[rev_slider alias="blog-post-header-long-title"]


May 6, 2014 | Commentary

In his seminal work, the former US Ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell was unequivocal in his argument that Nigeria was “dancing on the brink” of real political instability, of the kind that was fully capable of truncating the state-building project. He identified several key factors that act as pointers to possible instability, including increased violence, widespread human insecurity, and the corruption and fraud associated with the conduct of elections at all levels of governance.

Presently, Nigeria has so far opted for a reactive posture in dealing with an aggressive and active insurgent/terrorist group like Boko Haram. Where will the next terror attack be? Such a question seems not to resonate with the country’s counter-terrorism strategy, whether hard or soft. In an earlier post on “Nigerian Shrinking Governable Space,” I argued that the Nigerian security forces – currently over-stretched, under-motivated, and under-trained – are overwhelmed by the present insurgency, as evidenced by the frequency, intensity, coordination, and sophistication associated with insurgent activities in the country.

While the Nigerian state is primarily responsible for the provision of security, Nigerian citizens must also collectively support the country’s security agencies. Security is everybody’s business. This call for vigilance on the part of citizens is required. To put it simply, we cannot sit back and allow violence and impunity to reign, with little to no action. Boko Haram might have started in 2009, but it took the Nigerian government around five years to craft what is now known as the Soft Approach to Counter Terrorism under the office of the National Security Adviser – an approach that places emphasis on the adoption of non-military strategies in the fight against insurgency and terror. This clearly demonstrates its rather reactive posture to such threats.

The kidnap of over 200 girls from Government Girls Secondary School Chibok in Borno State, coupled with the twin bomb blasts in Nyanya, one of the suburbs of Abuja, reveals the level of coordination by these insurgents/terrorists. By targeting unarmed and defenseless civilians, Boko Haram’s method and tactics reflect the use of asymmetrical warfare to instill fear and a siege mentality among both the state and its citizens.

With its reactive posture to emergency response and preparedness, Nigeria’s security apparatus has found it increasingly difficult to gain the public’s confidence and trust – a fact only abetted by the numerous inconveniences often borne by its citizenry, including stop and searches along the country’s highways and in the course of their daily business in the cities. While insurgents are tactical and well-coordinated in their attacks, they often face security services that are either at a loss on what to do or, at worst, overwhelmed by the situation.

As a prerequisite to combating insurgencies and terror, the question of state capacity need to be seriously revisited within the context of its coercive and non-coercive functions, both in terms of its control over the instruments of force on one hand, and its responsibility as a provider of public goods on the other.

Combating terror and insurgency requires a more proactive and grand strategy that is a product of broad consultations at the local, national, and international levels, which the Nigerian government seems to be trying to address through the department of civil-military relations, traditional and community leaders, civil society, as well as the media. The recommendations below constitute useful tips that would add value to policy in this direction.

Modern information and communications technology (ICT) are a key enabler for counter-insurgency and counter-terror operations. The limited capacity associated with the use of ICT by Nigeria’s security sector impedes efforts towards winning the war against terrorists and other extremists. So far, rather than leveraging the use of satellites, scanners, and drones, the security forces still largely rely on AK-47 rifles and stop and search procedures. In the light of the foregoing, governments at all levels in Nigeria must take advantage of the revolution in technology to improve their intelligence and surveillance capabilities. The next attack might take place at a security check point, where cars are stopped in order for the security forces to stop and search. The provision of Closed Circuit Television, trackers, and other technological devices are very much required.

Since the availability of arms is the oxygen for insurgents, Nigeria’s government has a responsibility to address the challenge posed by the proliferation of arms in the country. The federal government in particular should ensure that the relevant security agencies are better equipped and motivated to track the movement of arms and criminal gangs into the country through porous and illegal routes.

The federal government’s Soft Approach to combating insurgency and acts of terror, despite coming five years after the emergence of Boko Haram, must be framed from the perspective of a poverty reduction strategy that seeks to address issues of poverty, inequality, and unemployment as key factors that could lead to acts of insurgency and terror.

There is a strong conviction among Nigerians and the international community that good governance and political will on the part of policy makers is needed to be able to realize human security and development in the country. It also requires a regional response, given the cross-border nature of insurgency and terror, as evident in the international links between Boko Haram, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and other criminal networks beyond the shores of Nigeria.

Nigeria’s experience with insurgency and terror can be located within a continuum of a challenging process of state-building. Conditioned by this dominant reality, the goals of this project can best be realized in a democratic Nigerian state that provides for and protects its citizens, and guards against the vestiges of militarism and militarized responses to discontents that still abound in our body polity.


Chris Kwaja is a Lecturer/Researcher at the Centre for Conflict Management and Peace Studies, University of Jos, Nigeria. He is also a Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for Democracy and Development, Abuja, Nigeria.