Jan. 5, 2015
by Oluwafemi Osho
“56 Boko Haram members killed in Borno.” “Boko Haram terrorists invade Borno, kills 9.” “Insecurity: 15 soldiers, 50 ‘terrorists’ killed after clashes in Borno.” “Boko Haram kills bridegroom, 30 other in Borno.” These are all headlines that have painted, in bold letters, the front pages of some of our paper and online media at one time or the other. These are not scripts written for an action movie, to arouse curiosity or create fear; they are stark realities – realities that Nigeria has been seeking to fully grasp.
Terrorism denotes violent intimidation or act employed to actualize a purpose. It is a threat to our individual and collective right to life. Terrorism in Nigeria has indeed come of age. Naturally, in positive economic and social indices we have always trailed the pack. But when it comes to bad indices we always rank among the top echelon. Talk about corruption, illegal bunkering, cyber-fraud, Nigeria is ever located by the tip of the crest. And, it is little wonder that in the area of terrorism, the country is steadily climbing to the peak of the ladder among terrorism-troubled countries.
As far back as 1921, with the Oke-ogun uprising coming to memory, the country had started to experience the scourge of terrorism. The Niger Delta Volunteer Force also made their mark in the mid 1960’s. However, the magnitude that terrorism has assumed of late leaves almost nothing to be desired. The menace of Boko Haram has become so alarming that it simply cannot be shoved aside with the mere wave of the hand. Maybe a magical wand would help! Nowadays, terrorists almost stroll to their target locations, even if it is a military barrack, unleash their terror, with little or no resistance, return back to their camp. Few days later, their leader appears on YouTube to announce their last success.
How has the nation responded so far? It is a common knowledge that terrorists in Nigeria are linked with international terrorist organizations. This means external support in the form of logistics, training, and supply of weapons. Over the years, the government has made effort to respond using the ‘eye for an eye’ strategy. This is understandable considering the fact that some businessmen – arm dealers – must continue to thrive. It has even been speculated that some of the people in charge are benefiting one way or the other, and that the military and para-military personnel deployed to the troubled states relish the allowances they are receiving.
However, one major area the government has not fared well, in their response, is intelligence gathering. The President recently stated his administration cannot afford to lose the battle against terrorism. But an analysis of government’s response clearly shows the path we are trudging is sure to lead to no success. Our strategy has been more on the defensive than offensive. Most of the nations that have currently nipped terrorism in the bud used less of force than intelligence. To them, it was not gun-battle. Nowadays, they will know before a terrorist plot is hatched. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, our responses have mostly been terrestrial. The truth is: we are not winning our battle against terrorism. No, we are not!
After 9/11 attack on US, it was found out the terrorist attack was actually prepared using the internet. Though the attack was not cyber in nature, yet the cyberspace was used as a tool. Terrorist organizations today are employing the cyberspace for recruiting, propagating their agendas, communication, and even preparing attacks. Is there evidence that terrorists in Nigeria could be exploiting the cyberspace? Yes. The Joint Task Force (JTF) once recovered 54 assorted SIM cards from the home of one of the leaders of Boko Haram. That surely rings a bell. The fact that the number of mobile users and internet penetration is steadily increasing in the country, vis-à-vis the fact that information technology is pervading virtually every sphere of human existence also lays credence to the possibility of terrorists utilizing the cyberspace.
Not too long ago, mobile networks were banned in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states. During the period, the number of successful terrorist attacks was almost reduced to zero. While this is not a correct solution, it suggests that securing the nation’s cyberspace could be the starting point in our quest to tackle terrorism.
Cybersecurity is the offensive means of mitigating terrorism. According to ITU, cybersecurity summarizes “various activities such as the collection of tools, policies, security concepts, security safeguards, guidelines, risk management approaches, actions, training, best practices, assurance and technologies that can be used to protect the cyber environment and organization and user’s assets.” In Nigeria, we often see the terms cyberspace and cybersecurity only from the perspective of cybercrime, e-fraud, yahoo yahoo boys, to mention but few. There is much more.
For Nigeria to succeed in combating terrorism we need, amongst other things, to develop cybersecurity policies and strategies, supported by necessary legislative and legal frameworks. We must be able to intercept communications among terrorists. There is also need for rapid information exchange system. It is unsafe these days to use mobile phone to report terrorist plans. Another necessity is cyberspace patrol. Web contents found on some sites are offensive and capable of luring fresh minds as recruits for these terrorist organizations. The nation also needs cyber-forensic capabilities, to be able to trace back cyber-activities to their sources. Last, but not the least, intelligence reports gathered so far can be used to develop honeypot websites to bait and, by so doing, monitor their activities.
The government once launched an initiative to deploy an infrastructure, worth N10 billion. This infrastructure, fashioned along the line of the GSM, meant for the security services, under the National Public Security Communication System, is capable of detecting threats. While this is a plus on the part of the government, it is hoped that the project will not end up in the drain.
Oluwafemi Osho is a lecturer in the Department of Cyber Security Science, Federal University of Technology, Minna. He can be reached via [email protected] He has a comprehensive publication on the subject of combating terrorism with cybersecurity, available for free download here.