Predicting the ‘end of terrorism’ is seldom a good idea

Sorry to be repetitive but some things are just worth repeating.  So I will once again cite that great philosopher/New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra when he famously said: “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

Mr. Berra’s sage advice notwithstanding, many people foolishly think they can predict the future.  Some do it repeatedly – like the Nigerian government.  The other day the Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osunbajo addressed a trade show to mark Nigerian Army Day and boldly stated that “the end of the Boko Haram terrorists group will come sooner than later”, adding that the mere commemoration of the army “was a proof that the terrorist had been “substantially degraded.”

Is it just me or is this a bizarre juxtaposition?  What does a day for honouring the army have to do with the imminent demise of the Boko Haram terrorist group?  How did he get there from here?  Am I missing an obvious causal link between the two?

In fairness, it is not just the VP making statements of this nature.  Every December the Nigerian President or some other such grand poobah confidently predicts that ‘next year is definitely the end of Boko Haram’.  And a year goes by until the next grand pronouncement but Boko Haram is still around, sending young female suicide bombers, firebombing mosques with worshipers inside, kidnapping  girls to serve as slaves and wives, launching attacks into neighbouring countries and generally wreaking havoc.  So no, the predictions don’t come true.

I do understand why Nigerian leaders make these kinds of statements.  Boko Haram, by some estimates, has been responsible for thousands of deaths, hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people and untold millions (billions?) in losses to the national economy.  It is a real threat and terrifies a lot of people.  The Nigerian government, like any other government for that matter, wants to show its population that it is pulling out all the stops, doing what it can, getting the upper hand and that normalcy will return to the country soon.  No one wants to admit that “oh well, the terrorists are winning and there is not a damn thing we can do about it”.  Nigeria has enough problems to worry about – for example the spate of attacks between herders and farmers in Benue – without allowing itself to be seen as completely hopeless when it comes to terrorism.

It must also be acknowledged that some progress against Boko Haram has indeed been made.  Terrorists have been killed.  Some girls have been rescued.  The extremists are perhaps not as strong as they once were.  And yet  every year since 2015 Boko Haram has issued a video to show the group’s sallah prayers marking Eid al-Fitr (the end of Ramadan), and this year has been no exception.  For the record, Eid this year was on June 14:  that was three weeks ago.  This strikes me as a pretty recent indication that the terrorists are still active.

I am not sure which is worse for Nigeria’s long-suffering people: to be told – erroneously – that Boko Haram is on the outs or to be told that it is going to take some time.  Hope is always a good thing but is false hope?  Should the government not level with its citizens?  Is it not better to say that this is a tough problem, driven by multiple factors and that even if the military contribution is a necessary component it is not the only one?  Much has to be done in terms of social, economic, and societal changes to bring Boko Haram to its knees – not that this is ever guaranteed – and this will not happen overnight.  The government really should think more carefully before it issues yet another death knell for the group.

Perhaps the next time a Nigerian leader is tempted to brag that Boko Haram is no more he should choose another Yogi Berra quote.  How about “It ain’t over til its over’?


By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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