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‘How to make former Boko Haram territories safe for residents’

Daily Trust: In a recent presentation, you addressed some critical challenges in the ongoing war against insurgency in the North-east. What informed your position? Gadzama:…

Daily Trust: In a recent presentation, you addressed some critical challenges in the ongoing war against insurgency in the North-east. What informed your position?
Gadzama: The insurgency in the North-East and the post-insurgency challenges are critical components of our national security outlook that require serious consideration. The insurgency in the North-east has resulted in unprecedented destruction of lives and property. It is estimated that over 35 per cent of communities and institutions in the impacted areas have been destroyed by the insurgents. An estimated four million people have also been displaced in Borno, Yobe and parts of Adamawa states, resulting in the largest internally displaced people in the history of the country. Most schools, hospitals and residences have also been destroyed in the affected communities. Farming and related socio-economic activities have been brought to a standstill.
 A crisis is, therefore, imminent. Security remains a huge challenge. Most affected communities are yet to return because of fear of further attacks and where to stay. Many will be surprised to note that Borno and Yobe states at the moment have the largest number of orphans and widows in the country. The situation complicates the problem of managing internally displaced people.

DT: Security forces have been reported to have technically defeated the insurgents. So why do the internally displaced people still have the fear of returning to their communities?
Gadzama: I say without any fear of contradiction that the military have, since the arrival of President Muhammadu Buhari, liberated all the occupied communities. What is being witnessed are isolated suicide bombings and attack on communities by stranded insurgents. I can confirm to you that the gallant troops under the able leadership of the current Chief of Army Staff, and the Air Force under Air Marshal Abubakar, ably supported with the required intelligence from the State Security under Alh. Lawal Daura, have technically defeated the insurgents. The decisive leadership of Mr. President is also instrumental to this success.
The reluctance of the IDPs to return to their communities is simply because their homes have been destroyed by the insurgents. The fact that most of the previously occupied communities have been mined with improvise explosive devices by the insurgents also makes it dangerous for the displaced people to go back home immediately.

DT: Why are suicide bombings and pockets of raids on some communities still being experienced?
Gadzama: It is only those who don’t understand the nature of insurgency that will say there is still insurgency in the North-east. Insurgency in the North-east has been sufficiently degraded and routed. What we are witnessing now are the desperate actions of a defeated group.
Our main concern now, operationally, is fishing out locally recruited terrorist elements and sympathizers embedded in the local populace. It will take time for incidents of suicide bombings to stop. I believe the most appropriate strategy should include sustained deradicalization and people-focused security strategy. People in the affected communities, especially the youths, must also have something to do.

DT: What is your assessment of the current security situation?
Gadzama: The military and security forces have asserted security in the reclaimed communities. This, however, needs to be backed up with a comprehensive deployment of the Nigeria Police and the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence (NSCD) whose responsibility, in the first place, is the protection of the civil populace in such situations.
We are happy that the Minister of Interior, General Dambazzau, is doing just that. His effort is being complemented by the Minister of Defence, General Dan Ali and the Army and Airforce who are reconfiguring the Army and Airforce deployments. We have been told that some fast response units are being established in some vulnerable locations. 
 The Police and the SSS are already doing that. We are hoping that before the year runs out there will be appreciable security in the North-east. Multilateral efforts, especially at the Lake Chad and Cameroon axes, are also helping to stabilize the security situation.

DT: What are the major post-insurgency challenges being faced or are likely to be faced in the next few months?
Gadzama: Reconstruction of the communities and institutions, and re-establishment of security presence are the most critical post-insurgency challenges impacted communities in the North-east are facing. You definitely cannot talk of returning to the communities without rebuilding the destroyed communities. Next is re-establishing security presence. At the moment, there is no security except military presence in most of the affected communities. The security agencies and para- military organizations have been overrun in many communities. Organizations, especially the Nigeria Police, State Security, Nigeria Security and NSCDC, as well as the Immigration and Custom services were forced to vacate the affected communities. They need to re-establish their presence.
Closely related to this is insecurity on the highways. The insurgents are likely to resort to waylaying commuters and stage occasional attacks on vulnerable and unprotected communities. These need to be taken care of through more highway patrols and surveillance.
 There is also the issue of proliferation of dangerous weapons and drift into violent crime. Many communities in the North-east are already witnessing this. Cases of breaking into peoples’ homes and local robbery are on the increase. The most disturbing is the volume of illegal weapons in circulation. A programme to mop up such arms is important.
 The other challenge is, of course, the level of poverty, unemployment and low literacy in the affected states.
These deep-seated socio-economic problems need to be addressed if such social upheavals are to be forestalled. What we are suggesting in effect is that the ongoing counter-insurgency efforts should be supported with well thought-out anti-insurgency strategies.

T: Are you satisfied with ongoing efforts to rebuild the impacted communities?
Gadzama: We are 100 per cent confident that the programmes put in place by Mr. President and the National Assembly will succeed. The important thing is that these programmes should be driven by focused and honest people. Politics should also not be brought into rebuilding the North-east. We must also learn from the pitfalls and experiences of the Niger Delta. We are particularly of the conviction that the enormity of the North-east rebuilding is beyond the capabilities of local authorities and interests. International support and oversight is required.
Civil society groups also need to be involved to check abuses and mismanagment. But more important is government impacting the lives of the people. The absence of this, in the first place, fuelled the insurgency. Government should have the interest of the masses at heart. Development should definitely be the focus of governance at all levels.
 Lastly, we are calling on all North-eastern people to give unflinching support to the president’s plans to rebuild the region.

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