Dasuki, Metuh and Boko Haram By Waziri Adio
The National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd.), last Tuesday unveiled a strategy document titled “Nigeria’s Soft Approach to Countering Terrorism.” A necessary complement of the law enforcement and military approach, this ‘soft power’ strategy is a hearts-and-minds and rehabilitation approach aimed at hollowing out the ground under the Boko Haram terrorists.
The strategy is coming many years late, but it is commendable and re-assuring all the same. And it is for two reasons: one, it indicates that some nuanced thinking is finally taking place on how to sustainably confront the scourge of terrorism; and two, it suggests that this government seems to have roused itself to the task of solving the most serious public problem in our country today.
But that hope was punctured immediately. On the same day the NSA unveiled the new counter-terrorism strategy, the National Publicity Secretary of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Olisa Metuh, issued a statement that pointedly accused the opposition of sponsoring Boko Haram to distract and discredit President Goodluck Jonathan.
“We accept the reality of terrorism as a global phenomenon,” Metuh said. “However, the peculiar trend of the Nigerian version… summarises a well-considered agenda of national destabilisation for a purely selfish political cause. We pointedly finger the opposition.” And the evidence for that pointed fingering is: “we recall statements by some politicians, vowing to make the country ungovernable for President Jonathan on the eve of the 2011 general election.”
Metuh’s logic is lazy and threadbare, the type that should be laughed at even in beer parlours. Unfortunately, however, this seems to be the preferred narrative of this government on Boko Haram. Made without a shred of evidence (beyond the circumstantial) and on the weighty platform of the ruling party, Metuh’s outlandish accusation is not different from what Reno Omokri tried to do through his alter ego, Wendell Simlin, and for which he is yet to receive even a slap on the wrist from his principal, the president.
As I wrote in my last article, we are dealing with a presidency (and now a party) with a persecution complex, one burdened with a siege mentality so ingrained that it crowds out clear thinking and vigorous action. If anything, Metuh has reinforced the fear that the belief that terrorism in Nigeria is politically-driven is deeply held by the president and the people around him.
Metuh and his fellow believers are actively proselytising this belief, possibly to get others to support or pity the president. Unknown to them however, they are peddling a tale of self-indictment. What kind of president will know the sponsors of terrorists that mindlessly abduct, maim, rape, and kill citizens (including innocent school children) and do nothing to stop those sponsors? If ordinary party officials like Metuh know the sponsors of terror, that means the knowledge is so common-place. What has the president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces done to protect thousands of citizens from needless deaths and what has he done to bring those evil people to book?
Can such a president be adjudged to have performed where it mattered most: the protection of lives and property? And what kind of president, supported by the information-gathering and coercive apparatus of that exalted office, can be so easily undermined by his opponents? What Metuh and his ilk are saying, maybe unknown to them, is that the president has wilfully failed to do his duty by those citizens savagely murdered by terrorists and by the country that has saddled him with enormous powers and responsibilities.
To be sure, some excuses can be made for Metuh. One is that he merely expressed his opinion. Two is that he is just returning fire to the opposition and that he has a responsibility to defend the government elected on his party’s platform. And three is that this is politics, and in politics, like in war, all is fair. But these excuses are what they are: excuses. Neither the PDP nor the presidency has disowned Metuh who has made a habit of making wild and illogical claims such as accusing a party of a plan to Islamise Nigeria or calling it the Muslim Brotherhood of Nigeria or calling its manifesto Janjaweed ideology.
I do not think anyone has told Metuh and others that, given the known fault-lines of this country, there are certain lines that should not be crossed, no matter the amount of provocation or the level of desperation. By all means, Metuh should take on the opposition and project the achievements of the PDP-led government. And when not over the bend, he is making a good job of that. But as he has not demonstrated the capacity to get this on his own, he needs to be told that ill-digested attempts at profiling a whole religion or demonising the opposition are beyond the pale and counter-productive. The ruling party and the government, more than the other political actors, have a responsibility to set the proper tone. It is the responsibility that comes with being at the helm. It is the demand of leadership.
With the two events of last Tuesday (Dasuki’s strategy and Metuh’s statement), it is clear that there are two competing narratives on Boko Haram within the same government. The first, as represented by Omokri and Metuh, simply sees Boko Haram as a fight-back by the northern power elite for losing out in the last election. This is a revisionist, reductionist, divisive and ahistorical narrative. Anyone with a passing familiarity with the history of Boko Haram knows that the sect predated the 2011 elections by almost a decade.
An extremist group with a twisted worldview, Boko Haram was largely confined to local issues in Borno State until 2009 when an open confrontation with the police and the army led to the decimation of its members and leadership. The group then went underground, resurfacing with even more twisted outlook and more deadly approach. Splinter groups emerged, opportunistic groups cashed in, with the upheavals in North Africa, links with international terror groups, and our porous borders adding an international dimension to the crisis. So to reduce this crisis to the machinations of anti-Jonathan elements is not only a ridiculous attempt at rewriting recent history but also a very dangerous form of work avoidance.
Fortunately, there is another approach that is problem-solving and task-focused. This is the narrative that focuses not only on the need to fight the Boko Haram terrorists as a threat to all of us but also on the need to understand and tackle the psychological, social and economic conditions that made terrorism possible and allow it to thrive. The counter-terrorism strategy unveiled last week by the NSA points in this direction.
“The strategy was developed taking into account the root causes of terrorism,” Dasuki said. “I have commissioned a number of studies to unravel why our youths have taken the path down to radicalisation. My approach has been to understand the problem in order to apply the appropriate solutions… The National Counter-Terrorism Strategy (NACTEST) seeks to prevent attacks by preventing our people from becoming terrorists in the first place.”
The strategy is hinged on four platforms: prison-based rehabilitation of convicted terrorists and suspects to de-radicalise them; engagement with faith-based groups, families, communities, civil society groups, media, schools and different tiers of government to counter extremist narratives and build social capital and frameworks for crowding out extremist tendencies; the use of strategic communication and appropriate messaging to isolate the terrorists, appeal to hearts and minds of the larger populace, and build a national community of support for counter-terrorism; and economic revitalisation of the North-east zone to address the poverty and hopelessness that make it easy for terrorists to find willing recruits for their evil designs.
When combined with the boots-on-the-ground approach, the soft strategy presents a holistic, nuanced and sustainable approach to wrestling extremism to the ground. The real test, however, is in faithful implementation. Two critical success factors stand out of the presentation by the NSA: the need for a “whole-of-society approach” and the need to make the fight against terrorism “apolitical.” But these will be difficult to achieve if the Metuhs of this world continue to frame an urgent national problem in political and polarising ways. In the ongoing contest between the two competing narratives on Boko Haram in this government, let’s hope the sensible will triumph over the silly
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