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Have we seen the back of Boko Haram? (II)

When the first part of this article appeared on the penultimate Tuesday I did not envisage the passionate reactions it was to arouse in many of the reading public. Buhari Hassan, a close follower of this column was obviously piqued by the expression of cynicism and despair in the piece that he replied as follows:

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“Remember the infamous day Giwa Barracks was almost overrun by Boko Haram? Yes I was there. In summary that fateful Friday we set off early from Maiduguri to Konduga for the 3rd day prayer of a deceased relative. Curiously all the multiple checkpoints along the forty kilometre journey were abandoned and on approach to Konduga we met a motorized column heading at top speed towards the state capital apparently from the Bama axis. We dismissed it as one of those games of the emergency operations. Alas how wrong we were!

After the prayer session we were told that access to Maiduguri wasn’t possible, a place we left barely one hour previously. That was the time of (please pardon the pun) of ‘non fight against the marauding insurgents’. We had to endure the thunderous sound of the military canons virtually taking cover for our dear lives at the gate of University of Maiduguri and spent almost 4 hours before reaching our homes in the city centre and back to the old GRA where I was staying. Then the civilian JTF was not properly streamlined and all manner of self-help groups were all over the place in addition to the security personnel. The following day I literally smuggled myself out of town back to my domicile in Kaduna. 

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But things have dramatically changed since then. Our relations who abandoned their homes in Konduga have returned and we are very much in touch. You even penned a very pleasant account of life in Maiduguri and environs some weeks back but your article of today 26th December is a dramatic volte face to me. Surely it is beyond reason to expect an automatic switch off of festering emergency like the fight against Boko Haram without some birth pangs? Methinks you have gravitated towards the group of our fellow diaspora Bornians who contrary to the current turn of events always preach some distressing doctrine of despair and cynicism. Make my day and let me eat my words. Tempt me from saying ‘et tu Gambo’.”  Buhari Hassan.

That’s right, Buhari, go ahead and eat your words. I assure you that I have good reasons now to want to swallow my words too. This aside, it is true I have celebrated the return of some normality to virtually the whole of Yobe State and substantial part of Borno States, particularly Maiduguri. When I moved around the region in July it was great seeing those areas free of the misguided marauding terrorists whom we all came to realize that were just common criminals after innocent citizens’ money, women and daughters. Once more, one felt the Nigerian Army had done its duty and one could drive with minimum of fear the stretch between Potiskum to Damaturu, through to Benisheikh, Mainok, Jakana and into Maiduguri. 

It was a delight to see that commercial activities were back to the markets and the pleasure once more in the faces of the common man in the streets. State Government activities had resumed with frenetic energy, building roads, schools, markets and clinics. I was pleasantly surprised while passing through Benisheikh to see that even the citizens’ dwellings that were destroyed by Boko Haram terrorists were being rebuilt by Borno State Government. I understood that similar wholesale building activities were taking place in Bama, Gwoza, Gamboru and many other locations in the state. Mohammed Indimi, a prominent son of the soil, Aliko Dangote and several other philanthropists had also keyed into the building projects. Admittedly, life was looking up.

Then the suicide bombs started flying again. Their occurrences started manifesting in the usual spots in Maiduguri around the ever busy Muna Garage, Molai, the gateway to the GRA, and in the string of settlements adjacent to and surrounding Giwa Barracks in the GRA. One also noted that despite all the valiant efforts of Borno State Government with the aid of many International organizations to resettle IDPs, it became impossible to relocate them due the fact that the situation in their villages and towns remain precarious. To worsen matters the main road arteries from Maiduguri to Bama onto Gwoza and Mubi, and the one to the border towns of Gamboru-Ngala, as well as the one to Damboa leading to Biu and Gombe became impossible to ply without armed convoys. Then the attack that took place on Mainok, a key village lying on the main artery road leading into Maiduguri from Damaturu. It is a village that along with Ngamdu and Benisheik all on this very important road, link up the Sambisa Forest and the whole of northern parts of Borno. Any breach on those villages could really be calamitous not only to the region but to the nation at large. One was not surprised, therefore, that the Nigerian Army stoutly stood its grounds when the terrorists came calling at Mainok.

Many reasons had been adduced for the renewed energy of the insurgents. Some of those reasons revolve around conspiracy theories. There are plenty of such and can be ignored. But definitely I agree with those who believe that the many months absence of the President on sick leave and the long budget tussle with the National Assembly had contributed a lot to the logistics deficiencies that affected the war effort. I have also read reports elsewhere that the insurgents have been strengthened by the Chibok girls’ exchange where they are said to have been paid some 3m Euros (about a billion naira) as well as release of some of their top commanders. The report I refer to was an article written by Drew Hinshaw and Joe Parkinson titled, ‘freedom for the world’s most famous hostages came at a heavy price’ and published in the Wall Street Journal of 24th December. These two journalists were in Nigeria recently where they were reported to have discussed with many of those who were involved in the release of the Chibok girls. Their report was detailed and made interesting reading. They believed that the payment for the Chibok girls was the main ingredient that had galvanised the terrorists. I quote them: “To a threadbare insurgency that had been driven into the mountains, the two payments in 2016 and 2017 represented a timely windfall. Since they collected the money, the group has stepped up its terrorist attacks. The number of suicide bombs detonated in Nigeria, most strapped to children, has been a fourfold increase from the previous year”. 

However, one must admit that since the return of the President there had been a renewed focus on clearing the remnants of the insurgents. The contribution of $1 billion (about 300 billion naira) allowed by all the Governors to be taken from Excess Crude Account would definitely boost the logistics requirements of our Armed Forces. Also the consent of the United States to sell some badly needed high-tech attack planes to our Airforce is a welcomed development. These kinds of planes, I understand can pinpoint targets at night and were said to be game changers when they were deployed in Afghanistan in 2016.

When you add up all these recent developments, plus the constant obvious presence of Nigerian Army leadership in the war theatre and the reported successes around the Lake Chad arena there is every indication that the Boko Haram Insurgency shall now be overcome.

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