Terrorism And Banditry: Time To Take Back Sambisa And Other Forests

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By Law Mefor

Terrorists, bandits, and killer herdsmen have since declared war on Nigeria. Coming to terms with this situation is necessary for a better response and more workable strategies. The form of war the country is currently experiencing is asymmetric warfare, which involves deep psychological issues. To begin with, conventional armies of nations are ill-prepared for non-positional, i.e., asymmetric warfare. The military confronting asymmetric wars does more improvising than drawing from foundational training. It is not their forte.

The enemies in asymmetric warfare may even consist of active military personnel of the nation. This is typically observed in its most extreme forms when terrorism is motivated by religious ideology, as is the case with Boko Haram terrorism.

Another significant problem is that even intelligent and patriotic people have sometimes justified terrorism, leading experts to say that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” Therefore, it is tough to persuade those who view terrorists as fighting for freedom in the country to recommend and implement laws that call for the eradication of bandits and terrorists. Negotiations or soft strategies like Operation Safe Corridor—which the military has been pursuing since the Buhari administration—would be preferred by them.

Operation Safe Corridor appears to be a humane policy that gives terrorists who repent of their ways the opportunity to be rehabilitated and reintegrated back into society. However, the reality is that we are dealing with soulless demons that have been completely despiritualised, which calls into question the desirability of such humane policies.

Two main issues should concern everyone: the first is the worrying issue of recidivism—that is, the act of a terrorist or offender who has been pardoned reoffending or going back to the same offense. The second is the fear that these terrorists will falsely claim repentance when they have not.

The latter is far more possible in the case of Boko Haram terrorists because the Nigerian military and ISIS are pressing the sect’s fighters on both sides. Most of them would accept the chance to emerge from the Sambisa forest and receive rehabilitation rather than face certain death.

The fundamental problem is that religion has a way of influencing people’s thoughts when they associate their acts of terrorism with divine forces and their promises. The religious terrorism brainwashing includes the promises of a triumphant entry into heaven and a promised departure from this miserable planet. Some are promised as many as 70 virgins if they die for such a ‘holy’ cause. One wonders how one man would manage 70 virgins, but then, this further confirms that Nigeria is not dealing with a rational situation here.

Youths who are jobless, disenfranchised, and largely illiterate make up a large and lucrative recruiting pool for terrorist groups, especially in the Northeast, where many more are joining terrorism to escape destitution. The protection of people’s lives and property as well as the wellbeing of the populace are the two basic duties of government that successive Nigerian governments have failed to fulfil.

Through the promotion of purposefully wrong policies, crisis entrepreneurs are making the war against terrorism last longer.

Let it be stated: until the Nigerian military seizes control of Sambisa and other Nigerian forests, terrorism will not stop. That’s the reason somewhere else stated that the first stage of the solution is to relocate the villages in and around the Sambisa forest so that the military of the country can focus on positional warfare. The Nigerian military’s piecemeal “hit and run” strategy is ineffective and can last for decades unless asymmetric warfare is converted to a somewhat symmetric one.

If Nigeria is to have any chance of defeating these soulless creatures, it must make long-term plans. The defeat of the Tamil Tigers by the Sri Lankan military offers lessons for our country. After more than 20 years of fighting, Sri Lanka’s military forces decisively defeated the Tamil Tigers, also known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, in 2009, ending the Tigers’ battle against the country.

The prescription may seem like an outlier given that Sambisa Forest crosses multiple northeastern states. However, we cannot expect to win the war against terrorism altogether unless the military of the country seizes control of Sambisa and other vital forests where the terrorists and outlaws live in communities, trains, plot, and launch their operations.

Every battle with terrorists and bandits can only result in a fleeting triumph for the Nigerian military, as the terrorists would beat a retreat only to resurface like a simmering fire that was extinguished and then revived by the wind.

Sambisa forest and other forests have to be intentionally taken back and physically occupied by the Nigerian military, step by step, even if it takes a decade or more. With the Tamil Tigers, Sri Lanka proceeded in such a manner. It will always be impossible to vanquish the terrorists as long as they are in control of some land. Therefore, the best course of action is to begin a slow but consistent pushback and retake all swats of land and forests the terrorists have taken and hoisted their flags, renamed, appointed administrators, and collected taxes.

The military ought to form a special combat brigade dedicated to combating terrorism. The special force should be put on live assurance, have unique pay, and be constituted by volunteerism. The majority of the special brigade should consist of retired military and police personnel who feel challenged and capable of serving their country again and are willing to risk their lives for it.

The special pay must be given out free of bureaucracy or politics. In this manner, the country will draw volunteers who will receive specialised training—which might even require two years—to get them ready for this unique operation.

The war against terrorism has become a business for crisis entrepreneurs, and they don’t want it to end. Additionally, there is outside meddling. You can find foreign non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Maiduguri that have been operating for more than a decade. If not for foreign interest in terrorism in Nigeria, then what role do they play?

It is also well known that these villages are the reason the Nigerian military is hesitant to completely assault the forests. For this reason, the villages must be moved outside of the combat zone, allowing for the subsequent elimination of everything that moves.

Additionally, the military wants to rescue the kidnappees. Nigerians have to acknowledge that the country no longer has those. The abductees who are lucky to be rescued in the heat of the operation are lucky. The point is that total military operations should not be hindered because of the abductees the terrorists and bandits are using as human shields.

Furthermore, capturing the forests will push the terrorists and outlaws into positional warfare, an area where the country’s military is well-versed and superior. Then, ‘victoria ascerta’—victory is certain.

Dr. Law Mefor, an Abuja-based forensic and social psychologist, is a fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thought; drlawmefor@gmail.com; Twitter: @Drlawsonmefor.

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