The military really needs to demonstrate that it is an effective fighting force that can root out the rag-tag Boko Haram terrorists from our soil
That Borno State is the founding home of the Boko Haram insurgency is no longer news. Muhammed Yusuf, the founder of the sect, was eliminated by unscrupulous security agents in very controversial circumstances after he was captured during a riot in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, in 2009. In that mayhem, many people, including scores of security agents, were either killed or maimed. The security agents responded by mowing down whoever they suspected to be a Boko Haram member.
It was during this melee that Buji Fai, a two-time Chairman of Kaga Local Government of Borno State and former Commissioner for Religious Affairs and Water Resources, was killed. He was captured alive in his farm along Bui – Danboa Road, but was later reported dead in very questionable circumstances. After he was arrested, the former commissioner demanded to meet Ali Modu Sherif, the then state governor. He was taken to the Government House half-naked in handcuffs. Unfortunately for him, Sherif was said to be out of office by the time they got there. The late Buji Fai was later taken to the police headquarters where he was reportedly killed. Mohammed Fugu, a Maiduguri-based businessman, also suffered a similar fate. He was reportedly killed by the police at the police headquarters in Maiduguri after he gave himself up.
The government of Sherif displayed nonchalance to the killings when its officials later stormed Railway Quarters with bulldozers and demolished Yusuf’s house as well as Fugu’s compound. Dissatisfied with the development, Yusuf’s family went to court, accusing the police of extrajudicial killing of their patriarch. The court gave its judgment asking the Police to pay the sum of N100 million to the family, but the police appealed the verdict. By this time, anger had inflamed passion as the sect members were poised for war. That was how the whole Boko Haram insurgency started as a war between the sect members and security agents on one hand and the sect and government on the other hand.
Although shortly after Sherif left as governor, the new helmsman, Kashim Shettima, paid the N100 million to Yusuf’s family, the sect members could not be placated as many contending interests had been introduced into the entire imbroglio. Remember that at the inception of the crisis, it was alleged that Boko Haram was a militant wing of the Borno political class under Sherrif. It was under his watch as governor that the sect blossomed. This, probably, accounted for the reason why Fai demanded to see the governor face to face on the day he was arrested on his farm before his life was abruptly terminated. That liquidation was probably to forestall what would have led to a great confession. Perhaps, that confession that never was, could have helped Borno government and indeed the federal government to bring the temerity of the sect members to an early halt. However, rather than abating, the activities of the insurgents have, in the last few months, escalated, particularly in Maiduguri, its traditional founding place, in spite of subsisting State of Emergency now in its ninth month.
Since the beginning of this month, the sect appeared to be having a field day in their operations despite the presence of military Task Force in the state. Their ceaseless attacks have led to the untimely death of more than 300 people in this month alone. Last week, a terrified Kashim Shettima, the Governor of the state, shuttled back and forth to the State House, Abuja ostensibly to brief President Goodluck Jonathan on the killings. While addressing reporters shortly after, Shettima made it clear that Nigeria is “in a state of war”. He also said the fight against Boko Haram was far from being won, as the insurgents seem to be more motivated than the Nigerian military. He warned that the faster Nigerian leaders braced up to the challenge, the better for the country. But a few hours after Shettima’s outburst, Doyin Okupe, an aide of the President on public affairs, in his usual boisterous manner, countered that the military was better equipped and motivated to fight Boko Haram militants. My take is that Shettima is the man who wears the shoe and so should know better where it pinches.
At any rate, uncertainty now pervades most of the North-east each day, over fear of possible attack by the sect. The question being asked by many today is: for what use have the huge budgetary provisions made for the armed forces in the fight against the insurgents been put into? This is germane following the seemingly failure of the security agents to tackle the insurgency headlong since all these months that emergency had been in place. Rightly or wrongly, some people have attributed this lacklustre performance by the security forces to high level of corruption in the management of funds budgeted to fight the menace.
Aside from the issue of up-to-date military hardware, it is believed that the absence of an operational air wing of the Army may have constituted a clog in the wheels of progress in the execution of operations in the affected areas. The fact remains that the Army pilots trained for such operations have largely been idle since they were not being utilised because of the absence of Army Aviation in the country. This has made the Nigerian Army to rely solely on the Air Force for air support in their operations. This, no doubt, may have greatly hampered the operational efficiency of the army in its ongoing combat operations against the insurgents as the Air Force was said to be more or less reluctant to take orders from the Army because of the inter-service rivalry.
An air wing would make it possible for the Army to plan its operations and execute them speedily without relying solely on the Air Force for such support. There have been instances in the past where soldiers had been endangered when an expected air support was called off at the last minute after troops had advanced into the battlefield, at the Sambisa Forest. This abrupt tinkering with operational plans has often given the insurgents the upper hand as security forces have been easily routed for lack of the desired support. The casualty figures from these operational misdemeanors have been tremendous.
Besides, the thinking is that there is a sort of political undertone in the insurgency attacks, which have recently escalated in line with the body language of Mr. President, which suggests that he will soon declare for a second term in office. The attack may be aimed at portraying the President as anemic and incapable of protecting the people in the far North. And the sponsors of the insurgency are believed to be some political gladiators in that part of the country. The government needs to unmask them in order to cut-off the oxygen supply to the insurgents.
With the way things stand now, the onus is on the Nigerian military to gird its loins and effectively confront the menace of Boko Haram, particularly in Borno State, which appears to be its only remaining theatre of war, and its environs. Chris Olukolade, a Major-General and Director, Defence Information, has assured the nation that the military is capable of winning the war against the insurgents. Turenchi apart, the military really needs to demonstrate that it is an effective fighting force that can be relied upon by rooting the rag-tag Boko Haram terrorists from our soil without further prevarication.
The insurgents may have taken sanctuary in the hills of Cameroun, from where they attack isolated villages every now and then. But, mind you, Cameroun could be quite reluctant to cooperate with Nigeria in the prosecution of this anti-terrorists’ campaign. That has been the nature of the francophone countries in Africa, especially in the West-African sub-region. If that is the case, we should not hesitate to close all our borders with Cameroun as was done in the past. It is only through this, that we can bring its government to see reason and co-opt it into this must-win war. This is a war that must be won at all costs even if it means declaring a full-blown emergency on Borno State.