Nigeria Must Hit Terrorists Where It Hurts the Most

All Nigerians should be vexed about the killings that have befallen the northeastern region of Nigeria and which have also penetrated other areas of the Nigerian federation. In a series of papers presented at the NISEC Homeland Security Conference 2014, I discussed my ideas on how to combat terrorism in Nigeria. Israeli experts and other scholars and security specialists also enunciated their own counter-terrorism initiatives in Abuja.

On this subject, today, the data—as depicted by the Global Terrorism Database (2019) and compiled by the University of Maryland in the United States—show that more than 190,000 cases of terrorism took place globally, of which 4,555 occurred in our Nigerian republic from 1970–2018. As I write, citizens of Nigeria are still being slain in our nation with wanton disregard for life. Below, I articulate once again only one aspect of what I believe Nigeria can do now to fight terrorism.

Unlike the general understanding of the existing literature on terrorism that “Publicity is the lifeblood of terrorism,” I argue that in Nigeria, the engine that powers terrorism is money. By this, I refer simply to the financing of terrorist attacks. No country can win a war without money. Likewise, no terrorist organization can survive without a constant influx of cash to carry out terrorist maneuvers. So, what can Nigeria do to thwart—or at the very least, control—terrorism on our land?

How do terrorists finance themselves? That is, how do they generate money to subsist? How do they purchase the weapons that they use to threaten the Nigerian populations?

To address this vital question—and taking into account the loss of lives, injuries, destruction of property, and damage to the nation’s regional and global reputation abroad that has resulted from terrorism—Nigeria must place heavy emphasis on the etiological antecedents responsible for the funding flows to terrorist organizations. We must also ask additional questions. For example, how do terrorists finance themselves? That is, how do they generate money to subsist? How do they purchase the weapons that they use to threaten the Nigerian populations? Do they receive financing from allied émigré terrorist groups, or are they funded domestically? How do they purchase and maintain the vehicles used for terrorist events? Do they manufacture and print their own money in the Sambisa Forest?

From where does the food that they eat while in the jungle come? How in the world did Boko Haram manage to kidnap innocent Nigerian girls without the knowledge of the intelligence apparatus of Nigeria? To implore bluntly, are Nigerian terrorists sponsored from abroad or by fellow Nigerians? Do Nigerian terrorists receive financing from the drug trade, mineral trade, oil bunkering, or other illicit underground networks? To fund their activities, do Nigerian counter-terrorism agencies look to legitimate financial operations, such as the well-known Hawala financial system that was used in the Middle East and Southeast Asia by terrorists? In my mind, there are so many more related questions that must be addressed.

Such questions are vital, also, because Nigeria belongs to all of us. If terrorists are allowed to dismember any part of Nigeria, it will, ultimately, culminate in the dysfunction and dilemma of all of Nigeria. If Nigeria fails to act, she is, in essence, deliberately encouraging the development and emergence of a shell state, where terrorists will have the latitude to establish bases throughout the country, thereby challenging the sovereignty of the nation. Nigerian citizens from all corners of the world must come together to disavow the existence of the “fog of terror” that has pigeonholed our great nation-state. To accomplish this task, the onus of action must fall first on the national government. It must adhere to, or include, the most compelling counter-terrorism financial strategies in the war against terror.

As alluded to earlier, the first strategy is to follow the money by examining and investigating the sources of financing to terrorism in Nigeria. Nigerian investigative journalists must employ the spirit and determination of our lost and valued journalism guru, Dele Giwa, in both critical evaluations and plucky investigations of how terrorists are funded in our nation. The altruistic efforts of the probing journalists, their unrestricted findings, and their ability “to blow the whistle” could help the government identify the cradles of terrorist financing and integrate them into Nigeria’s coast-to-coast intelligence efforts.

The authorities can accomplish this undertaking by stopping any terrorist group’s legitimate or illegitimate efforts to procure money for their causes.

Indeed, in the literature on terrorism, it is a well-known fact that one proven method of combating terrorism involves intelligence structures that completely deny terrorists avenues to financial resources. Economic and intelligence strategies to deny terrorism financing reduce terrorism in Nigeria. The authorities can accomplish this undertaking by stopping any terrorist group’s legitimate or illegitimate efforts to procure money for their causes.

Finally, Nigeria must respect its judiciary and allow the bench to be the final arbiter of the law. Executive governments must refrain from interfering at all levels of legal questions. Citizens of Nigeria must be encouraged to be highly litigious. Terrorists and their sponsors ought to be fearful of persistent, exorbitant, and perpetual lawsuits. Our lawyers must be willing to bring to court the cases against terrorists and their sponsors without any unit of government intervention. I label this strategy “the suing of terrorists and their sponsors out of financial existence.”

Imagine that the Chibok families’ beautiful and guiltless daughters were abducted and battered and that each one individually sued the terrorists and their sponsors for billions of Naira. Imagine that the relatives could have sued the state and the federal government for billions of Naira for lack of security protection. The lawyers could ask for only one-third of the proceeds they win without demanding Naira from the victims’ families. The terrorists would, no doubt, run because their homes and properties would be impounded. They would be weakened because, without money, they could not function. Their sponsors would also run for fear of public degradation and loss of fortunes. The government would take matters significantly more seriously since, as the foremost authority, it would prefer to obey the dictates of the courts in a democracy.

While this idea may not sound germane to some, it has actually worked in some countries, where police brutality and home-grown extremism have been decreased by the court’s substantial financial verdicts in favor of the victims of violence. Accordingly, one strategy to battle terrorism is to hit the terrorists where it hurts them the most: in their pockets.

■ Dr. I.D. Onwudiwe, a Professor of Criminology at the Texas Southern University is a columnist with the WAP