Why We May Never Defeat Boko Haram

Why We May Never Defeat Boko Haram

By Azuka Onwuka

President Buhari

Positive thinking is good but facing reality is better and more useful. Nigeria may never defeat the Islamist fundamentalist group the Boko Haram.

In spite of the pre-election promises and expectations from President Muhammadu Buhari that the Boko Haram sect would be wiped out soon after his assumption of office, the daily killings in the North-east states of Borno and Yobe since his May 29 inauguration have made many come to the realisation that wiping out Boko Haram may not be as easy as was portrayed.

Buhari had visited neighbouring Chad and Niger Republic soon after his inauguration to discuss the Boko Haram terrorism and forge a joint force against it. That had brought some joy to many. But while Buhari was in those two countries, Boko Haram bombs kept on exploding at home. And some days after Buhari left the two countries, Boko Haram carried out a devastating attack on Niger Republic. The Nigerien Interior Minister, Hassoumi Massaoudou, while speaking on the attack said: “Members of the Boko Haram terrorist group have attacked the villages of Lamana and Ngoumao… The initial death toll is 38 civilians, among them 14 men, 14 women and 10 children.” It was as if it was to warn the Nigeriens against daring it and also to sneer at Nigeria about its wish to form an alliance with its neighbours to combat the sect. Interestingly, in the past few years, leaders of Nigeria, Chad, Niger Republic and Cameroon had been exchanging visits and having meetings over the fight against Boko Haram. But some Nigerians had praised the armed forces of Chad, Niger Republic and Cameroon as achieving more results against Boko Haram than the Nigerian military.

The Nigerian security forces had gained the upper hand against the Boko Haram early this year, routing them town after town and chasing them out. Some praised the security forces for that. But because it was close to the presidential election, many saw it as a gimmick from the then President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, to win votes. Many questioned why the military had “allowed” the Boko Haram sect to gain grounds and destroy thousands of lives and property before “waking up to combat them just a few weeks to the election.”

But with the election over and a new President in charge, there has not been any drop in the attacks. On the contrary, the momentum that was gained early this year till May has vanished, with Boko Haram attacking people in the markets, villages, and elsewhere.

The press statement the Presidency released to the media over the weekend in reaction to the latest Boko Haram attacks on Borno and Yobe communities sounded familiar. It evoked a feeling of déjà vu about the message from Jonathan after each Boko Haram attack.

Please take a look at this except from a newspaper report:

“President Muhammadu Buhari has again vowed to end terrorism in Nigeria. He said this in reaction to the latest terrorist attacks on Borno and Yobe communities by Boko Haram.

“In a statement issued by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, the President said he was deeply touched by the mindless incidents of violence on innocent people during the month of Ramadan.

“He insisted that the terrorists are enemies of everybody, and enemies of humanity everywhere. Stressing that terrorists don’t represent any religion, he said no sane people who believe in any god would destroy the lives of innocent people in cold blood.

“‘The pattern of their indiscriminate violence against innocent people, he said, showed that they represent nothing else but anarchy and devilry,’ the statement said.

“‘In what appears to be one of his toughest expressions of outrage, President Buhari reminded the terrorists of his uncompromising resolve to tackle them with all the resources at the disposal of his government.

“‘Make no mistake about it: this government is ever determined to discharge its fundamental duty of protecting the lives of its citizens from physical threats from any groups bent on creating chaos, confusion, and on destroying social and economic life of the people’, he warned.”

Buhari may be giving hope to the nation that he has an answer to the Boko Haram menace, but just as Jonathan had no answer to it, there is no concrete sign that Buhari has an answer to it. It was in the same manner that President Olusegun Obasanjo had no answer to the Niger Delta militancy. President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua also had no military solution to the Niger Delta menace. He had to eventually discontinue the military solution and adopt the amnesty option. Luckily for him, the Niger Delta militants listened to their elders and dropped their weapons in exchange for amnesty.

The lack of victory over insurgency in Nigeria has nothing to do with the competence of Buhari, Jonathan, Yar’Adua, Obasanjo or any other person that may want to lead Nigeria. Our nation has not yet found an answer to guerrilla warfare. It is worse in the case of Boko Haram which also carries out suicide bombings and has no rules of engagement or respect for civilians, children, women or sacred places. Boko Haram does not respect the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, nor the mosque, nor Islamic clerics nor fellow Muslims. It does not listen to advice or pleas from anybody that does not believe in its extreme views. Boko Haram was offered amnesty: even though many Nigerians opposed that, yet it rejected it. Boko Haram is not fighting for justice for its people, or for the development of its communities, or for the provision of jobs. It is fighting for the total implementation of sharia law in Nigeria, starting with the North-east. Nothing else appeals to it.

What Nigeria should aim for is to ensure that Boko Haram does not occupy one inch of our soil, but we may not be able to stop the group from detonating bombs or shooting at civilian population in the markets, schools, mosques, churches, farms, and streets. If it plans to detonate a bomb in a market but ends up detonating it at the gate of the market – killing fewer people than planned – it is a successful operation. If a suicide bomber is about to detonate a bomb and you shoot and kill him, and he ends up dying with five people, Boko Haram has succeeded. It is not possible for the security agents to be in every house, every street, every farm, every school, every church, every mosque, every bus.

Unlike in the South where someone from the North is easy to identify through physical features, dressing, language and accent, it is not easy to differentiate between a stranger from Niger Republic, Chad or Northern Cameroon from the local Northern Nigerians using the same parameters.

Intelligence is critical in this fight against Boko Haram. Bursting a planned attack is better and easier than stopping a terrorist operation that is in progress. Cutting off the source of funding of terrorists is also very important.

Another point is reorientation. Nobody operating on a normal frequency wants to kill innocent people or even commit suicide and take the lives of others in the process. There must be a stronger counter message against the tempting message from Islamist extremists. What can make teenage girls, who are in school and comfortable in Europe, escape to Syria to become the sex slaves of ISIS terrorists? A message stronger than that needs to be found and disseminated, to make religious extremism odious.

The last one is hope. Hope is not a strategy but in the case of Boko Haram it may be. That hope is that Boko Haram will one day become unfashionable and thereby cease to appeal to new volunteers and old members.

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