Every country has a challenging issue or some forms of crisis and tribulations, which could be natural or manmade. But asymmetric crisis, and challenges between and among nations are not necessarily homogenous, neither are they rigidly indeterministic or even existential.
The nature, causes and degree of national crisis varies from place to place, sometimes dramatically. National challenge (s) could be short-lived, peripatetic or protracted. But with the required will, capacity and ability, no crisis is unending and none cannot be overcome, or – conquered.
Nigeria’s security crisis and challenges can be traced to its geographical, political and economic circumstances. The very nature of the country’s economic, political and structural relations breads fractious inequality, marginalisation, and immiseration to the bulk of Nigerians, – though not the causes, but are the most basic motivations for terrorism. In critical terrorism studies, scholars (mostly from the realist and consequentialist persuasions) discusses that once a government deprives, or fails to provide or cannot deliver the basics of life such as security, education, employment and health services to her citizens, the citizens out of the critical condition could resort to extra means to the extent of challenging the states’ legitimacy and its exclusive monopoly of the instruments of violence. Thus, the social contract that holds citizens and the central structure is challenged and forfeited. Hence sectional, religious and political differences widen, citizens then transfer their loyalties to local warlords, communal and native religious leaders and the possible rise or acceleration of terrorist groups becomes obvious (Robert, 2002; Badmos, 2009).
Recourse to bear arms in the form of insurgency or terrorism is therefore a result of the deepening economic, political and social malaise in a given society, more especially when states are in the words of an American Professor of Political Science/interstate conflicts Robert Irwin Rotberg, – “incapable of projecting power and asserting authority within their own borders, leaving their territories – governmentally empty”(Robert, 2002; Badmos, 2009). Therefore, it behoves on leaders to focus on this aspect when formulating and executing a national counter terrorism strategy and when addressing other forms of violence and conflicts in Nigeria.
The geography of colonial boundaries in Nigeria, – the vastness and porosity of the country’s borders is a serious threat to security and the counter terrorism operations. Nigerian borders are massive, lengthy and porous with high volume of both legal and criminal border crossings and the control mechanism appears weak or ineffective due to poor remuneration, training and endemic corruption on the part of the security personnel assigned to control the borders. Louise (2006), contends that border areas particularly where terrorists and other dissidents have established bases, – the state has lost control of those areas.
Thus, the ungoverned or ill governed nature of the north east borders and other territories where Boko Haram terrorists (BHTs) have established “caliphates” and the then, but now re-emerging Niger Delta crisis with their hitherto impregnable enclaves, make border control in those areas difficult or impossible to maintain. Consequently, illicit movements of arms, raw materials for bombs, forbidden drugs, and mercenaries as well as proliferation of smuggled goods become the norm, with the potential to further exacerbates crisis and insecurity in the regions.
A peculiar character of the BHT lies in the ‘ingenious’ choice and effective use of the north east border areas, – as ‘terrorists’ familiar terrain’, where state presence and border control/legislation have never been harmonised and/ or effectively asserted! Hence, terrorists, bandits, traffickers of all sorts and other criminals capitalise on this egregious hiatus to operate networks across the region, shifting their operations on the basis of possibility and calculated risks. Accordingly, the failure to coordinate law enforcement and intelligence, – results to failure of intelligence, and intelligence gap to operational security agencies usually permits terrorists to plan multi-faceted operations without detection – and this might explains part of the reasons for the resurgence of terrorists’ bombings in Maiduguri, Yobe and other areas.
With hundreds of footpaths criss- crossing to neighbouring countries of Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, that link to Libya, Mali and Sudan – is illustrative to the complex issues involved in the effective management and control of Nigeria’s borders and the successful and speedy fight against terrorism. As at 2013, conservative estimate by locals indicated that there were well over 250 illegal routes – mostly footpaths from Damaturu/ Maiduguri axis alone, that link or lead direct to Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Cotonou, Ghana, Niger, Sudan and /or Mali. These paths are mostly unknown by security agencies, are unmanned, unprotected and therefore serve as leaky routes for arms and ammunition movements, illicit drugs, car smuggling as well as human trafficking in and out of Nigeria – serving as avenues for cash transfers to finance terrorism and perpetuate money laundering. Consequently, the government loses effective control of the borders and the economics, and the borders/economics increasingly becomes a rogue force working against the nation (Loretta, 2008; Sagir, 2013).
Just as we have near laissez faire regime of arms and ammunition flow and recyclement – particularly in the conflict zones of West Africa (Nigeria inclusive), so also are some of the fighters being recycled. Thus, the problematics of terrorism, – the easy availability of arms and their circulation within and across borders not only in Nigeria but in the entire sub – region facilitates the emergence and the use of ‘new’ but ferocious armed groups, untrained or semi trained militias, fighters and unaccountable mercenaries whose loyalty is commercialise and easily purchase by repressive states and non- state actors like the BHTs. The ‘booty’ from kidnappings, robberies and extortions are serious allurements to the ‘recycled fighters’. Some of these ‘commercial militias’, ‘private army of thugs’, ‘roving group of fighters’ or ‘parallel armies’ (as they are referred to in Cote d ‘Ivoire) in sync with the terrorists routinely commit heinous abuses – ransacked communities, raped, traumatised and terrorised civilians. These itinerant commercial fighters hire out their services including arms in conflict after conflict (Lisa 2004; Louise, 2006; Badmos, 2009).
Since the defunct JTF Operation Restore Order 1, intelligence report has routinely indicated the presence of foreign mercenaries fighting on the side of BHTs in Nigeria. The recurrent killings in battle, and arrest of foreigners by Nigerian troops corroborated not only their presence but also the combat support the terrorists are getting from the ‘parallel forces’ coming mostly from the trouble zones of West Africa and the continent in general.
Some of these recycled mercenaries fought on the side of the rebels and insurgents with disastrous consequences in Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone and Cote d’ Ivoire. Evidence of Angolan mercenaries and mercenary pilots from former Soviet countries have been used in conflict in Cote d ‘ Ivoire, Liberia and other conflicts in West Africa (Human Rights Watch Report, 2002, 2003). Reports of air landings in Sambisa and Marte areas of Borno State were severally allegedly made to insert fighters and deliver supplies to the terrorists. Again, Associated Press latest report indicates that in one of the raids conducted by the Chadian Police Force in Ndjamena, against suspected BH cell, sixty people were arrested including Malians, Nigerians, Cameroonians and Chadians (AFP, 20/6/2015; Guardian Nig, 30/6/2015). Likewise, most of the Malian rebels were mercenaries in Libya under Gaddafi who returned to Mali after the collapse of the regime. There were reports of some BHTS on training or fighting on the side of the Malian and the Islamic State insurgents. The use of ‘dogs of war’ and swinging of fighters (‘jihadists’) have been a rumbling feature of terrorist groups not only within Africa but across the globe.
There is nowhere the problem of foreign mercenaries or ‘soldier of fortune’ has affected the fight against terrorism like Nigeria. The haemorrhaging of weapons and the influx of the ‘roving group of fighters’ on the side of the terrorists through the help of our dangerously porous borders really alters the nature, frequency and intensity as well as the duration and outcome of the conflict and the counter operations. And could have the potential to influence Nigeria’s diplomatic relations with her neighbours, the entire Africa and the international community.
As long as Nigeria’s land and maritime borders are riskily unsecured, there is the high possibility that the menace of mercenaries, arms proliferation and terrorism will continue to pose serious security challenges to Nigeria, the West African sub-region and the continent in general. For that reasons, the tightening of Nigeria’s border posts, elimination of the mercenaries, stopping arms flow and removal of the ones already in circulation from illegal hands are holistically critical to the success of counter terrorism operations not only in Nigeria, but also in Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin, without which the desire for peace, stability and development would be difficult to achieve.