‘What the recent hit-and-run attacks by the insurgents portend is that the battle against terrorism has entered a new phase with the likelihood of more devastating effect on civilians and other soft targets’
On May 14, 2013, President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the three North-east states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. The declaration took the nation by surprise. What followed was the popular expectation that normalcy and peace would swiftly return to these hot beds of the Boko Haram insurgency. This expectation was buoyed by the prompt and massive deployment of troops, including military hardware, air fire power and other war arsenal to the troubled area.
The deployment of the troops attracted intense media publicity and support. This overwhelming support soon translated to the early military successes the troops recorded against the marauding terrorists. However, recent events in the areas under emergency rule, especially Yobe State, have made nonsense of the initial high expectations that greeted the military onslaught. Expectations have, no doubt, been severely dampened by the recent dastardly activities of the Boko Haram anarchists.
Between last Thursday night and early Friday morning, insurgents launched a violent siege on selected security formations in the state. During the confrontation, the insurgents killed some soldiers, their wives and their children at a mini army barracks along Maiduguri Road, Damaturu, the state capital. The heavily armed insurgents also bombed the mini barracks; the Police Area Command; the Criminal Investigation Department; the Mobile Police Base; and an office in charge of environment along Guija Road, in the city.
The bloody confrontation erupted following the arrest of two trucks belonging to a foremost industrialist from the northern part of the country at a military checkpoint. The drivers of the trucks were said to have told the security agents that a big bag in one of the trucks belonged to a very senior military officer and should not be searched. The drivers and their colleagues backed up their claim with a display of a memo purportedly from Defence Headquarters and signed by the said military officer that the bag should not be searched for whatever reason.
But rather than being cowed by the drivers’ claim and the memo, the soldiers became more suspicious and emboldened. When the bags were later searched by the security agents, a large quantity of military camouflage uniforms, arms and ammunition were discovered in them. The trucks, with their lethal cargos, were subsequently impounded and taken to the Police Area Command, Guija Road, Damaturu, while the drivers and their passengers were also detained. The Boko Haram insurgents reacted by launching attacks on security formations in the state.
Security operatives who were drafted to the scene succeeded in killing more than 50 of the insurgents. The military authorities immediately suspended movement throughout the state. Thereafter, the Special Force killed 13 other insurgents on their way to Maiduguri. All the 13 insurgents were believed to be Chadian nationals. This has indeed confirmed earlier speculations that terrorists from other African countries may have aligned forces with the Boko Haram terrorists to wage war on Nigeria.
For some time now, there have been strong indications that Islamic terrorists from some North African countries are coordinating attacks against the military in the North-east. Security operatives were said to have come to this conclusion when they discovered that many Arabs of Shuwa descent and fair-skinned people from Mali, Sudan, Mauritania, Algeria, Somalia and Niger were among those whose bodies were found after some of the recent encounters with the terrorists. The general feeling is that the terrorists, who still have several cells in the thick forests of the north-eastern part of the country, were among those chased out of Mali by the French and West African troops led by Nigeria. Their level of preparedness and the calibre of arms in their possession may have been responsible for the usual high casualty on the side of security agents.
Last weekend’s bloody clash was the latest in the series of such confrontations between security agents and Boko Haram terrorists in Yobe State. On the night of September 29, Boko Haram insurgents attacked the hostels of the School of Agriculture, Gujba, murdering no fewer than 41 students in their sleep. That night, a large number of gunmen, armed with sophisticated rifles and improvised explosives, reportedly took part in the orgy of violence and bloodletting. Not satisfied with the high figure of precious lives they had snuffed out, the insurgents also set ablaze several of the college buildings, as they retreated from the dormitories.
Before the gory incident in Gujba, seven secondary school students and two teachers were shot dead by gunmen in Damaturu, while, in July, Boko Haram militants threw explosives and sprayed gunfire into school dormitories, killing 41 students in the town of Mamudo in the state.
The Boko Haram terrorists may have shifted their operations from Maiduguri, capital of Borno State, and now concentrate on Yobe State. The sect appears to have been pushed out of Maiduguri largely because of the efforts of a network of youthful informer-vigilantes fed up with the routine violence and ideology of the insurgents they grew up with. The network’s intimate knowledge of the community enables it to quickly recognize Boko Haram members and turn them over to security agents. This way, a good number of the insurgents have been turned over.
Perhaps, realizing the importance of the group in the ongoing ‘war’ between the security agencies and the insurgents, Kashim Shettima, the State Governor, recruited the vigilantes for ‘training’ and pays them monthly stipends. A number of the recruits are repentant former Boko Haram members. This has obviously made it easier to correctly identify and apprehend the insurgents, to the extent that the vigilante group now calls itself the “Civilian JTF.” Therefore, the establishment of more vigilante groups in Yobe and Adamawa states could be a game-changer in the current effort by security agencies to uproot these terrorists from the north-eastern part of the country.
At any rate, the government may have allowed the Boko Haram menace to fester for too long with the implication that the sect has now moved to a new stage of what may be a long-drawn guerrilla tactics in its war against the country. Obviously, this is not the kind of war that conventional soldiers are familiar with. Therefore, a new strategy is required to confront it. The terrorists appear to be more proactive in planning and executing attacks with the repeated and ugly consequence of security forces arriving after the damage has been done.
The question now is: Do these ceaseless attacks by the insurgents suggest that the state of emergency has failed to achieve its objectives? It may be too early to say so. It would certainly be most unrealistic to expect the insurgency to end too soon following the military operations going on in the emergency areas. This is because the insurgency has festered for more than four years running. Besides, the terrain in which the terrorists are being confronted is very difficult and vast. And because it is an internal insurrection or conflict of a sort, I am sure the military are, wisely, being careful in the use of maximum force so as to limit collateral damage on the civilian population in the affected areas.
One good thing, though, is that appreciable progress has been made in the area of crippling the capacity of the insurgents to operate beyond the North-East zone of the country. This is a departure from what the situation was before the advent of emergency rule when the insurgents made occasional incursions into such states as Niger, Kaduna, Kano and even Abuja, taking lives and destroying property in the process.
What the recent hit-and-run attacks by the insurgents portend is that the battle against terrorism has entered a new phase with the likelihood of more devastating effect on civilians and other soft targets. That is why the military must go back to the drawing board and sharpen their intelligence-gathering capacity in order to nip the attacks in the bud. They can only achieve this by courting the local community. This is the only way they can win the confidence of the people who will in turn feel free to volunteer information on the movement and activities of the terrorists