It was reported last week that Governor of Borno State, Professor Babagana Zulum, is seeking an additional approach to end the 11-year-old war against Boko Haram and Islamic State in West Africa Province [ISWAP] terrorists with the planned recruitment and deployment of about 10,000 local hunters.
Successive governments in the state had been experimenting with this hunters’ option. At a time, the state government consented to local hunters going into the Sambisa Forest to “smoke out” the terrorists from their notorious base, a job that the army later did. In January this year, former Governor of the State Senator Kashim Shettima recruited 500 hunters to join the fight against the terrorists. And in June, barely one month into his tenure, Governor Zulum sought the consent of visiting Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Yusuf Buratai to help train local hunters and vigilantes willing to join the fight. General Buratai, in response, said the idea was welcome as long as the government can vouch for the character of those being recruited.
The push for alternative strategies to complement the fight against Boko Haram and ISWAP became more pronounced as reports from the battlefronts showed that Nigerian soldiers have been suffering rounds of casualties as they battle the insurgents. Even though the terrorists’ ranks have been severely depleted, they are still capable of launching sporadic attacks on Army units in the Northeast region and ambushing military convoys, which resulted in some personnel casualties and loss of military hardware.
In response to this challenge, the Army decided that soldiers would no longer be camped in sparsely deployed small units but in ‘Super Camps,’ which are difficult for Boko Haram to attack and almost impossible to overrun. The Army also reasoned that responses to terrorists’ attacks would be more effectively coordinated with other Services and security agencies from the Super Camps. These are good military reasons, but the Super Camp strategy has also come under question as it has left swaths of territories without military presence. Many communities in Borno State say that the army withdrew and left them at the mercy of the terrorists.
Spokesperson to Governor Zulum, Malam Isa Gusau, said the Governor decided to “aggressively combine conventional and unconventional approaches to address the Boko Haram crisis. Borno has been faced with a desperate situation. Given that, Governor Zulum has, with the consent of key stakeholders that include elders and traditional rulers, decided to aggressively explore every lawful means necessary in trying to put an end to the insurgency.”
About 2,000 of the planned 10,000 hunters acclaimed with voodoo powers and hunting skills needed for the campaign have already been enlisted from across Northern Nigeria and neighbouring countries including Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Niger Republic and Central African Republic. The hunters are being drawn into the fight the same way the Civilian-Joint Task Force (C-JTF) came into the fray at the height of the Boko Haram killings in 2013, when the terrorists walked the streets of the capital, Maiduguri freely. By the time the youths, armed with sticks, machetes and courage, challenged them, they fled. This became the game changer and the C-JTF were incorporated as part of the counter-insurgency war, but operating under military supervision.
The Borno stakeholders’ frustration and desperation is evident when they seek options outside conventional military strategy. For the Governor to opt to recruit, train and deploy additional hunters shows a level of desperation to bring this crisis to an end and to provide additional protection for vulnerable rural communities. Whatever may have necessitated taking the hunters’ initiative, as long as they are going to be deployed into the vast swathes of territories which have been left without military presence, it is welcome. Yet, these hunters, like the C-JTF before it, must work under the framework and supervision of the military. More importantly, they must add value to the anti-terror efforts as the military ups its game and restores full confidence of all stakeholders in its patriotic efforts.