Nigeria: Stemming Boko Haram's Resurgence

Nigerian snipers conduct a demonstration during the African Land Forces Summit in Abuja, Nigeria on April 17, 2018.
29 January 2020

It has been a week of tragedies both at home in Nigeria, and abroad. The whole nation trembled when not only was there a resurgence of deadly Boko Haram attacks, all happening in quick succession, but also, the insurgents raised the scale of terror. They slit the throat of the Michika Local Government Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria Reverend Lawan Andimi, whose passionate pleas had struck strong sympathetic chords. Governor of Adamawa State Umaru Fintiri personally waded into the negotiations with the abductors who had initially agreed to accept a N50m ransom but changed their minds and opted for the murder of the priest. Then the video was posted of ISIS style execution of University of Maiduguri Biology/Education Student Ropvil Daciya Dalep.

In the world, it has been small and sometimes even foolish events that triggered in the course of history. The abuse of Hitler as a child created the terrorist who masterminded the killing of 6 million and more Jews. A doctor's misdiagnosis of polio in Franklin Roosevelt crated a wheelchair bound American President, shortening the life of one who deserved the victory salute of D-Day. A politician's creation of "Ecomog" out of political touts in Borno triggered the fundamentalism of Boko Haram. Thinking in that regard, consider how the execution of Iranian General brought about the downing of the Ukrainian jetliner, killing all 176 people on board. I imagine that the public rebuke of the Military by Governor of Borno, Professor Babagana Zulum discouraged troops into relaxing on their tightened noose on Boko Haram. A small window opened to provide the opportunity for abductions on Damaturu-Maiduguri highway, the heightened attacks of military installations in Borno, and significant loss of strategic ground hitherto held tightly by the military. Even as Governor Zulum has bent over backwards to help the situation and reaffirm the synergy with the Military, the efforts are little heard of, and the terrible turn of events as we know today have taken place to make us feel that Nigeria is fighting a lost war with Boko Haram.

First, I think we should begin to recognize and appreciate the success recorded by the Military in the containment of the Boko Haram insurgency since President Buhari took over the mantle of leadership. It is evident that the insurgents have been forced to the confines of the Sambisa Forest and sanctuaries in the Lake Chad borderline shores as far from Nigeria as possible. We are surely far better than we were before, and a city like Mubi in Adamawa State can testify. It is not possible to easily forget that Boko Haram sized the town and named it Dar ul Islam. It remained so until liberation came. To this day, its citizens are hounded by harrowing memories of that great escape, that long trek of human mass out of Mubi. Many buildings especially banks destroyed by the vandals have remained so with bullet and mortar damages still evident.

Yet although we must encourage our military, there is no gainsaying the fact that much more needs to be done. I have maintained in this column that the idea of creating safe heavens and sitting out the Boko Haram is keeping the insurgency longer. The Americans used the method in Afghanistan and Iraq and it may have been recommended to Nigeria. But the tactic costs more lives of troops owing to the surprise element the insurgents are used to, taking advantage of combat fatigue. In the theatre of operations, it has occurred time and time again that the approach causes our military to lapse and become victims of surprise attacks. Most reported killings of soldiers have been under this scenario. Much of the victory against ISIS was achieved when President Obama ordered a surge that outnumbered the insurgents. A diligent recruitment and mobilization should be made with a view to a massive surge on Boko Haram with men and equipment. I credit our military with the know how and the experience of organizing this mass conscription. Obviously we can not confront asymmetric warfare without combat training for small commandos supported by ground intelligence, infiltration, and hi-tech. Yes we agree, there are global practices to adopt under wraps. But Boko Haram is homegrown. The local community must help the military out if Borno is to have lasting peace.

The greatest discouragement of our military is the allegation of corruption in reported non payment or under payment of our men at arms and the resort to collection of bribes at road blocks. This should be addressed convincingly. Also, given the Zulum outburst and the extent to which it discouraged the command, the best should be made of a bad situation. Zulum is himself a victim deserving of empathy. He has come in with new vigour and is committing resources and his time to an effective response to Boko Haram by confronting it with a more confident and encouraged local community. He will respond to a call to more discretion. The military on its part should caution bad eggs, for there are, and we must get on with work like military.

It is painfully sad that Boko Haram has resorted to ISIS type killing of innocent people and the aim is obvious, to create terror through extreme havoc, cause disaffection between Muslims and Christians. This ploy will little serve Boko Haram because Nigerians should know better, that all the group wants is lawlessness, anarchy and the immoral acts this encourages - but O God - such lowly life of evil and discomfort. Government's voice of condemnation should be heard quickly, in effort to quickly restore public confidence. For every act of evil, the military should be seen to have delivered a retaliatory blow instantly without mercy.

It is a shame that civil society and the media appear to keep an eye of scrutiny more on the military in this campaign than on the Boko Haram and other violent non-state actors. This discourages the military and exposes the common folk to prolonged victimization.

A word on release of "repentant" Boko Haram fighters. Even in war, prisoners of war are held captive till the end of the war. We get everything wrong in Nigeria. Is it then conceivable that we got deradicalization of Boko Haram fighters right? America has for long defeated ISIS yet it is holding its prisoners until it is certain not even glowing embers of ISIS remain. It is difficult to rationalize here how in one news item, we read of horrendous havoc caused by Boko Haram, and in another report, we are told up to 600 "repentant" Boko Haram fighters are being released. To whom? I am unable to make a meaning of all this.

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