Nigeria: Before Isis Overruns Our Land

3 December 2018

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 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.

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