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Boko Haram: Finding lasting end to a scourge

In this photo taken on September 15, 2016, a child queue to enter one of the Unicef nutrition clinics in Muna informal settlement, which now houses more than 16,000 IDPs (internaly displaced people) in the outskirts of Maiduguri the capital of Borno State, northeastern Nigeria. AFP PHOTO / STEFAN HEUNIS

In this photo taken on September 15, 2016, a child queue to enter one of the Unicef nutrition clinics in Muna informal settlement, which now houses more than 16,000 IDPs (internaly displaced people) in the outskirts of Maiduguri the capital of Borno State, northeastern Nigeria.<br />AFP PHOTO / STEFAN HEUNIS

When on Saturday December 24, last year, President Muhammadu Buhari announced the final crushing of the Boko Haram insurgents, not a few Nigerians expressed joy at the development. This is because the insurgents for some years have become an affliction on the nation’s life.

The president had in 2015 given the military an ultimatum to liquidate the insurgents by December of that year, but this was not achieved. This led to the fear that the war against terrorism would eventually last longer than anticipated. It was however, a great relief when the president said: “I am delighted at, and most proud of the gallant troops of the Nigerian Army, on receipt of the long-awaited and most gratifying news of the final crushing of Boko Haram terrorists in their last enclave in Sambisa Forest. I want to use this opportunity to commend the determination, courage and resilience of troops of Operation Lafiya Dole at finally entering and crushing the remnants of the Boko Haram insurgents at ‘Camp Zero’, which is located deep within the heart of Sambisa Forest.”

The feat achieved by the military in the fight against insurgents was applauded by many Nigerians including the opposition party, the Peoples Democratic party (PDP), which congratulated the military and the president, and urged them to ensure the final liquidation of Boko Haram.

Despite the take over of Sambisa Forest from the insurgents, the military however warned that the war is not over. According to the Theater Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, Major General Leo Irabor, “The war is not over, because peace must be completely restored in the entire region and winning the peace is part of the war.” This is against the backdrop of the remnants of the insurgents, still lurking around, as well as, other radicalised fragments, hiding among the innocent citizens.

True to his words, the insurgents have since been carrying out occasional bombing of their targets, especially in Borno State.

The Unending Deadlines
A deadline to end the insurgency by the end of 2015 issued by the President and the movement of the Military Command and Control Centre to the theatre of war did not only threaten the regrouping of the insurgents, but also clearly showed that government was truly committed to ending the insurgency. The response from the assailants was the resumption of terror attacks with renewed vigor, extending to Kaduna State.

The appointment of new Service Chiefs and the dedication exhibited by the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, coupled with aerial bombardment by Nigeria Air Force (NAF) Alpha Jets, the insurgents were pushed back into their hideouts in Sambisa Forest.

By October 2015, the Nigerian Air Force carried out successful strikes on the insurgents, to pave the way for the final onslaught by the land forces. But the insurgents continued attacking communities in the Northeast, with improved dynamism, such that once there was a first attack, a second or third was just a few minutes or hours away. This was most evident in the October 2015 attacks, when Maiduguri was bombed five times within 24 hours, such that in one of the attacks in November the insurgents threw an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) at troops in Gajiganna, Damasak Local Government Area of Borno State, which killed over100 soldiers. This and other attacks suggested that the December 2015 deadline was not realistic.

The challenges of ending the insurgency
In November last year, the Chief of Defence Staff General Gabriel Olonisakin said the military has achieved a lot in the counter-insurgency operations, but “notwithstanding these achievements, the Defence Headquarters has reviewed some past and ongoing joint operations and identified some gaps in the planning and execution of these operations.”

Though he did not spell out the identified lapses, it was apparent that the resurgence and manifest refusal of Boko Haram to go down, or simply surrender to the Operation Safe Corridor’ window was an indication that a lot more strategies needed to be adopted to quell this menace beyond deadlines.

A security expert, Abdullahi Hamzat, said the inability of the military to use or manage credible and timely intelligence has affected the fight against insurgency. “There are instances where information given to assist in the operation is somehow not utilised or worse still, divulged. And in fighting the insurgents, the military, unlike their assailants have just a fair understanding of the terrain, whereas the Boko Haram insurgents know the terrain and Sambisa Forest very well. Hence, you see the series of ambushes and surprised attacks on our troops. Of course the acquisition of metal detectors has greatly assisted in detecting the landmines and IEDs buried all over the place.”

Also, the NAF Director of Public Relations and Information (DoPRI), Group Captain Ayodele Famuyiwa, hinted that most of the Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance (ISR) and aerial bombardments carried out are subject to favorable weather conditions, as the changing weather condition affects their operations.

The psychological effect on the people of Northeast
According to some reports, the number of children orphaned and women widowed, abused, raped or subjected to the most dehumanising experience far outweighed those that are in Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps.

A humanitarian worker in one of the IDPs camps near Maiduguri said: “Some of the widows saw their children and husbands butchered in their presence. Others saw their daughters raped, after going through the same experience. Then the parents of the Chibok girls, some are still traumatised, not certain if their children are alive or dead, the cloak of uncertainty is psychologically damaging.”

The rebuilding efforts, restoration of civil authority in some communities, the reopening of some schools and the revival of social life in the heart of Maiduguri, as well as, the reopening of access roads with military presence, has restored some hope in the people..

The declaration by the military that it would hold the 2017 Small Arms (NASA) championship in Sambisa to enhance its presence in the forest, the constructions of access roads into the forest give the hope that the redemption process is on course.



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