The year 2017 was a very difficult one for Nigerians because of the economic recession and internal insecurity but it ended on a note of wild national excitement and self congratulations due to the great victory that our military forces scored in the Sambisa Forest, Borno State. It was the most cheering news in six years since Boko Haram launched a murderous insurgency that has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people and made millions of others refugees in their homeland.
For years the very name Sambisa, once known merely as a colonial-era forest reserve, struck fear and dread in the minds of Nigerians as the supposedly impregnable headquarters of Boko Haram. Thousands of abducted men, women and children were held in the forest by the insurgents, from where they also did their indoctrination, training and from where they launched deadly attacks on surrounding villages and towns. They also despatched suicide bombers as far afield as Kano, Zaria, Jos, Kaduna and Abuja.
All that ended on December 22 when the military stormed and occupied Camp Zero, Boko Haram’s last bastion in the forest where its top leaders were based for many years. Sambisa Forest was not taken easily. It took months of careful planning by the military high command and the commanders of Operation Lafiya Dole, careful mapping of the huge forest, hundreds of reconnaissance flights and continuous air attacks to soften the targets. Four thousand two hundred ground troops then moved in from four directions. One by one they destroyed insurgents’ camps, killed hundreds of insurgents, captured more than 1,200 others and also liberated thousands of civilians who were held by the insurgents as human shields. All the while, members of the Civilian JTF and local hunters helped the military to block escape routes and round up disoriented insurgents that had fled in all directions.
President Muhammadu Buhari delivered the cheering news to Nigerians on Saturday, December 24. He said he received the long-awaited and most gratifying news of the final crushing of Boko Haram terrorists in their last enclave in Sambisa Forest. Buhari said Chief of Army Staff Lt General Tukur Buratai told him that Camp Zero fell at 1:35pm on Thursday, December 22, and that “the terrorists are on the run and no longer have a place to hide.” He warmly congratulated the military for the feat and commended the troops and commanders for their determination, courage and resilience.
It is said that success has many fathers but among the confirmed biological fathers of this great victory are President Buhari, whose quietly effective leadership as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and his prudent mobilisation and deployment of national resources even in the midst of a debilitating economic recession turned the military around from a demoralised force only two years ago back into its professional and very effective fighting self. Much praise must also go to Chief of Army Staff Lt General Tukur Buratai, whose extremely capable and committed leadership from the front enormously boosted troop morale and resulted in a victory that many Nigerians once thought was impossible.
The Chief of Defence Staff General Olonishakin, Chief of Air Staff Air Vice Marshal Sadiq Abubakar, the Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole Major General Leo Irabor, the General Officers Commanding [GOCs] the 7, 8 and 3 Divisions, the many very brave brigade and battalion commanders as well as the courageous troops all played crucial roles that made this country very proud of them.
Many soldiers, airmen, special forces, policemen, intelligence agents, hunters and Civilian JTF members laid down their lives in order to protect their countrymen and women and ensure that their beloved country lives in peace and unity. Their sacrifice was not in vain because the nation owes them a debt of gratitude. The families that they left behind must be specially catered for, if for nothing else than to encourage surviving troops and future volunteers to also make sacrifices for the country. We must also acknowledge the material help rendered to us by friendly foreign powers. The satellite intelligence they provided and in particular the donation of armoured vehicles and mine sweepers greatly helped to snatch back Sambisa Forest, which the insurgents had ringed with minefields. The contribution of our friendly neighbours Cameroon, Chad, Benin and Niger Republic was a game changer that denied weapons and other supplies to Boko Haram and firmly set it on the road to ruin. We are eternally grateful to them and to all other African countries that rendered help to us.
Even as we congratulate ourselves on this great victory, we must be under no illusions that this war has ended. Many of the terrorists’ commanders have been killed or captured but other cowardly ones are still out there, boasting that they survived the onslaught. In time the gallant military forces will account for each and every terrorist. Also yet to be liberated are the remaining Chibok girls as well as thousands of other civilians still held under the insurgents’ hellish grip. Despite the Sambisa victory, pockets of the terrorists are known to remain in other areas such as far northern Borno State, the shores of Lake Chad and in the hills behind Chibok. They must be methodically wiped out in order to assure millions of Internally Displaced Persons [IDPs] of their safety as they prepare to return to their homes and rebuild their shattered lives in the New Year.
Once more we congratulate all Nigerians on this sweet victory and we urge President Buhari and the military forces to consolidate on this success and ensure that in 2017, the Boko Haram nightmare ends once and for all and peace returns to the troubled North East region.
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