The Boko Haram insurgency is one theme about which all angles needs to be continuously explored. This is what this publication by the United States Institute of Peace, (USIP), is trying to do. Authored by two Nigerians conversant with the conflict dynamics, the publication poses the imperative of winning the peace after winning the war, a process which is about power that is legitimate and organically located rather than militarized containment strategy. In obvious agreement that peace and security are products of leadership and power, the authors argue for civilian control of governance and security which would, in their own words, take into account variables such as the origin and progression of the conflict, key stakeholders, institutions as well as the context in which these variables are interacting in relation to peacebuilding. Statism is not what the authors, Prof Jibrin Ibrahim and Sale Bala, a retired military officer and think tanker, call it but that is what their point of departure -state building and inclusive society – is reducible to. In other words, they present a very interesting argument which brings back the case for a society that can take collective welfare more seriously than whatever we have seen in Nigerian history, especially in the wake of the Structural Adjustment Programme, (SAP). It is another way of saying that any society where development leaves a large chunk of the population behind risks the kind of violent fragmentation Boko Haram represents.
The authors did not just jump to this standpoint. They first put the conflict in its ethno-cultural (Kanem-Bornu Empire), international, (the Lake Chad/West-North African geographical space of Boko Haram) and the transnational jihadist global context in terms of Boko Haram’s allegiance to ISIS. So also is their attention to the geopolitical complexities of the Lake Chad Basin Commission countries trying to work together to counter the insurgency. All the disheartening details of death, displacement, the rise of self-help groups as well as the intriguing role claimed for women in the formal and informal versions of the counter-insurgency operations are there for the reader. Beyond its key argument, the authors pose institutional models and arrangements that are not without their controversies even on the surface. What, for example, might their idea of Public Protection Service Commission, (PPSC) look like on the ground in terms of a mechanism for fusing the police, Civil Defense and Immigration Service for the purpose of community stabilization and policing? Great idea or an indigestible meal? It is interesting the authors are suggesting this as a pilot for potential expansion.
There is extensive treatment of security governance in this publication. Besides the PPSC, there is considerable attention to the police as well as what to do with the numerous self-help groups that arose to protect communities as Boko Haram spread hell. Most of these cannot be called militias because of the spontaneity that define them. Seriously speaking, they were unformed young people who mobilized cultural imagination and generational strength to confront Boko Haram insurgents. Now, what does the Nigerian State do with them: leave them like that and risk the consequences or institutionalise their heroism? That is to say that their own case is not as straightforward as that of the Nigeria Police. Everything about the police could be said to have said in the quote from the report of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the December 2015 clash between the Islamic Movement in Nigeria (IMN) and the Nigerian Army with which the authors laid bare the trouble with the police as follows: Nigeria’s thirty years of military rule created a climate in which the police did not receive adequate resources for development. Police credibility also dropped as it resorted to shortcut methods based on brutality rather than painstaking investigation and adherence to the rule of law”. For the way forward, they say that this has been adequately mapped out by three police reform panels that they argue to have done extensive work on what needs to be done to improve performance. “They are the Dan Madami-led commission in 2006 during the Obasanjo administration, the Yar’Adua government’s assessment headed by M. D. Yusuf in 2009 and the Jonathan administration’s study led by Parry Osayande in 2012. All these initiatives reported the same core problems: too few personnel and too little funding for operations, poor training, dilapidated training institutions and barracks, limited firearms skills and related frequent shooting mishaps, and the obligation that officers pay for their own uniforms. Perhaps the most important factor is the deep culture of corruption that has resulted in salaries being unpaid because they are diverted elsewhere”.
The dialectics of this publication is how its merit is also its drawback. Good and welcome as the idea of contemplating and providing an outline of how to move from militarily overwhelming the insurgency to securing peace erected on the capable and competent state, a democratic and fair society, such is still something that has to wait. This is because Boko Haram has yet to be militarily defeated. That Boko Haram has not been defeated is the message that recent attacks it launched against the as well as the House of Representatives oversight team sent to the society. This is not necessarily to say that the government or the Nigerian military hasn’t done anything. It is rather to say that fighting an insurgency with fanatical convictions, diffuse approaches to warfare and in a largely ungoverned space by a largely conventional military can have its own complications although the question of how long is becoming an issue in Nigeria. So, while this absolutely relevant argument is welcome, its time still lies ahead. The notion of looking ahead of the defeat of Boko Haram looks misplaced optimism.
But the publication is a fresh material produced by indigenous scholars who are, therefore, enriching the literature on Peace and Conflict Studies. Its main achievement would appear to lie in inviting Nigerians and other readers to open up Boko Haram: from the universities to the military academies, from the civil society to think tanks and party headquarters rather than the current, mostly inward looking, mono-causal analyses that are more pervasive. There is no alternative to this, particularly in the light of what is coming out of Interpol whose Secretary General, Jürgen Stock, is fearing another wave of terrorism as terrorists jailed in the past decade are due to be released in the next one, two, three years. His analysis is that prison would have hardened rather than softened them, something he wants the world to take note of.