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Towards collective response to soft target attacks by terrorists

In his introductory remarks on his first day at work as the new National Security Adviser (NSA) on June 26, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu made a salient acknowledgment: securing the nation requires a collective effort.

“Mr President has a huge commitment to securing every inch of our country. We will work with all stakeholders to deliver on this vision.

“This enormous task of securing our country is that of all Nigerians and all friends of Nigeria,” he said.

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An analysis of media content shows that, among other things, Ribadu seems to have prioritised two courses of action since he became NSA.

Firstly, he appears determined to entrench the whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches towards finding lasting solutions to Nigeria’s security challenges.

Security experts say at any opportunity, Ribadu never fails to emphasise improved horizontal and vertical interagency and inter-governmental collaboration in surmounting threats to national security.

Second, the NSA has made it known that to optimise effectiveness, Nigeria’s national security architecture has to be holistically reassessed by strengthening legal frameworks and reviewing strategies.

Experts say Ribadu’s position is in line with the modern concept of national security, which involves the collective ability of a country to protect its people, interests, values, and critical infrastructure.

Also, President Bola Tinubu has outlined and prioritised an end to oil theft, the fight against violent extremism and insurgency, and extinguishing separatist agitation in his national security agenda.

While there are reasons to be optimistic about the fight against perpetrators who pose a threat to national security, experts warn that there has been a recent rise in soft target attacks by insurgents.

On September 1 gunmen attacked and killed at least seven worshipers in a mosque when they were observing evening prayer at Saya-Saya village in Ikara local government area of Kaduna State.

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On September 22, armed bandits invaded the hostels of undergraduates of the Federal University Gusau, Zamfara, and abducted 24 female students.

Early this month, the Police in Katsina State confirmed the kidnapping of five female students of the Federal University Dutsinma (FUDMA) in Katsina by gunmen.

A few days later, gunmen burnt down the parish house of Saint Raphael’s Catholic Church in Zangon Kataf Local Government Area of Kaduna State, killing a seminarian in the process.

On Oct. 9, armed men abducted four students of the Nasarawa State University Keffi; three of the students were female while one was male.

These incidents share common traits: They are attacks carried out on facilities and locations that are difficult to secure and are used by the public in large numbers.

They are also attacks with the potential to have a widespread adverse impact on large numbers of people if the facilities are destroyed or fatalities are recorded.

Due to the nature of soft target attacks, security experts say existing and fresh security policy frameworks should be able to address threats posed by non-state actors using the whole-of-government and whole-of-society approaches.

They also say national security has gone from being strictly the government’s business to a shared responsibility, with both state and non-state actors involved in various components of its modern concept.

On its part, the Federal Government has designed and has been implementing strategic counter-terrorism policies and programmes, including the National Security Strategy (NSS) and the National Counter-Terrorism Strategy (NACTEST).

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There is also the Policy Framework and National Action Plan for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism launched in 2017.

The policy framework is an acknowledgment by the government that there had to be a broad structure capable of underlying the various interventions launched to tackle the menace of insecurity in the country.

Its main objective is to institutionalise, mainstream and coordinate P/CVE programmes at national, state and local government levels and is expected to be reviewed every three years.

Some stakeholders therefore advise the NSA to start his reassessment of legal frameworks and strategies by reviewing that particular action plan to clarify the roles and responsibilities of states and local governments.

As national and subnational governments have their roles to play in tackling insecurity, so do the media, organised private sector, religious and traditional leaders, politicians, development partners and diplomatic community, civil society organisations and citizens have their roles to play.

One crucial method of collaboration some experts have identified is the use of soft power, which involves co-opting and shaping the buy-in of other stakeholders through appeal and attraction.

Whether it is insurgency, oil theft, or separatist agitation, Nigeria is involved in asymmetric warfare against non-state actors whose relative strength, strategy, or tactics differ significantly.

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Experts therefore warn that, if collective effort is not fostered, perpetrators will continue to attack soft targets to instil fear, seek attention, and make demands.


Kayode Adebiyi writes from News Agency of Nigeria

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