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Between Trust and Suspicion: Why Are Security Informants in Nigeria Fearful?

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Intelligence gathering is as old as warfare itself. Even in biblical times, Joshua sent spies to Jericho to learn about their ways and about their strengths and weaknesses.

Intelligence gathering plays a major role in today’s warfare as it provides what the enemy may be doing or is going to do in the future. Intelligence can be about enemy weapons, troop strengths, troop movement activity, and future operational plans. No matter how it is gathered, intelligence information is used in determining courses of action to be taken in offensive and defensive combat actions.

Recently, when Nigeria was thrown into mourning over the killings of about 43 rice farmers in Borno, the outcry was all about failure of intelligence especially when it was reported that the leader of the killer gang was known to many as a member of the Boko Haram sect. They had stayed with them for weeks, acting as fellow farmers and rice millers only to wake up one day, pick up arms and the result is what has saturated the global media for some days.

Read Also: President Buhari Deploys Security Operatives to Zamfara State

This has raised grave concerns for the intelligence gathering capacity of the army. Many pundits expect that the Nigerian Army should be able to receive information, analyse them, intercept the threat and dissolve the arson. For many Nigerians, the statement of the Nigerian Presidency over the killings of the rice farmers was an expression of hopelessness and helplessness. It was also passing the buck to the Nigerian Army because for the Nigerian government, it had done all it could to support the force in all its theatres of operation.

In a media interview with Major General John Eneche, Coordinator of the Defence Media Operations, the general expressed dismay over the preponderance of Boko Haram informants, who have helped the insurgents to thrive in the North East. Although the General acknowledged the support of the Civilian Joint Task Force, and other stakeholders, there is no doubt that the Nigerian Army is strained by a gulf of intelligence. This raises questions. What is being done to quell the fight against Boko Haram in the North East? How often are certain strategies deployed to enhance relations with stakeholders? How is technology deployed to gather intelligence?

In terms of communication, cursory research will reveal that the Nigerian Army has been relentless in communicating both in words and in philanthropic gestures to the host communities in the Northeast. It has provided agricultural tools, boreholes, amongst other rural projects. It has used the languages of Hausa, Kanuri, and Arabic to disseminate radio messages to the people, encouraging them to reveal insurgents amongst them. The radio messages also inform them of relevant safety measures. In order to enhance its intelligence, the Nigerian Army once shutdown GSM communication in Borno and Yobe to disrupt the activities of Boko Haram.

The Nigerian Army flight reportedly dropped its last sensitisation leaflet in September 2019. The leaflets shared at that time were to encourage the Northeast populace to expose suspicious movements and settlements because the Nigerian army had just dealt a blow on the insurgents at the time.  The leaflet also urged the citizens to always make their national or international ID cards available in order to sift the wheat from the chaff during random patrols and checks. This was a laudable project of the Nigerian Army. However, we are not sure whether this was the last time the army communicated with the people through leaflets.

What scholars of Peace and Conflict have revealed is that the Boko Haram has been quite adept in finding informants of the Nigerian Army. They have noted that there had been occurrences before 2015 where the army did not intervene promptly despite the fact that information had been provided by informants. These occurrences have created problematic precedence that can only be solved by intensified media communication, community town hall meetings in the localities, and decisive actions that can repudiate unfortunate memories.  Informants do not intend to endanger their lives and the lives of their families, else they will choose silence over communal good. Therefore, the more the army can ensure safety for the people, the easier it will be to gather Intelligence on terrorist activities.

Meanwhile, the ISWAP insurgents also showed its prowess in August 2020, when it clandestinely shared leaflets across Borno. The ISIS-backed Boko Haram, in the massively distributed leaflet titled ‘Message from Jundul Khialifa to the People of Buni Gari’, warned the people to be weary of helping the Nigerian government to identify insurgents. In a veiled threat, the letter informed the residents that the ISWAP is not interested in killing the locals, but it is focused on a war with ‘the State and State Officials’. This way ISWAP provides a false loyalty to the people by detaching them from the government and its officials.

The Nigerian Army and Boko Haram seem to be competing against each other in a dystopic parallel universe. The army has deployed drones, satellite mapping, high-tech armoured vehicles to combat the insurgents. Likewise, the insurgents have shown many times that they have a rare level of firepower. Boko Haram has also used drones. While it may not have had the prowess of vehicular hardware like the Nigerian military, it had frustrated the hopes of victory of the army by enabling asymmetrical guerrilla warfare that the Nigerian Army is grappling with till today. It is therefore important that Nigeria should either borrow a leaf from the American Intelligence, whereby it sponsors a splinter group against the main in order to overpower it, or use neighbours of the hegemonic terrorist to infiltrate its ranks, garner valid information and defeat its stronghold. 

Dr. Niyi Adegoke, a lecturer of Criminology and Security Studies at the National Open University, expressed valid concerns in his paper “Intelligence Gathering and Challenges of Insecurity” in Nigeria. The scholar noted that there is a rise in criminal activities in Nigeria because of the absence of essential and timely availability or disclosure of intelligence. This hampers the prompt assessment and decisive intervention to threats to national security. Dr. Adegoke attributed it to the unwillingness to divulge information to security agencies to a lack of trust among Nigerians. Adegoke noted that the intelligence agencies such as the Department of State Service (DSS), the State Security Service (SSS), the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), and National Intelligence have existed below par in the delivery of ample intelligence to curb crimes of grave national security. This coincides with the assertion of SBM intelligence, which stated that ‘The military is being strained by the burden of having to carry out policing in addition to its orthodox combat role. Certainly, issues of the insurgent group’s funding and recruitment (whether coerced or not) are well within the sphere of intelligence-gathering and policing. If other agencies pick up the slack and liberate the military to focus purely on combat, it could turn the tide decisively in the counter-insurgency campaign.’

While Major General John Eneche told the media that there is a growing mutual relationship with all the security agencies, as well as with the villagers who provide some level of intelligence, he also lamented that intelligence gathering has been difficult because some villagers are also informants for the Boko Haram insurgents, because of some cultural affinity or pecuniary benefits they receive from the hierarchy of the insurgents.

For many Nigerians, the only result for the prowess of the Nigerian Army is victory. Nigerians are beginning to become weary of the troubles borne by fellow citizens in the Northeast. The Nigerian military must constantly rejig strategies in the theatre of war to completely make powerless or reduce drastically the presence of the country’s enemies.

Femi Morgan

Photo Credit: Ripples Nigeria

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