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Fear of The Taliban in Nigeria

Taliban Caricature

August 29, (THEWILL) – For many Nigerians at the receiving end of the worsening insecurity, the daring invasion of the country’s foremost military institution, the Nigerian Defence Academy, Afaka, Kaduna, by audacious bandits early Tuesday morning, which led to the death of two officers and abduction of one, barely a few weeks after an alpha jet aircraft belonging to the Nigeria Airforce was shot down in Kaduna through “intense enemy fire from bandits,” the last hope of overcoming the outlaws appear to be fading by the day.

During the attack, Lieutenant-Commodore Wulah and Flight-Lieutenant C.M. Okoronwo were shot dead, while Major Datong was abducted. When the Air force jet was shot down over the killing field that has become Kaduna State, many wondered whether those who fired the shots were actually bandits. Many weeks later, there is no way of knowing as the outcome of the probe set up by the authorities was never made public and no press conference held.

The NDA attack by yet-to-be identified gunmen who, in comparison to the country’s elite corps at the most secure military academy in the country, are inferior, speaks volumes. Worse still, the daredevils are even audacious enough to demand a ransom, first put at N400 million and then reduced to N200 million, though the defence academy has expressed unwillingness to enter any negotiation with the bandits.

Coming at a period when Afghanistan fell to the Talibans, many Nigerians are drawing a parallel with that event in that Central Asian country. Already, a viral video, using the ‘repentant Boko Haram,’ policy of the government to paint a likelihood of a similar takeover in the country, has gone viral.

The similarity of the events hinted at in the video evokes memories of a similar policy by the immediate past President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, who enrolled “repentant Taliban” in the regular army.

Others making similar conclusions are the former Deputy Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Dr Obadiah Mailafia and Luka Binniyat, spokesperson for the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union, SOPAKU, who have been battling the state and the Federal Government over the condemnable bloodbath in the former seat of the Northern Region.

The fall of Afghanistan to the Talibans appears to have ignited a frightening scenario among Nigerians, just like many around the world who are reacting to the events.

For the United States of America, the epicentre of the occurrence, it came with mixed feelings from different segments of its populace despite President Joe Biden’s insistence that his administration did what it needed to do to save American lives, money and pledge. Allies and foes alike either justified the action in support or condemned it as hypocrisy. As an earth-shaking global event, persons from different parts of the world were expected to respond to the Taliban victory, accordingly.

Can it happen here?

“Why not!” Obadiah told THEWILL in a brief interview on Thursday. “The Taliban have reportedly said they are going to spread Sharia to other parts of the third world, especially Africa. The thing with dictators is that they always say in advance what they are going to do. As a student of history, I have learnt not to disbelieve what they say.”

Obadiah, the candidate of African Democratic Congress (ADC) in the 2019 presidential election, added that global dynamics have collapsed the world into a village where things happen fast. “The world has become a global village and ideas, weapons, everything is travelling fast. The Taliban have amassed weapons from the Americans. What

will stop them?” For Binniyat, “Yes, if you watched and listened to reports of how the Afghan forces refused to fight, how the army was infiltrated and compromised despite receiving first-class training from the Americans, you would understand what we have been talking about our country.”

Even a retired Navy Commodore, Kunle Olawunmi, believed so. In an interview with Channels TV programme, Sunrise Daily, last Tuesday, he claimed, among other things, that “terrorists financiers want to turn Nigeria to a Taliban type of country.”

Source of Fear

Apart from the downing of the Airforce fighter jet in Kaduna recently and the recent invasion of the NDA, another clear evidence that tends to sustain the fear of local ‘Taliban’ is the definition of terror through data. For three years running now, 2018, 2019 and 2020, the Global Terrorism Index, states that Nigeria is the third-most dangerous country after Afghanistan and Iraq. Afghanistan has fallen and Iraq is in shambles since the civil war sparked by America’s overthrow of former Head of State, Sadaam Hussein’s regime. According to the GTI, in 2019, Afghanistan was the country most impacted by terrorism.

“In Nigeria, political, economic and social grievances are causing violence and deaths. Several militant groups are active in the country, leading to attacks on both civil and military targets. Boko Haram, an affiliate of the Islamic State, is the deadliest terrorist group. Over the years, GTI noted, the terrorism index which measure the direct and indirect impact of terrorism on a scale of 0 (no impact) to 10 (highest impact), Nigerian is one of the countries that has experienced an increase. As of 2019 the indicator stood at 8.3. That year, a total of 5,725 fatalities were caused by terrorism. The second most fatalities as a result of terrorism were in Nigeria, amounting to 1,245 deaths,” the GTI said.

Tukur Buratai
Former Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen. Tukur Buratai

A further example of the dangerous situation confronting Nigerians was painted by the former Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen. Tukur Buratai, during his appearance before the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs for screening as non- career ambassador-designate. Buratai, now Nigeria’s ambassador to Benin Republic, had disclosed during his screening appearance that Boko Haram may last for the next 20 years.

He said, “Only the military cannot solve this problem. There are socio-economic factors that need to be addressed. There should be basic amenities, but they are missing. “I can count five local government areas in Borno State without a good road. The same thing is in Zamfara, Katsina and the Sokoto States. In other northern states, there are so many ungovernable spaces, because of lack of access roads and other basic amenities.

“This crisis (Boko Haram) may not end in 20 years’ time. We have achieved a lot of success, but we cannot continue to use the same tactics and achieve different results.”

More worrisome is the fact that Boko Haram shares a similar ideology of Islamisation with the Taliban and they are ready to maim, kill, rape and cripple to achieve it.

Alongside hapless Nigerians, now at the mercy of bandits, the military have increasingly come under attacks too, fueling the view that the future is hopeless if bandits with no  formal military training can be so daring in their attacks and thereby expose the weaknesses of the military. Also, they have reportedly captured and occupied many territories in north-eastern and north-central Nigeria and converted them into operational bases, collecting taxes and imposing fines on the citizens.

Since April when the Nigerian Army reportedly buried 12 soldiers killed by bandits in Konshisha Local Government of troubled Benue State through to July when suspected bandits attacked and killed seven soldiers during an ambush

of troops of the Forward Operational Base and Special Operational Command based in Kebbi State, the insecurity in the country has created a huge vacuum in the security architecture of the country.

“As a former journalist, what came to my mind when I heard of the NDA attack was that we are finished as a country; if bandits can penetrate the NDA, nowhere in Nigeria is safe.  I had covered that academy as a journalist. Everywhere you turn there, there are soldiers who ask you all kinds of questions and things are properly coordinated.  For somebody else to think of going into that place, he or she must have something beyond banditry driving him or her,’ said Binniyat, “It shows that anything you can imagine in Nigeria is possible.”

Stressing a point made earlier, Mailafia referred to an article he had written on the subject; “Ashraf Ghani should never have allowed so-called “repentant Taliban” to be enrolled in the regular army; a mistake we are already making with Boko Haram in Nigeria. The so-called “repentant Taliban” benefited not only from better training with the regular army, but also as insiders who under-studied the weakness of the regular army, they were in a better position to defeat it. And now they will inherit the massive arsenals left behind by the fleeing Americans.” said Mailafia, referencing an article he had written of the Taliban when he was reminded that the situation in the Central Asian country was different from the scenario in Nigeria with different ethnic nationalities capable of resisting the other in the event of clear, open threat or danger to their existence.

As a former lecturer in London who taught relatives of some of the Taliban, Mailafia said he knows how characters like the Taliban operate, those who have an agenda, an ideology grows in proportion to every victory achieved in its pursuit coupled with the weak institutions and leadership. For him, Nigeria’s parallel with Afghanistan is eye-opening.

Although Lt Gen Buratai did not expatiate on what he meant by acting with ‘the same tactics and expecting results at the Senate ambassadorial screening, it is certain that one of his initiatives to tackle the lingering insurgency, which bore the mark of a real and clear danger that can compromise the army, like it happened in Afghanistan, is the controversial plan to rehabilitate ‘repentant Boko Haram’ terrorists. Since the government started the programme, prominent Nigerian organisations have criticised it, urging the government to scrap it and allow those that surrendered face trial.

Repentant Boko Haram Terrorists As Taliban?

Worried that Nigerians were drawing what it considered an unreasonable parallel with the ‘repentant Boko Haram insurgents’, policy with the Afghan Talibans, the Director, Army Public Relations, Brig.-Gen. Onyema Nwachukwu, on Tuesday in Abuja reacted to an online video circulated in the social media by one Young Elder and produced by Anthony Jay, which attempts to relate the collapse of the Afghan military to the ongoing surrender by the Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists in Nigeria. He said it was over the top.

Repentant Boko Haram

Nwachukwu said, “While it is understood that the situation in Afghanistan calls for concern by any right thinking person or organisation, the manner in which the comic Young Elder presented it shows his lack of basic knowledge on the subject he hurriedly delved into.

“The amateurish production conjured some unfounded and baseless claims that only exist in the figment of their imagination, claiming that surrendered terrorists were going to be absorbed into the Nigerian army.

“For the avoidance of doubt, the NA does not have any repentant terrorist joining its ranks and does not have any plan for that.

“There are teaming able-bodied Nigerians that are willing to join the NA to genuinely help in the fight against terrorism and other violent crimes,” he said.

The Army spokesperson said the Nigerian Army  was not desperate for prospective recruits to stoop so low to engage the services of former terrorists.

He explained that it was not recommended to absorb former fighters into the services of a regular military as a general rule.

Nonetheless, this policy which operates under the Operation Safe Corridor that was started by the Nigerian Defence Council in 2015 and launched in 2016, is still giving Nigerians cause for concern.

The Federal Government uses the plan to equip repentant terrorists with relevant skills, as well as de-radicalise them,

with the aim of eventually returning them to the society as transformed and law-abiding citizens. Nigerians have watched and criticised viral videos of many beneficiaries, dressed up in khaki shorts and sleeves, wining and dining in manners that would make over 900 Internally Displaced Persons, IDS, the surviving victims of their dare-devilry in various make-shift camps in Borno State, green with envy.

Yet, a few weeks ago, Operation Hadin Kai in the northern part of the country got new entrants after it witnessed the surrender of 1,081 Boko Haram members to the Nigerian Army. Among them were some top commanders within the

terrorist organisation, as well as women and children. It was reported that they would undergo a process of rehabilitation, after which they would be subsequently reintroduced into the society. Governor Babagan Zulum and the traditional ruler in the state, Shehu of Borno and Senator Ali Udume, warned against re-introducing the ‘repentant’ terrorists into the immediate society as the move would further increase the pains and wounds of many victims and possibly unleash another round of killings.

Reacting, Brig -Gen. Nwachukwu, the army spokesperson, said the repentant terrorists, especially the bomb experts, would be handed over to the appropriate government agency. He then mentioned Operation Safe Corridor (OSC), saying that it is an organisation run by the government and not the army.

Incensed by this development last Tuesday, the National Chairman of the Arewa Consultative Forum and former Minister for Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, said that repentant Boko Haram members should be prosecuted for crimes committed against fellow Nigerians, if Sunday Igboho, Yoruba self-determination activist or Eastern Security Network members can be prosecuted.

Ogbeh stated this in a statement he signed and released through the National Publicity Secretary of the ACF, Emmanuel Yawe, in Kaduna on Tuesday.

Speaking on a piece entitled, ‘On repentant Boko Haram Terrorists and the Principle of Equity and Justice,’ Ogbeh said, “We are currently witnessing a large-scale surrender of

Boko Haram insurgents, among whom are bomb makers, commanders, arsonists, rapists, and child snatchers.

“Do we have a good reason to cheer and hope for an end to this decade-old insanity? Is ‘I am sorry’ enough to bring relief to Nigerians and the thousands of dead and maimed? What of those victims bombed in churches, mosques, schools and markets? What of all the men and women in uniform murdered by them?

“Who can count the thousands of widows and orphans they have created? And what is the difference between them and the Igbohos or ESN of Nigeria? None. So what do we do with them? Should we just embrace them and trust them wholesale? Are their moves informed by altruistic repentance? We seriously doubt it.

“We join the Governor of Borno, the Shehu of Borno, Senator Ndume and millions of Nigerians in pondering over this development and our simple advice is: Bring them to trial or free all others currently in custody anywhere, while we Nigerians plead guilty of naivety and gullibility in the extreme, punishable by more insurrection and anarchy.”

Way Forward

Mailafia has said it is up to Nigerians who are on the receiving end of the worsening insecurity to put up resistance, saying, “They (bandits, terrorists and the Taliban) will not succeed if we resist their imposition. The world has become a global village and ideas, weapons and everything is travelling very fast.”  Pressed further, he said many Nigerian leaders are “unbearably deaf and undependable.

They are unteachable.”

For SOKAPU spokesperson, Binniyat, there are three points his organisation has recommended as an immediate answer to the festering crisis. “First, there are thousands of agile, young Nigerian boys and girls ready to volunteer into vigilante groups in their localities to confront the outlaws, all they need is minimum training in arms handling. In this situation, number matters, no matter the sophistication of arms.

President Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

“Secondly, President Muhammadu Buhari has to reassure us that his administration has no agenda against our safety and sense of belonging by respecting the diversity of Nigeria in his appointments, policy implementation and formulation.

Thirdly, the country’s armed forces should be properly equipped and cared for. Many are highly demoralised, that I know for a fact.”

Explaining further on his Chairman’s position, spokesperson of ACF, Emmanuel Yawe told THEWILL that the government needs the political will to tackle the crises tearing the country apart.

“Some of the people causing these problems are known to the government. Why treat them as sacred cows?  Some time ago, presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, told us the

government had a list of these people. Why not prosecute them like Sunday Igboho and Nnamdi Kanu? What about those now called repentant Boko Haram? How can you welcome them back with a pat on the back? They should be

taken to court and prosecuted. Government also has to be firm in intelligence gathering. The bandits usually come in hundreds on motorcycles, carry people and vanish into thin air. Why can’t security personnel mobilise and stop them?

These things are avoidable.”

A former Minister of State for Defence, Prince Adetokunbo Kayode, Friday described Tuesday’s attack at the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, by bandits as a joke taken too far. He urged the government to seek international help.

Speaking in Akure, Ondo State, he said that although the attack at the NDA was very unfortunate and embarrassing, “Security challenges are not peculiar to Nigeria and Africa;

they are all over the world but this (the attack at the NDA) is going too far. Government must rethink its strategy about how to tackle this as it has gone too far and I believe that something has to be done because the NDA is a very sacred place for us.

“The international community must rally round Nigeria to give us support and although we cannot do it alone, we must do our best.”

The Chief of Defence Staff, Lt Gen Lucky Irabor, has set up a committee to probe the NDA incident. Nigerians are waiting to hear how the nation’s foremost military academy was violated.