So, Commander-In-Chief Doesn’t Know? By Tunji Ajibade
I don’t know if he is dead or alive”. President Goodluck Jonathan said that. It was in the course of his latest presidential media chat in September. And he had meant the leader of the terrorist group called Boko Haram. Weeks earlier, Nigeria’s security forces had said the Boko Haram leader might have died as a result of gun wounds he sustained in a battle with them. Later, the BBC said it saw the terror leader in a recorded video; that was days before President Jonathan chatted with the media. In the event, interviewers had asked Nigeria’s leader if the Boko Haram leader was dead or alive. The President answered that the media should know better, because the media spoke with terrorists and carried their news. On that, the interviewers had laughed and wriggled in their chairs, adopting sitting postures almost similar to the President’s who during the second hour of the two-hour interview had shifted to a side of his chair as though he was shielding himself from his interviewers’ missiles of questions. Mr. President should be more presidential in his sitting posture anytime he faces his 160 million citizens. But he had touched on several issues on that occasion. He said he felt pain for the young Nigerian students killed in the north-eastern corner of the country a day before the media chat. Then, he talked about the industrial action embarked upon by the university lecturers. Other issues followed, one of them was what the President knew and didn’t know about the Boko Haram leader. Question is: If the Commander-in-Chief is this blank about so serious an enemy of the nation, what have his security forces been busy doing?
Three days after the President’s media chat, the military high command announced it was launching an investigation to ascertain if the Boko Haram leader had died or not. Four days after, the military said the man who claimed to be the Boko Haram leader in the BBC video was fake, stating reasons. Time will confirm all of that. But it did take the President’s public admission before the military investigated. The issue in this piece isn’t how long it took the security forces to consider investigating an occurrence which consequence should have informed the direction of its strategy, rather it’s the implication of a peculiar pattern in the combat against terror. Reports from battle fronts in Borno State make one not to doubt claims that when security forces raided a building in the Apo District of the Federal Capital Territory recently, without finding out who was who in the area, they had sprayed bullets and killed several unarmed Nigerians. Lawmakers are so incensed that they decided to investigate the matter. Link this to the fact that citizens closer to the battle front in the Yobe-Borno area have always accused security forces of extrajudicial killing and the picture becomes clearer.
Consider the news reports of the activities of security forces since a state of emergency was declared in some of the north-east states: “The Joint Task Force ‘Operation Restore Order’, in Borno State said it has bombed training camps allegedly used by members of the Boko Haram sect in the state.” That was a report about what happened in Sambisa Game Reserve in Bama Local Government Area. It took place last January. Helicopter gunships had been employed. Bombing of Boko Haram camps happened and in the process valuable evidence that could provide a clue about the operation of the terror group, and who had or had not been in the camp was destroyed. And following an encounter in Katsina State with armed men who had bombed three police stations and robbed four commercial banks an army commander had said, “At the end of the operation…I lost three of my men… I am not bothered about the casualties on the side of the criminals but we have been able to recover four AK47 rifles from them.” The officer was not bothered about the casualties in a century where facts, figures and exactitude on anything concerning enemy forces are useful for the purpose of strategic planning in this kind of operation. The officer who said this is a Major General and, if this is his mentality, it can be imagined what the mentality of the security operatives who approach any Boko Haram position can be. Nigerians come in contact with such operatives often, and they can testify to low quality and poor, dishonourable mentality.
It’s been of interest to this writer to, for instance, watch Nigeria’s security operatives in action at the scene of violence. They regularly repeat the same error. When Boko Haram bombed the police headquarters in Abuja the other time, television cameras showed security operatives picking and dislodging materials that through forensic investigation might have proved valuable, at least from the car the suicide bomber had arrived in. Police officers were even shown pushing cars away from the scene of the bombing at the police headquarters less than one hour after it happened. In Borno State, security forces sometimes know of Boko Haram camps long before they arrive. But it seems it never occurs to any officer to have an operational plan for the gathering of evidence, or engage in investigations that can establish the identity of those who have been in such camps through gathering of fingerprints.
Now, compare what’s happening in Nigeria to this: “The mall has been cordoned off as forensic experts commence work to take finger prints and other evidence.” That had been part of a news report about the September terror attack on a shopping mall in Kenya. That forensic investigation lasted more than a week. The Kenyan attack reminded one about the North-East corner of Nigeria, and the reminder became sharper when President Jonathan admitted he didn’t know if the Boko Haram leader was dead or alive. He can’t know because his officers in the field don’t conduct their operations in a way that would make them know, be steps ahead of the enemies, and thereby brief their Commander-In-Chief properly. Often one wonders if the Nigerian security forces especially the army has been moved from being a colonial force into a modern army. Shoot at sight, ransack and burn was the style of the colonial forces, now the Nigerian security forces confronting terror don’t prove any different. Yet, where Boko Haram is concerned, collecting evidence for the purpose of having solid intelligence to work and strategise with makes this carefree destructive approach impractical.
There’s no doubt that law enforcement agents’ ability to solve a crime especially terror-related may depend on proper evidence preservation at the scene of a crime. The plethora of evidence must be carefully collected and preserved in order to provide investigators with clues. Securing the scene of a crime or violence and making notations about how the scene had been are the starting point of proper evidence preservation. Added to this, an understanding of how to collect the evidence is crucial. The glee with which officers announce bombing of Boko Haram camps makes one wonder if the Nigerian security forces have heard of anything called forensic investigations? One wonders too if they think through what they announce, how it sounds to informed minds. Clear-thinking minds think of destruction of evidence when those announcements are made; meanwhile, officers expect Nigerians to cheer the news. Yet, the fingerprints and hairs of the gunmen who later ambush and kill many of these officers across towns and cities may have been available for collection at the destroyed camps.
Anywhere terror is carried out around the world, criticisms have trailed war on it concerning issues such as morals, ethics, efficiency and economics. The notion of a “war” against “terrorism” itself has proved controversial, with critics charging that it has been exploited to reduce civil liberties, and infringe upon human rights. It’s said that “the term ‘war’ is not appropriate in this context (as in war on drugs), since there is no identifiable enemy. And it has also been argued that it’s unlikely that international terrorism can be brought to an end by military means. A critic like Francis Fukuyama has noted that “terrorism” is not an enemy, but a “tactic”. This means Nigerian security forces would need to think more of tactic and stop approaching this as a war, a least not like the war the colonial army on punitive expedition had waged on Nigerians. For this is what their present operational pattern portrays. And could it be that
Nigeria’s security forces lack technical manpower and mental and temperamental capacity to conduct methodical investigation while on trails of terrorists for the purpose of collecting evidence? Or, is it that they choose to deliberately obliterate evidence of their own impunity? These are questions President Jonathan should look at, otherwise the current approach of his forces to security challenges will ensure he’s in the dark, and embarrassingly so, in matters for which he should have clear answers for Nigerians as the Commander-In-Chief of the armed forces.
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