If anything, the declaration of emergency rule in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states has brought to the fore the inherent contradictions in our perception of and response to the war against terrorism in the country. It has also exposed the unreliability or deceit in some of the information we have hitherto been fed regarding what ought to be done to tame the scourge. More so when it is realized that terrorism, being a global phenomenon, ought to be confronted according to universally tested rules of engagement. But ours, for curious reasons, was touted to be different and therefore required some local therapy.
Perhaps, due to pressure, outright confusion or to fulfill all righteousness, the federal government found itself incapable of taking the right decisions at the right time. This was in spite of clear evidence that some of the solutions being proffered were not only self-serving but inherently incapable of substantially redressing the threat to the nation’s sovereignty. And the cavalier handling of the matter was further portrayed as evidence that armed confrontation was incapable of taming the monster.
So it was that President Jonathan fell for the amnesty lobby group. Not even the repudiation and rejection of the offer by the insurgents was considered enough signal that something was amiss. He pressed on, inaugurated the amnesty committee even on the eve of the bloodbath in Baga, Borno State. The subsequent sacking of Bama and other terrorist killings in parts of the north could not change the situation.
The questions which nobody was interested in responding to were, if northern leaders who rooted for amnesty had the mandate, respect and confidence of the insurgents, why did they find themselves incapable of reining them in? Why were they unable to persuade the terrorists to sheathe their swords temporarily for the committee to conclude its work? Who really wanted the amnesty in the face of the resurging tempo in the criminal escapades of the insurgents? Or were these heightened attacks to underscore the point that the government has been brought to its knees and must therefore do the bidding of the terrorists? These were the nagging contradictions.
President Jonathan’s declaration of a state of emergency in the three states was therefore, a direct consequence of this dialectics. It was a huge contradiction to accept that amnesty could pull the surprise when there is no change of heart by the insurgents. If the pontifications of apologists of amnesty had been relied upon, the terrorists could have mustered the needed capacity to over run the entire country. That was what drove Jonathan to order massive deployment of soldiers to among others, arrest, detain, search, cordon off any building and stamp out the impunity of the insurgents. He said that the activities of the terror group amounted to a declaration of war against the Nigerian state and an attempt to undermine its sovereignty. That is correct. Curiously, all the negative tendencies which Jonathan cited to justify emergency rule had all along been there.
Yet, we were sold to the idea that dialogue is the most efficacious therapy to this unprovoked act of insurgency. The first issue thrown up by the impending military action in the three states is that it amounted to a loss of confidence in dialogue or the amnesty programme. And this loss is two dimensional. There is loss of confidence from the side of government that dialogue or amnesty is all it takes to redress the madness. And its resort to full scale military action illustrates it all. There will also be loss of confidence on the part of the terrorists in government’s genuine commitment to dialogue. These are not in doubt. Before now, the terrorists had complained they did not trust government’s sincerity to dialogue. That was why Dr. Ahmed Datti withdrew from the earlier panel on the matter. He cited the same reason for declining his nomination in the current one.
But the government says military action will run simultaneously with discussions on amnesty. To underscore this point, the committee met with the president the same day emergency rule was proclaimed. How workable this will turn out is a matter of time. But it is difficult to conceive how the committee can reach out to the insurgents now their lives are in mortal danger.
There are two axioms to contend with here. The first is that government has come to terms with the fact that it has to re-establish its authority in those states. It has also accepted that dialogue or carrot cannot do it hence the need to offer the insurgents the stick. But then, what are the likely outcomes of the combination of these two strategies in the fight against terrorism? There are some possibilities. The first could be to demonstrate government’s capacity to tame the monster. The idea is that if battle is taken to the hide-outs of the terrorists and they are smoked out, those left will be quick to accept the peace process. This draws support from the widely held view especially in the north that government is incapable of winning the war at the battle field and must therefore negotiate.
The other could be to demonstrate very unambiguously that it has the capacity to re-establish its authority by militarily incapacitating the insurgents. The message is that the offer of dialogue should not be misconstrued as weakness on the part of the government. They are being told in very clear terms that it is either they embrace peace or be routed out by the superior fire power of the government forces. There are two possible scenarios. The first is that the insurgents may be so frightened by the new direction that they will quickly scamper for the peace option. If they embrace this option, they will save lives and bring a quick end to the hostilities. This appears attractive.
The other is that unsure of the real intentions of the government and for fear of reprisals, the insurgents will fight on. Their hit and run strategy and the fact of the successes they had made before now, may embolden them to sustain the fight beyond the expectations of the government. And since the insurgents are driven by some weird ideology, there is every thing to expect that they will not succumb to the fear of escalated military onslaught. They will fight on. This possibility is also very high.
If this happens, the government may have to wage the war much longer than envisaged. And in a desperate attempt to subdue the terrorists militarily, both the civilian population and the insurgents will suffer irretrievably. Then, it would have given skeptics ample room to mock the new offensive. Already, skepticisms are rife that the emergency rule will fail like the earlier ones declared in some local governments. Fears have also been expressed on the safety of the civilian population as the onslaught lasts.
Whichever way, it is clear that government has a big burden to discharge in the way it confronts the Boko Haram insurgency in the days ahead. The choice of military action is justified. Somehow, the government has no other option than to restore peace and order in those areas or abdicate and throw in the towel. But the fight is likely to be encumbered by the strategy of the insurgents that blurs differentiation between them and the civilian population. It is therefore difficult to fathom how the military can wage this war successfully without being accused of violating the rights of civilians. That is the new challenge even as the Boko Haram insurgency must be stamped out.
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