“On Security, we have made progress. Boko Haram was defeated by last December – only resorting to cowardly attacks on soft targets, killing innocent men, women and children.” — President Muhammadu Buhari during his 2016 Independence Day speech.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s repeated claim that his administration has defeated Boko Haram has raised several eyebrows.
PREMIUM TIMES partner, Africa Check, had previously looked into a similar context of this assertion when Mr. Buhari made it earlier this year.
On Saturday, in his Independence Day speech, Mr. Buhari repeated an oft-stated claim; saying, “Boko Haram was defeated by last December.”
A fact-check of the president’s claim, however, shows it falls short of meeting Mr. Buhari’s own definition of victory and the target he set for himself in the war against Boko Haram.
Mr. Buhari’s seeming desperation to proclaim victory in the war against Boko Haram, despite contrary evidence, appears to have been self-inflicted.
It started on August 1, 2015, about two months after he assumed office, when he visited the Republic of Benin on a courtesy call on former President Boni Yayi in Cotonou.
“I assure you that we will defeat Boko Haram by the end of this year,” he said while discussing the military cooperation between the two countries with his host.
He made a similar comment when he administered the Oath of Office on newly appointed service chiefs two weeks later.
“You need to brace up and continue to team up with other stakeholders to come up with a well-coordinated joint effort which will bring a desired end to these insurgencies within three months,” Mr. Buhari said during the State House ceremony on August 13, 2015.
The declaration earned Mr. Buhari the ire of Nigerians and a few security experts from other countries at the time.
Among those who questioned the wisdom in Mr. Buhari’s statement was a former Head of State, Yakubu Gowon.
“I can tell you this, nobody can really talk about when any particular operation is going to end,” Mr. Gowon said. “And as a (former) commander-in- chief, I know this.
“Yes, you can say you target a particular time, but it may finish before that time or it may go slightly beyond. To end it, that is the most important thing.”
But rather than yield to calls for caution, the administration encouraged military chiefs to make public statements about their readiness to beat the deadline as suggested by the president.
“We are currently working on the December deadline by re-addressing our strategies to ensure that we meet the target,” the Chief of Defence Staff, Gabriel Olonisakin, said on October 7, 2015.
Meanwhile, Boko Haram continued its onslaught across the Northeast, where over 50 attacks left hundreds dead and properties worth billions of naira destroyed between August 1 and December 31, 2015.
In December, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said Mr. Buhari had defeated the seven-year long insurgency within six months of assuming power.
Both Mr. Buhari, Mr. Mohammed and other officials brought the message into the new year. They ignored expert opinions and were usually quick to dismiss Boko Haram attacks as desperate tactics by the group’s remnant.
When he played host to the President of Germany, Joachim Gauck, on February 12, Mr. Buhari made another victory claim.
“What they have resorted to is using improvised explosive devices to cause maximum casualties on soft targets as they did yesterday, doing what they are capable of doing now,” Mr. Buhari said. “But for them to organize conventional attacks on military, police installations and take hold towns, I think they are not able to do that.”
From January till now, Mr. Buhari had managed to repeat the claims at meetings with foreign leaders.
But daily realities showed that the victory claims are not only premature but also exaggerated as our partner found in the previous work cited above.
Within the last two weeks alone, the media has been awash with reports of intensified activities of Boko Haram across the Northeast
On September 17, the United Nations found that more than two million people are still held in areas controlled by the sect.
The BBC also reported this week that the insurgents had run over settlements and unfurled their flag.
In a September 25 attack, at least four soldiers were fatally wounded by Boko Haram during a gun battle.
Attacks on military outposts and a town near Chibok were also reported within the last two weeks.
Although what counts as ‘victory’ remains vague, but Mr. Buhari offered a compromise during his inaugural speech on May 29 that he seemed to have long abandoned.
“The command centre will be relocated to Maiduguri and remain until Boko Haram is completely subdued,” Mr. Buhari said. “But we cannot claim to have defeated Boko Haram without rescuing the Chibok girls and all other innocent persons held hostage by insurgents.”
The sect showed in one of at least three videos it released within the last six weeks that the girls are still in captivity.
By Mr. Buhari’s own target, therefore, the administration cannot claim to have defeated Boko Haram “without rescuing the Chibok girls.”
Also, the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, whom the military claimed had been killed, also appeared in a latest video, threatening to attack the president and more cities.
The administration’s concerted attempts at pronouncing victory over Boko Haram seems like a strategy aimed at allaying the fears of rural dwellers – since government’s messages are usually carried on radio unchallenged.
However, the fact that the president personally defined what constitutes victory against Boko Haram on the day he was sworn in even makes the repeated claims of triumph over the sect doubtful.