I can hear the commentators already typing away furiously at their keyboards ready to launch a barrage of criticism against me, a bloody civilian, for daring to lecture security personnel on how to deal with the ongoing insurgency in Borno and Yobe states. Pardon me, I mean no harm or disrespect. I'm just trying to give a few tips in addition to the vast wealth of experience the security personnel already posses. Granted, I'm no expert. These are just, well, let's call them common sense tips which I feel will go a long way if adopted.
It is no longer news that in the current war against Boko Haram, certain factors have impeded any major successes that could've been recorded by security personnel. From arms and ammunition shortage, tactical mistakes, miscommunication, lack of coordination amongst the various security agencies, the list is endless. Human rights violations rank top amongst these factors, with wide allegations of extrajudicial killings by the security forces which have been denied and have remained un-investigated. The Amnesty International report of 31st March, 2014 clearly documents these violations. Click here to view the report: http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/nigeria-war-crimes-and-crimes-against-humanity-violence-escalates-north-east-2014-03-31
In a bid to clamp down on the insurgency, the security forces have unleashed a wave of brutality which innocent civilians have mostly borne the brunt of. Until the recent increase in violent attacks by Boko Haram, it had previously been reported that the reprisals on the part of the security forces far outweigh the attacks of the Boko Haram sect in intensity. Aside from the extrajudicial killings there have been indiscriminate arrest and detention of civilians without probable cause and access to lawyers, degrading and inhumane treatment of civilians as well as wanton destruction of property under the guise of conducting searches.
It is understandably difficult to tackle an insurgency where the enemy is not clearly defined and has managed to hide within the local population. However, there are certain tips which can aid in such an endeavour.
1. NOT ALL CIVILIANS ARE THE ENEMY: As stated above, tackling an insurgency where the enemy is not clearly defined is a difficult task even in advanced countries. At the onset of the insurgency when the sect members were enmeshed within the local population and were thus difficult to single out, the security forces regarded everyone as an enemy. This caused a lot of hardship for innocent civilians as they became victims on two fronts. First they are attacked by the sect members and then they are subjected to harsh treatment and suspicion by the security forces. This attitude on the part of the security forces caused civilians with credible, helpful information to withhold such information for fear of harassment and victimisation.
2. CREATE A CORDIAL RELATIONSHIP WITH THE LOCAL POPULATION: Information sharing is a major factor in containing and eradicating an insurgency. Members of the locality under surveillance by security forces are the best source of information regarding any suspicious activities or individuals. The best way of getting such information is by earning the trust of the civilians. This can be done by creating a cordial and friendly relationship with the local population in the area. When security forces are deployed to the area and they go in with a gung-ho, no smiling, you look at me and I bash your face in attitude, that advantage of gaining the trust of the local population is already lost along with any useful information.
3. ETHNIC, RELIGIOUS, GENDER OR ANY OTHER TYPE OF PROFILING DOES NOT WORK: Just ask America about this. America will know. Seriously though, profiling based on ethnicity, gender, race or religion does not work. The Americans learned this the hard way with the September 11 hijackers who did not fit the profile of the bearded and turban wearing terrorists of Middle Eastern origin.
For those who may have doubts that our security forces actually conduct searches based on profiling, I'm a living example/witness. Many times I've been pulled over at a checkpoint because I was wearing a kaftan, a cap and had not shaved my beard. At other times I've been waved through a checkpoint without being searched while dressed in jeans and a shirt with music playing from the car radio. In fact, on one occasion when I was dressed in the hip and trendy fashion of nowadays, soldiers at a checkpoint said to me: "You be correct guy. Carry go. No need to search you". That singular act fills me with fear when I think of how many "correct guys" could have slipped through the cracks with dangerous weapons in tow. The problem with profiling is there isn't a specific description for a terrorist. From a young baby faced 17 year old to the gentle old man everyone in the neighbourhood holds in high esteem, anyone can be a terrorist.
Perhaps as part of the quest for gender equality some women have also assumed the role of terrorists. Take Samantha Lethwaite aka The White Widow for example. She is accused of masterminding the September 21st 2013 Westgate Mall attack in Kenya. My point is anyone can be a terrorist no matter the age, disposition, gender or looks. If you're manning a checkpoint, search everyone. Profiling does not work.
4. ACCEPTING TIPS AND DRINKS FROM CIVILIANS AT CHECKPOINTS CAN BE DANGEROUS: Let's face it. This happens, we all know it. As a soldier when you're manning a checkpoint you have to be at alert at all times and resist the temptation to accept tips and drinks from motorists. You don't have to be told about the inherent dangers of flouting this rule, especially when you consider the fact that the enemy is unknown and can blend in with other civilians. It wouldn't be difficult to be handed a poisoned bottle of water or drink under the guise of generosity.
5. DO NOT SUBJECT CIVILIANS TO DEGRADING AND INHUMANE TREATMENT. THIS IS 2014 FOR GOD'S SAKE: If I had =N=10 for every time I saw soldiers at checkpoints subjecting civilians to degrading and inhumane treatment over the flimsiest offences, I'd be worth millions. I've seen it all and I'm sure most of you have as well. From frog jump to sitting in a gutter to rolling in a muddy puddle, there's no limit to the indignities civilians are subjected to. Come on! This is 2014! I expected this attitude to have been jettisoned along with other relics of military rule when we adopted democracy.
Section 34 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) provides thus:
(1) "Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person, and accordingly-
(a) no person shall be subject to to torture or to inhuman and degrading treatment."
As far as I know, the army does not generate revenue. It is the taxes which civilians pay that goes into funding the army and paying salaries, so next time you get the urge to humiliate a civilian you may want to remember that his taxes sustain you.
I do not usually like making comparisons between situations in Nigeria with other countries because our issues are on a totally different level. However, I guess in this case such a comparison is pertinent. It is not uncommon in the United States to hear generals in the army use "Sir" and "Ma'am" when referring to civilians. This is because they realise that wearing the military uniform is not a right to do as you please but a privilege to serve your country, and the civilians are the ones who sustain you with the taxes they pay, as such they deserve respect.
The inhumane treatment some civilians have been subjected to in the hands of security personnel have in the least led to the loss of valuable information and at worst, it has driven disgruntled individuals into showing support for and even joining the insurgents. Fighting an insurgency is a collaborative effort between security personnel and civilians. When you subject civilians to inhumane treatment, then you're likely to have enemies on various fronts.
6. INDISCRIMINATE ARREST AND DETENTION IS UNLAWFUL: This particular issue has been a major thorn in the flesh of civil liberties organisations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. In clear violation of Section 35 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and the African Charter on Human Rights, hundreds of individuals have been rounded up and detained indefinitely in various military facilities across the North Eastern part of the country without probable cause, access to lawyers and no formal charges being brought against them. Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri has been rumoured to be one of such facilities where hundreds of individuals are detained. This action on the part of the security personnel has further alienated the local population into keeping mute about any suspicious activities as there is the fear that volunteering information could lead to arrest and detention as an accomplice.
When you arrest and detain, carry out a thorough investigation to ascertain if the detained individual has any links to the terror group. If he does not it is advisable you release him. Detaining citizens indefinitely is an affront to a person's fundamental rights.
7. COOPERATION AND SYNERGY BETWEEN VARIOUS SECURITY AGENCIES: Having various security agencies working towards a common goal is ordinarily a good thing as diverse experiences and skills are brought into play and a lot of ground is covered in tackling an insurgency. However, in Nigeria this fact hasn't always held true as various security agencies view the fight against insurgency as a competition where they must outdo and outwit each other in the quest for commendation and glory. Securing lives and property is not and should never be seen as a competition. Rather all security agencies should work in unison, share information and cooperate with one another.
8. EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLINGS ARE A BIG NO NO. YOU ARE NOT A JUDGE, JURY OR EXECUTIONER: Sadly, despite local and international outcry this issue continues unabated, with denials coming from spokespersons even in the face of multiple corroborated testimonies. Killing unarmed civilians for no justifiable reason is the greatest crime any security personnel can commit, because by virtue of their position in the society, they are held to a higher standard. Families have been torn apart as a result of their loved ones being murdered by the security personnel who had a duty to protect them. This has been a greater factor in driving individuals into joining the insurgents. I mean, if a loved one has been murdered by a trigger happy security personnel, what better way to seek revenge than join a group of insurgents where you can have access to weapons to take your revenge with?
In what could be seen as a bid to provide a defence for trigger happy security personnel, especially policemen, a word has been used with increasing frequency in Nigeria than anywhere else; accidental discharge. This I find highly offensive and criminal as there has never been a case of accidental discharge where a bullet hit an object or was fired into the air. The bullet always accidentally manages to lodge itself in the body of an unarmed civilian.
9. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU LIE OR MISLEAD THE PUBLIC: This has a lot of negative ramifications for the security agencies. We can all remember the outrage that met the statement issued by the military to the effect that they had rescued a majority of the girls a day after the Chibok abductions. Misleading the public is a quick way of making the public lose confidence in any expertise you may have to deal with the insurgency.
10. CHECK AND DOUBLE CHECK YOUR INTELLIGENCE INFORMATION/REPORT BEFORE YOU ACT: The importance of this rule cannot be overemphasised. On Friday, September 20th 2013 security forces acting on "credible intelligence" that an uncompleted building in the Apo district of Abuja was being used as a hideout for insurgents, stormed the building and 7 squatters were killed in the process. No weapons were discovered after the raid prompting speculation that the intelligence used as justification for the attack was inaccurate or made up.
It is very crucial to scrutinise and fact check every detail of the intelligence report before acting as any slight mistake can have insurmountable repercussions.
11. INVEST IN STATE OF THE ART EQUIPMENT/WEAPON: We've all heard the talk about security personnel being under-equipped and short of ammunition. When dealing with insurgents who use state of the art weaponry, it is highly advisable to invest in and use state of the art weaponry in tackling them. Using anything less would be kind of like, as the old saying goes, bringing a knife to a gunfight.
As the insurgency rages on, a lot of changes need to be made to contain it. I'm not saying adopting all these rules will end it at once but a change in tactics is no doubt needed.