Nigerians prescribe dialogue with extremist groups

Penultimate Friday’s suicide bomb attack at  United Nations House in Abuja sent shivers down the spine of Nigerians and members of the international community. Not a few people were dismayed at the vulgarity and brazen nature of the attack on the building, which houses 23 UN agencies in Nigeria.

However, it would be interesting to bring into perspective last week’s results of a poll organised by Alliance for Credible Elections, ACE, and Cleen Foundation. The aim of the survey, according to the organisers, was to obtain information regarding the views of Nigerians on some major issues that are trending in the media and government circles. These include the Boko Haram menace and government’s response to it, as well as the six-year one term being promoted by the Presidency.

Although the survey was conducted between August 10 and 16, days before the latest bomb blast, many Nigerians still believe that dialogue with the sect and other aggrieved militant groups was the best strategy to curb such extreme outrages among sections of the population.

Highlight of Findings
The survey was conducted via telephone interviews of 1,002 respondents. The respondents are Nigerians who are 18 years and above living in all parts of the country. The telephone numbers were randomly selected from a pool of numbers, with care to ensure the six geo-political zones were represented. The survey was conducted in English, pidgin, Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba.

The survey questionnaire was divided between two major subjects of the poll: Boko Haram and six-year single term for executive office holders. On Boko Haram, the respondents were asked about their awareness of attacks by Boko Haram; assessment of how well the security agencies were handling the attacks; the least performing agencies in responding to the threats; support for deployment of soldiers to Borno State; handling of attacks by security agencies; and suggestions for addressing the Boko Haram uprising.

In an interesting display of fellow feeling, however, when asked what should be done about Boko Haram, a majority of the respondents (58 per cent) supported the adoption of dialogue by government rather than military action against the terrorist group. When disaggregated by zones, the highest level of support came from the North-East where four out of every five respondents (80 per cent) voted for dialogue followed by North-West with 62 per cent. The region with the least support for dialogue with Boko Haram is South-East where only 35 per cent supported the use of dialogue, followed by South-South with 51 per cent.

According to the report from the poll, 82 per cent of Nigerians or at least four out of every five respondents were aware of the Islamic extremist sect, Boko Haram and their modus operandi against the state. Further disaggregation showed more men (86 per cent) than women (77 per cent) were aware of the group’s activities.

The result also showed that people in the northern zones of the country were more aware than the South, with the North-Central leading with slightly more that nine out of every 10 respondents being aware (91 per cent). This is no surprise given the widely-held belief that the group may have originated from states in the North-Central part of the country.

More intriguing is the overwhelming percentage of the respondents who supported the deployment of soldiers to respond to growing militant capacities of Boko Haram. The result also showed that less than one out of every 10 respondents were indifferent (neither supportive nor opposed) to the idea of applying the full force of the military in resolving the Boko Haram phenomenon, while only five per cent of the respondents were opposed to the idea.

However, slightly more than one half (54 per cent) of those interviewed felt security agencies in the country were handling the insurgency well. Twenty-six per cent were neutral, while one in five respondents said they were doing badly.  When the data were disaggregated by zones slightly less than one-half of the respondents in the South-West (48 per cent), North-West (49 per cent) and South-South (49 per cent) felt the agencies were doing well; while those in the South-East, North-East and North-Central scored them over 60 per cent.

Unsurprisingly, the Nigeria Police ranked top (53 per cent) among security agencies that were least effective in responding to Boko Haram, while all the other agencies collectively shared 20 per cent of the finger pointing.

Enumerating on the outcome of the poll,  Deputy General Secretary of Alliance for Credible Elections, ACE, Mr. Achezona Asuzu, remarked that the report of the survey on the state of security in Nigeria shows that a greater proportion of Nigerians prefer the use of dialogue in addressing the increasing wave of violence in the country.

He stated that, “Therefore, beyond deploying more men and munitions to curtail the rising wave of violence across the land, government should explore the option of dialogue with aggrieved groups since true peace can only be won on the discussion table and not on the war-front.”

Asuzu criticised the rising of spate of violence in the country, pointing out that government agencies should be pragmatic in their efforts to stamp out such extremism in the society.
He stressed that the attack on the United Nations House in Abuja is most reprehensible given the commitment of UN to the values of peace, poverty alleviation, protection of rights and democratic governance.

ACE Deputy General Secretary said it was unfortunate that these attacks came shortly after the local and international acclaim that attended the recently- concluded general elections which was generally adjudged to be a substantial improvement upon recently held polls inthe country.

He said: “It is even most tragic that when Nigerians should be expectant of the dividends of democratic governance, they are harvesting violent deaths, injuries, destruction of property and general sense of insecurity. This trend is indeed condemnable.”

Apart from reassuring the  public that it was on top of the situation, government at all levels should employ holistic measures to arrest the ugly escalation of terrorist attacks in Nigeria; especially given the introduction of suicide bombing in the country.

The civil society organisation further urged security agencies to step up on vigilance and intelligence to forestall a recurrence of such dastardly acts.

-By Oscarline Onwuemenyi (ACE/CLEEN Survey report)

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