What a Game Changer to Grab Shekau Even After the Third Anniversary of Abduction of Chibok Girls!
What a game changer would it be, for the military, for their Commander-in-Chief, for Nigeria and for global counter-terrorism should it work out that the security agencies could grab Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, somewhere around Sambisa Forest and bring him to Abuja. Before last Tuesday, thinking along this line had become an exercise in idleness. The man had been announced to have been killed or fatally wounded one time too many. It became inviting to think that he must have secured his invulnerability to the most powerful surveillance technologies available. Now, by the authority of Brigadier-General Mansur Dan-Ali, Nigeria’s Defence Minister, such a prospect may not be that far fetched.
His optimism verges almost on certainty that Shekau will be held to account. “It is a matter of time”, he said, without failing to cross-reference his argument by bringing in how long it took the USA to get at Osama Bin Laden. In this case, his last line is “He (Shekau) is on the run. So, he may be hiding in one of the enclaves of Sambisa Forest that we are dominating”. It is perhaps permissible for anyone making such a weighty analogy to side step himself without realizing such. In other words, why might there still be enclaves in Sambisa in which a Shekau could be luxuriating after the Minister had said as follows: “If you have had the opportunity to go to Sambisa Forest in Borno, you will know that Boko Haram has been defeated. Go and see what is happening in Sambisa”. You probably don’t ask a minister or anybody at all who is announcing the prospects of the capture of an Abubakar Shekau. The hope is that the comparison between Shekau and Osama Bin Laden would stop at reference to the length of time it took to get one and before the other one is nabbed. The world would certainly be anxious to listen to Shekau tell his story, why he would think of nothing about bringing so much suffering on people who have done nothing to him. What could be that grudge that drove him to so much rejection of the society with capacity for chilling atrocity?
The weight of the Brigadier-General Ali’s statement lies in its context. He was the representative of the C-in-C at the occasion. Being a product of the point in the Nigerian system where hierarchy and command is most adhered to, he is unlikely to have been saying what was not cleared. All of these make his “So, we will get Shekau as soon as possible” a big story. This is more so when linked to the separate development earlier this month when Hussein Mukhtar, the leader of Al-Shabaab, the East African equivalent of Boko Haram, surrendered to an amnesty programme. Ahmed Godane, his predecessor, was eliminated in a US air strike on the group much earlier. So, the idea that Abubakar Shekau is within reach more than ever before may not have to be taken with a pinch of the salt. Both Al-shabab and Boko Haram are linked to the same birthplace, both suffered splits on the eve of their degradation by joint military coalition. Both may be expiring at the same time.
Much of what have happened to Al-Shabab and Boko Haram follow the academic mapping of the life of most terrorist organisations. They do not normally survive but they can cause so much distress, depending on the power behind the marksmen. In the information age and its real time coverage, they can go far but never too far enough. That might be what is happening. The sadness is that it is happening after so much horror of a degree Nigerians could not have been prepared for, not even after a civil war and a resource based insurgency.
But Nigeria deserves to congratulate themselves at the thought of defeating Boko Haram. In a March 22nd, 2017 piece in the American magazine, The National Interest, where he did a quick overview of the March 22nd bombing in London, Daniel DePetris, a security analyst, wrote, inter alia, “No amount of resources, manpower, intellectual brilliance, intelligence relationship with foreign counterparts, or sophisticated technology can stop a single human being from doing something destructive to other human beings”. Boko Haram is not one individual wanting to destroy other human beings but the logic is still the same: people who have sat down or who have been sponsored to sit down and plan to disrupt the social order can go far. It doesn’t matter whether it is one individual, two of them or a few hundreds of them. It could be easier to burst 30 rascals ganging up against the society than one deranged fellow but that’s just a matter of details.
Although President Muhammadu Buhari, the Commander-in-Chief, predictably did not make his way into Sambisa Forest last Tuesday, observers see something of the strongest evidence in the small arms championship being staged in Sambisa Forest that the counter-insurgency against Boko Haram is basically over and the rest is mopping up. The championship offers strong evidence that although Boko Haram can still stage terror attacks, it is going the way of terrorist organisations. Mopping up could be a protracted or involving entanglement in a counter-insurgency war because of the very nature of the terrorist strategy but it is, indeed, the closing phase. Some people see that symbolism becoming more powerful when connected to the eve of the Third Anniversary of the abduction of over 200 school girls from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok on April 14th, 2014. What a date – 14/04/14!
It remains for many the most emotive dimension of the Boko Haram story. Today, the issue might not be where the girls could be exactly but the way they have become a collective interrogation of two key concepts: security as well as the concept of Nigeria. Is security about what it is or what security does? Preponderance of opinion is that if the Chibok girls experience doesn’t force Nigeria into re-engaging with security, then nothing else might do that. What is security that the abduction of over 200 school girls could be accomplished without it being anticipated, disrupted or the terrorists hotly pursued? And what happened that Nigeria could not organise her friends and partners in the international system to put in place a rescue plan, three years after? Talk of security as a question of who gets secured, by whom and, perhaps, for what purpose.
As stated earlier, even after a civil war and a resource control insurgency, Boko Haram proved too complicated for Nigeria. The country was too innocent to understand, not to talk of anticipating the dimension that terrorists would contemplate abducting school girls of the number involved in the Chibok girls haul. Neither the state nor the citizens prepared for it. Three years after, it is even clumsier. Reference has been made to how neither hot pursuit, rescue operation nor negotiation has worked to the advantage of the girls or to the glory of Nigeria. It makes sense today to say that all failed and the third anniversary would be a largely cheerless one.
Whatever the case, Nigeria would hopefully arrive at that point where the question would be put and perhaps answered as to how everything about bringing back the Chibok girls failed (so far) and what lessons that has taught everyone. Without reading too much into texts, the Defence Minister’s appraisal of how complete Nigeria now dominates Sambisa Forest is good news although some people would ask, how did Boko Haram get into the forest in the first case? Were we not supposed to keep a security eye on all such places?
Some of the pictures above depict the responses that the hugely successful Bring Back Our Girls, (BBOGs) campaign has generated, showing how Chibok girls have set in motion an unimaginable deepening of emancipatory cosmopolitanism. Now, the consolidation of that should receive more serious attention from the campaign in a very insecure world.