The Commander of the United States Special Operations Command for Africa, Maj.-Gen. Dagvin Anderson, recently rattled Nigerians when he revealed that Al Qaeda, the dreaded terrorist organisation, had joined other terrorist groups in the battle for the soul of Nigeria. Anderson, who dropped the bombshell during a virtual media briefing, said Al Qaeda has not only joined forces with Boko Haram (BH) and Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) in their bloody campaigns in the North- East and North-West regions of Nigeria, but were already making incursions into the North-Central and advancing down to the littoral states of Southern Nigeria. Anderson, who addressed the media from Stuttgart, Germany, gave an update on U.S.
partnerships with African nations to reduce extremism, combat terrorist organizations, and bring about peace and prosperity throughout Africa. He said that the US Command for Africa had over the years shared with Nigeria, vital intelligence on the activities of Violent Extremists Organisations (VEOs) which has been quite critical to the long drawn battle with the Boko Haram terrorists in the North-East and the emerging alliance of Al Qaeda and the bandits in the North-West of the country.
The revelation is coming at a time when many citizens have lost confidence in the capacity of the government and its security agencies to guarantee the security of lives and property across the country. Not a few Nigerians were jolted by this information because they cannot but remember Osama bin Laden and his men who masterminded the horrendous 9/11 bombing of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York, United States. However, we are somewhat uncomfortable with the reaction of our security forces to such a vital intelligence.
In their usual manner, the Nigeria Armed Forces has downplayed the emerging security threat by branding it as an old issue, probably repackaged for effects. Coordinator, Defence Media Operations, John Enenche, a major general said the alarm raised by the United States on plot by the Islamic State (IS) and Al-Qaeda terrorist groups to take over parts of Nigeria was not new to the military, as it got the same warning 10 years ago. Enenche said the U.S. only succeeded in stating the obvious. He, however, assured Nigerians that the security agencies were on top of the situation.
If our past experiences are anything to go by, that dismissive reaction might just be all we will get until Al Qaeda hits us a deadly blow below the belt. Nigerians have been groaning over the deteriorating level of insecurity for a long time and deserve a better response from our military and other security agencies when a group as infamous as Al Qaeda is being introduced into our cocktail of horror. Since Boko Haram announced its presence in 2009 and terrorists detonated their first bombs about a year later, Nigeria has not known peace and the promise of security has remained as elusive as a mirage.
This is largely due to the mishandling of the Boko Haram sect from the onset. The chameleonic character of this home grown terrorist group, created a lot of confusion among Nigerians because while some persons saw it as radical Islam mutating into a terrorist organisation, a section of the populace preferred to see it a band of jobless, hungry and angry youths who needed to be appeased with poverty alleviation packages. Under that scenario, it was difficult for successive governments to build a national consensus against the terrorist organisation.
Right under the nose of our government and its security agencies, Boko Haram waxed so strong that it earned an affiliation with an even more deadly group, the Islamic State in Syria (ISIS), from where a hybrid terror organisation, ISWAP was born. We think that the intelligence shared by the U.S. should not be treated with levity because Nigeria is already in a mess security wise. As at May 29, 2015 when President Muhammadu Buhari took the mantle of leadership, our gallant troops had given Boko Haram a hot pursuit and these terrorists had been effectively isolated and restricted to the Sambisa Forest. It is sad that five years down the line, these terrorists have not just revived their insurgency agenda in the North-East, they have extended their campaigns to the North-West, where they are now branded as “armed bandits” but bearing the trademarks of Boko Haram. Our government cannot continue to sleep while the lives and property of its citizens are constantly at the mercy of terrorists.
As the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, President Buhari must be told in plain language that his roof is on fire. The birth of ISWAP and the arrival of Al Qaeda on our shores are no good omens. There is no better time than now for the President to heed the call by Nigerians for a total overhaul of our security architecture and the headship of our security and intelligence services. If Nigeria must escape the looming danger, our government must shun lethargy, politics, empty boasts and primordial sentiments in the fight against terrorism. As Anderson rightly pointed out in his briefing, “no nation can come in and fix that problem for Nigeria.”
It would really take the Nigerian government to lead that effort and to build the needed energy to confront the monster of terrorism. As good friends in the international community, the U.S., United Kingdom and many other countries may partner with Nigeria in the fight, but ultimately it would take leadership from Nigeria for these partners to even understand where Nigeria wants to focus on for the partnership to have the best impact.