Nigerians have been absorbing the shock of the attack on a national mission encompassing academics, oil experts, members of the Civilian JTF and military personnel last Tuesday by Boko Haram insurgents. The casualty figure has kept rising since last Tuesday when the attack occurred. Similar to the attack on Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri in 2014, the temerity in ambushing and kidnapping such a high value team shortly after declaration of a deadline to capture Abubakar Shekau shows that something has gone very wrong. What has gone wrong is that Boko Haram is sending a message as well as testing its strength in terms of the Nigerian military, all at the same time. Terrorist organisations hardly do this. It is sending a message in the status of the target it has successfully attacked as well as testing its strength against that of the military in terms of the capacity to conduct such an operation.
That operation could not have succeeded without intelligence that gave Boko Haram definite time of departure and route map of the mission. That could suggest a technical sophistication on the part of Boko Haram just as it could equally be a case of a fifth columnist. Whichever one it is shows sophistication on their part. Secondly, that operation, the numerous asymmetrical assaults on the University of Maiduguri that preceded it as well as the threat on Maiduguri GRA recently all suggest that Boko Haram has also got a bridgehead. The question is where this bridgehead might be. Is it within Borno State, the Republic of Cameroun, Chad or Niger or somewhere else? Where might be that point or basement where the insurgents recover and treat their wounded members, among others? Is Nigeria confronted with the unraveling of a Boko Haram fellow traveller or patron seeking a territorial foothold? Or, might an external power inching for a concession from Nigeria digging deep?
Whichever of these plausible explanations may apply when investigated, it is important to note how Boko Haram has kept the Nigerian State on the edge for almost a decade, much, much longer than the Nigerian Civil War fought by a less developed, less experienced military and on a more difficult terrain. Aside from this lenght of time, it has kept expanding its mission of humiliating the Nigerian State. It has embarked on symbolic attacks that conclusively point at this objective, beginning with the attack on the Police in Yobe in 2004. It is one thing for Nigerians to haul invective on individual policemen and their leaders but this is not the same thing as deliberately trying to humiliate the Police as a national security institution. Beyond the Police, Boko Haram has attacked the United Nations Headquarters right in Nigeria’s Federal Capital city, a very symbolic target. Add to these the irreligious cruelty and horror the insurgents deal with all those who fell victim to their campaign, be it men, women, children, girls and the aged. There is something in that horrific mode of operation that suggests the mission of not only humiliating the Nigerian State but also the Nigerians by the degree of horror visited on them.
What this context makes imperative is Nigerians waking up to re-assess the Boko Haram War and to conclude that this war be brought to a close with the defeat of Boko Haram, no matter what it takes. If it is a problem of the War Economy complex, this should be addressed. The latest attack has in it evidence of what is at stake in the war. What is left of any state or government anywhere in the world if it cannot choose when, where and what natural resources to explore? A presidential mission on exploration under military security cordon is a special mission anywhere. The only way something more humiliating may not occur in future is by bringing this war to a close with the defeat of the insurgent.
Although a counter-insurgency operation is not directed at an enemy with a ‘centre of gravity’ the capture of which amounts to the defeat of the enemy, it is assumed that after operations in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan and having been on Boko Haram for almost a decade, the Nigerian military can accomplish a defeat of Boko Haram if asked to do so decisively and conclusively by the Nigerian people and by the Commander-in-Chief. The humiliation is getting too much, particularly in the light of the notification by the military authorities that Boko Haram has even returned to ‘Sambisa Forest’.