From November 4-7, the office of the National Security Adviser organised a regional counter-terrorism conference in Abuja. Our reporter chronicles the issues that dominated the conference with the theme 'Containing terror in West Africa'
Transnational violent networks with sophisticated mode of operations have emerged in the West African sub-region under different connotations.
The Jama'atul Ahlil Sunna Lidda'awatil Wal Jihad (Boko Haram) which carried numerous attacks on its perceived adversaries including suicide bombings and the Ansar Deen, a group occupying northern Mali are the most prominent operating in the sub-region.
The complex interrelationships between terror groups in the region and other groups in the world became a cause for concern to security forces.
The office of the National Security Adviser, Mohammed Sambo Dasuki this week (November 4-7) organised a regional counter-terrorism conference in Abuja with the theme 'containing terror in West Africa' to actually improve collaboration among the security forces in their efforts to tackle terrorism.
A source at the office of the NSA said the conference was organised following recent visits of Dasuki to West African countries including Niger and Mali to strengthen security ties. The source said the conference became possible as a result of the discovery of links between terror groups not only in the region but world over as well the mode with which they operate.
The conference was attended by intelligence chiefs and their representatives from Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Uganda, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Israel and Italy.
Also, representatives of some organisations including the Committee of Intelligence and Security Services of Africa (CISSA), Fusion and Liaison Unit (UFL), United Nations Counter Terrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF), United Nations Al Qaeda Sanction Monitoring Team, The Soufan Group USA, The African Command (AFRICOM) among others.
The NSA said during the conference "of immediate concern to us today, is the increasing cooperation between the Boko Haram group in Nigeria and established terror groups operating in the Sahel.
"There is also a thin line between these groups and well known international terrorist networks," Dasuki said at a regional conference on counter terrorism with the theme "Containing Terrorism in West Africa' in Abuja.
"Game changing incidents and sophistication of the emerging terrorist groups have thrown up greater challenges to security and intelligence agencies across the region. For us in Nigeria, we are responding through increased capacity building for security and law enforcement agencies, synergy and collaboration with international partners while evolving an all encompassing counter terrorism strategy tailored to suit our peculiar situation."
Dasuki said that the conference was meant to provide an in-depth understanding of the nature of terror groups and make recommendations on policies and strategies to counter the threat in the sub-region and foster greater understanding among countries.
Various presentations were made at the conference including overview of terrorism in Nigeria and West Africa and the need for regional collaboration, the imperative of collaborative efforts on counter-terrorism in West Africa, developing trends to combat terrorism and the way forward, the activities of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM) in West Africa as well as maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea. One Nigerian security officail who attended the conference said the conference noted the emerging trend of the spread of terrorism in the region as accentuated by recent development in Mali and Sahelian geographical belt as a whole. It also observed the gradual metamorphosis of terrorism into new forms including narco-terrorism in the region.
The source said participants called for regional collaboration and cooperation in tackling the menace and the imperative of adopting multi faceted approach. "The conference underscores the need for the adoption of a regional counter-terrorism strategy that draws from the experiences and contributions of regional and international actors as way to fight terrorism."
A communiqué issued at the end of the conference said forces will focus greater attention to building regional capacity for rapid and effective responses to terrorist attacks in addition to establishing a regional fusion centre to drive the process to complement the existing UFL in Algiers. Member states were also urged to establish similar Fusion centres.
The conference called on the United Nations and development partners to avail the region with more funding for capacity-building and equipment as well as timely information in support of the regional counter-terrorism effort.
Vice President Mohammed Namadi Sambo said in his remarks that the Boko Haram sect has transformed in its capabilities within three years by moving away from the use of crude force to carrying coordinated attacks and suicide bombings.
He said the federal government is working towards enhancing counter terrorism capabilities of the country's security agencies and that the approval of counter terrorism laws by the National Assembly would enable the government to freeze monies of the sect.
Another security source in Abuja said the office of the NSA had prior to the conference, identified poverty as one of the important factors that need to be tackled in the fight against terrorism. He said poor economic conditions may lead more able, better-educated individuals to participate in terror attacks, allowing terror organisations to send better-qualified terrorists to more complex, higher-impact, terror missions.
"The NSA has gone round the states with the prevalence of terror attacks and met with governors and religious leaders on the way forward. Government is considering measures of cushioning the scourge of poverty by providing jobs and employment opportunities."
The sources said efforts are underway to resolve the current Boko Haram crisis through dialogue and other legitimate means and security forces were asked to avoid actions capable of upsetting reconciliation process and avoid assaulting civilians. The forces were enjoined to abide by the established rules of engagement.