Reports last week that Boko Haram’s Islamic State in West Africa Province [ISWAP] faction had seized six towns in Kukawa Local Government of far northern Borno State, on the shores of Lake Chad, was the biggest setback suffered in the war against insurgents in recent years. Even though military authorities say the reports “do not reflect the reality on the ground,” Daily Trust’s report quoting authoritative military and political sources said the terrorists had seized Baga, Doron-Baga, Kross Kawwa, Bunduran, Kekeno and Kukawa towns of Borno State after three days of fierce battles from Wednesday to Friday the previous week, i.e. from December 26 to 28, last year.
Interviews with people from the affected areas, thousands of whom streamed into Monguno and on to Maiduguri, confirmed that indeed their towns had been taken over. They provided detailed stories of how the insurgents one by one overrun military and naval bases in and around Baga, including the headquarters of the Multinational Joint Task Force, which is located in the town. They however said in a surprising departure from its past practice, Boko Haram gave residents the option of either staying put in the towns or of leaving, which tens of thousands of them did.
The situation was so dire that Borno State Emergency Management Agency [SEMA] sent trucks and other vehicles to deliver succor to the new wave of refugees and to evacuate them to safer places. SEMA officials could however help only the IDPs that find their way to safe areas, while thousands of others trudged along in the bushes. The IDPs said only elderly and infirm people were left behind in Baga. This was the second time that the all-important fishing town of Baga was occupied by insurgents. On the first occasion in 2015, a deadly massacre reportedly ensued.
That Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State summoned an emergency meeting of security agencies and all the state’s elders, MPs and other leaders to discuss the situation was proof enough of its gravity. The community leaders even expressed fears that insurgents could push on from Baga, overrun Monguno and on to Maiduguri. The military however repelled three attacks on Monguno, and Air Force raids reportedly halted the insurgents in their tracks and killed scores of them. Other reports yesterday spoke of the military massing heavy forces in various locations in preparation for launching a major offensive to retake the lost towns and bases. We are confident that the military will liberate the towns soon and make them safe enough for their inhabitants to return.
Some hard questions must however be asked at this point. From all indications there is no multinational force in the Lake Chad region, and we must ask why it is that Chadians, Nigeriens and Cameroonians do not seem to be around anymore. We however commend the Niger Republic forces that last week killed 200 Boko Haram terrorists in their south eastern Diffa Region.
Despite fortunes reportedly spent on armaments, it is clear also that our military lacks enough force and firepower to eliminate Boko Haram once and for all. This is very unfortunate. The country is at war and has been so for nearly 10 years now. Even though many successes were recorded, we expect the Federal Government to drop everything else and go for the best weapons, equipment and munitions wherever it can find them. Armoured helicopter gunships, mine-resistant APCs, drones, the latest machine guns and abundant munitions are some of the weapons needed to finish this war, and we believe that this country has the resources to acquire them from any available sources provided government rearranges its priorities.
We must also do whatever it takes to bring our neighbours back into the war. Boko Haram is a threat to all of us but they need our material support to be able to fully mobilise for this war. We should provide it. Honestly, the Presidency is running out of excuses.