The word Boko Haram is synonymous with terrorism and insurgency in Nigeria. It is so popular in local and international media and also in the print, online and electronic media.
A search on the internet will also show pictures of their leaders, their statements, audios and videos that are easily accessible but could invoke fear in the mind of the public. While the activities of the group is clearly restricted to about three states in Northern Nigeria: Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, the prevailing but erroneous impression is that the activities of the groups are felt in the remaining 33 states and the Federal Capital Territory Abuja.
Probably, in the realisation that the terrorists may be gaining undue publicity, the National Security Adviser, NSA, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd) recently inaugurated a Forum of Spokespersons in Security and Response Agencies, FOSSRA, whom he charged to be proactive and responsive in public information management. He was reported to have said that the next stage of war on terror should include advocacy and media engagement through accurate, timely and responsible information to dissuade our people from criminal activities as well as to silent the propaganda tools of terrorists.
How come the insurgents have succeeded in their media and propaganda campaigns? The answer is not farfetched: Fear, violent crimes and casualty figures are major ingredients that quench the journalistic instincts for breaking news and lead stories. In achieving such media exposure, within the space of a fortnight, countless lives have been lost to senseless attacks in Konduga, Kauri, Idzge and other villages in Borno State and some parts of Adamawa State.
The vulnerable citizens continue to remain hapless, even the military personnel are not safe, as some of them were alleged to have been mauled while on national assignments to protect Nigerians and their fatherland. Concerned over the monumental atrocities committed by insurgents, Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State in an emotional outburst inadvertently claimed that the sects are better motivated and possess more sophisticated weapons than the Nigerian military.
While the politicians and public commentators may continue to condemn the security personnel and others for insensitivity, they should be mindful of their wordings that could discourage the military who are risking their lives to protect us. It is obvious that the military may have been facing some constraints, by their orientation they don’t go to public to expose any sign of weaknesses even when they courageously challenge criminal elements and terrorists.
The fact that the military are trying to reduce civilian casualties in their battle against the terrorists is the major barricade to their effort. This is due to the fact that insurgents always seek refuge in villages and across borders alongside innocent civilians. Thus, military personnel are severely constrained in differentiating a suspect from innocent citizens in civilian settlements. Selective engagements in such situations are strenuous and difficult to avoid heavy civilian casualty. Few months ago the military received bashing for the massive operation in Baga fishing community while flushing out the suspected terrorists in Borno State. This and other accusations of extra-judicial killings against the military has heavily restricted the fight against the terrorists.
The insurgents seem to be tricky as they simply adapt the strategy of striking and seeking refuge in neighbouring countries or mingling with other people in the community. It is practically impossible for the soldiers to fight the sects across border. The international convention laws also restrict them from chasing the insurgents into foreign territories.
While the fight against terrorism is being hampered by the presence of civilians in areas being used by insurgents as hideouts, those in the authority and the military should devise other strategies towards a success of the war on terror.
Nevertheless the government, the media and the citizens must realise that there is no more time to be wasted in blame games. The military needs all the supports and encouragements to wipe the tears of those innocent widows and widowers, fatherless, motherless and deserted communities in the North East. I strongly support the legislators’ call for the relocation of security chiefs (Army) to the most affected areas of the states facing terrorist activities. In this vein, more security men will naturally be deployed to flash points where these heinous, inhuman activities can be checkmated. Although the sects are taking leverage of territorial border laws to perpetrate their crime, the government can seek the cooperation of neighbouring countries on border control. There is therefore the urgent need for the government to explore bilateral security arrangements with its neighbours, especially Chad, Niger Republic and Cameroun on how to tackle the activities of the insurgents around the border areas.
As we continue to pray for an end to this senseless carnage, my empathy goes to the hapless citizens and courageous security personnel in the volatile region. The media too have some roles to play to control unnecessary cheap publicity giving to insurgents by their heinous atrocities that send shivers in the spine of even lion-hearted Nigerians and security personnel.
•Mr Isah, a commentator on national issues, wrote from Abuja.