take the seeming indictment, APC said the report was far from reality.

A latest report that was released on Wednesday, showed Iraq on the top most slot, a position she has been holding since 2014. Afghanistan has been holding on to the second position since 2013. Syria and Pakistan are ranked fourth and fifth respectively after Nigeria. Among the top 10 countries worst hit by terrorism in 2017 are Somalia (6th), India (7th), Yemen (8th), Egypt (9th), and Philippines (10th).

Perhaps, President Buhari’s APC was embolden by the fact that there was a reduction in the number of deaths caused by terrorism in the country in 2017. That did not make any marginal impact on the global ranking of the country. ‘’When compared to the peak of terrorist deaths in 2014, the largest falls in
the number of deaths occurred in Iraq, Nigeria, and Pakistan, with falls of 6,466, 5,950, and 912 deaths respectively’’, the 2018 GTI report said.

The report said deaths from terrorism in Nigeria fell to 1,532 in 2017, a decrease of 16 per cent from the prior year. There were 63 per cent and 34 per cent drop in deaths in the country in 2016 and 2015 respectively, according to the report. ‘’This highlights the effectiveness of the counterinsurgency operations undertaken in Nigeria and its neighbours, Cameroon, Niger, and Chad’’, the report said, adding that the world has also experienced a drop in deaths from terrorism in 2017.

While analysing the global trends in terrorism in 2017, the GTI described the reduction in deaths in Nigeria and Iraq ‘’the most dramatic’’. Boko Haram attacks, the report said, have substantially reduced in Chad and other neighbouring countries; and Al-Shabaab, in 2017, overtook Boko Haram as the deadliest terror group in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The GTI report is raising concern over the killings by herdsmen, saying terrorism was shifting from Nigeria’s North-East region to the country’s Middle-Belt. ‘’In Nigeria in 2018, there has been a dramatic increase in violence involving Fulani extremists even as deaths committed by Boko Haram are falling. In 2018 alone, deaths committed by nomadic Fulani herders are estimated to be six times greater than the number committed by Boko Haram.

‘’In 2017, 327 terrorism deaths across Nigeria and Mali were reportedly committed by Fulani extremists, along with 2,501 additional deaths in the three years prior with the vast majority of these deaths being civilians. While deaths (killings) committed by Fulani extremists decreased following the peak of 1,169 deaths in 2014, violence from the group in 2018 is expected to surpass that peak. Nearly 1,700 violent deaths have been attributed to the Fulani Ethnic Militia from January to September 2018. An estimated 89 per cent of those killed were civilians’’, the report said.

Continuing, it said two, out of 20 most fatal terrorist attacks, occurred in Nigeria. One was on March 20, 2017, when assailants identified as Fulani extremists opened fire at a market in Zaki Ibiam, Benue State killing 73 people. The other was on July 25, 2017, when Boko Haram terrorists opened fire on a Frontier Exploration Services team convoy at Jibi, killing 60 people.

The GTI, which is in its sixth edition, is produced annually by the Institute for Economics & Peace, an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank with offices in Sydney, New York, and Mexico City.

Back to Atiku, the PDP presidential candidate for the 2019 polls. According to him, it was unfortunate that the incumbent administration could not deliver on its campaign promise to secure the country.

Atiku who spoke through his media aide, Paul Ibe noted, that is the more reason Nigerians cannot take the APC serious in the run-up to the 2019 polls. ‘’It is very clear that this coincides with the era of the APC led administration. Again, it is also a confirmation of their failed promises. They have failed on economy. They have failed on alleviating poverty. They have again, failed on security. Then you ask yourself without security, what can we do? That explains why every nook and cranny – the North West, the North Central, the North East, the South South – everywhere is a theatre of one war or the other.

‘’It is not about promises. It is about policies. That is why we are different from them. You look at the well articulated policy, which Atiku has reeled out; it is a framework, and Nigerian are interrogating it. And security is an integral part of it’’, he said.

Dismissing the report, APC described it as rating far-away from the reality on ground. National Publicity Secretary of the party, Lanre Issa-Onilu, said the rating was wrong, claiming that Nigerians who are on ground have the accurate rating. ‘’We cannot join issues with people far away from the reality. Nigerians have their own rating because Nigerians who could not move freely in Abuja before the APC came in have their rating.

‘’The residents of Abuja formerly perpetually under fears of insurgents attack have their ratings. People of the North East have their own rating because they understand the difference between when they could not even live in Borno or Yobe and Adamawa states and now. They know that insurgency has been degraded to the extent that they don’t have any community under their control’’, APC said.

 Analysts however, argue that the bad behaviour of governments is often at the heart of why conflicts begin and persist. Perhaps, the North-East Nigeria is not an exception. When Boko Haram first emerged in Maiduguri in 2003, the group was oppositional but largely peaceful, under the leadership of a radical Salafist cleric, Mohamed Yusuf. The group allegedly promised that they will bring social amenities, and lent money for young people to start a business and to get married.

Survivors of the carnage in the region say all that changed in 2009 when the armed security forces cracked down on the sect. Some 800 members were killed, including Yusuf, who died in police custody. While no-one knows for sure if Yusuf’s long-term game would have included violence, government aggression nudged a religious movement from preaching and proselytising mode into full-blown jihad. Yusuf’s more radical deputy, Abubeker Shekau, took the helm, launching attacks across multiple Northern states. Bent on revenge, Boko Haram’s brutality has increased ever since. They shifted from targeting police stations and barracks, to attacking schools, markets and refugee camps.

The military approach was said to be ruthless and heavy-handed. Citizens were said to be treated as suspects or sympathisers. ‘’Soldiers could mishandle you, they crashed into cars, used bayonets to puncture people’s tyres’’, some residents said in a recorded interview by humanitarian agencies.  Some temporary gains were made in 2013 when the army dislodged militants from Maiduguri after youths set up vigilante groups in an act of desperate self-preservation. The city centre is still not totally secure, as it occasionally bleeds from suicide bombers.

Following the liberation of most of the territories hitherto held by the insurgents, the terrorists spread across the border into Cameroon, Chad and Niger, and split into six groups. The notorious leader Shekau is now allied with Islamic State.

Despite the fact that the international community – especially the US and Britain, are heavily involved in the anti-terrorism war, both countries tend to have an interest in the stability of Nigeria, the world’s 12th largest oil producer, and make substantial contributions to humanitarian aid.

 At the summit with Buhari, President Donald Trump confirmed the sale of nearly $593 million-worth of weapons, including 12 light attack ‘Super Tucano’ aircraft, guided rockets and other equipment (delayed under the Obama administration over human rights concerns). ‘Not good reasons,’ declared Trump. ‘Terrorism…’ he articulated, ‘it’s a hotbed, and we’re going to be stopping that’ – before pressing Buhari to reduce barriers to trade.

Intelligence sources say British forces are all over Africa, much like the US Special Forces, engaged across the world in covert operations to combat radical Islam. But the British are said to be in the country to train Nigerian troops, as the Ministry of Defence element that makes up 70 per cent of a $13.8 million programme from the United Kingdom’s Conflict Stability and Security Fund (CSSF). Britain has many such train and equip programmes.

Their brief includes making the Nigerian army human rights compliant, which is welcomed by locals on principle. But an independent review has criticized the CSSF for its implicit assumption that ‘skills gaps’ are the source of the problem, as opposed to politics or conflicting objectives. In Maiduguri, the Nigerian army’s excesses are over. Locals say that the army has learned it ‘cannot win this alone’ and the government has a plan for the northeast that promises to boost development. But the priorities are clear: while funds to execute the development  plan have yet to be released, $1.00 billion has just been made available to the army, whose narrative remains, as one aid worker put it: ‘We will finish you!’

In the mean time, reports of unlawful detention in appalling conditions and extrajudicial executions persist. There are fears that 850,000 civilians are in grave danger as the army tries to ‘starve out’ the remaining insurgents. Military assistance supports the idea that ultimately you can win by ‘degrading’ the opposition – you just need to get better at it. It also risks lending credibility to an ally who may be uninterested in serious reform.

‘Even if they succeed,’ points out local investigative journalist Samuel Malik, ‘tomorrow another group will come up. They have to look at what’s driving these people.’ As it is, it seems a lasting peace in Nigeria requires engaging with why Boko Haram appealed to Nigerians. Foreign agencies quote young recruits as claiming that they were attracted to what they saw as an opportunity to ‘sanitise government and be recognised’.

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