Why The Terrorists Are Winning in Nigeria



 Mutual suspicion and lack of cooperation among the intelligence agencies are reasons for Nigeria’s failure to curb activities of terrorists



With two successful suicide bomb attacks on high profile targets in the heart of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, members of the Yusufiya Islamic sect, popularly known as Boko Haram, cannot be accused of exhibiting unnecessary chutzpah when talking about their deadly feats. Indeed, if the group’s sole intention is to demonstrate its capability, it could not have chosen better targets than those it has launched attacks on so far. Louis Edet House, Area 11, Garki, Abuja, where the group first demonstrated its ability to carry out suicide attacks, on 16 June 2011, is the headquarters of the Nigeria Police. The building straddles the Three Arms Zone where Aso Presidential Villa, the National Assembly and the Supreme Court are located.

The topmost echelon of the law enforcement agency have their offices in the multi-storey building and Hafiz Ringim, the Inspector-General of Police, who was the prime target of the attack, barely escaped being killed by the suicide bomber. But about a dozen others were not so lucky. The United Nations building, Area 10 Abuja, on which the group launched another successful suicide attack on 26 August, was considered one of the most secured premises in the FCT, with its elaborate regime of screening visitors. The building is just a stone’s throw from the heavily fortified embassy of the United States of America. “Of course, our objective is to place Nigeria in a difficult situation and even destabilise it and replace it with Sharia. Whether we will conduct such Islamic government or not is a different issue,” one Abu Qaqa, who claimed to be a deputy to Abu Zaid, the spokesman of the group, told an Abuja-based newspaper. “The UN represents unbelief and they support the Nigerian government whom we are fighting. Attacking the UN is like a process of cleansing, just like what Allah says in Surah Tauba 9 Verse 14,” the spokesperson told the newspaper. Boko Haram gave the same reason for the attack on the global body in interviews with some foreign radio stations immediately after the blast which claimed 23 lives.

The sect, also known as Jama’atu Ahl-Sunnati Lil Da’awati wal Jihad, had earlier exclusively given the details and photograph of the suicide bomber used in the bombing of the Police Headquarters to the publication. Qaqa said the attack on the UN was carried out with a stolen Honda, driven overnight from Maiduguri to the federal capital by one Mohammed, a 27-year-old panel beater popularly known as Abul Barra within the sect. He claimed the bomber had bribed his way through the numerous checkpoints mounted by different security agencies to get to Abuja. “There is a large number of our brothers, all eager to carry out suicide missions because of the abundant reward that awaits the person. So, we decided to introduce balloting to avoid disharmony among us, and Abul was lucky to be chosen to carry out the attack,” the spokesperson, who claimed that there are hundreds of trained suicide bombers waiting to carry out similar missions at different targets, said.

Terence Mc-Culley, the American Ambassador to Nigeria, was quoted by The New York Times as describing the attack on the UN building by the sect as a “paradigm shift”, adding that “it suggests Boko Haram has upped its game, if you will. It seems to show it wishes to expand its scope beyond the domestic.” When asked if the strongly fortified US embassy located in the same vicinity could be a target, the Ambassador said: “It would be foolish to consider that we are not a possible target as well.” Boko Haram had indeed listed the US embassy, the National Assembly and the Aso Rock presidential villa as its prime targets for future attacks.

The successful bombing of the UN has especially spawned concerns in diplomatic circles as many of the Ambassadors rue the fact that Nigeria may have joined the league of terrorist countries. Thus, many of the diplomatic missions have embarked of feverish review of their security arrangements. For one, unlike before when they relied on private security guards, most of the diplomatic missions in Abuja now have well-kitted police officers in their premises. Some of the embassies, led by the United Kingdom, are also implementing new security measures, especially relating to access to their premises. President Goodluck Jonathan tried to allay such fears when he received Park Young-Kuk, the outgoing Ambassador of the Republic of Korea in his office last Wednesday. The President told the Ambassador that relevant authorities are working hard to check the activities of terrorists in the country, and assured diplomats and other foreigners living in Nigeria that government would not relent in its efforts in this regard. He added that terrorist activities were strange to Nigeria, and so posed immediate challenges to the security agencies. The Police and Olugbenga Ashiru, the Nigeria Minister of Foreign Affairs, had also assured the diplomats of their safety. But the anxiety is not limited to the diplomatic corps.

As many Nigerians feverishly condemned the terrorist act in as strong a language as possible, they also did not hold back in censuring the security agencies for the lapses that enable the sect to carry out the act. Not a few believe that the security agencies have been sleeping on their watch even as terrorists take over the nation, with bomb attacks becoming a regular affair in some areas of the country. The attacks have since 2010 become so routine that it takes a hit on a major target now to be on the front page of national newspapers. While government officials led by the President and the heads of the various security agencies have consistently said they are “on top of the situation”, a phrase usually accompanied with assertions of determination to “bring the culprits to book”, after any successful attack, there is nothing to justify that they are living up to that promise. Rather, it is members of the militant sect that have demonstrated, time and time again, their ability to strike at any location and target of their choice at any given time. The attack on the Force Headquarters for instance, occurred less than 48 hours after the Inspector-General of Police promised to eradicate members of the Boko Haram sect in Maiduguri. The Police had promised hell for the group and its members immediately after the attack, even as they promised to unravel the brains behind the bomb blast that resulted in the death of about 10 people. But there was no tangible evidence that the Police lived up to this promise, as what was subsequently witnessed was an intense deterioration of the security situation in Maiduguri especially, and some areas of Bauchi State where the group is also active. In the months of May, June and July, for instance, bomb blasts were virtually a daily occurrence in Maiduguri and other parts of Borno State, resulting in deaths of scores of people.

There were also bomb attacks in parts of Bauchi State and a series of explosions in Suleja, a suburb of Abuja where scores of people were killed in the office of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, on the eve of the April presidential election. As a result of the deterioration in the security situation, the Federal Government, some months ago drafted over 3000 men of the Nigerian Army to parts of Borno State where members of the sect are very active, to support Police efforts. But rather than alleviate it, the security situation worsened as a result of attacks and counter-attacks between men of the military task force and suspected members of the Boko Haram sect. Even with the presence of the Joint Task Force, not less than 60 lives were lost to bomb attacks attributed to the fundamentalist sect in a space of three weeks between June and July. Operations of the Task Force have also been riddled with allegations of violations of human rights. Soldiers have been accused of descending on the people living in Maiduguri, ransacking their houses, assaulting or arresting the occupants on the excuse of searching for members of the sect, especially immediately after the group successfully carries out an attack. Some residents have also complained of being assaulted on the road by soldiers.

In a press release signed by Aminu Sani, its chairman, the Borno State branch of Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, demanded the investigation of alleged cases of human rights abuses and punishment of security personnel found to have carried out such acts, while asserting that “security challenges require intelligence operations not over-militarisation of the society, massive, indiscriminate and arbitrary arrest without justification.”

On the other hand, the Task Force authorities have also accused some residents of Maiduguri of accommodating and allowing members of the group to use their houses as escape routes after any attack. Concerned by the general sense of insecurity in the country, principally precipitated by the indiscriminately planted improvised explosive devices and gun attacks by members of Boko Haram, the Senate had last June summoned the Inspector-General of Police and other security chiefs to brief it on measures being taken to tackle the problem. This was after the successful suicide attack on the Police Headquarters. Security chiefs present at the three-hour closed-door meeting with the senators included General Owoye Azazi (retd), the National Security Adviser; Air Chief Marshal Oluseyi Pentirin, Chief of Defence Staff; Hafiz Ringim, and Ita Ekpeyong, Director-General of SSS. The security chiefs took turns to brief the lawmakers on what they were doing to tackle the security challenge posed by the dissident Islamic sect. “At the end of the day, I can say with certainty that the security chiefs have assured Nigerians that they are on top of the situation and that these challenges, particularly, the challenge of Boko Haram, will be curtailed sooner than later,” Victor Ndoma-Egba, the Senate Leader, who spoke to journalists after the meeting said of the impression members of the upper chamber of the National Assembly got from the briefings by the security chiefs. It however seems as if the security chiefs have gone to sleep after their meeting with the lawmakers. This is because, in spite of their assurance, the fundamentalist sect has continued with its campaign of killing and maiming, using improvised explosives and gun attacks, especially on officials of the security agencies.

The inaction of the agencies culminated in the attack on the UN building on 26 August. “We are, however, deeply worried at the growing spate of bombings in Nigeria and the apparent inability of the Nigerian security agencies to effectively handle the situation,” the Trade Union Congress, TUC, said in a statement in which it also condemned the attack on the global body. “This attack is a wake-up call on the Nigerian government to take security matters much more seriously,” said the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC. However, five days after the attack on the UN building, the SSS released a statement indicating that it had prior information that an attack by the fundamentalist group was in the offing in the FCT.

In the statement signed by Marilyn Ogar, its spokesperson, the intelligence agency disclosed that it received information on 18 August that members of the dissident sect were planning their second attack on a location in Abuja. The security agency, in the statement identified and declared wanted one Mamman Nur, who it said has links with global terrorist group, al-Qaeda, as the brain behind the attack. “Investigation has revealed that one Mamman Nur, a notorious Boko Haram element with al-Qaeda links who returned recently from Somalia, working in concert with two suspects masterminded the attack on the United Nations building in Abuja,” SSS said in the statement. The agency identified the car used for the attack as a Honda car with registration number AV38NSR, purchased on 3 September 2002 and registered on 3 December 2002. The agency said it swiftly moved into action to stop the attack and efforts of its officers led to the arrest of two men – Babagana Ismail Kwaljima and Babagan Mali – who the agency said had ties to Boko Haram and were planning the attack. The security agency however did not state how it arrived at the conclusion that they took part in the attack plot. In the absence of such information, the claims of SSS have been met with disbelief in some quarters. “If the SSS said they have the information, who did they shared it with?” queried a security source. “If the SSS cannot use the information to prevent the attack, of what use is it for them to go public with it now?” he added. Azazi, the National Security Adviser, who is supposed to coordinate all security issues in the country, also told a national newspaper that he was not aware of such information. Even the Boko Haram sect has disputed some of the claims of the SSS.

The fundamentalist group told the Abuja-based newspaper referred to earlier in this story, that contrary to assertions by the intelligence agency, the attack on the UN building was directed by one Abubakar Sheku, who it described as the leader of the sect. Qaqa admitted that the two men in the custody of the SSS are members of the sect, and that Nur who was declared wanted has always been part of the various actions carried out by the group. “We planned the attack under the command of our leader, Abubakar Shekau, so why declare Nur wanted now when in actual fact he has been part and parcel of all what we have been doing from day one? Are we not all wanted ever since? Nobody was arrested in connection to this particular attack. If they have arrested some of our members, it is a different thing, but this attack was planned like every other attack,” he said. He however agreed with the SSS that members of the group are in alliance with the global terrorist organisation, al-Qeada. The attack on the UN building, he said, was carried out to impress the al-Qaeda of the seriousness of the Boko Haram sect. “Our relationship with al-Qeada is very strong. In fact, our leader, and his team were in Mecca for the lesser Hajj to consolidate on that relationship. And we carried out the attack on the UN building when he was about to go into a meeting with al-Qeada leadership in order to consolidate our position.” This is not the first that the sect will be contradicting the position of the intelligence agency. Boko Haram had similarly dismissed claims by the SSS that it arrested about 100 of its members in the aftermath of the attack on the Police Headquarters.

Last Tuesday, SSS in a statement also announced that it had recorded a breakthrough in uncovering the brains behind the series of bomb blasts in Suleja, Niger State, with the arrest of six men who it described as members of the militant Islamic sect and discovery of a factory where bombs used in the attacks were assembled. The agency said it has established that the arrested men were behind the attacks and will soon arraign them in court for the crime. But critics have argued that it is not the job of the SSS to arrest and parade suspects. Rather, the job of the agency should be to gather intelligence that can be used to prevent such attacks. Worse still, there have been little efforts seen towards prosecuting the various suspects the intelligence agency claimed it had arrested. “Did they not say after the bombing of the police headquarters that they arrested some Boko Haram members? Where are they? Which courts were they prosecuted? These people are reducing governance to a child’s play. They are making us a joke to the whole world. Is this how a serious government should respond to this kind of national embarrassment, national carnage?” an enraged General Muhammadu Buhari, the Presidential candidate of Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, asked.

There have been subtle insinuations, however, that the retired military officer is either sponsoring the group or the group is sympathetic to him. Though no government official has yet come out to level this charge against Buhari, it was gathered that some leaders of the security agencies are pointing accusing fingers at him based on some statements he made just before the 2011 presidential election in which he emerged as runner-up to President Jonathan. Investigation by this magazine however revealed that one of the major hindrances to the effectiveness of the security agencies is mutual suspicion and infighting among the leadership.

Former military president, Gen Ibrahim Babangida had in 1986 through Decree 19, dissolved the octopus National Security Organisation NSO, replacing it with three separate entities under the Office of the Co-ordinator of National Security: State Security Service, SSS – responsible for domestic intelligence; National Intelligence Agency, NIA – responsible for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence operations and; Defence Intelligence Agency, DIA – responsible for military intelligence. These are in addition to the Nigerian Police. Activities of the various intelligence agencies are supposed to be coordinated by the National Security Adviser, NSA. The various agencies are also supposed to share intelligence among one another and coordinate their responses to such intelligence. But, it was gathered, this has not been possible as a result of undue rivalry and quest for “personal glory” at the topmost levels of the agencies. The lack of teamwork, said a source, was responsible for the failure of the agencies to prevent the UN building attack, though information about the plan was received nine days before it was carried out. Azazi confirmed this when he denied receiving any report that Boko Haram was set to attack the UN building in an interview with The Guradian: “I did not receive a specific report. Ask the SSS. There was nothing like that… Critics should be able to produce evidence that such a report was received.”

The newspaper had also in another report indicated how 14 reports prepared under the leadership of Afakriya Gadzama as Director-General of the SSS which detailed activities of Mohammed Yusuf, the leader of the Boko Haram sect killed in Police custody in 2009, were neglected by former IG Mike Okiro. The newspaper reported that one of the 14 untreated reports contained a series of intelligence and dossier on Malam Yusuf. Though Ogbonna Onovo, Okiro’s successor, inherited the reports, it was doubtful if he did anything about it until the 2009 uprising of the group which set off the present crisis in Maiduguri.

Abdullahi Sarki Mukhtar, former NSA, had also, in 2009, reportedly issued a strongly worded query to the Director-General of NIA, Ambassador E.O. Oladeji, over the failure of his office to share information it had on Umar Farouk Mutallab, a Nigerian currently in the custody of the US security agencies, on allegations of trying to bring down an America-bound aircraft with a bomb. “From all indications, it seemed that your Agency had prior knowledge of a report, said to have been made by Alhaji Umar Mutallab about the tendencies of his son, Umar Farouk, towards radicalisation, which was manifested in the incident leading to his arrest in the U.S.

“It is really unfortunate and sad that knowledge of such an important intelligence issue could not be brought to the attention of this office, or the weekly Intelligence Community Committee Meeting (ICCM). It was this failure that led to the unfortunate incident we are grappling with now,” the ex-NSA said in the query titled: “Alleged Involvement of Umar Farouk Mutallab in an Attempt to Bomb a U.S. Airliner.”

Mukhtar added: “The report if circulated within the ICC would have alerted the Security Agencies at our Travel Control Points (TCPs) to take appropriate required action that would have led to his arrest, before boarding the KLM flight from Nigeria, thereby pre-empting the sad incident.” The lack of cooperation and mutual suspicion among the heads of the intelligence agencies however transcends the sharing of information.

This magazine learnt that another source of friction between them is the control of the budget allocated for specific projects designed to enhance national security. It was gathered that some of the leaders of the security agencies were not happy when the funds for installation of CCTV cameras around Abuja were given to the IG in the aftermath of the bombing at Mogadishu Barracks, Abuja in December last year. There are also allegations that the present NSA is relying too much on the military, hence the hasty deployment of soldiers to the streets in response to bomb attacks.

Sources, however, indicated that the Azazi’s predecessor as NSA cannot be absolved of blame. It was gathered that the the issue of al-Qaeda affiliated cells in the North-East part of the country was pointed out to former President Olusegun Obasanjo as far back as 2006. It was noted for instance that Boko Haram, termed the “Nigerian Taliban”, had been operating in the clear since 2005 when General Aliyu Gusau (retd.) was NSA. The former president was said to have in turn asked Gusau to investigate the issue. But Gusau, according to reports, told Obasanjo that no such group existed in the country.

It was gathered that the same issue of Taliban presence in Nigeria was raised with the late President Umaru Yar’Adua in July 2007. “Goodluck Jonathan became President of Nigeria upon the death of Umaru Yar’Adua in May 2010. Former NSA Aliyu Mohammed Gusau was once again made National Security Adviser. Gusau could not possibly have missed the threat of Boko Haram. If his security operatives failed to raise the matter in their reports then the public statements released by Boko Haram and printed verbatim in Nigeria’s national newspapers should have raised questions from the NSA, if not alarm,” said Steven Davis, a public commentator. “The handling of the Boko Haram matter while Gusau was NSA resulted in a dramatic escalation in the conflict to the stage that it threatened the nation’s security,” he added.

Recent information from leaked diplomatic cables published by Wikilealks also indicated how traditional rulers from the Northern part of the country ensure that those arrested for being members of the Boko Haram sect in 2007 were not prosecuted. The traditional rulers, it was indicated, had piled pressure on the intelligence agencies to get the suspects released to them on the excuse that they were going to change their orientation.

Beyond the blame game, analysts said, what is need is a radical overhaul of the Nigerian security agencies. “First, we need to prioritise intelligence gathering, processing and utilisation in our security operations. Two, rather than see this as an avenue to make money, security agencies must intensify joint operations rather than solo efforts. Three, political leadership must not give the impression that impunity is the rule, rather than the exception on this matter,” Kayode Fayemi, the Governor of Ekiti State, said of the measures needed to tackle the problem. “There are too many free spaces in Nigeria, with over 1,500 unpoliced border entries that serve as veritable sources of nefarious external operatives with internal collaborators,” Fayemi added. President Jonathan had also said his administration is embarking on the redesign of the Nigerian security architecture in response to the new security challenge.

Last Tuesday, the President also convened a special National Council of State meeting to discuss the various security problems the country is facing. The National Council of State is a statutory body whose membership comprises the President, Vice-President, former Heads of State, Governors of the 36 states, former Chief Justices of Nigeria, the incumbent CJN, the Attorney-General of the Federation, and the NSA.

While briefing State House correspondents after the meeting, the NSA, with unusual candour agreed that the nation’s security forces were not prepared for the challenges they are being confronted with now. “The problem is that we were not as a nation prepared for this new level of terrorism,” he said. He was however quick to add that the various agencies are reviewing their operations and fashioning new tactics, following the Boko Haram bombings and killings, while warning that “the security challenges are here to stay.” He added that “to solve crime, sometimes, you need a national identity database; we are trying to put that together. We are talking of putting up a strategy on protection of critical national infrastructure.”

He also agreed that there was need for the security agencies to improve their working relationship as well as their interface with the general public. “We agree on the use of technology and you don’t acquire those things overnight. Issues like registration of SIM card are properly effected; we talked about border control, how to help the Immigration to make sure that there is proper border control; we talked of security in maritime environment. Those issues were addressed,” Azazi said of some of the key points agreed upon at the meeting.

However, some analysts have argued that there is little the country can achieve until the constitution is amended to allow for the setting up of State Police. In the same vein, it has been argued that the problem of Boko Haram cannot be solved until the socio-economic conditions that gave rise to it are addressed. “I think we’d like to see Nigeria take a more holistic approach,” said McCulley. He added that the way the uprising of the Boko Haram sect was put down in 2009 may have resulted in the present escalation. The American Ambassador therefore suggested that the government “address the grievances” of the northern population on economic and social matters as a way of tackling the problem of the militant group.

The 29 August killings in Jos was another sign of the failure of intelligence. Critics wondered why the federal government’s intelligence network did not foresee and pre-empt the attacks by fighters from the Christian and Muslim sides.

According to a critic in Jos, the attacks always follow the same pattern: assailants creep in at night, using the same weapons.

While it is good to deploy military to Jos and other scenes of crime, this fire brigade show of force has consistently failed as was the case with Bauchi. Therefore, analysts want a proactive approach to finding solution to the crisis in Jos and other epicenters of fracas.
For more stories, visit www.thenewsafrica.com

—Oluokun Ayorinde/Abuja

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