Boko Haram and task of winning the peace
We were all so happy, going by recent confessions of our military chiefs and others in the political class, that Boko Haram had been vanquished and the entire Sambisa forest ransacked. At different times, the Chief of Army Staff Lt. General Yusuf Tukur Buratai had repeatedly assured that there were no more traces of Boko Haram.
For instance, when he visited the palace of the Gbong Gwom Jos, Da Jacob Gyang Buba, early August, on a familiarisation tour of military formations under 3 Division of the Army, he said the army had defeated the insurgents and rendered them incapacitated. He said; “You can see that our efforts in the North East have really paid off as you can recall that the incessant bombing of market, places of worship and populated areas has virtually stopped. And, I can assure you and the people of Plateau State that they will never witness Boko Haram attacks like they witnessed in the past.”
At a previous meeting in mid July, addressing a seminar in Port Harcourt on ‘Media Engagement in Crises Situation for Military, Security and Response Agencies’, the minister in charge of Interior Lt.-Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazau had also assured with finality that Boko Haram was no more. He said what remained was the resettlement of natives who had been displaced. He said; “The war in the North-East with the Boko Haram has been fought and won – as the Boko Haram elements have been routed, degraded and are being decimated. The task before us is winning the peace, as the victims are gradually returning to their homes, while government is rebuilding, reconciling, and rehabilitating the victims.”
Other military chiefs and politicians had given similar assurances. Nigerians were happy and were preparing for a new lease of life without Boko Haram and their heinous activities. Citizens have no reason to doubt the military because there had been some evidence. While in the past, hardly a week would pass without reports of attacks of some far-flung villages, or some insurgents attempting to smuggle bombs into markets and worship places, of late there has been relative calm. It is likely that the dreaded Islamic sect has lost its staying power and ability to grab portions of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, or import terrorism from Cameroun, Niger and Chad at will. Clearly, there is evidence that Nigeria is winning the war. But there are no clear signs that we are winning the peace.
A major aspect of the task of winning the peace is the communication of facts and confidence building across board, that government, and particularly the military is not cutting corners and abridging the campaign against insurgents just to excite the political class on the timelines it had set for itself. Remember that wining the war against Boko Haram was a major campaign item by the All Progressive Congress (APC), wherein they promised to knock out Boko Haram in a matter of days. Days have gone into weeks and months. Now we are in the second year and the language of engagement has not changed, as if the elections have not been won. Nigerians are appreciative of the efforts ongoing, but they do not expect the military to succumb to politicians’ self-imposed deadlines or be blackmailed by citizens into declaring premature victories.
As citizens genuinely rejoiced in the gains made so far, fresh reports emerged on August 3 that the Islamic State (IS) had appointed Abu Musab al-Barnawi, former spokesman of Boko Haram as the new leader of its dreaded Nigerian affiliate. Meaning that Abubakar Shekau, the former leader who was reported to have died severally, had been deposed. But what was the military’s response to that piece of news? It was hurriedly dismissed as of no effect. In a telephone chat with The Guardian, the Director of Defence Information (DDI), Brigadier-General Rabe Abubakar said it was mere propaganda that is of no effect on the counter insurgency operations going on in the Northeast, and cannot derail the focus to rout the insurgents and their agents from the country.
He said; “Whether they have not changed leadership or not, it does not affect the armed forces. What is important to us now is to remain focused, ensure that the remnants of the Boko Haram, some of whom are surrendering in droves, are eliminated. “ Very assuring.But a day or two later, Abubakar Shekau reappeared, insisting that he was still around. In an audio message, he dismissed reports of a split in the ranks of their group. Again, the military was not impressed. But security experts outside the country were very concerned. They subjected the reports to serious analysis and summary was Boko Haram is still a threat.
Not long after, another video, showing some of the Chibok girls in captivity was sent out, confirming that Boko Haram still existed and that they operate freely at some spot, whether Sambisa or wherever. They want an exchange of ‘prisoners’ and are dictating terms of engagement with government, which has repeatedly told us Boko Haram had been degraded.
Last Monday, there were reports that Boko Haram killed five traders in an ambush on a highway in northeast that was a theatre of their operations in the heydays. A convoy of vehicles carrying Nigerian immigration officials and a group of traders were reportedly travelling from Gamboru, on the border with Cameroon, to the city of Maiduguri when they came under fire. An army officer was said to have told AFP that; “Three (immigration) officers were hit and injured in the fire exchange. The immigration men drove off towards Maiduguri, leaving the traders behind.”
It is not that there won’t be isolated skirmishes going forward, until the battle is finally won, but what is crucial is that we must tell ourselves the truth, that the enemies have not fully surrendered. When we do that, we are not going to be taken unawares when another video emerges, making it look as if the previous efforts to tame the monsters were mere propaganda. This government promised to rescue the Chibok girls without conditions. So, far, that promise has remained unfulfilled, making it look as if the APC used the lives of more than 200 female Nigerians to campaign for votes. The last video revealed that government had since lost touch with the #Bring Back Our Girls campaigners and the Chibok families.
To win and sustain this relative peace, government should not run away from its promises to Nigerians on the Chibok Girls. Chibok is no longer a campaign material, but the symbol of a failing country. The traces of this failure are everywhere, as communities are attacked by marauders in the middle of the night, their houses burnt, and citizens killed without government raising a hand in their defence. And no statements issued to condemn these attacks.
A few days ago, the military announced it was rehabilitating 800 members of the degraded Boko Haram, who had voluntarily surrendered. Brigadier General Rabe Abubakar said “We have over 800 of them who surrendered to security agencies on their own. Those are the ones we are going to rehabilitate, deradicalize in order to become responsible citizens of this country. That is why we are employing services of both imams and pastors and other government agencies to help in reforming them at the camp in Gombe.”
The army spokesman sounds as if the task of restoring peace to the Northeast is for the military alone. Who told him the task of deradicalizing Boko Haram could only be carried out at some confined location without inputs from other Nigerians who had been brutalized and tormented by the sect. Is it amnesty he is talking about? If it is amnesty, the Niger Delta template, even though not perfect, is a model. To deradicalize devilish criminals is a process and it is not a hush-hush thing. Nigerians want to see the process and how these daredevil militants are restored as responsible citizens we all can relate to.
The process has to have a time frame, a budget and curriculum. It is not just a task for soldiers, Imams and Pastors. This is not a military regime, but a civilian government. We want to see the input of the National Assembly in it.Let the military not bother itself with the campaign promises of the APC. Let military personnel leave politics alone and be thorough professionals. We appreciate them.