March 19, 2014

New Nigeria plan to tackle Boko Haram wins plaudits

LAGOS (AFP) – Nigeria’s new broader approach to tackling the Boko Haram insurgency won plaudits on Wednesday, with the plan seen as recognition that military might alone would not end the bloodshed.

National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki unveiled the new measures in a rare public announcement that touched not only on past mistakes but indicated a more joined-up approach to tackling the crisis.

Dasuki’s “soft power” plan includes “de-radicalisation” programmes for suspected and convicted Boko Haram fighters as well as closer co-operation with communities most affected by the deadly violence.

Elizabeth Donnelly, from the Chatham House foreign affairs think-tank in London, said the policy was a “departure”, suggesting it was an attempt to regain the upper hand from the insurgents.

“I think the administration has really woken up to the fact that they have lost credibility and trust in communicating,” she told AFP.

“It (Dasuki’s speech) is very interesting as it’s a much more nuanced, holistic approach to the crisis…

“It’s quite self-critical in parts but his office is clearly making an effort to address key points of criticism.”

– Security overhaul –

Dasuki acknowledged in a speech that the militants, whose guerrilla tactics have killed thousands since 2009, had been more effective in conveying their message — and that had to change.

“We… have realised that those tasked with the responsibility to protect can no longer function within a framework of the past,” he said on Tuesday in Abuja.

He also drew parallels with the overhaul of the US national security apparatus after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington that were in part blamed on intelligence failures.

Nigeria’s new National Counter-Terrorism Strategy had been 18 months in the making, he said, and was drawn up after consulting other countries with experience of a “war on terror”.

“Nigeria is taking this important but difficult and slow path. But we are making progress,” he added.

Deadly attacks blamed on Boko Haram have intensified since the turn of the year.

More than 700 people have died in the restive northeast, while tens of thousands more have fled for their lives, either in fear of further attacks or after militants razed their homes and businesses.

A wave of strikes, including the slaughter of boarding school students in their beds while they slept, has prompted international condemnation and raised questions about the military’s response.

Senior officers, however, maintain they have Boko Haram on the back foot and attribute the rise in violence to a weakened enemy lashing out as soldiers cut off escape routes, seizing arms and ammunition.

– Implementation key –

Defence and security analysts have long argued that the government needed to tackle the root causes of the problem, rather than only fighting fire with fire.

There were indications that the administration had taken this on board last year, when it began working more closely with the Kanuri people, who are dominant in the northeast and also in Boko Haram.

Dasuki said the strategy would address economic and social deprivation in the north, which have been pinpointed as factors in recruiting disaffected young men to radical ideologies worldwide.

“My approach has been to understand the problem in order to apply the appropriate solutions,” he added.

Central to this would be an “economic revitalisation programme” in the six northern states most hit by extremist violence, involving state and federal agencies, he said.

For analysts, successfully implementing the programme was the next step but Donnelly said the policy was “what international partners (of Nigeria) will have been waiting to hear”.

Virginia Comolli, from the International Institute for Strategic Studies, also said the approach was long overdue.

“It’s very, very likely that there’s an apparent realisation within the administration that more needs to be done,” she said.

“What’s good is that various elements within the Nigerian government have actually spoken to their counterparts in the UK, the US, Australia, Indonesia and various countries around the world to see what has worked.”