Winning the Hearts and Minds: Improving Community Relations

listThe elusive nature of an insurgent who is able to carry out attacks and quickly blend in with the rest of the population has made the military realize that it needs the members of the public to work alongside with them, if they are to effectively root out terrorism from the area. In recent times we have started seeing the military take several steps to improve community relations with members of the public.
The Defense HQ released pictures of 100 insurgents in a bid to solicit the help of the public in identifying and apprehending wanted insurgents. When asked about how the Army was able to compile the list, the Director of Army PR said it was through a combination of video screenshots, cross cued with eye witness accounts and a review of other evidence recovered from the raided Boko Haram camps.

The military’s efforts in this endeavor must be commended. Videos of these insurgents have been in the possession of the military for years now. It appears the new dedicated leadership is working with more of a sense of purpose and focus, and has decided to utilize and implement proven counter-terrorism strategies. Having a most-wanted list or a target list, allows the military to focus on attacking the insurgent network and removing the key individuals who help keep the attacks going through facilitation of supplies, weapons, funds, fighters, IEDs and so on.
The defense PR also stated that there was no financial reward attached for those who are able to provide pertinent information about these wanted Boko Haram insurgents. It said the military is relying on individuals to act on their own accord for the good of the nation. Unfortunately, the people in the affected communities, right now do not necessarily feel a lot of appreciation in what the government has done for them, based on what they’ve been going through over the last couple of years.

In order for this strategy to be more effective, the military may have to assign some bounty on the insurgents on the list, as the public may be more willing to share information about their whereabouts, when there is some pecuniary gain.

Counter Propaganda and De-Radicalization Strategies
Adding to the list of other non-violent or soft handed approach being used to defeat Boko Haram, the government also unveiled a communication strategy it is implementing with the aim of countering the ideological propaganda Boko Haram had been preaching to its followers.

Dr Akilu, a renowned psychologist who worked with former Boko Haram insurgents in the de-radicalization program, explained in an interview with the BBC, that a lot of the Boko Haram members had an inadequate ability to reason logically, as they were being fed a version of religion by a charismatic preacher and simply accepted that version to be the absolute truth.

Counter propaganda strategies help in ensuring that the proper religious narrative is being given to these easily impressionable youth, so that as Dr Akilu said, “when someone says to you: ‘My religion says that you should hate someone from another religion,’ you can actually counter that.”

Improving Troop Morale
The Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Buratai, took time out to visit Nigerian Army troops on the battlefield, and boost their morale by handing out promotions and commendation medals. The COAS also stated that he was also there to get firsthand operational requirements of the Brigade and its affiliated units as well as to identify challenges facing them.

This sort of dedication to troops and to the community is all part of a multi-faceted strategy which scholars and experts have long agreed is needed in tackling the Boko Haram insurgency. In essence we are seeing the leadership not just talk about what they are going to do, but also putting the plan in action. With this sustained level of engagement, the government will be able to eventually put an end to this Boko Haram insurgency and possibly prevent future ones.

Increased Inter-agency Collaboration
There are reports that the Inspector General of Police Solomon Arase put together a joint task force comprising of personnel in the police, DSS, military and NSCDC, whose main purpose is to hunt down Boko Haram members who are attempting to flee the heavy military pressure in the North East, into other parts of Nigeria. This task force was supposedly involved in arresting about 45 terror suspects who were planning to bomb Dolphin Estate in Lagos, and was also instrumental in the arrest of about 30 Boko Haram suspects in Nyanya, a satellite town in the FCT, where twin bomb blasts occurred on October 2, 2015.

This sort of inter-agency collaboration is precisely how the country’s security agencies need to be operating in order to effectively tackle the security challenges of the nation. The threat of Boko Haram infiltrating other parts of the country is a real one and the security agencies in all the various states need to begin implementing their counter-terrorism strategies which includes active intelligence gathering, disseminating key information to the appropriate personnel and working together to prevent attacks before the occur.

Tackling Lagos State Crime
Lagos state has been focusing on improving the security situation in the state through the use of increased technology. Recently, the state governor announced plans to procure three helicopters in order to enable security agencies tackle criminal activities in the air while assisting in monitoring traffic gridlock. There were also talks of deploying drones in addition to the 1,000 CCTV surveillance cameras already mounted across Lagos. The Lagos state governor also urged the State Police Command to reassess their patrol and surveillance strategies. He encouraged increased patrol between 12 midnight and 4am, actual vehicle patrols instead of stationery vehicles.

All this renewed focus on security in Lagos state and the attempt to proffer solutions to this challenge is not unfounded as there appears to be an increase in crime incident reports. Cases of cultism related clashes, armed robbery, and kidnapping have also increased. A combination of road works and increased rainfall has contributed to unimaginable gridlock traffic which in turn has given rise to traffic related robberies. The tailgating or ‘bumper to bumper’ manner in which Lagosians drive makes maneuvering out of or escaping from these traffic robberies virtually impossible.

It is probable that the same gridlock traffic probably hinders response teams from gaining access to the areas where these robberies are taking place. If this is the case, would the use of a helicopter be helpful in tackling this crime in real-time? Well the answer is yes if the policemen onboard, plan on sliding down on ropes commando style directly into the middle of the area of activity and giving the robbers a good 20 minute foot chase before they are apprehended. But if this is not feasible, perhaps the use of police motorcycles will suffice.
If the helicopters are going to be used to get real-time situation awareness, less intrusive and non-life threatening CCTV cameras and even perhaps unmanned aerial vehicles (or drones as they are popularly called) could perform the same function.

It is understandable that the governor wants to implement new creative ideas and technologies to manage traffic and defeat crime in Lagos, however it appears that when it comes to the streets and crime and traffic, some Lagosians still need ‘in-your-face’ methods of enforcement. Commercial bus drivers and okada riders will hardly fear the presence of a helicopter, drone or CCTV. To some of them, the good old presence of a no-nonsense KAI or LASTMA agent is what they need to obey the rules.

The response to crime challenges need to be two phased, the first phase should be on effectively using the law enforcement officers to prevent crime. Once this is working, the second phase can then be the implementation of strategic technologies that should serve to enhance the works already being done by the officers. Jumping straight to phase two leads to instability which makes the government appear out of touch. Given time, the use of technologies will straighten things out, but the question is do Lagosians ever have time?!

Tanwa Ashiru is the founder of Bulwark Intelligence and is a U.S Air Force veteran with over 12 years of experience in All-Source Intelligence and counter improvised explosive device (CIED) Analysis. She has been involved in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations in support of Multi-National Forces in Southwest Asia, Middle East and North Africa.
Email: tanwa.ashiru@bulwarkintelligence.com
Website: www.bulwarkintelligence.com
Twitter: @bulwark_intel



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