By Ochereome Nnanna
A new debate has broken out as to whether the Boko Haram insurgency has assumed the status of a civil war. Way back in April 2012, the Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu Gambari, had described it as “more dreadful than a civil war”.
The International Criminal Court, ICC, at The Hague in the Netherlands issued a report last Sunday characterising the violence in Nigeria as “an armed conflict of non-international character”. I am not quite sure what the ICC had in mind, but I daresay that most armed conflicts inexorably have foreign interests and powers playing very active roles in them, whether they are civil wars or mere insurgencies.
For instance, the Nigerian civil war was won and lost mainly because the federal side had overwhelming international, financial, military, technical, diplomatic and sundry supports, which the losing side – Biafra – lacked. And yet it was generally tagged a civil war, though some elements on the Biafra side preferred to call it the Biafra/Nigeria war.
The Boko Haram rebellion was a pretty localised effort when it was led by Mohammed Yusuf. But when he was killed the group went into a hibernation from which it emerged backed with the financial support of disgruntled politicians who added to the financial, technical and ideological muscle of the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, AQIM and the Al Shabbab jihadists of Somalia.
I am ready to guess that the ICC meant that the violence is not between Nigeria and a foreign country but one chiefly led on both sides by Nigerians. To that extent, they are correct.
I am also willing to side (for once) with the Minister of Information, Mr Labaran Maku, who asserted that the conflict is no civil war. It is not yet at that level. Boko Haram may have their secret admirers. They may even enjoy tacit financial and logistical support from some misguided or disgruntled individuals who see them as warriors fighting the cause of their religion and region helping to make governance uncomfortable for President Goodluck Jonathan, whom they see as their latest obstacle to rule Nigeria, their family estate.
But since such elements are too cowardly to come out in the open, like the former Biafrans, to declare their desire in the public arena so that Nigeria will decide what to do with them, we will assume this cowering minority do not count, though we still have to watch out for them as they sneak around in the night.
Though I am a layman about military matters, and certainly about the challenges our security agencies are facing in the three flashpoint states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, I believe that the Boko Haram challenge has not been handled with the swift, decisiveness it deserves. It is being allowed to linger for too long. There is too much pandering to the political side of decision making by the Presidency which is the final authority over the issue.
I agree with the All Progressives Congress, APC, governors who recently declared that President Jonathan is more interested in the politics of 2015 than stamping his feet to bring the anarchy to a speedy close. But at the same time, I am wary of the APC’s real intentions, since they would be the first to cry wolf about “human rights” issues when the eggs are broken to make the omelette.
Sadly, the conflict in the North East is beginning to settle into some kind of stalemate. Once the jihadists were driven away from the major cities, such as Maiduguri, Damaturu, Potiskum and others, and they started operating from the wilderness, the state-of-emergency push lost steam. When the President returned to the National Assembly to ask for additional extension of the emergency operations for six months, most Nigerians expected it was for the purpose of carrying out an endgame. The terrorists were reported to have been splintered into small, wandering groups of rag-tag, hungry, deprived and desperate groups waiting to be eliminated before Christmas.
But the recent attack on an air force facility, razing of military helicopters and warplanes, seizure of armoured tanks, attack on the MaiduguriInternationalAirport and the killing of a large number of civilian and military personnel, ran counter to the picture of a venomous snake with its head cut off. The military and security agencies in the war-torn states have settled into a comfort zone. I have travelled through the northern country in the past couple of months and I saw how easy a determined suicidal enemy could wreak havoc with the way checkpoints were set up and run.
The military, police and security agencies in the north as a whole should know that they are the primary targets of Boko Haram. The insurgents know that if they succeed in overwhelming the security forces they will have the civilian populace for dinner. Due to the slack measures around the military establishments, the terrorists have seized the initiative and are able to infiltrate the barracks and study their vulnerabilities. That was why it was easy for them to pull off the Maiduguri strike.
It is high time the military looked inward to see if some elements in their ranks have not started to profit from this campaign and thus would fancy its prolongation.
We must end this scourge as quickly as possible. Heavens will not fall if we have to pull the stops and get done with it. Our leaders will benefit politically if they can find a quick end to enable the people resume their normal, lawful livelihood. If this situation remains the same by the time the elections hold in 2015, no office holder will be rewarded.
I see so many dangers in a prolonged engagement. What happened in Mali when General Ahmadou Sanogo returned to Ouagadougou from the war front and removed President Ahmadou Toumani Traore from power for his failure to support the military to battle the insurgents, should be an object lesson. Also, the general local populace might start losing faith in the nation’s ability to protect them.
But if a quick end is devised and implemented, its painful side will be quickly forgotten.