In a change of tactic, the Joint Task Force (JTF) codenamed Operation Restore Order in Borno state last week announced rewards totalling N290 million for information that would lead to the arrest of top leaders of the Boko Haram sect.
Abubakar Shekau, the sect's leader has the largest bounty of N50 million place on him, and N25 million each on the heads of four others said to be members of its Shura Council, the group's highest decision-making body.
A reward of N10 million each was equally placed on the head of fourteen others, classified as Boko Haram commanders.
A statement by the JTF's spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Sagir Musa, said Shekau and his allies were wanted in connection with terrorist activities, particularly in the northeast of the country, which led to killings, bombings and assassination of civilians, religious leaders, traditional leaders, businessmen, politicians, civil servants and security personnel among others.
The statement assured the public of the confidentiality of the information they may provide, and that credible informants whose leads provide positive results would receive the bounty.
The Boko Haram sect has claimed responsibility for many of the attacks in several places in the north, including bombing of places of worship, police stations, media houses, schools and other public buildings. So far, the Boko Haram insurgency has claimed the lives of hundreds of people and crippled economic activities in major cities in much of the North East.
JTF's strategy of giving monetary incentive to informants adds a new perspective to the strategies in the efforts to neutralise the sect and bring the violence to an end. While the bounty option has the utility to increase pressure on the sect's leaders to abandon their violent methods, the security agencies must also be prepared for a possibility that this could lead the group to launch a daring assault, if only to score a bloody point. The sect will do well not to contemplate such an option.
Although there are quarters who have suggested that dialogue with the group is a more sustainable platform to end insurgency in the country, the government has not publicly shown any inclination to follow that route; and the insurgents have not helped matters either, in the wanton and indiscriminate nature of their attacks, targeting people at worship places, their victims including women and children. The bounty option also appears to reinforce the government's reluctance to be seen in talks with a group that engages in such acts; and many see it as a gamble that could go either way.
Clearly, the security challenges of the last couple of years have been harrowing, particularly for residents of many parts of the North. No country can develop in an atmosphere of such security threats. Any effort therefore aimed at bringing the on-going threats to an end would be good for the country.
Too much blood has already been shed, and the group should recognise that in the long run, they cannot win. The best option for them is to end the senseless killing spree and come into the open.
The success of the government's new approach will depend on the public's willingness to cooperate with the security agencies, whose history in treating informants has not been an inspiring one, to say the least. Security agencies can turn things around in the shortest possible time by engaging in more humane rules of engagement with members of the public when it comes to the fight against insurgents. The documented episodes of JTF personnel randomly killing civilians without proper verification of their identity, and without due process, do not endear the public to the security agencies.
The authorities must also take seriously each case of brutality and unlawful killing by security personnel brought before them; fighting insurgency is not licence to operate above the law.
Confidence building between the security agencies and the public is therefore crucial; indeed, even without bounty offers, but with plenty of trust and goodwill, the public would be more than willing to help the authorities get rid of whoever it is that has brought so much death and destruction to them.