Impediment to decisive victory over Boko Haram

06Dec 2018
Correpondent
The Guardian
Impediment to decisive victory over Boko Haram

After nearly a decade since the eruption of the protracted war between the Nigerian state and Boko Haram insurgents, and in view of the failure of the Nigerian military to achieve a decisive victory over the terrorists, it's high time the federal government identified and addressed the underlying i

 

This is absolutely imperative as it appears that the already barely prepared and largely demoralized Nigerian military has practically exhausted its tactical capabilities, which explains the preventable yet recurrent massacre of its personnel at the hands of the terrorists who are growing more audacious and exhibiting more sophisticated attack and tactical maneuver, thanks to their apparently growing links with some transnational terror groups, e.g. the so-called ISIS from and/or through which they receive more terror training, more funding, more weapons and equipment.

Though the recently reported intense aerial bombardments by the Nigerian Air force against some terrorists' hideouts, which reportedly killed hundreds of them were quite reassuring, which many Nigerians celebrated following the extremely distressing developments on the warfronts where the terrorists killed tens of Nigerian soldiers, I for one never considered the bombardments consoling enough anyway. This is even if the reports are actually accurate in the first place, as it's obvious that exaggeration can't be ruled out under these circumstances.

Besides, from my experience in following the developments about this war since its outbreak on which I have also written many articles in this paper, I have grown much wiser towards the official narratives about developments on the warfronts. On several occasions, the narratives sounded so reassuring inspiring Nigerians to expect an imminent decisive victory over the terrorists. In 2013, for instance, the military claimed to have killed Shekau, the terrorists' leader; a claim they still haven't retracted even after it appeared clearly that Shekau was/is still alive after all.

In fact, at a point, President Buhari himself declared that Boko Haram was "technically defeated". On a subsequent occasion also, the military presented him with what they claimed was the Boko Haram's flag, as a symbol of their purported achievement of a decisive victory following their supposed capture of the so-called "Camp Zero", which they claimed was the most important and last main Boko Haram stronghold in the Sambisa forest, claiming further that military personnel had already begun mopping-up operations to clear the forest of any remnants of the terror group.

Of course, on each of such occasions, Nigerians would celebrate only to be shocked afterwards by a devastating terror attack(s) disproving the official narratives and signaling a resumption of another wave of attacks targeting civilians and even military units.

However, for the sake of clarity, the foregoing doesn't dismiss the efforts of the soldiers on the warfronts in their struggle to defeat the terrorists, especially considering the hugely challenging working conditions and operating environment they operate in, which some observers sometimes ignore in their assessments of the army's performance. After all, the military is like any other government institution in Nigeria where inefficiency and ineptitude characterize performance and service delivery.

Faced with this dilemma, the federal government should understand that achieving a decisive victory over Boko Haram terrorists requires much more than the combat capabilities of the Nigerian military. Because on the world stage today even fighting terrorism isn't spared from the influence of global politics, geopolitical struggles and other considerations at the expense of human values. Consequently, the potential of any terror-affected country to decisively defeat terrorism depends to a large extent on its understanding of the intricacies of the underlying global politics of the war, and indeed its ability to play the political game correctly, i.e. in such a way that it secures appropriate international cooperation it necessarily needs in order to defeat it within and around its geographical boundaries.

The Buhari administration, like its two immediate predecessors i.e. the 'Yar' adua and Jonathan administrations respectively, equally betrays a lack of such understanding thereby inadvertently allowing the war to persist amid inexcusable global apathy towards the war even though it's one of the worst of its kind in the world today.

To address this situation, the federal government should, for a start, identify its potential, assets, circumstances and whatever can be used as an advantageous tool to push for appropriate global recognition of its war against Boko Haram as a war that the world simply can't afford to ignore.

This is quite achievable by, for instance, engaging relevant leading international consulting firms, international pressure groups and influential lobby groups with unhindered access to the corridors of, say, the Capitol Hill and the White House in Washington, the Palace of Westminster and 10 Downing Street in London, the Élysée Palace in Paris and the European diplomatic and military institutions headquartered in Brussels, to pursue this agenda on behalf of the federal government.

Of course, this necessarily involves a significant investment of resources, yet it's absolutely worth it, and if sustained, it would certainly begin to result in more international media interest and wider coverage of the crisis, more cooperation from international community especially in terms of intelligence gathering and processing about the terrorists' sources of funding and weapons as well as the methods and routes through which they secure them. It would also begin to result in more foreign humanitarian assistance for the internally displaced people (IPD's) and perhaps even assistance for post-conflict reconstruction and microeconomic recovery projects for the worst affected people.

The Islamic State in West Africa or Islamic State’s West Africa Province (abbreviated as ISWA or ISWAP), formerly known as Jamā'at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da'wah wa'l-Jihād ‎, "Group of the People of Sunnah for preaching and Jihad") and commonly known as Boko Haramuntil March 2015, is a jihadist militant organisation based in northeastern Nigeria, also active in Chad, Niger and northern Cameroon.

Founded by Mohammed Yusuf in 2002, the group has been led by Abubakar Shekau since 2009. When Boko Haram first formed, their actions were nonviolent. Their main goal was to “purify Islam in northern Nigeria." From March 2015 to August 2016, the group was aligned with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Since the current insurgency started in 2009, Boko Haram has killed tens of thousands and displaced 2.3 million from their homes[22] and was ranked as the world's deadliest terror group by the Global Terrorism Index in 2015.

After its founding in 2002, Boko Haram's increasing radicalisation led to a violent uprising in July 2009 in which its leader was summarily executed. Its unexpected resurgence, following a mass prison break in September 2010, was accompanied by increasingly sophisticated attacks, initially against soft targets, but progressing in 2011 to include suicide bombings of police buildings and the United Nations office in Abuja. The government's establishment of a state of emergency at the beginning of 2012, extended in the following year to cover the entire northeast of Nigeria, led to an increase in both security force abuses and militant attacks.

Of the 2.3 million people displaced by the conflict since May 2013, at least 250,000 have left Nigeria and fled into Cameroon, Chad or Niger. Boko Haram killed over 6,600 in 2014. The group have carried out mass abductions including the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok in April 2014. Corruption in the security services and human rights abuses committed by them have hampered efforts to counter the unrest.

In mid-2014, the militants gained control of swathes of territory in and around their home state of Borno, estimated at 50,000 square kilometres (20,000 sq mi) in January 2015, but did not capture the state capital, Maiduguri, where the group was originally based. On 7 March 2015, Boko Haram's leader Abubakar Shekau pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, rebranding as Islamic State in West Africa. In September 2015, the Director of Information at the Defence Headquarters of Nigeria announced that all Boko Haram camps had been destroyed.

 

   By Wole Olaoye

In the same vein, Wole Olaoye reports “Don't think I'm crying wolf. If we don't confront the Boko Haram menace with the single-minded ferocity and unity of purpose it demands, the terrorists currently toying with our sanity may someday start knocking on individual doors in far-flung states outside the current war theatre in Nigeria's northeast.

Ever since it aligned itself with the Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS)  and the Levant in 2015, the group has repeatedly broken its own bestial record as the most depraved band of mass murderers on the planet. The religious fundamentalists' ranking as the world's deadliest terror group by the Global Terrorism Index in 2015 was a precursor to their announcing the entire West African sub-region as their playground with active theatres in Nigeria, Niger and Chad.

The alliance with global terror has enriched the armoury and human assets of Boko Haram. Many villagers fleeing overrun areas have in the past revealed that some of Boko Haram fighters were not Nigerians. That testimony has been corroborated by captured terrorists. It was only to be expected because we did not stamp out the terrorist organisation when it was just a rag-tag army of religious zealots. When a wound is left to fester, it becomes a nightmare. Any doctor or nurse would readily tell you that when wounds are not properly treated, they become infected and graduate to become chronic wounds which may never heal or take years to mend, causing severe emotional and physical stress and becoming a significant financial burden. Same with terror.

When I saw video clips purporting to be live coverage of the 18th November killing of Nigerian soldiers by invading Boko Haram forces in Metele, Borno State, I tried to double-check but drew blank. The gusto with which many people shared the video and the uncharitable comments made by some commentators made me wonder if they were now on the side of Boko Haram. I can't imagine the citizens of any other country lionising a terrorist group actively depopulating that same country. What kind of self-hate afflicts us so?

Yes, there are well known instances of former service chiefs and top operatives of the other security organisations siphoning funds meant for the anti-terror war into their private pockets, (many of those cases are currently before the courts), but does their supposed crime invalidate our war against terror or make the lives of our officers and men more dispensable?

Some media outlets, including Reuters, placed casualty figures at about 100 after the attack. Nigerian newspapers made sensational headlines out of the unfortunate event. The Army didn't confirm or deny the high casualty figure until the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai revealed at the Chief of Army Staff Conference in Maiduguri that only 23 soldiers were killed and 31 wounded in the Boko Haram attack on Nigerian Army 157 Task Force Battalion which was part of the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) headquartered in N'djamena, Chad.

So where did the casualty figure of 100 and above come from?

I may never get to know why the army was tongue-tied for so long. The excuse that time was needed to contact the families of the victims holds no water. How long does it take to contact 23 families? Why was the video in circulation not disowned outright and the original source exposed so as to sustain the trust and empathy of Nigerians? Why such an important disclosure was kept under wraps until the Maiduguri conference?

But doubts are still being expressed by a section of the media because the Army and its sister security agencies have been known to downplay casualty figures in the fight against terror, while exaggerating the losses of enemy combatants. The ball is in the court of the Army in using contemporary tools of information management to manage crisis and protect its brand. Some radical rethinking needs to be engineered at the topmost command levels. Silence in the face of misinformation and negative propaganda is no way to manage information.

The other side of the coin, of course, is the typical Nigerian resort to self-hate and propagation of negative sentiments about the country as if those who had paid the supreme sacrifice had died in vain. If any member of one's family had fallen by Boko Haram's bullets, would one be celebrating the terrorist's success?

Unfortunately, it is the negative things we confess with our mouths that the rest of the world judges our country by. Our citizens gleefully share pictures of the Kotoka International Airport in Ghana but can't be bothered to do same with photos of the new Port-Harcourt International Airport in Nigeria. We proudly flaunt Chinese imports while superior products from Aba are derided as 'local'. Lagos is still the most vibrant city in Africa, even with all its traffic problems. Has it occurred to those de-marketing their country that Lagos is safer than New York? Give me a break, there are loads of problems in every country, including Nigeria the land of the Super Eagles and Super Falcons, but I'm not a citizen of a shit-hole.

The call by some members of the House of Representatives on President Buhari to appoint new service chiefs may not be heeded with less than three months to the 2018 elections. However, there is need to win the propaganda war and rethink strategies deployed in engaging the terrorists. Something drastic needs to be done before ISIS overruns our land.