Terrorists still alive, prowling, despite government’s victory claim
In this report, Ajibola Amzat examines the claim of victory by the Nigerian Army over Boko Haram fighters amidst the growing statistics of the dead and the wounded in the Northeast.
Despite the claim of “victory” by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, Boko Haram terrorists have not yet given up the fight two years into the fight against insurgency in the Northeast.
The reality in the Northeast, especially in Borno State, is that people still die, including members of armed forces, and many folks are continuously displaced in the state through the activities of the militia group that has sworn to impose caliphate in the Northern Nigeria.
Yet the narrative of the federal government about the fight against insurgency continuously denies this reality, at a significant cost to human life.
President Muhammadu Buhari, in December 2015, made the first announcement which critics described as ‘hasty’ when he said the insurgency in the Northeast was “technically defeated.”
The president would repeat the same declaration in an interview with BBC in February 2016, despite the fact that, few days to the interview, terrorists had just attacked Dalori, a village in Borno State, where about 86 persons were killed.
According to media reports, the militant group burnt children when it overran the community, which is four kilometres away from Maiduguri, the capital city of Borno.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo also said Nigeria has already “dealt with Boko Haram militarily…”
According to his spokesperson, Laolu Akande, Osinbajo made this comment at the presidential villa in Abuja June 2016, when hosting the Australian foreign affairs assistant secretary, Mathew Neuhaus and Australian high commissioner in Nigeria, Paul Lehmann.
A month later or thereabout, the Director of the Army Public Relations, Brigadier General Sani Usman, then a colonel, told journalists at the inauguration of Strategic Communication Course for senior officers at the Nigerian Army School of Public Relations and Information, Bonny Camp, Lagos, that the military has defeated Boko Haram.
“We have come to the point that we can beat our chest and decisively say we have dealt with Boko Haram,” the army spokesperson said. And Borno State governor, Kashim Shettima, inadvertently lent credence to the claim when he announced in November 2016 that all internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps established in Borno in the wake of the insurgency in the North-east would be closed by May 31, 2017.
Shettima’s euphoria was fuelled by the premature declaration of victory by the presidency. But the spate of terrorist attacks, especially in Borno State, in the recent time may have invalidated the claim.
Even Governor Shettima has remained silent about new target date since the previous deadline has failed. In spite of the announcement by Department of State Services (DSS) that it had arrested the insurgents planning to attack soft targets in Kano, Kaduna, Sokoto and Borno State, nine persons were killed on Sallah day in Borno State as widely reported in the news.
Seven suspected Boko Haram suicide bombers detonated explosives at the University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID) and Zannari community. Two weeks before then, not fewer than 17 people were killed by the insurgents at Alidawari village near Jiddari Polo area of Maiduguri, according to the Borno State Police Command. The insurgents also set fire
On the same day, 13 people were killed by the sect, and 24 others injured after three male suicide bombers detonated improvised explosive devices (IED) at Goni Kachallari and Muna area in Maiduguri capital, according to Damian Chukwu, commissioner of police in the state.
On June 18, eight people were killed while 30 were injured when three suicide bombers detonated Improvised Explosive Devices at Kofa, near Dalori Internally Displaced Persons(IDPs) camp in Maiduguri metropolis.
A military source told The Guardian that one of the bombers detonated his explosive near the home of Kofa Ward chief, while two others detonated close to a mosque. June 20, the police again confirmed Boko Haram attack that happened along Maiduguri-Daboa road.
Two people were reportedly killed according to the police, but eye witness said the number of victims was higher, and this included policemen. The witness specifically identified a police Sgt. Bala Tiishe.
The insurgents kidnapped 16 women, among others, after the ambush, an eye witness said. Though soldiers have arrested a number of the Boko Haram fighters and have
dislodged many more from their settlements, they also record casualties, a situation which further dampens hopes of the displaced who had dreamed to return home soon.
On May 13, the media reported that eleven persons were killed by Boko Haram in Amarwa, Konduga Local Government Area, about 16 kilometres from Maiduguri, the Borno State.
On Thursday, April 27, a suicide bomber believed to be a Boko Haram terrorist rammed a van loaded with explosives into a military convoy at Mangunum village, and killed five soldiers, and injured 40 others.
The increasing incidents of terrorist attacks linked to the insurgents has renewed fear among the people of Borno State, and residents think the Nigerian military is underestimating the terrorists.
In an interview with The Guardian , Mr Kulka Nawal Hutsa, the head teacher at EYN Polo School, a school for the internally displaced children in Maiduguri, said if residents are not safe in Maiduguri, how can they be safe in their villages where there is less presence of security forces?
Mr. Hutsa is from Gava village in Gwoza local Government area. According to him, his kinsmen who returned to Gwoza after it was liberated are now trapped. “They could neither go to work nor to the farm for the fear of being killed or kidnapped.”
Hutsa detests the sequestered life of an IDP in camps where movement is controlled by security agents, but home is a no-go area at the moment, he said.
According to International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Displacement Tracking Matrix of May 2017, the number of displaced in the Northeast has reached over 1.9 million.
And the latest report by the World Food Program (WFP), shows that significant areas, particularly in Borno State, remains inaccessible to humanitarian agencies due to the attacks of the insurgents. “Several times we have been prevented from venturing too far from Maiduguri because of the continuous attack outside the metropolise, a WFP officer told The Guardian.
Some residents of Maiduguri have attributed the rising attack of the Boko Haram to the recent change of guard in the military in Borno State. Last month, the military authorities replaced the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the seventh Division of the Nigerian Army, Bri-Gen Victor Ezugwu with Brig-Gen Ibrahim Yusuf.
Also the Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, Maj.-Gen Lucky Irabor was replaced with Maj-Gen Ibrahim Attahiru. The Guardian contacted Brig.-Gen Usman for explanation for the change, but he did not respond.
However, to win the battle against Boko Haram more quickly, the Commandant of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, Ibrahim Abdullahi has said people must trust the security agencies and share information about the movement of the insurgents. He said his organisation is accessible for anyone willing to share information, and pledged that his agency will work harder to gain confidence of the people in the state.
Academics who have been conducting research into the nature of the insurgency in the Northeast Nigeria and how to end the crisis permanently also have some prescription. A lecturer at the Department of Sociology, University of Maiduguri, Dr. Baba Gana Kolo has argued that since preaching by extremists fuelled the insurgency in the first place, the government must prohibit religious preaching in the country.
“Practice of religion must be purely a private exercise. Constitutional freedom of worship must be adhered to. People can decide not to be religious. Any coercive act for religiosity should be treated as terrorism,” he said.
But as the fight against insurgency continues, the people of the Northeast are increasingly getting fatigued about the conflict that seems to have no end date. “I’m tired of this”, said Fati Abubakar, the founder of Bit Of Borno who use her social media platform to document the history of the insurgency in the state. Unfortunately, the terrorists seems not tired yet, despite the army’s claim of victory.