Cleansing Nigeria of Boko Haram Begins
“Nigeria is here to stay, there is nothing more to say”, sang Bongos Ikwue many years ago. This is also what many Nigerians are saying regarding how a war that might have been intended to divide Nigerians along religious lines was eventually won on the eve of Xmas commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, the ultimate Prince of peace in Christendom. Although the last phase of the war against Boko Haram is expected to begin immediately, President Buhari has, in a personally signed statement, formally announced that the Nigerian armed forces had prevailed over Boko Haram. The president said he was told Sambisa Forest finally fell shortly after midday on December 23rd, one year behind the president’s original deadline. This means the formal crushing of the insurgency that justified itself with Islamicist rhetoric.
But Boko Haram insurgents dislodged from Sambisa fortress are strongly believed to be behind new wave of targeted criminality on major roads and communities. That marks a more subtle version of their campaign following the capture of what the president called their ‘last enclave’. He was referring to Sambisa Forest, the capture of which means they have no such hiding place anymore, according to the president. However, typical of the diffuse nature of insurgency approach to war, their defeat could actually mark the beginning of attrition. Experts are warning that while Boko Haram may never be able to mount and sustain any major operations again, terrorism is a many sided warfare which is never finished at a go. Instructively, President Buhari asked for cooperation and support for the armed forces and other security agencies by providing information that exposes all terrorists hiding among the populace.
On Monday in Enugu, Enugu State, Sa’ad Abubakar 111, the Sultan of Sokoto said specifically that “We (the Fulani) will never support killing. I want to tell you that the Fulani people cannot do that. Until we give these killers their real name, which is criminal, we will not overcome the security challenges we have” His intervention is interpreted as a clear disclaimer and a call on the government to do its duty of providing security by trapping and treating killers as killers rather than ethnicise and, by implication, excuse criminality.
Targeting of communities for mayhem along with sundry security threat form the story lines in today’s Nigeria, with Fulani herdsmen being the referent accused particularly in the case of killings in communities in the Benue Valley and the South East. It has become an emergency linked to allegations of Islamisation agenda that has not attracted the required multi-stakeholder confidence building measures it deserves. President Buhari’s omission of herdsmen’s violence from the list of the security threats on his radar in his May 29th, 2016 speech is at the root of current deep seated apprehension and implication in the Benue Valley and nothing is secret about this even as many concede the crushing of Boko Haram, regarded as the most severe threat to national security in recent years, as an achievement by the president.
Successfully rousing the military from initial humiliation to tearing through the frightening Boko Haram praxis of irregular warfare to victory would certainly be recorded on the credit side of this government, it has been argued. Former president, Goodluck Jonathan told Primate Emmanuel Udofia who led the College of Bishops of the African Church to him in Abuja on June 25th, 2014 that Boko Haram insurgency was worse than the Nigerian Civil War. General Theophilus Danjuma, obviously Nigeria’s best known Chief of Army Staff promptly declared that northern Nigeria was in the middle of a civil war. it was that bad. Since 2010, Boko Haram has tested collective fortitude, faith and resilience in and across Nigeria.
Apart from huge knocks from international human rights organisations and the local communities that went through it all, foreign militaries have expressed admiration for the Nigerian military’s ability to cut through the Boko Haram thicket and achieve victory. Intervention had learnt from highly dependable sources long before now that no less than three foreign militaries were intent on understudying the Nigerian military’s exploits in the COIN operation. Later, a Bangladesh military delegation to Nigeria indicated its interest in learning from the counter-insurgency approaches of the Nigerian military in overwhelming Boko Haram insurgency. Rear Admiral Anwarul Islam who led the team of students of Bangladesh’s National Defence College on a geo-strategic trip to Nigeria told General Abayomi Olonisakin, Nigeria’s Chief of Defence Staff in Abuja that Bangladesh is keen to understand how the Nigerian military mounted its counter-insurgency as to basically route Boko Haram within so short a time. Before then, the US military is said to have admitted they have never had a success rate in terms of the speed at which the Nigerian army have basically broken the back of Boko Haram.
All these speak to the imperative of a superior intelligence machinery as well as a lean but lethal military capable of responding to the challenge of hybrid warfare in the 21st century. Southern Kaduna has, for instance, been in a ‘state of nature’ for years. So also was Jos and lately Agatu in Benue State, Nimbo in Enugu State and banditry in Zamfara State. Beyond reliance on superior intelligence and a crack military, it is expected that a systematic programme of deradicalisation would focus on closing the very wide communication and material gap between the leadership and the people in Nigeria. Instigated or not, that sort of gap is always an invitation to an insurgency, whether it is called Boko Haram or not. Whether that gap can be closed with the current level of corruption both in the Jonathan and the Buhari regime is the big question.