Factional leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau
“Some continue to dip their hands and eat with you and you won’t even know the person who will point a gun at you or plant a bomb behind your house,” were the words of the then President, Goodluck Ebele Jonthan on January 8, 2012 during a church service at the National Ecumenical Centre in Abuja. The event was a part of the annual Armed Forces Remembrance Day celebrations.
Jonathan made this assertion to buttress his personal conviction that the Boko Haram sect had infiltrated his government with its members, apologists or sympathizers planted in government agencies and security outfits.
Jonathan’s comments had deleterious effects on his popularity then. We thought he was weak; we vilified him and appealed to him to use the Aso Rock Villa exit door. We turned to General Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd) like the 75-year old fragile man of Fulani ancestry was going to lead the Nigerian Army against the Boko Haram sect like the kings led battles in the medieval period.
Almost 10 years down the line, the Boko Haram war has refused to end. Almost 100,000 people have been killed (Governor Kashim Shettima, Feb. 2017), over 2 million people have been displaced, about 1,500 schools destroyed in the Northeast, 2,295 school teachers killed, over 1,000 children abducted, properties worth $5.9 billion have been mangled by the vicious sect in 6 years. According to the Borno State government, the insurgents razed down 986, 453 residential homes, 5,335 classrooms, 201 health facilities, 1,630 water facilities and 726 power stations and transformers, 800 public structures such as offices, prisons, police posts and others have also been destroyed. To cap it all, 22 out of the 27 local government council areas have been rendered inhabitable.
Even our well-trained but sparsely equipped soldiers aren’t safe in the Northeastern part of Nigeria not to talk of the civilians. Buhari has only won the war in phantom places namely in the media through state-sponsored propaganda, and in his wild imaginations or possibly in his dreams.
The attacks are still interminable and most of them go unreported. Boko Haram has made a mockery of Buhari’s bid to diversify the economy through his focus on agriculture. Farmers in the North-east now cultivate farmlands with their hearts in the mouths. The Nigerian Military recently urged farmers in Maiduguri not to stay beyond 4pm on their farmlands starting from Tuesday, 14th of November, 2018 due to the severity of insecurity in the zone.
The Boko Haram menace is being supported by other forms of criminality like armed banditry, farmers-herdsmen clashes, kidnappings and farmers in rural areas are being freely slaughtered in their farms without due interference by security operatives.
A report by BBC Monitoring has it that there have been more attacks by Boko Haram from the year 2016 to 2017 of the Buhari administration.
The group killed more than 900 people in 2017, marginally more than it did in 2016. Boko Haram reportedly mounted a total of 150 attacks in 2017, an increase on the 127 attacks it is said to have mounted the previous year. At least 967 people were reportedly killed by Boko Haram attacks in 2017, an increase on the previous year when 910 deaths were reported.
As for this year, at least 90 soldiers have been confirmed to be killed by the Islamic terror sect between August and September (Premium Times, 2nd of September, 2018). If soldiers can suffer losses of this magnitude, a census on the death toll of civilians this year will be inconceivable.
Boko Haram attacks have become so brazen and barbarous that it appears the sect unleashes terror in the Northeast in response to President Muhammadu Buhari and the ruling party – All Progressives Congress’ claims of ‘technical victory’ or decimation. The Nigerian Army has been suffering and smiling in order not to derail the approval ratings of the current administration.
It always claims victory over the Boko Haram group with minimal losses while families of fallen soldiers loudly mourn their losses on social media. Dead troops are summarily buried by the Nigerian Army without their national respect duly paid to them to make the present day government look good and in charge.
Its time for a revitalization of the battle against Boko Haram terrorism in Nigeria. We can’t keep doing the same thing, the same way multiple times and expect a different result. The Nigerian government has bought military hardware from the West and other countries. The government struck a military partnership agreement known as the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) with neighbouring African countries namely Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, to combat Boko Haram; former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan hired South African and Ukrainian military mercenaries, secured foreign training of soldiers and sharing intelligence with collaborative countries like the U.S, United Kingdom and others but the battle hasn’t waned.
Buhari keeps living under the illusion that 14 Local Government Areas were under the control of the sect before he assumed power and they have been liberated. He might even add that the military under his administration chased the factional Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau out of its stronghold in Sambisa Forest. Yes, he is right but the strategy of the group appears to have changed. They appear uninterested in holding territories and hoisting their flags anymore. They just want to paint the Northeast red with human blood and degrade habited areas to deserts.
Nigeria needs international help. This is hard to admit but it’s the gospel truth. Those giving Buhari hope are mostly feeding fat on the protracted war by diverting military allocations, slashing the allowances of the troops, and other funds from serving as middlemen between Boko Haram and the government during negotiations on the release of abductees.
The Boko Haram insurgency has been enmeshed in stinking and retrogressive politics typical of the Dark Continent. The crisis has its roots in politics and students of Nigerian history will confirm that issues with political undertones in Nigeria are seldom resolved. Examples are the deaths of Dele Giwa, MKO Abiola, Bola Ige, Funsho Williams and other high profile murder cases in Nigeria. Take a look at the anti-corruption fight since the establishment of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences, ICPC since the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo; the two anti-graft bodies have struggled to conclude more than 12 high-profile cases since in 18 years.
The EFCC and ICPC between 2000 and 2018 have secured hundreds of convictions for low-level offenders. Just a handful of high-profile offenders were sentenced to punishment proportionate to the gravity of their offences. This doesn’t have much to do with the competence of the members of staff of the anti-corruption bodies or their funding; the root cause is the political colouration of the crimes it handles.
The EFCC, military police, the Directorate of State Security and other security organizations easily become the political arms of the party in power. They are used to clip the wings of the political enemies of the person at the helm of affairs. This isn’t far from the predominant challenge of strong men and weak institutions in Nigeria.
I think the former governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose will agree with me on this one due to his personal experience with the EFCC. Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State and Nyesom Wike of Rivers might also attest to this. This shouldn’t be allowed to fester in the battle against the Boko Haram sect as human lives are at stake and the territorial integrity of Nigeria as well as her sovereignty is being threatened by the sect.
On this note, I will recommend the “Syrian model” to be used in fighting the Boko Haram sect. The Nigerian government needs to eat the humble pie by admitting that it’s incapable of dealing with the blood-thirsty sect. We need international mercenaries who will be in full control of the war while their Nigerian counterparts are relegated to the roles of “fixers” as we have in journalism. The 7-year civil war in Syria which is close to coming to an end is being prosecuted majorly by fighters from Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, and foreign Shia militias (Afghanistan and Pakistan) with tremendous progress. It is also worthy of note that the Syrian coalition receives political, logistic and military support from the United States, Britain and France.
A number of countries, including some individual NATO members, have since September 2014 participated in air operations in Syria. Those who have conducted airstrikes in Syria include the United States, Australia, Bahrain, Canada, France, Jordan, The Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom.
President Bashar al-Assad, was almost forced out of the country by rebel groups and members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL but today, the last rebel stronghold, Idlib province is about to be given up. Russia has been incredible in its war games which have caught the attention of America; Iran also did the same recently as President Trump hit the country with hard economic sanctions. It’s understandable for western powers like the U.S, France, Germany and United Kingdom to be uninterested in being fully involved direct military confrontations in another continent but President Vladimir Putin’s quest for influence in Africa and the world could be favourably exploited. If the deal is good, Russia might take it alongside Turkey, Israel or Iran (Both will never fight together). A snippet of the anticipated result could be seen in former President Jonathan’s intensified attack on Boko Haram for 6 weeks after the 2015 presidential election was postponed from February 14 to March 28. He reportedly engaged mercenaries and the sect was largely degraded to facilitate the peaceful conduct of the 2015 general elections.
The way Turkey has swiftly unraveled the killing of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi is an addition to the resume of the European country. We need to approach crime with adequate intelligence gathering and surveillance system by trusted experts and not moles. We need a military set-up that is ahead of the sect. A security architecture that can anticipate their attacks and mitigate the crisis even before an outbreak; not a reactionary one.
We need to know those funding the sect, their apologists, the moles they have planted within the security system, we need to wiretap the pseudo-journalists who are like mouthpieces of the group, the negotiators and other suspicious elements working for Boko Haram. How do they recruit members, buy arms, and transfer cash? Terrorism Financing is key to counterterrorism. We need to saturate Sambisa Forest and other grey spots in Yobe with stealth drones to pick the movements of terrorists. We need to figure out their camps and take the war to them. We need an independent, well-trained and organized army which could effectively implement a technology and intelligence-driven approach to counterterrorism no matter the economic costs.
A security structure under whose radar Boko Haram can conveniently steal 200 cows, 300 sheep and goats, raze 65 houses, attack people in one night without credible leads to where they came from or moved their loot like we experienced of late in Bale Shuwa Village in Jere Local Government area of Borno State is a recipe for utter disaster.
The jihadist militant organization is ahead of our security agencies in intelligence gathering and it’s appalling. They were able to kidnap 273 Chibok school girls unhindered in 2014. They constantly ambush military convoys like the July, 2018 incident at Boboshe village in Bama Local Government Area of Borno State. Five officers, 18 soldiers and eight trucks were reportedly missing after the attack. They killed over 69 people and kidnapped lecturers contracted by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC during the oil exploration exercise in the Lake Chad basin. They took advantage of the relaxation of security in Dapchi, Yobe State to kidnap 110 school girls immediately and also returned them like heroes after purportedly pocketing fat ransom monies from the Federal Government. My examples of security lapses are endless and I can go on forever.
Peace is invaluable and it goes hand in hand with growth and development. We should be ready to pay the price for peace no matter the financial and political demands. Let’s end the Boko Haram insurgency once and for all!
My religion is not in full support of taking alcohol but I don’t mind breaking the rules for once by using the skulls of the factional leaders of Boko Haram – Abu Musab al-Barnawi and Abubakar Shekau to drink cold beer with some Wizkid’s song playing at the background.
Osayimwen Osahon George is a journalist and PhD student of the University of Ibadan. He writes from Lagos State.
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