On the streets and several corners of Maiduguri and most part of Northern Nigeria, the federal government has once more resorted to an old familiar solution to a now familiar problem. The challenge is that this solution has never worked. Once more the military has been deployed and a state of emergency declared in some parts of the country.
But this is not the first time the government is using this strategy to resolve a security challenge that has become too common in Nigeria since the advent of civilian rule in 1999. The one that readily comes to mind is the Odi crisis where the Obasanjo government sent in troops to wipe out a whole village in response to the killing of a team of police men by some criminals in the village of Odi. This happened in the early days of the Obasanjo Presidency in 1999.
At the end of the Odi operations, several people, most of whom who knew little about what led to the entry of soldiers into their community were dead. Those that did not die were hiding in the bush. According to a report by the News magazine of the operation, at the end of the Odi invasion, only a church and a bank remained standing while over 300 people were killed.
Perhaps Obasanjo felt that such heavy handed blow to the people Odi will teach them a lesson and stop the then militancy that was emerging in the Niger Delta. He was wrong. By the time he was leaving office as President in 2007, militancy in the Niger Delta had almost shut down crude oil exploration and made the Niger Delta almost ungovernable. It took an amnesty programme by the Yar Adua government and billions of Naira to buy the current peace of the grave yard reigning in the Niger Delta.
Jos is another city where attempts to enforce peace through the nozzle of the military gun failed during Obasanjo’s presidency. In 2004, President Obasanjo was forced to deploy troops to Jos after persistent communal clashes in the city. This was after declaring a state of emergency in Jos. The deployment of the military in Jos has not brought peace to the city. A recently published Human Rights Watch report states that over 3,800 people have been killed in Jos since 2001 from communal clashes. Even the military task force deployed to keep peace in the city has been accused by residents of becoming partisan in the conflict.
The inability of the military to maintain peace in all these deployment has nothing to do with their capacity. It is just that they are trained to fight conventional wars not unconventional wars which are the form most of this communal clashes and militancy takes. The consistent resort by the Federal government to the military to solve this challenge is what is baffling.
Histories of unconventional wars show that it is never won in a hurry. Rather it takes patience and a lot of intelligence. America’s experience in Vietnam, Iraq and now Afghanistan all show that unconventional wars are difficult to win. The strategy is to fight back with a lot of intelligence and positive actions to win the heart of the populace in the theatre of the unconventional war.
Intelligence is what is needed to reveal the identity of the invisible soldiers of unconventional wars. The effectiveness of intelligence is often helped if the residents of the unconventional war theatre are ready to support the fight against the guerrilla soldiers in their midst.
Fighting Boko Haram will therefore demand a huge amount of intelligence, support of the residents of the affected areas and patience to overcome their unconventional style of attacks. This is why I think the recent imposition of a state of emergency in some states in the North is another push at the panic button which has always failed in the past and in most cases escalated the crisis rather than quenched it. The most likely outcome is to alienate local residents who now begin to see the soldiers as enemies, help the guerrilla soldiers get more entrenched in their communities and even win more sympathizers to their camp.
Boko Haram will not be killed by guns on the streets. It is a resort to the old strategy that has never worked. Intelligence and a lot of positive reinforcement of the local populace is what will do it. The positive reinforcement can be through tackling the high levels of illiteracy and poverty in the North. This will take time. Yes. But it also took years to under develop the north to its current state of total despair.
And most importantly, the police must be equipped to fight the increasing insecurity in the land. The police are better placed to tackle this challenge if well-equipped and trained. Unfortunately the government does not seem to think so. For example, in the 2012 budget while the Nigeria Police have been allocated N290 billion to cover the payment of their salaries they will only get N2.7 billion for the purchase of security equipment they need to fight crime in the country. Perhaps, it is time we start thinking if we need a highly equipped but smaller number police force or a poorly equipped by high number of police force.