Let me start by doing a quick comparison between conventional warfare and unconventional warfare. While conventional warfare is the use of conventional, traditional means to wage war, unconventional warfare on the other hand, uses unconventional weapons, targets the civilian population as well as the armed forces and specializes in unconventional tactics. The United States Department of Defense defines unconventional warfare as activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt, or overthrow a government or occupying power by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary and guerrilla force in a denied area.
In January 1962, Franklin A. Lindsay writing for the Foreign Affairs started by noting, I quote:
Unconventional war is the war that is being fought today in Laos and South Viet Nam; it is the war that the French fought in Indochina and are now fighting in Algeria. It is a form of warfare the Communists have learned to employ with great effectiveness, and one which they will continue to exploit to the maximum in furthering their long-range objectives (Lindsay, 1962, p. 264).
Apparently, Lindsay was writing for his time. Today not only communists employ the tactics of unconventional war. It has become a strategy for many small groups with the goal of actualising their political, economic, religious or social goals through asymmetric battles with a standing military. Undoubtedly, terrorism or better still insurgency is a form of non-conventional warfare in that it is an unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of their aims. Terrorist or insurgency groups use violent tactics and propaganda to actualise their goals. This necessarily entails several attacks on soft targets like schools, religious organisations, news media, etc. Terrorist groups also attack hard targets such as military installations.
The concept of terrorism itself does not have a single definition and we have heard on many occasions that ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.’ That may be true, and indeed it is true if we remember that the African National Congress (ANC) was once considered as a terrorist group in South Africa. Nonetheless, for my lecture, I will adopt the definition by the Global Terrorism Index (GTI). The GTI defines it as ‘the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation’ (Institute for Economics & Peace, 2019, p. 6). It aims ‘to gain a political objective through intimidation or fear of a targeted audience’ (Sandler 2003, p. 780). In Nigeria, the Boko Haram is unarguably the most notorious terrorist group with international networks but I must say here that terrorism is a contemporary national and international reality. No country is immune.
2. The world and Nigeria today
I consider this topic to be an extremely important one for many reasons but I will broadly stress two of these reasons here: one is international while the other is national. From an international perspective, why is this topic an important one? Terrorism does not respect even the most powerful country on earth. As students of military and strategic studies, we are being told that the United States army has the nuclear capacity to destroy the whole world. Yes, that may be true but it is also the same country that witnessed the unfortunate September 11, 2000 terrorist attacks where almost 3000 deaths and over 25,000 injured were recorded. The 2005 London attacks killed 52 people and injured more than 700 people; the 2004 Madrid bombing killed nearly 200 people and injured about 2000 others. According to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker (NST), from June 2011 through June 2018, 2,021 incidents involving Boko Haram were documented in which 37,530 people were killed even though, the figure represented deaths of alleged Boko Haram fighters, government forces, and civilians combined. Just this weekend, the City of London was in the news due to a terrorist attack around the London Bridge that claimed some lives and several injuries. The list is endless.
The Global Terrorism Database (GTD) reported ‘over 170,000 terrorist incidents for the period 1970 to 2017’ (Institute for Economics & Peace, 2019, p. 2). Sadly, this has not stopped in our world today with groups such as ISIS, Al-Qaeda and several others in existence. Suffice it to say that the world has been shocked by terrorism on several occasions. It is thus an international phenomenon, and should command the international attention it deserves.
However, the internationalisation I am talking about here is not only in terms of the nationalities of the victims, rather, it is also in terms of the coordination of the attacks. I am sure many in my audience understand that Al-Qaeda and ISIS are multinational groups with ideologues, fighters and sympathisers across international borders. There are cells and units in different countries.
When ISIS emerged in Syria, very few would have thought or imagined that a faction of Nigeria’s Boko Haram would someday swear allegiance to the group. Unfortunately, this happened before our eyes. We saw the black flag on the territory of Nigeria and that brings me to the national importance of my topic.
There are many ways to view the Boko Haram conflict, which easily qualifies as the most difficult unconventional warfare the Nigerian army have been involved with in the history of the country. Though I will elaborate more on this point later, one way to situate the impact of terrorism is to discuss it in terms of the deaths and destruction that it has caused. This is both the humane and the humanistic way to go. This is also the most popular perspective in the media, public policy and in many instances, in the academia. But there is also the economic dimension.
The conflict has destroyed years of past investments and fractured the hope of future investments. This is a sad thing to say but it is a fact that no shrewd investor will invest his or her funds in conflict zones. Given its disastrous impact, the issue and implication of terrorism is thus an extremely important national issue in Nigeria. Though states like Borno, Adamawa and Yobe in the North-East are more affected than others in the conflict, it is nonetheless a national problem with emerging but dire developmental implications.
3. Impacts of terrorism in Nigeria
As noted earlier, the main impact of terrorism is that it leads to the death of thousands and the destruction of properties. Many innocent Nigerians, from school children to traders and those attending religious gatherings have been caught up in the web of violent attacks and thousands of lives have been cut short. The loss of human lives is monumental but as I hinted earlier, the impacts have several far reaching implications for the country. The government continues to spend Billions of naira to root out the Boko Haram fighters and provide for our patriotic military in the battle even when the government has to borrow to fund her budget.
However, for every dime spent on the conflict is an opportunity cost. Let me be more direct: the money spent fighting the Boko Haram or terrorism in Nigeria could have been better spent on improving our educational institutions, equipping the military, providing more social infrastructure, repairing the roads and constructing new ones and so on. It could have been used to transform our hospitals and improve the ever erratic power sector. The money being spent on terrorism could have been better used elsewhere but all these fundamental alternatives are crucial to the long term progress and advancement of the country. The foundations for past and future investments in the affected states are being destroyed for this and the future generation of Nigerians.
Another impact of the terrorism or Boko Haram insurgency if you want, is that education is being negatively affected in the affected states of the North-East. Traditionally, the southern part of the country is unarguably ahead in terms of promoting basic education relative to the northern part of the country but Boko Haram conflict appears to be further complicating the historical imbalance. Meanwhile, all these have far reaching implications for the existing horizontal inequality between the north and the south. Sadly, it is being widened. While it could be argued that not all the schools in the north are affected, the truth is Boko Haram is damaging the chances of thousands of children to be educated in the affected areas as several thousands of people have been displaced due to these menace.
The reputational impact is in multiple folds. For one, it is unfortunate that the giant of Africa has not been able to at least totally decimate the terror group. The group has been bombarded and many of its fighters have been killed but the fight against terrorism is always a hard and long one. Anyone that is in doubt of this can ask the West about Al-Qaeda and ISIS and their terror cells across the Globe.
Another reputational damage of terrorism is that Nigeria is losing some attractions, sometimes owing to ignorance or other reasons. For instance, some foreigners strongly believe that Boko Haram is everywhere in Nigeria. To them, every state in Nigeria is affected by the Boko Haram conflict or terrorism. By this token, they don’t see Nigeria and Nigerians beyond the oddities of Boko Haram and terrorism. Meanwhile, I must mention here that the military have also been accused (whether rightly or wrongly) of human right abuses in the fight against terrorism. Amnesty International and the Nigerian military recently engaged themselves in a war of words over alleged human right abuses. That being said, generally, the impact of terrorism in Nigeria is human, economic, relational, educational, and reputational.
Now, having discussed all these, what should be done?
4. The way forward
There are many important things to be done – and not to be in doubt many things have either been done or are already being done. However, on this occasion, I will restrict myself to five of the most important areas of importance as a way of curbing this menace.
First is that the Nigerian government must put measures in motion to boost the morale of its patriotic military and other security agencies fighting the insurgents; government must compensate the families of men and officers that die on the frontline. Government must prioritise the lives of those that fight for the country to make anybody wants to die for the country. These men and women deserve our gratitude and appreciation for their willingness to serve this country and help protect our territorial integrity, rights and our freedoms.
Second, intelligence is of crucial importance. The security operatives already know this but there must be conscious efforts on the part of government to know who is a Nigerian. We must know the background of our attackers to be able to begin to understand their idiosyncrasies and actions and to guide the implementation of government’s strategies holistically. Sadly, in Nigeria we just hear about suicide bombers but the identification of their true nationality, citizenship and socialisation of many of them hardly follows. One then begins to wonder where these people come from. Unfortunately, we don’t have the intelligence system to know that, hence it is difficult to trace their background. A first step is to support government’s effort to build an information database for all of all Nigerians. We must build the infrastructure to know ourselves more.
Third and this takes me to my base, we must take the fight against corruption extremely serious. Do you know that corruption can take the money that was originally meant to educate thousands of people and place it in the hands of a single family or small group of people? Experts have informed us that poverty and deprivation is elemental to many of the unconventional warfare in history. Sadly, it is easier to radicalise a poor and ignorant person than a rich and educated fellow. As you know, on a lighter mood, the rich don’t want to die except that death is a natural thing. We live to die. So, my point is that corruption ultimately impoverishes and dehumanise the weakest of our society. It is even more disheartening that corruption can also deprive the military of the needed weapons and allow our soldiers to die needlessly. I need not say too much on this but to re-echo what I have been saying for a good part of my career that corruption is evil both to the rich and the poor in our society.
Fourth is communalism. Recall that I have mentioned the need for building intelligence by developing the necessary information database, now I am turning to the role of the ordinary Nigerians. We must go back to our communal practice when we used to be our brothers and of course our sisters’ keepers. Why should a terrorist or an armed robber live in our vicinity and we don’t even know? Why should a ritualist and kidnapper live in our community and we have no knowledge of it? The simple answer to this is that we are losing our sense of communality. Nigerians find it difficult to even go and make reports to the security agencies because we don’t see it as being useful.
As a society, we are not even interested in the source of people’s sudden wealth. We have heard of situations where traditional chieftaincy tittles have been given to people of questionable characters in the society because our traditional rulers do not care to confirm the source of their sudden wealth.
The bottom line is that many of those that are today’s terrorist live amongst us as our neighbours or co-tenants or even friends but we are too busy to know the profiles of people we relate or cohabit with.
Fifth is the most obvious response; development. All I have been talking about since the beginning of this presentation centre on the need for human-centred and infrastructural development. We must have governments that prioritise development and take it from the lips to actions and visibly measurable positive changes. My point here is that one of the most potent responses to the impact of terrorism in Nigeria is for the government or the ruling class to demonstrate that they have the capacity to deliver the sweet promises of socio-economic development they themselves make to the people. This is a social contract that must be executed in order to avoid unsavoury implications.
In conclusion, I have tried to briefly discuss the multidimensional impacts of Terrorism and insurgency in Nigeria. I have talked about the human, economic, educational, reputational and relational impacts. I have also tried to highlight what I consider to be important responses to the unconventional war that the country is fighting today. As a parting shot, I will say that Nigeria is a great country and the men and officers of the Nigeria armed forces have been a part of this greatness. Nigeria is the Giant of Africa and no one can dispute that fact when you think of our population and resource endowment, although some may think otherwise.