03.07.2011 Feature Article

The Poverty of Rhetoric and the fight against terrorism in Nigeria

The Poverty of Rhetoric and the fight against terrorism in Nigeria
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The usual refrain of public condemnation provides an often empty rallying call by the polity in its usual response to issues of national crisis as evidence in the reactions to barbaric act of terrorist bombing of Thursday 17 June 2011 which struck at the heart of Nigeria Police Force headquarters in Abuja. In June 2010, I wrote an article on Effective Policing in Nigeria from which unfortunately I would try as much as possible not to quote from given as it often the case in Nigeria that one often ends up harping on the same points again! We are a country that strives on rhetoric, reports and analysis. When it comes to moving up the next level of backing these up with positive and concrete actions and steps we are often left floundering. Words cannot bring back the lives of the innocent victims, alleged suicide bomber and the many injured innocent victims of the bombing. Rhetoric by the polity as well as those in government encapsulates in the definition of rhetoric as, 'pretentious, insincere and intellectually vacuous' responses to issues of national concern. We have all been here before. The history of bomb blasts in Nigeria is a phenomenon which can be traced to 19 October 1986 when Dele Giwa, the Editor of the Newswatch Magazine was fatally injured by a parcel bomb delivered to his Ikeja residence, he later died in hospital from his injuries. During the infamous regime of General Sanni Abacha (1993 to 1998) there were a number of bombings against government targets but unusually the collateral damage from the bomb blasts were injuries and deaths to innocent bystanders and not their intended targets. These include bombings in December 2010 in Jos, Plateau State. Other noticeable bomb blasts include the 1st October 2010 claimed to have been undertaken by the Movement of the Emancipation of the Niger Delta at the federal capital, Abuja Eagle square. The audacious bombing of the Force Headquarters of the Nigerian Police Force represents a change in the usual modus operandi of groups who resort to this terror tactics in achieving their aims in Nigeria. This is because this was the first known incident in Nigeria that a suicide bomber has reportedly been used. The latest attack by the group known as Boko Haram (western education is forbidden) represents a sea change in the tactics and strategy by this group for two main reasons. Firstly, the bombing had maximum impact and struck right at the heart of Nigeria's security apparatus through the use of a suicide bomber and secondly, they choose to strike at a strategic location of the nation's security apparatus which is far away from their known North East, Maiduguri, Borno state base a distance of over 846 kilometres to Abuja. This described by blogger Alex Thurston as, 'new range, sophistication… have shown that the group is expanding its geographical range and increasing the sophistication of its attacks, sometimes coordinating multiple strikes at once (see This group is notorious in the way it has varied its modus operandi of attacking vulnerable and defenceless targets including strategic government locations, commercial interests such as banks, customs posts, drinking bars, banks and churches leading to unfortunate and untimely deaths and injuries of Police Officers, Customs Officers, drinking bar patrons and clergy men. Boko Haram was reportedly formed in 2001 though it came into prominence in 2004 following what was then described as a successful blitz by the police. This however seems to be pyrrhic victory by the government judging by amount of causalities from the activities of the group much as the security agencies offensive of July 2009 in Maiduguri with the alleged killing of the group's leader Mohammed Yusuf in police custody following his capture.

It is remarkable that to date like in other acts of mass violence in Nigeria there has been no conviction of any person, persons or group of persons for these barbaric crimes. In other words it's a case of we have been here before. It becomes almost farcical and comical listening to our law enforcement agents following these attacks summed as empty rhetoric equals to no action. The scene plays out as follows the usual photo ops of visits to hospitals to visit victims, visits to the scene and the empty, vague promises of apprehending the culprits. The fact of the matter is as with everything in Nigeria affected by institutional and structural failures when the foundation is not there, no amount of empty rhetoric would solve these crimes. We have an innate capacity like the bulging jester akin to the famous English comedians Mr Bean (played by actor Rowan Atkinson) or Frank Spencer (played by actor Michael Crawford) of continuing repetitions of basic errors and not learning from our past mistakes. If only we could revisit and play back press conferences given after terrorist attacks you would note a common thread running through them of empty promises equals no action.

The activities of Boko Haram have been known for quite a while now. Reports of the group's activities have appeared in the media and on the internet since 2009. The question we need to ask is that what level of preparedness and response do our security agencies have to combat the threat of Boko Haram? The menace and threat of this group presents is ipso facto a security and law enforcement issue however our lack of preparedness and response takes their menace and threat to a different level. This threatens the very existence of the Nigerian State. If we do not think so then perhaps the situation in Pakistan and Mexico should be comparable to Nigeria. Mexico a country with social challenges like Nigeria is now caught in what is clearly is effectively a war between the drug cartels and the state. The notoriety of the drug cartels in Mexico through their threat and menace of in inflicting terror on innocent citizens including women and children and law enforcement agents is a regular staple on global news from the American continent. The government of Felipe Calderón is increasingly under pressure not only from the people of Mexico but also from its neighbor the United States to do more to curb the activities of the drug cartels. However no significant progress has been made with the situation getting worse with audacious attack by Mexican drug cartels who now operate even in border towns on both side of the US and Mexico. Pakistan is also well known given the reputation of Al-Qaeda and Taliban in the neighbouring Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists in Pakistan show no mercy in their choice of targets, attacking innocent civilians, military and law enforcement agents of the state in equal measure. If we are to learn anything in tackling the threats from what is internal home grown terrorism then given the common factors Nigeria has with Mexico and Pakistani including a weak central government, social divide (gulf between the rich and poor), chronic under investment in public infrastructure, corruption and graft in government then the mistakes of both the Mexican and Pakistani governments in the method in tacking this issue should be looked at it in detail. The objective of this discourse is not to do that but to highlight the dangers we face from the threat from this type of terrorism given the experiences of these countries.

The lack of government strategy in combating the threat of terrorism is obvious from the glut and absence of information regarding any comprehensive policy by the government in dealing with this challenge. The threat of Boko Haram is so serious that that the European Union Police organisation (EUROPOL) in its April 2011 report titled, EU Terrorism Situation and Trend report mentions that Boko Haram use of information through specifically created media outlets to relay communications about the group's activities. This is an aspect of the group's activities that is known by law enforcement agencies outside the country but not those in the country. The lack of a coherent strategy is noticeable with the confusion by government in how to deal with the threats, risks and menace caused by Boko Haram. Comparing the group to other indigenous groups agitating for minority rights as a political issue missed the point completely. It sends out the wrong message and only offers a recruitment charter to a group whose ideology is an anathema to the very existence of the Nigerian state. The carrot and stick approach is a reckless way to deal with Boko Haram. Also imposing a curfew on innocent citizens unlawfully as is the case this week in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja without given thought to its impact on loss of revenue by business and prohibiting from enjoy their pastimes, recreation and relaxation is an equally amateurish reactive response to terrorism by the state. It shows the state is carving in to terror a rag tag group of fanatics with no tolerance of other people's views, ways of life, religion, culture and customs leaves no room for negotiating with them.

The strategy of combating Boko Haram begins with the hearts and minds of those at the grassroots and those susceptible to being influenced as a consequence of their lack of means. Indoctrination to extreme and fanatic views is implanted in the minds of such individuals. This is what independence and nationalist hero, Chief Obafemi Awolowo (then Nigeria's Federal Commissioner of Finance and Vice Chairman of the Federal Executive Council) described at the Christ Church Cathedral, Lagos on Sunday, 8th February, 1970 in a speech at titled, 'Economic Well-Being of the Individual' as,

“like those of war, the seeds of peace must be sown and nurtured in the minds of men…there is an urgent and massive need for moral and spiritual reconstruction as well: the kind of reconstruction which will help to demolish morbid desire for naked power and domination; abuse and misuse of power and office; greed, selfishness, and intolerance; nepotism, favouratism, jobbery, bribery, and other forms of corruption; and erect, in their places, probity, tolerance, altruism, and devotion; equality of treatment, justice, equity, and fair play for all.”

The background to Chief Awolowo's speech was the Nigerian Civil war of 1967 to 1970 and the ceasefire that followed the war. It is ironic that the themes of this speech as visible in today's Nigeria. The conditions for creating the threat from Boko Haram is created in the hearts and minds of the people as well as fashioned, nurtured and enhanced by the situation in the country today. The moral and spiritual reconstruction Chief Awolowo described is alive and well in today's Nigeria. The resort to violence is the next level of the decadence of this reconstruction. The objective of the perpetrators of violence is to foster an environment of fear and intimidation. We should not allow them to do this. However this has to be countered with a change of approach in the way we deal with the actual and perceived threats of terrorism in Nigeria.

Combating the threat of Boko Haram as a law enforcement and security issue requires going back to the basics. Intelligence gathering and analysis, community policing, operational and strategic approach to policing, vigilance and awareness by the public, renewed public publicity campaigns and a joint integrated approach of all the security agencies are measures that should be employed against the threats we face. On the other hand in fighting, turf wars and lawlessness through inter agency skirmishes leading to loss of lives including the family members and destruction of properties between the Nigerian Police Force and the Nigerian Army in Badagry (May 2011) and in Lagos (April 2006) severely weakens the fighting capabilities of security agencies in dealing with these challenges. Experience from countries that have encountered so called home grown terrorism and counter insurgency and have successfully dealt with it and minimised the risks and levels of terrorist attacks have done so with boots on the ground, Soldiers and elite forces patrolling in groups in the terrorists main areas of activities. Essentially the combined operations of the Army and Police in the areas where Boko Haram operates will significantly limit and minimise their attacks and also help restore normalcy in the lives of citizens living these areas. The BBC Journalist John Simpson commenting on the successes of experience of the British forces in Northern Ireland during the 'troubles' the period from the 1970s to 1990s when loyalist and republican groups were very active in the United Kingdom says that, 'packets' of soldiers on foot along the road, dominating it and preventing any groups of insurgents from gathering or getting near enough to set up ambushes. Two or three groups of a dozen or so highly trained and well armed soldiers patrolling on foot pose a deadly threat to any guerrilla band”. See John Simpson's book, Not Quite World's End A Traveller's Tales (London: Macmillan, 2007).

It should come as no surprise that where there is little or no investment in policing tools apprehension of terrorists is almost a next to impossible task. The visits of foreign law enforcement agents like the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), EUROPOL and the International Police Organisation (INTERPOL) or the visits of our law enforcement agencies to these organisations after terrorist attacks remains an exercise in futility. If you lack the basic crime detection tools in forensics, ballistics and a database to compare evidence gathered from previous incidents like DNA, fingerprinting, photographs of suspects, facial mapping and other material evidence from the crime scene but do not have the infrastructure to evaluate and assess the evidence you have collected then you are doing invariably what is akin to looking for a pin in the middle of the Yankari game reserve. Nigeria lacks the infrastructure for evidence-based policing. This was highlighted in the report of Open Society Justice Initiative and Network on Police Reform in Nigeria titled Criminal Force Torture, Abuse, and Extrajudicial Killings by the Nigeria Police Force (New York: Open Society Institute, 2010)

“According to a November 2007 report by former Inspector-General of Police Ibrahim Coomasie, the Nigeria Police Force's (NPF) entire forensic infrastructure comprises a nonfunctioning forensic laboratory in Oshodi, Lagos (which is actually operated by the Federal Ministry of Health); a forensic facility in Ikoyi, Lagos; and two “government chemists” in Lagos Island and Kaduna. These facilities either do not work or are badly neglected. In 2008, the second Presidential Committee on Police Reform noted: The Oshodi facility, which is owned by the Federal Ministry of Health, has been in existence since 1953. Over the years, it has suffered neglect as a result of inadequate funding and poor staffing. Currently it lacks adequate equipment, working materials and qualified staff to operate successfully. In 1982, however, the Nigeria Police Force established its Forensic Laboratory in Lagos to support criminal investigations within the premises of the Force CID (Annex). The Laboratory was designed to have seven units, namely; Chemistry, Biology, Fingerprint, Photograph, Ballistics, Disputed Documents, Toolmarks and GSM Information Extraction. The laboratory currently looks like a ghost house, with little or no activity going on. It has remained in a dismal state, with the existing equipment inadequate and obsolete. In 2007, the Oshodi laboratory had only five scientific officers to meet the forensic needs of the entire country. The entire forensic capacity of the NPF in 2007 comprised only one trained forensic pathologist; there was no ballistics expert,97 and no DNA expert.98 Unsurprisingly, a 2007 review of the forensics and investigation capabilities in the NPF found “a near total absence of forensic science in police investigation in Nigeria. Fingerprints or photographs of the scene are rarely taken.” The review concluded that this gives “impetus to the use of third degree policing strategies by police investigators.” Thus within the NPF, there is a tradition of “excessive reliance by the police on information from witnesses and 'confessions' forcibly extracted from suspects” which encourages the use of violence. Additionally, there is no functioning system for the management of criminal justice information and intelligence.

The presumption of innocence is the foundation of police investigation. Through investigation, the police gather evidence with which to rebut the presumption in specific cases. However, the NPF lacks the infrastructure and skills for basic investigation. In 2006, the Presidential Committee on Police Reform reported that: There is only one trained ballistician left in the Force and we were told he would soon go on retirement. There are no more fingerprint experts and the forensic laboratory has not taken off.

Without the infrastructure and skills to support criminal investigations, the NPF is institutionally unable to respect the presumption of innocence—or even maintain credible records.”

The idea that you could solve complex crimes such as the terrorist attacks by Boko Haram let alone petty crimes without having in place the basic tools to investigate, detect, prevent and prosecute these crimes is nothing but a mirage. No amount of condemnation and rhetoric of these crimes without a change of focus in the way we do law enforcement by recognising that significant investments have to made in equipping our law enforcement agents with modern crime fighting tools and techniques would solve and detect crimes. Otherwise we remain stuck with Victorian pre-independence age policing. Recent advances in forensic science, DNA and technology requires significant investments and increased expenditure by the government. We should realise that this does not mean an increase in bureaucracy or additional motley of faceless bureaucrats or officials but a change in encompassing strategic and holistic approaches to existing institutional structures to include but limited to the formation of elite commando type security units drawing on operatives and agents from the Police, Army, National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), the State Security Service (SSS) and the office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) under a unified operational command to combat the activities of terrorists. The Office of Chief Security Officer (CSO), Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) should also be included be these intiatives.

The long overdue assent of Nigeria's first anti-terrorism act titled Act to Provide for Measures to Combat Terrorism and for Related Matters (Prevention of Terrorism Act) on Monday 6 June 2011 is a step in the right direction. However without the additional investment by the government in the latest crime fights tools I suggested earlier enforcing the act would prove very difficult and challenging. The Act defines terrorism offences with maximum sentences of 30 years, gives additional powers given to law enforcement agents in fighting terrorism and the jurisdiction for terrorism matters to the Federal High Court. However whilst terrorism crimes are so called Federal crimes in Nigeria, the Act should have envisaged a situation where such crimes could also be tried in the State High Court given the co-ordinate jurisdiction of that court with the Federal High Court in criminal matters and the need in a lot of these types of cases to ensure that these crimes are tried timely and expeditiously.

No successful action for fighting terrorism can be realised without the support of the public. Complimentary to this is a public campaign by the government in creating an awareness of what terrorism is and what the public need to report to the authorities. This would heighten the public's vigilance to be on a state of alert and the need to report concerns to security agencies if they are suspicious on activities which may constitute terrorism. Furthermore the dissemination of information should equally be used to deny known terrorists the oxygen of publicity. Terrorists in Nigeria use the media to publicise and glorify their barbaric acts to instil terror and fear in the minds of the public. A public campaign to alert the public on the dangers of terrorist activities and its impact on the social, economic and moral fabric of the community should be used to act as counter measure to rebut disinformation by terrorists. In fact minimal coverage should be given to activities of terrorists which results in fatalities inflicted by them but increased coverage should be given to the successes of the government security agents against terrorists to counter the message of hate, intolerance and vitriol perpetuated by them. Presently there are hardly any government initiatives in this regard. For a simple tool in fighting terrorism as basic as just having a telephone, sms or email hotline for the public to report terrorist activities to our security agencies is virtually non-existent. In today's internet age it is imperative that the government's utilises the benefits of the web, mobile, telephony and social networking sites. A search of the websites of key Nigerian agencies that should be at the forefront of the fight against terrorism reveals no joined up thinking and cross cutting strategies. There is hardly any information on terrorism or a page to report terrorism activities on the web sites of the NPF, Ministry of Interior, National Emergency Management Agency and the Nigerian Army Furthermore unlike their foreign counterparts in the UK (the MI5 and MI6 – SIS) and US (FBI, National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency) none of the Nigerian Security Intelligence Agencies namely the NIA, DIA, SSS and ONSA have websites. How do we fight terrorism when citizens do not know who to report to and what to report? Similar to the kind of public awareness created in the UK, Europe and the US, a warning system of classifying alerts depending on the level of perceived and actual terrorist threats should be adopted published through all forms of the media (print, broadcast, internet and the town crier) coordinated by all the security agencies should be adopted immediately. This way the public is more vigilant and knows what is expected of them. The applicable warning systems should be conspicuously displayed at government and other vital strategic locations including Airports, Seaport, police stations, border posts, customs offices, military sites, government offices, hotels, restaurants, commercial and industrial sites and other locations which are likely to be targeted by terrorists.

Chief Awolowo famously opined that, “violence never settles anything right, apart from injuring your own soul, it injures the best cause. It lingers on long after the object of hate has disappeared from the scene to plague the lives of those who have employed it against their foes.” The government should with robustly defend its citizens to ensure that the violence inflicted by terrorists is not allowed to plague the lives of innocent victims of violence. In doing this the government should have a more visible integrated approach replicated at federal, state and local government incorporating the Nigerian Security and Intelligence main players from the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice NPF, Nigerian Army, CSO, NIA, DIA, SSS, ONSA, NCS, NIS, MEMA and the NSCDC constituted with its mandate and remit defined and known to the public. Terrorists should not be allowed to affect our way of life through appeasement and giving in to their demands. The war against terrorism can only be won resolutely through the support of the people through less empty talk but through concerted actions leading to visible and positive results by the government and its agents. This way the government can genuinely restore the confidence and trust its citizens have in its abilities and capabilities to deal with what is a new challenge to the survival of our great nation.

Omoba Oladele Osinuga Esq. Solicitor and Advocate Supreme Court of Nigeria, International Criminal Lawyer works in the Mission of a leading International Governmental Organisation in Europe writes from Dagenham, Essex UK.

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