Tuesday, June 3, 2014 11:51 am
by Ayorinde Oluokun
In his nationwide broadcast to mark the 2014 Democracy Day last week, President Goodluck Jonathan declared that the 14 April abduction of over 200 girls from a secondary school in Chibok community, Borno State, has created worldwide awareness about the brutal activity of the Boko Haram insurgent group which has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.
The assertion by the President is apt, given the worldwide offer of support even from the most unlikely places to help rescue the girls and ultimately, to help fight the insurgent group to submission. But even much more, though also thinly acknowledged by the President, the abduction of the girls has brought into sharp focus the ability of Nigeria’s military to defend the territorial integrity of the country.
The verdict of most local and international analysts and observers is that the Nigerian military has failed to discharge its responsibility to the country well with the way it has allowed the Boko Haram insurgency to fester since 2009.
As such, the military has found itself reeling under a barrage of criticisms from local and international observers and analysts who queried its failure to rescue the girls over a month after their abduction and continuous impudent decimation of communities by the Boko Haram insurgents. In need of some ego boosting, Air Chief Marshall Alex Badeh, the Chief of Defence Staff, CDS, and Nigeria’s topmost military chief, last week played host to at least two groups on a solidarity visit to the Abuja Defence Headquarters. “We want our girls back, I can tell you that our military can and will do it, but where they are held, can we go there with force? Nobody should say Nigerian military does not know what it is doing; we can’t kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back,” the CDS told members of the Citizen Initiative for Security Awareness, CISA, who were on a solidarity to his office in Abuja last Monday.
Badeh also told his visitors that the military has been incapacitated in the battle against Boko Haram because of the nature of the insurgency, which involved fighting against Nigerians. “If we were fighting an external war, they would have been begging us to withdraw. We are not happy at all, because we are killing our own kinsmen and we are killing mostly the youths. We cannot afford to eliminate our youths; who are we going to hand over Nigeria to? We can’t kill them,“ said the CDS, who recalled that the Nigerian military has distinguished itself in helping countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone end their civil wars and return to democracy. “We are neither politicians nor religious bodies, but appreciate our military and we know they are doing their best. We are trying to tell the leadership of the Nigerian military that ordinary Nigerian is behind and appreciate them,“ Chidi Omeje, the coordinator of the group told the CDS.
The Military Not Doing Its Best
The assertion that the ‘military is doing its best’ is one that many Nigerians living in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, the three states which have been the focal point of insurgency since 2009, may however not agree with. The feelings of the generality of Nigerians living in the Boko Haram-infested region was succinctly expressed by Dr. Bulama Mali Gubio, the spokesperson of Borno Elders Forum, when he was asked last week to state what his people had gained from the practice of democracy in the past five years. “Apart from the killing and maiming of our people, we have not witnessed anything good in the past five years. Our economy has crumbled, our schools are no longer safe, thousands of houses have been destroyed and we have been abandoned. Democracy has left us in the woods and it will be foolhardy for us to say we are celebrating anything,” said Gubio.
He added that essentials of democracy like security of life and property have eluded the people of Borno State in the past five years. Gubio’s sentiment is one shared by many Nigerians living across North-east Nigerian who have watched as the Boko Haram evolved from just a misguided group with focus of attacks on officers of the security agencies and public offices to an insurgent group.
In spite of the different claims by the military that it is having the upper hand in the battle against the insurgents, the terrorist group had by May 2013 driven away local government chiefs, successfully closed down police stations, schools and other public offices and were flying their flags and preaching openly in over 20 towns in Borno State.
The group was bold enough to attempt a take over of an Army barrack in Bama during an operation in which it also destroyed the town’s police station, prison and abducted some officers. Obviously at the prompting of the Generals, President Jonathan in May last year declared a state of emergency to give the military unfettered powers to chase out the insurgents. This enabled the military to launch a big offensive in which it deployed its arsenal to root out the insurgents from their strongholds across the three North-east states.
True, the military seemed to have achieved some successes in curbing the insurgency with the offensive, with the hitherto daily reports of bombings and indiscriminate killings by unidentified “gunmen” in Maiduguri and Damaturu, the capitals of Borno and Yobe respectively, and other areas of the two states where the insurgents had been very active becoming fewer. With the support of vigilance group, otherwise known as the Civilian JTF, the military was able to root out the insurgents from Maiduguri city. A week into the offensive and declaration of state of emergency in the three states, the Armed Forces were bold enough to declare that they had put the insurgents on the run. In a statement, General Chris Olukolade, Director of Defence Information, declared that the extremist group was in “disarray”, with its members fleeing to Nigeria’s borders with Cameroon, Chad and Niger. Indeed, the military succeeded in confining activities of Boko Haram to the communities near Nigerian borders with the three countries for a while.
But it would seem that the group just went into hibernation, during which period it drew up a new blueprint for its terrorist activities given the subsequent ferocity of its attacks. In December last year, the group launched one of its most daring attacks yet on the Air Force base and International Airport in Maiduguri, during which it destroyed a couple of helicopters, vehicles, buildings and killed scores of people. The terrorist group followed this up with a couple of other attacks and President Jonathan, in December last year, asked the National Assembly to extend the state of emergency for another six months. However in spite of the extension of emergency rule, ferocious attacks by the insurgents continued.
A Promise Not Kept?
When he was taking office as the CDS January this year, Badeh had further raised hopes of Nigerians when he declared that the military would work to bring Boko Haram insurgency to an end by April 2014 in order not to go to the National Assembly to ask for another extension of the state of emergency. But Badeh said it was not the intention of the military chiefs to go lobbying the National Assembly for anything. “The security situation in the North-East must be brought to a complete stop before April 2014. We must bring it to a stop before April so that we will not have constitutional problems on our hands. We don’t want to go back to the Senate to start begging and lobbying. If we do our work cohesively, I can tell you, General (Kenneth) Minimah, (Chief of Army Staff) you will finish your work in no time,” the CDS said while taking over from his predecessor, Admiral Ola Ibrahim.
Though the Defence Headquarters later clarified in a press statement that the remark by the CDS was meant to motivate commanders and troops to work harder toward restoration of normalcy as envisaged in the states under emergency rule, Badeh had also during his swearing-in early February assured President Jonathan that the new set of Service Chiefs would deploy new strategy to bring the Boko Haram insurgency to an end before the general elections in 2015.
Contrary to that promise, however, insurgency and related security challenges have worsened. Some statistics indicate that over 2,000 Nigerians have been killed in various attacks by Boko Haram in the first three months of the appointment of the new service chiefs. Some of the major attacks attributed to the insurgents in the first quarter include the 26 January attack on a Catholic church at Waga Chakawa in Adamawa, which resulted in the death of 30 worshippers, part of the over 115 people killed in just two communities in Borno and Adamawa states in the first month of the year. Also, on 11 February, the terrorists killed over 67 people in Konduga in Borno State and at least, another 146 Nigerians during an attack on Izghe, Gwoza Local Government Area of the same state. The insurgent group also killed 43 pupils on 25 February, when it attacked the Federal Government College in Buni Yadi, Yobe State.
On the first day of March, twin bomb blasts by Boko Haram left 52 people dead in Maiduguri, and while rescue operations were on at the scene of the blasts, another set of the insurgents attacked Mainok, a village about 50km from Maiduguri, killing 39. The next day, 35 persons – 32 civilians and three policemen – were killed during a fierce gunfight between insurgents and soldiers in Mafa, a community 45km east of Maiduguri, while on 4 March, the violent sect attacked Jakana, a village about 35km from Maiduguri, where 40 persons were killed. The insurgents on 14 March launched a daring attack on the famous Giwa Barracks in Fori neighbourhood of Maiduguri, which resulted in the death of scores of soldiers and the terrorists.