Uzokwe's Searchlight

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Alfred Obiora Uzokwe, P.E



veryone knows it now; the news is all over the globe. The terror group that has plagued Nigeria, seemingly unchallenged for a couple of years now, wreaking untold havoc on the populace, has finally walked a step too far. Their dastardly act of abducting more than 200 innocent girls from their school in Chibok, Borno state, has caught the attention of the world. Nations that have found this unconscionable like USA, Britain, France, Israel and others, are now stepping in to help arrest what could become the new normal in the world if allowed to stand.

The United States is careful not to promise placing boots on the ground in search of the missing girls but would assist Nigeria with intelligence gathering, reconnaissance, training of Nigeria’s security personnel and general support. All these are support measures that will, in the interim, help unearth the location of the abducted girls and eventual rescue. The video that surfaced a few days ago, showing the abducted girls reciting the Koran, as well as the purported statement by Boko Haram leader that he is willing to release the girls in exchange for the release of his comrades in crime, signifies to me that the heat is on. The international community has made a bold statement that Shekau and his ilk will not be allowed to be running roughshod over Nigeria.

United States emphasizes the fact that when they offered assistance to Nigeria in the past, on matters of this sort, it was rejected. Many have wondered what basis Nigeria had for rejecting the offers but it may be that Nigeria was trying to assert her sovereignty or make a statement that they can handle their internal affairs. One can conjecture that had the assistance been accepted earlier and had the sect been declared a terror group earlier, may be some of the lives lost since the group embarked on this macabre dance would have been saved. But this is not the time to apportion blame but to take stock of what happened in the past and avoid a repeat in the future.

After my last article about Jonathan’s dimming political prospects because of insecurity was published, a few readers expressed the opinion that it was unreasonable to ask why Jonathan was not acting fast to tame the beast of Boko Haram. They insisted that he has a plan that he keeps under wraps for obvious reasons. The problem with this line of argument is that the insurgency did not start today. It has been in place for years now and the abduction of the girls is not Boko haram’s first foray into this sadistic display of heartlessness. If Jonathan had a viable plan, Nigerians are yet to see it and it is yet to work because these guys are still out there terrorizing the nation and seem to have become emboldened with each day. Clearly, acceptance of foreign assistance at this time, by the government, albeit to provide intelligence gathering and training, shows that even Jonathan now agrees that he needs help.

In 2001, I wrote an article about Nigeria captioned, “I want Nigeria back”. It was my very first article published on Nigeriaworld. In it, I lamented the many ills bedeviling the nation and wondered when all the ills would be tamed so that Nigeria would return to some semblance of normalcy. One of the maladies I pointed to was that of armed robbery, which at the time had started on an uphill climb. I saw armed robbery as a security threat then but little did I know that the nation was headed into more sinister times in terms of security. In succession, the security challenges continued to rise, fester and even become more intractable.

In tertiary schools of learning, cultism began to incubate and take a life of its own often with gory consequences. Young men and women, sent to go and acquire education, suddenly started banding together in groups or cults and had no qualms with killing members of rival cults. Many parents reacted by sending their wards to schools in neighboring African countries because they did not want their wards to become casualties in inter and intra cult turf wars. There were even instances where professors, for fear of intimidation and harm by cultists, doled out unmerited grades to students that threatened them. All these combined to plunge an already plummeting standard of education in the country to its lowest level, a malady that the nation is still suffering from up till this day.

As if cultism was not bad enough, and as though the security of lives and property had not been threatened enough, slowly, the issue of kidnapping for ransom began to rear its ugly head and take hold. It soon became a means of livelihood for some young men and women. The nation could no longer guarantee the security of citizens and fear, which bestrode the nation like a colossus, became palpable. If you wished to visit Nigeria, from the Diaspora, you will either be discouraged by relatives or some security arrangements would be made for you to be guarded by security, something that took away the joy of visits to the fatherland. The well-to-do ones in the country resorted to travelling in convoys guarded by armed police. It was not uncommon to see up to 10 policemen guarding just one person depending on their status, leaving one wondering how many policemen were still left in the barracks to protect the rest of the citizenry. In tandem with kidnapping, armed robbery and cultism, Boko Haram menace was injected into the mix and the nation became an undeclared war zone.

Since 2009, Boko Haram has committed a series of abominable crimes against the nation. The government of the day has equally tried to solve the problems by deploying more and more security personnel in the affected areas, declaring states of emergency and reassigning security personnel. It is clear from the results we have so far, that these measures did nothing to deter the sect, instead, they became even more brazen and daring. Most people now believe that the answer did not lie solely on the enumerated measures which one can sum up as being reactive. What we need to add to the measures is a good dose of proactivity. Proactivity would mean gathering and analyzing intelligence, using obtained intelligence information to disrupt cells before they have the chance to unleash their plans. Intelligence would tell when a sinister plan is being hatched and be removed before hatching.

The importance of learning how to gather intelligence, know what intelligence to gather, learn how to work with the locals in an area to gain their trust and in turn use them to infiltrate cells, cannot be overemphasized. It is a common discussion in Nigeria that when an armed robbery exercise is taking place anywhere, one would not see the police but just as soon as the operation is concluded with attendant catastrophe, the police shows up and starts asking, “wey them?, wey them?”. This is not to trivialize the work the police does and one needs to recognize that many of them have died in the line of duty, but if the security apparatus is trained to know how to gather intelligence, decode the intelligence and work with locals to stay one step ahead of criminals and terrorists, it will help. Often, when armed robbers are captured, we read that they said that on the day of their operation, they spent time in drinking bars, restaurant and hotels priming themselves for their sordid operations. When I read that, I often wonder why other people in the same bars, restaurants or hotels did not suspect or hear anything that could be reportable to the police so they can take proactive steps. We also read that some of these robbers go to native doctors to get charms and amulets for protection. These are leads that if properly exploited and harnessed by way of intelligence gathering, Nigeria would be better for it. There is still a dispute as to who is telling the truth about what happened the day the more than 200 girls were abducted. Some say that security agencies were notified more than 4 hours before the attack. If this is so, the question becomes what they did with that information. Intelligence gathering and reconnaissance could help them stay one step ahead of the criminals. But the government also has to equip security personnel and train them on the use of sophisticated security gadgets that advanced nations now use

United States and other nations have entered Nigeria to help locate the girls by helping to gather and analyze intelligence. Nigerian security should use this as a huge opportunity to learn and become conversant with the various intelligence gathering means and methods, how to use information gathered, as well as learn all the new tools that are available for effective intelligence gathering. The government must spare no expense in procuring whatever Nigeria needs to be able to not only fight the security threat of Boko Haram and preemptively stop their attacks, it must also extend that to tame the beasts of kidnapping for ransom, armed robbery, cultism and the likes. It must be a concerted operation aimed at once again putting Nigeria on the mend with respect to peace, security and stability. It is a war that must be fought and won by the nation. It is war that is worth expending Nigeria’s considerable oil money on in a very intelligent way.

The time to put to a stop to the cold-hearted killings that have been going on in the country for some time now, has come. It is a pity that it took the abduction of more than 200 girls for the awareness to get to the front burner but providence and serendipity have a way of converging for eventual good. In this case, they have and Nigeria must seize this opportunity and get it right. There is always a turning point for anything in life. If the young girls are rescued because of good intelligence, this period will go down in history as the period when Nigeria experienced a turning point in terms of security. Boko haram has shocked the collective conscience of the world and must now face what is coming to them.