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Rethinking Strategy on Boko Haram

In the past four years, Nigeria has been under siege from the Boko Haram, a rag tag group of fundamentalists with a mission to convert the country to an Islamic theocracy. Before now, there was the tendency to dismiss the threat as nothing but a manageable irritation.
But as the Boko Haram insurgency assumed a more alarming dimension, the authorities became panicky on how to deal with the problem. No one watching the Federal Government’s efforts to crush the rebellion would agree that its method so far is satisfactory.
For long, these religious zealots have not just been dictating the pace of the conflict, their tactics have for most part caught the authorities flat-footed. While the insurgents have been destroying and pillaging entire communities, they have also gone ahead to kidnap students and forcibly convert their hostages to Islam. Unfortunately, the military has not been able to effectively check the spate of violence perpetrated by Boko Haram despite the state of emergency declared in the northeastern region of the country since May 2013. There is no palpable effect on the insurgent group nor has the effort to restore normalcy in the region borne fruit.
In fact, its writ in the region is being gradually established. They have not only captured vast swathes of territory but have been able to establish their own form of administration no matter how crude. It is hard not to miss the analogy of the phrase “barbarians at the gate” for this group of religious misogynists.
Even when reliable statistics are hard to come by, there is no denying the fact that more than 13,000 Nigerians have so far been killed, with hundreds of thousands more rendered homeless. Pitifully, those charged with ending this mayhem have turned the entire episode into a propaganda exercise, claiming wild victories, while the reality of a long and protracted warfare stares the country in the face. In spite of all efforts, Boko Haram appears to be sending the message that they are unwilling to stop all violent activities unless they achieve their overriding objectives, one of which is to impose Sharia law on the country.
That is why we advocate that the government change its present strategy if ever it stands any chance of prevailing over these determined zealots. Such strategy should involve the carrot and stick approach, whereby the insurgents are allowed the opportunity to give up their arms and jihad for political amnesty and rehabilitation. But that should not abnegate the government’s responsibility to fight to keep the nation’s territorial integrity if need be.



*this was published in the Daily Times dated Tuesday, December 23, 2014

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