5 November 2012

Nigeria: Who's Doing More Damage? Boko Haram or Joint Task Force?

Photo: Vanguard
Boko Haram and security forces have been in an ongoing battle.

Since 2009 an estimated 2,800 people have died as a result of Boko Haram's insurgency and the military response by the Nigerian government. After a recent spate of killings by security agents, some Maiduguri residents feel this destruction now overshadows the menace of the Islamist sect.

Thirty young men were killed last month and another 40 publicly shot last Thursday by operatives of the Nigerian Joint Task Force (JTF).

"What is happening in Maiduguri is very disturbing and heartbreaking," says a young grains trader, who prefers to remain anonymous. "I lost three cousins in one of these killings. The murderous activities of soldiers and policemen who kill senselessly must be stopped. The thirty young men who were killed last month had no trial to prove their guilt. I swear: if the youths get angry, not even the soldiers can stop them."

Government patience gone

The administration of Goodluck Jonathan has apparently run out of patience with the Islamist sect after repeatedly failing at establishing communication.

"You can't blame the soldiers," says a civil servant from Maiduguri who is spending his annual leave in Jos in the Plateau State. "The government has tried to talk but the sect refuses to come to the dialogue table and they continue to wreck havoc on Nigerians. It's very unfortunate that innocent Nigerians are caught in the crossfire but I'm happy with what the soldiers are doing. I think the use of force is the only option the Nigerian government has."

'Terrorist ties'

"I think the destruction and killings by soldiers in Maiduguri are avoidable," says David Bah, a student of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Bauchi. "The soldiers are very angry with the residents because they often accommodate and shield the terrorists. If community members cooperate with the soldiers I'm sure some of the extrajudicial killings will be avoided."

"I was born in Gwange area of Miaduguri," says the grains trader who conducts his his work between Bauchi, Gombe and the south of Nigeria. "I don't look forward to going home because almost daily I get phone calls from home about my peers being killed by soldiers. They're supposed to protect us. But if they keep killing us, how can we trust them or even offer help?"

Lack of community cooperation

The effectiveness of counter-terrorism depends largely on the level of cooperation between government forces and local communities. In Maiduguri, the main base for Boko Haram, the JTF is apparently failing to inspire the required confidence and trust among locals. Besides improving the conduct of JTF agents and their intelligence gathering and interagency cooperation, the government must also address general living conditions, many locals say.

"Whether we admit it or not, Boko Haram is a reflection of government's insensitivity to the plight of poor Nigerians," says Sani, a young graduate assistant at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria.

"The so-called terrorists are poor Nigerians who are tired of poverty, deprivation and the lack of basic social amenities as a result of corruption among government officials. The government and JTF must know that the use of force is very counter-productive in this context because the people are only crying out for a better life. So give it to them instead of killing them."

Taking orders

"One of our profession's key principles is the respect for higher authority," says a young police officer, who prefers to remain anonymous, serving with the Special Task Force in Jos. "Once an order is given, you risk a query or some form of punishment if you disobey. I don't look forward to spilling innocent blood and I'm sure no security agent in his right senses enjoys it. But sometimes as a rank-and-file you don't have any choice than to do what you've been ordered to do."

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