15 January 2013

Nigeria: What Manner of Anti-Terror War?


The war against terrorism is still on, but it is becoming clear that we have allowed the terrorists to cower us into a corner. Those charged with protecting the people seem to be taking extreme defensive posture. With the deployment of soldiers in many towns, we are gradually feeling the effects of militarisation. Checkpoints and barricades are on the increase. Between Zaria and Kaduna there are more than six checkpoints: a journey of 30 minutes now takes 2 hours. In Bauchi, the military authorities are constructing permanent barricades on the highway in front of their barracks, while the police have completely shut down the highway in front of their formations. Some roads in Abuja are permanently closed. Damaturu and Maiduguri are ghost towns especially at night. Everything is at a standstill.

In spite of all these, the terrorist threat is still with us. The military strategy is simply not working; it is now time to review it. And, recently, the chairman of the Kaduna State Council of Emirs and Chiefs and Emir of Zaria, Alhaji Shehu Idris, offered a good suggestion. He called on the Kaduna State government to do away with checkpoints. He decried the increasing reports of harassment of innocent people and the time-consuming rigours of searching experienced at checkpoints. The traditional ruler's view reflects the view of most Nigerians.

In reviewing the counter-threat measures, it is necessary to understand the past. In the first place, how did we get to this point? There are two fundamental variables: the actions of terrorists and criminal elements who are threatening the corporate existence of Nigeria and the reaction of the government whose main responsibility is to ensure the survival of the country. The two positions are diametrically opposed to each other. At the centre are the people who are at the receiving end.

Within the last three years Boko Haram has unleashed terror on Nigerians. Some states like Borno and Yobe are more or less war zones; thousands of people have died. Nowhere is safe. Churches, mosques, government offices, schools and military formations have been attacked. The callous attack on churches in Jaji military cantonment serves to highlight the current situation. Thousands of people have fled these war zones and the instruments of governance are collapsing. In states like Yobe and Borno, economic activities are grounded and people are going through severe hardship.

Since the federal government's response to these threats has not been effective, we cautiously lend our voice to the call by the Emir of Zaria. The main checkpoints are still relevant but all barricades around barracks, offices and residential areas should go. More importantly, government should sincerely take up the gauntlet: it should change strategy and be on the offensive. But the freedom and liberty of the people should no longer be taken for granted.

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