Cameron Doudu

I am sure the authorities in Abuja are angry with the international media for giving ?too much publicity? to what Boko Haram has been doing in the country in the past few days.

But if they are angry, then I am afraid their attitude is wrong. When some 300 or so secondary school girls, aged between 16 and 18 are abducted in the middle of the night and taken into a forest by ruthless terrorists, nothing and no-one can prevent the media from extracting every juicy bit out of the story.

Some say the girls have been married off. Others say they have been sold. Two girls are reported to have died of snake-bite. A few have managed to escape. This is the stuff of which ?human interest? journalism is made and to blame the media for seizing on it and titillating its consumers with it, is quite simply unrealistic, to say the least.

When, even as the implications of the mass abduction are being assessed, deadly bomb blasts are thrown in, then the issue moves into national security territory, and ceases to be a mere episode of terrorism. And that is definitely news worthy.

Indeed, the Boko Haram threat must now be viewed as a full-scale insurrection which must be combated with the full arsenal of counter-insurgency, and not treated as if it were a series of ?disturbances? that can be tackled with the imposition of a state of emergency, or even a conventional warfare strategy.

The reason why a conventional warfare strategy cannot work with an uprising like that of Boko Haram is that in a conventional war, you have a war front which is more or less defined and you can attack the area and prise the enemy out of it. You can use artillery and even the air force to pound the front and either wipe the enemy out or get its forces to flee from there.

But in an insurgency, the enemy hides within the very sinews of the civilian population. Enemy forces move within the populace like fish in water. Which means that in a locality like North-eastern Nigeria ? where most people dress alike ? a Boko Haram adherent could be literally anyone: the pedestrian in the street or on the pavement; the hawker in the market; the passenger on a lorry or okada; or much worse, the person in a (stolen or mimicked) police or army uniform.

The victory that insurgency achieves lies not so much in its ability to take over a government (as in a coup d??tat or military conquest) as in its capacity to make normal life impossible. A breakdown in normal life, of course, focuses undue attention on the inefficiencies of the government, to the extent that it can implode from within.

But an insurgency can be defeated if, alongside efficient military operations, the government also embarks on a competent political campaign, aimed at rubbishing the objectives of the insurgents. Such a campaign must, however, reassure the public that the government truly wants to bring about developments that can make life better for all the people.

And there lies the rub. For that is precisely where the Nigerian political system, like its counterparts in many post-colonial African countries, falls flat on its feet. The ruling elite has shown itself to be selfish and insensitive to the welfare of its fellow citizens. The difference between the livelihoods of the top one or two percent of the population and the bottom 75 percent or so, is incongruously disproportionate. The result is that political loyalties are fickle. Money is king and that is why Boko Haram, which appears to have a lot of money, is enjoying a free ride on the bus to nuisance politics.

Unless the populace as a whole can be convinced by deeds to come to the defense of the state, Boko Haram might succeed in destroying the state itself. For it is the populace that can provide state agencies with information that will enable the armed forces to detect and combat Boko Haram operations. Right now, the military have almost become a laughing stock to Nigerians. For instance, a military spokesman announced that many of the abducted girls had been rescued, only to reverse himself a short while later.

The Nigerian Minister of the Interior, interviewed on the BBC, also said that operations were continuing to rescue the girls. But he said he could not disclose the nature of the operations, since that would tip off the terrorists. Not surprisingly, some listeners wrote in to say that his statement was a classic way of covering up the fact that nothing was being done!

Meanwhile, some more girls escaped and told stories of how they had been able to outwit their captors. The question then arose: were the military interviewing the escaped girls? Surely they could give the military leads to where the rest were?

The situation about the girls is so pathetic that there have been public demonstrations, mainly led by women, in Abuja, Lagos and elsewhere, over their fate. Meanwhile, the death toll from Boko Haram this year alone stands at over 1,500, compared to an estimated 3,600 between 2010 and 2013. Where is insurrection going?

Nigeria must wake up and remember that without the assistance of its own military; neither Liberia nor Sierra Leone could have recovered from the ?failed state? condition in which they found themselves not too long ago. The Ivory Coast and Mali also owe a debt of gratitude to ECOWAS and Nigeria.

Now, ?the physician?, must heal himself. Nigeria can do it, through its own efforts, instead of listening to self-serving advice and calling in foreign forces. The history of Vietnam, Cambodia, Guatemala and Nicaragua, among others, and more recently, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, shows that calling in foreign forces only ends up making a bad situation worse. So Nigeria must not fall into that trap.

By Cameron Duodu

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