The former Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Prof. Bola Akinterinwa, in this interview with GBENGA SALAU, said Boko Haram’s affinity with Al-Qaida could portend danger to Nigeria’s war against insurgency. He, however, underscored the need to re-strategise for the set objectives to be accomplished.
Prof. Bola Akinterinwa
Tne return of Taliban to Afghanistan seem to have reflected the failure of bombs and bullets to build liberal democracies. What are your thoughts on this?
I do agree to a reasonable extent, that the enthronement of Taliban in Afghanistan mirrors the failure of bombs and bullets in building liberal democracies. However, it is useful to qualify the failure. For me, it is partly a failure. There are many cases in which bombs and bullets have been successfully used to build liberal democracies in international relations, and many are also the cases where they have failed. The fragmentation of Yugoslavia was done with the use of force and the outcome has been the enthronement of new nation-states with liberal democracies. The same is true of the carving out of South Sudan from Sudan. Eritrea has a similar history as it was carved out from Ethiopia. The continued existence of the State of Israel largely results from the use of bombs and bullets, and Israel is on record to have a liberal democracy.
Bombs and bullets were used to remove the Saharawi Arab Republic from the clutches of Morocco. In fact, on failure in the specific case of Afghanistan, there is nothing to suggest that the use of bombs and bullets, or to put it differently, use of violent force, has failed.
What I am saying in essence is that different factors can explain the failure of use of bombs and bullets, but not simply the optional use of such weapons and bullets, which may not necessarily account for the failure of military objectives.
Is Nigeria on course to win its war against insurgency?
I will confidently argue in favour of yes, and no. But you will need to understand my yes, and no in their appropriate contexts.
First, which category of insurgency are we talking about- Boko Haram insurgency or the self-determination insurgency? Regarding Boko Haram insurgency, President Muhammadu Buhari is doing very well because he is openly and courageously serving the purposes of Boko Haram in various manners. For example, there have been public allegations that private jets fly and land in bushes in Zamfara State, where there is no official airport, but aircraft do land and carry away mineral products. Reports of aircraft dropping food and war items for the Boko Haram insurgents in the hideouts also abound. The government not only knows the insurgents, but also negotiates with them. Who is talking about the Boko Haram in the government? And, more interestingly, but also more disturbingly too, the government accepted to pay herders and bandits N100m out of the N160m requested by insurgents in order to put an end to their use of terror against the government and the people of Nigeria. How do we really explain the logic behind this type of action? In these cases, there are many points that suggest the aiding and abetting of the insurgency. This is why the insurgency has the potential to succeed.
Let me explain it differently. Boko Haram wants to establish Islamic Caliphates in Nigeria. The group is vehemently opposed to the 1999 Constitution. It simply wants to introduce the Sharia law. Many forthright Nigerian leaders have not only said that the Buhari-led administration has a Fulanisation agenda, but that the Nigerian military is also aiding and abetting the killing of innocent Nigerians. The observations of Generals Olusegun Obasanjo, and Theophilus Danjuma are noteworthy here. Has Buhari not been openly accused of nepotism? How do you also explain coming to the open to say you are granting insurgents amnesty after they have been captured because they have repented?
Are there enough grounds to infer that the government is complicit in handling insurgency in the country?
All the government policy manifestations lend credence to public speculations that the Nigerian leader is more of an ethnicist, rather than a nationalist. This is why the insurgency has the great potential to succeed, particularly in the North.
The government appears to have a double standard approach to the question of insurgency – open hostility, but discreet support.
Second, regarding the self-determination-driven insurgency, the government cannot be said to be on the right path. It is not known in history where the use of force has suppressed agitation for self-determination. The Catalonians in Spain are on record to have been agitating for separation for more than 300 years. Their agitation has become recidivist with renewed determination. The limited autonomy they currently enjoy directly results from bombs and bullets for which the government of Spain has had to grapple with unsuccessfully. In the case of the emerging self-determination insurgency in the South West, as well as the agitation for a Biafran Republic in the South East, the international community has the potential to strongly support the agitators because self-determination is a right in international law and relations, and any military abuse of such a right can warrant the questioning of the international responsibility of the Nigerian government. The way that the Buhari administration is going about the management of the self-determination insurgency is philosophically faulty, faulty in policy design, faulty in policy implementation, and faulty in policy outcomes.
For as long as Buhari operates on the basis of indivisibility and indissolubility of Nigeria, believing in the use of hard power to deal with the agitation, and presenting himself to the Nigerian public as an ‘I don’t care leader’ on public complaints, self-determination cannot but remain a catalyst for forceful disintegration, making the subject matter an interesting, knotty issue to deal with violently in the long run.
Without doubt, self-determination is an idea. An idea is indestructible. When it is considered as a wish, it becomes a core interest for its proponents and for which there may be total commitment. For me, the invasion of houses of agitators in the belief that it can serve as a deterrent, or quench the thirst for self-determination is like fetching water into an African basket in the hope that the basket will hold the water. This amounts to dreaming and living on an imaginary chair.
Nigeria has been battling insurgency for over a decade. So, what are the key takeaways/lessons for her from the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan?
The first lesson is the need to acknowledge the timing of any military operation, especially in terms of timing of actualisation of set objectives. It took a long time and a lot of financial and human resources before Osama bin Laden could be neutralised. The objective of laying stronger foundation for possible liberal democracy in Afghanistan is yet to be attained. Thus, time tells a lot in the actualisation of an objective. What really is the time set by the Buhari administration to put an end to insurgency in Nigeria? It is useful to differentiate between insurgency in Afghanistan and insurgency in Nigeria. Unlike insurgency in Afghanistan, which warrants foreign intervention, and which prompted the United States to intervene in the quest for protection of its national security interest, the insurgency in Nigeria is, stricto sensu, a domestic question that has not called for foreign intervening forces. By implication, it cannot be a question for the government of Nigeria to backout from its anti-insurgents’ agenda. Far from it. Not until the insurrection is brought to an end, there is nothing like withdrawing in the manner that the United States did. The logical lesson for the Buhari administration is to reckon with, and plan for a long time of insurrection.
Second, the return of the Taliban to Kabul clearly suggests that bombs and bullets do not easily suppress determination in whatever manifestations. Time can always tell, but not always how. In this regard, it is relevant to recall that while the war against terror was on in Afghanistan, the United States still engaged in discussions and negotiated agreements with the militants, even if the agreements were to no avail. The lesson is that the option of negotiation with agitators cannot at any time be jettisoned. Buhari does not believe in negotiated settlements, but most unfortunately, this is another reason why insurgency cannot but remain a major dilemma in the maintenance of peace and security in Nigeria.
Third, there is the Taliban blood in many Nigerian Muslims. There is no doubting the specific case of the Boko Haramists who have openly subscribed to the doctrines of Al-Qaida. In fact, the Boko Haram is an officially recognised member of the Al-Qaida terrorist group. It should therefore be expected that, sooner than later, there will be a renewed and strengthened relationship between the Taliban in Afghanistan and the ‘Talibanised’ Boko Haram in Nigeria. This simply implies that Nigeria cannot but become an extension of Afghanistan in all ramifications in Africa.
Fourth, and perhaps more disturbingly, where is the destination of the Muslims checking out of Afghanistan? Where are they going to? Many of them are seen to be struggling to go to the United States. But for what? If they are Muslims, is it that they do not believe again in Sharia law? If they do, why wouldn’t they stay back in Afghanistan and lend support to their government? A doctoral student at Babcock University once asked me whether Nigeria will not be an alternative destination if life is made difficult for them in the United States, bearing in mind that there is an existing domestic base and support in Nigeria on the basis of the Boko Haram?
Fifth, and most importantly, it should be noted that excessive reliance on foreign help can be very disappointing at an unexpected time. The Afghan government never seriously planned for the immediate withdrawal of the US troops. By the time the notice of withdrawal of US troops was first given to the Kabul authorities, the Afghan government was ill-prepared. This partly explains why there was little resistance to the return of the Taliban to Kabul. This is also why the Afghan president opted to flee in order not to give opportunity for the shedding of blood of innocent lives. The lesson for Aso Rock therefore, is how to re-strategise and deal with the Nigerian Taliban.
Some experts are of the view that America failed to read politics of Afghanistan properly, underestimated the Taliban, as well as overestimated the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF). Do you share this viewpoint?
The experts may be right or wrong. It all depends on the factors that they considered in arriving at their conclusions. What is not deniable is that every policy action has its immediate and long-term objectives. For me, there is nothing like failure to read the politics of Afghanistan properly. There is also nothing like an underestimation of the Taliban or an overestimation of the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces. Every foreign policy action is always driven by a specific national interest that may not be openly explained, especially if the action is about tactical implementation. The factual points are not far-fetched in this case. First, the cardinal objective of the United States intervention in Afghanistan is two-fold – to sanction all those responsible for the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon and the Twin Towers in which about 3,000 American lives were lost. The leader of the attacking terrorists, Osama bin Laden, was hiding in Afghanistan with the complicity of the Afghan government. This was the major rationale for the decision to invade Afghanistan. With bin Laden’s being neutralised, there is nothing like the failure of policy, or the inability to read Afghan politics rightly. This is the first mission accomplished.
The second objective was to prevent the carriage of terror into the domestic space of the United States. And, true enough again, nothing of such has happened since the unfortunate incident of 9/11 of 2001. This again means that the US political calculus and strategic manoeuvres have been right. It is useful to also underscore the point that there is nothing to suggest that the US ever had the intention to train the Afghans to the level of military sophistication. What the Americans simply wanted to do was to train them to the level required to assist in containing terrorism in Afghanistan, especially in terms of preventing the use of the country as an instrument of international terrorism. Most importantly, even if there has been a failure as a result of misreading of Afghan politics, underestimation of the capacity of the Taliban or overestimation of the Afghan Defence and Security Forces, the main purpose of reading well, not underestimating, and not overestimating is to achieve the policy objectives of going to Afghanistan, which, as explained by President Joe Biden, have been achieved, and therefore, there cannot be any further justification to stay any longer there. This is the second mission accomplished.
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