By Ishola Ebenezer
Sometimes in the year 2014, I saw a post on Facebook which reads – “If Boko Haram announces no Nigerian should go outside tomorrow, and the government asks you to disregard the sect, who will you believe?” The preceding offers an insight into how dreadful the Boko Haram sect has grown. According to Terrorism Research Initiative (TRI), Boko Haram tops the list of the 10 most lethal groups involved in political violence as at mid-2014. Other terrorist/rebel groups such as Islamic State (IS), al-Shabaab, Taliban, e.t.c., were behind the Boko Haram sect on the ranking. The havoc-wreaking activities of Boko Haram unfortunately, are not just targeted at government and its institutions; they attack Christians, Muslims, traditional leaders, organizations such as UN, ThisDay Newspaper, schools, and many more.
The activities of Boko Haram has without doubt resulted in catastrophic socio-economic damage, aggravating Nigeria’s unemployment crisis as well as engendering fear in the minds of potential investors, among other adverse effects. At the initial manifestation of the terrorist tendencies of Boko Haram in the 2000s, the government treated the sect with kids gloves hoping it will die a natural death. Unfortunately, the sect has grown into a monster ravaging our society. This is a lesson for government at all levels to pay conscious attention to happenings in the environment, a vital lesson in crisis management.
An understanding of the structure of Boko Haram is important in charting the way forward out of this ravaging monster bedevilling our society. Prior to 2009, the Boko Haram leadership was headed by Mohammed Yusuf, with Abubakar Shekau and Mamman Nau, a Cameroonian, coming in line respectively. Following the death of Mohammed Yusuf, Abubakar Shekau and Mamman Nau, have gone their separate ways with their respective adherents carrying out attacks under the guise of Boko Haram. For instance, the bombing of the UN building in Abuja was linked to the Boko Haram sect led by Mamman Nau. Hence, the seeming multiplicity of the Boko Haram sect poses an inherent security challenge.
Despite being a ‘made-in-Nigeria’ phenomenon, the international dimension of Boko Haram should not be ignored. The tentacles of Boko Haram have spread to neighbouring Cameroon, Niger, and other countries. The sect has carried out dastardly attacks in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Mali. These countries have also been used by the sect for refuge, training, transit, planning attacks as well as recruiting new members. Boko Haram has also reinforced its position by forging strong international alliance with Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), al-Qa`ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), among others. Furthermore, the crisis that occurred in the North African countries of Libya, Egypt and Tunisia popularly known as Arab Spring which has ensured the proliferation of arms and ammunitions in large scale has also strengthened Boko Haram as weapons are readily available to the sect.
Nigeria’s fight against the insurgent group hitherto has been beset with numerous challenges. Like a recurring decimal, wanton corruption among public office holders especially those involved in the fight against Boko Haram in one way or the other, has ensured that defeating Boko Haram will remain a Herculean task, unless there are concrete efforts to reverse this trend. Recent revelations by the Department of State Security following its investigation of the former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki, underscore this point. As a fallout of the deep-seated corruption, possession of less sophisticated weapon by the Nigerian army in the fight against the Boko Haram sect who have leveraged on its international connections and other circumstances to acquire sophisticated arms and ammunitions, has also been identified as a major obstacle facing the country’s military. In this regards, it was reported at a point that soldiers refused to engage Boko Haram in the North-East primarily due to the superior firepower of the sect, among other reasons.
An investigation by renowned international non-governmental organization Amnesty International reveals that the Nigerian military is culpable of gross human rights violation. This has resulted in the withdrawal of the support of the United States of America for the Nigerian Military in accordance with the country’s Leahy Law. As an instance, the AI report states that since March 2011, more than 7, 000 young men and boys died in military detention. Similarly, the military has severally been accused of reprehensible killings of harmless civilians under the guise of tackling the Boko Haram menace. This led to the erosion of trust between the civilian and military, a factor that is indispensable in the bid to win the battle against terrorists.
The efforts of the governments of the neighbouring countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger also has far-reaching implications on the success or otherwise of the fight against Boko Haram. As an instance, the Cameroonian government has been accused of succumbing to the Boko Haram sect by releasing prisoners and paying huge sum of money in exchange for hostages kidnapped by Boko Haram. In July 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped the wife of the Vice President of Cameroon, Amadou Ali, as well as his sister-in-law, from his house.
Nigeria’s porous borders have also weakened the country’s battle against the insurgent group. The border Nigeria shares with Niger, Chad and Cameroon which is over 2, 000 miles long has about 1, 500 illegal/uncontrolled exit points. This has made transit quite easy for the Boko haram group and the tracking down of the terrorists an enormous challenge for Nigeria’s security operatives.
Inspite of these challenges however, it is not all hopeless. We must continue to support the Nigerian military in whatever capacity to ensure victory against these daredevil insurgents. The change of baton in the hierarchy of the armed forces also offers a glimmer of hope as these new officers are not unfamiliar with the fight against insurgency as well as the territory of the north-east. This is a major plus which if maximally exploited will contribute in no small measure to Nigeria’s victory over the Boko Harm sect. As an indication of the reinvigoration of the army in the fight against insurgency, it has been revealed that the new Chief of Army Staff, Maj. Gen. Turkur Buratai, has established a special force with the requisite skills needed to navigate the expansive North-East region of Nigeria, to complement the ground troops in the fight against terrorism. Cheering is also the news that the revitalized Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) which was headed by Maj. Gen. Burutai prior to his appointment as Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff and its headquarters located in N’Djamena, Chad, is set for action.
Beyond these however, getting the fight against Boko Haram by the government must include conscious efforts aimed at reducing poverty in the country, addressing the al-majiri scenario in the northern part of the country, halt the growing unemployment level in the country, among others. All these are long term efforts geared towards the avoidance of a resurgence of insurgent groups such as Boko Haram as “an idle hand is the devil’s workshop”. Similarly, neighbouring countries must also take the war against Boko Haram to the next level, in order to complement Nigeria’s effort in the fight against terrorism.
On the whole, I am ‘optimistically optimistic’ the days of Boko haram are clearly numbered.
A budding socio-political communicator writes from Lagos.