Unrelenting Assault Of Boko Haram
A FINAL solution to the Boko Haram menace seemed in sight in those six weeks after the 2015 general elections were initially postponed. It would be recalled that the polls, which had been scheduled to commence on February 14, were pushed to March 28, on the strength of a correspondence by the Service Chiefs to INEC that they needed some time to push back the insurgents.
While many Nigerians and the civil society reacted angrily at what came across as an affront on the democratic process, there was no doubt that the move allowed the electoral umpire to put finishing touches to its preparations.
Unsavoury as it was, the postponement also witnessed a new impetus on the part of the armed forces as they moved decisively against the insurgents. For an insurgency in which the Nigerian military had always struggled to hold its ground, the period was one in which the nation’s heroes in the Northeast showed determinationand courage. They took the fight to the enemy with a gusto that pleasantly surprised everybody. A lot of lost ground was recovered in the counter-insurgency operation that followed.
So significant were the gains that at some point, the opposition was at odds about using the insurgency to score political points. It was so because the Goodluck Jonathan-led government had, for the first time since the insurgency started, provided leadership for the fight to be taken to the terrorists.
Many who had opposed his re-election for a second term, wondered why the President wasted so much time, before deciding to get cracking. Pundits even went on to talk about what would have been if Jonathan had mounted such a robust and clinical offensive against the deranged Boko Haram terrorists, much earlier.
For once, the bases of the terrorists, which seemed to be out of the reach of the military, began to fall. The notorious Sambisa forest was combed, and the hideouts of the terrorists were razed.
The offensive saw the liberation of several towns, and the rescue of hundreds of citizens who had been held captive by the terrorists. The optimism that followed these gains was so pronounced that the talk in town began to focus on how the new administration of President Muhammadu Buhari would merely come in to mop things up. Nigerians, not knowing that the sect, driven by hate and sheer wickedness, still had the capacity to spring surprises, were already writing the obituary of Boko Haram. The tragedy now is that Boko Haram with a renewed fiendish resolve has resumed doing what it knows best.
Since May 29, when President Muhammadu Buhari assumed the reins, the terrorists have killed no less than 300 Nigerians. A look at the nature and dimension of the attacks in the last three weeks would suggest that the terrorists are being emboldened by certain factors.
One of these is, the gap that has been created because of the change of guards in governance. This somewhat halted the momentum against the terrorists as the security apparatus waited for a promised fundamental shift in the approach to battling the insurgents.
So far, apart from the relocation of the Command and Control Centre in the counter terror operations from Abuja to Maiduguri, the grand strategy against the terrorists is yet to take shape.
The President’s shuttle diplomacy to neighbouring countries, as well as his massive advocacy for support at the G7 meeting would yield the needed foreign support to end the insurgency in the mid-term.
The diplomatic moves to forge regional and international collaboration against Boko Haram are laudable. The results of these may be gleaned from the United States donation of $5 million to support the war effort and boost the military’s capacity against Boko Haram. Similarly, the President has directed that $21m out of the $100m Nigeria pledged to support the operation of Multi-national Joint Task Force (MNTF) be released.
While all of these steps are commendable, in the short term however, Nigerians cannot afford to be losing the number of lives being currently lost to the resurgent reign of terror. As such, while the President and his security team are putting finishing touches to the grand design to quickly stamp out the Boko Haram scourge, they must think of ways to put the insurgents on the back foot till they are ready to execute the grand design.
Importantly, President Buhari has tried as much as possible to share in the pains of citizens that have lost their loved ones to the activities of the terrorists. His decision to meet with the full complement of the Bring Back Our Girls Campaign, and the subsequent talks of a possible visit to Chibok, highlight the style of a leader doing all to feel the pains of the victims. He has variously urged all Nigerians not to be unduly disheartened by the seeming resurgence of terrorist attacks and atrocities in the country.
The President has also restated his administration’s resolve to work towards overcoming the challenges of insecurity, terrorism and insurgency as quickly as possible. However, Nigerians will be anxiously waiting for the President to take other far-reaching steps to halt the renewed tide of the terrorists. One of those steps relates to the set-up of his security team.
The current National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki is a holdover from the Jonathan days. The case of the Service Chiefs is similar. There are many who would argue that fresh impetus is needed to meet the security challenges confronting the country.
The question agitating the minds of many is; will the President continue to work with the current crop of professionals manning the security architecture or is he preparing to bring on a new team?
So far, the tentativeness that has characterized the operations of key security agencies is discomfiting. If the President is deciding for continuity or any other reason to retain the current security team, he should make it clear to them, and thereafter, dispatch them with concrete deliverables with respect to the war on terror.
If he decides to bring on a new team, including a Defense Minister, he should get on with it quickly. Unlike other sectors, which may still be intact in the face of deferred action, the security sector does not have that luxury. Nigerian lives are being lost on a daily basis and it is time for a decisive approach.
Stamping out the insurgency in the long term involves the often talked about efforts around intelligence gathering, forging closer ties with affected communities and adding aggression to give the terrorists no breathing space. This is, therefore, the time to track the sourcing of funding for terror related activities, and how, a denounced movement like Boko Haram still manages to recruit so many foot soldiers.
As these efforts are going on, Nigerians will likely not forget the President’s promises relating to dealing with the chronic insecurity in the land during the campaigns.
He talked eloquently about delivering a Marshal Plan on insurgency, terrorism, ethnic and religious violence, kidnapping and rural banditry. He also promised a state-guaranteed life insurance to security personnel, the activation of regular meetings of the National Police Council, the recruitment of 100,000 police officers and the creation of Local Government and State policing systems.
As the President moves to respond to the renewed threat of the insurgents, Nigerians will be eagerly awaiting the successes, especially, because security was one of the major planks on which he got elected.