The Muhammadu Buhari government expectedly views the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East as a major aberration and a national security priority. This incidentally is premised on the fact that there can be no development without security. For the president, it is inconceivable that any part of the country will be under occupation of an unlawful group. He has consistently maintained that the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty is not negotiable. There was the understanding then that the insurgency, unless immediately contained, had the potential of triggering a form of bandwagon or dominion effect in the country and the West African sub-region. The threats at the time the government took over was assessed capable of spreading to other states in the country especially Gombe, Bauchi, Kano, Jigawa, Kaduna and Katsina. It was therefore not surprising that the government came on board with a new approach, strategies and zeal to tackle the menace.
The fact that intelligence then showed the group was making inroads into Mali, Niger and Cameroun and had the capacity to engulf the sub-region compelled the government to explore multilateral approaching dealing with the threat. The truth is, not much success would have been made unless the terrorist cells and networks in some of the countries were taken out. Mobilizing countries in the Lake Chad Basin area was therefore expedient. Nobody was in doubt then of the imperatives of co-opting the neighbouring countries into the counter terrorism operations as there was evidence the strongholds and active cells of the insurgents were increasingly being established in the neighbouring countries especially, Mali, Niger and Chad. Intelligence showed there were training camps and active cells of so-called Jihadists in Mali, Niger and Cameroun.
Of concern was also illegal arms trafficking into the sub-region. It was therefore not surprising that Mali in particular was the target of terrorists from 2013. Niger, like Nigeria, is currently also battling with Boko Haram, so also is Cameroun. Recent developments in these countries confirm the fears that informed adopting the sub-regional and multilateral approach in dealing with the insurgency in the country. An objective assessment of the ongoing counter terrorism operations reveal significant progress has been made especially in the areas of decimating the leadership and ranks of the Boko Haram and degrading their ability to attack targets. The wanton attacks and destruction of communities especially in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States have been drastically curtailed. Towns and villages taken over have been reclaimed by our Security and Armed Forces. Thousands of people kidnapped and held hostage by the insurgents have also been freed.
Significant progress have also been made in opening up roads rendered inaccessible by the insurgents. Today, socio-economic activities that was brought to a halt in the North-East is gradually coming back to life. The Boko Haram insurgency as announced by the government has been technically defeated. What is remaining is, routing out of their remnants in the remaining enclaves and securing the release of the Chibok girls. In counter-terrorism operations, defeating the insurgents does not automatically translate into cessation of attacks. There will still be desperate attacks on soft targets. Caution is therefore advised that the war should be sustained in all fronts including neighbouring countries.
Another tactical move by the president on assumption of office was the appointment of service chiefs who are believed to have the capacity to decisively deal with the insurgency that has nearly gone out of control. The benefit of the decision was immediately seen in all aspects of the counter-terrorism operations. The order for the relocation of the Command and Control Centre to Maiduguri, the Borno State Capital, was another major tactical move that helped the counter terrorism operations. Another measure that made tremendous impact on the counter insurgency operations is the re-equipping of the armed forces which boosted the morale of the men in the field. This was not surprising as Nigerian soldiers have the antecedence, and have proved their worth in major peace keeping operations in Liberia, Somalia, Southern Sudan and beyond. It will be recalled that there was the belief that the inability of the military to decisively deal with the insurgency was principally the lack of weapons, the reason equipping the military was considered a priority.
The other area the ongoing counter terrorism operations has made significant progress is in checking the spate of bombings with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDS). Communities, markets, schools and places of worship before June 2015 were indiscriminately bombed by the terrorists. Today only isolated incidence of IED attacks are witnessed. The insurgents have also been denied the opportunity to hold ground. Credit should be given to security forces for this. This notwithstanding, for the insurgency to be totally degraded, measures should be put in place to curtail illegal arms in circulation in the North-East.
An honest assessment of the successes recorded in the ongoing counter terrorism operations in the North-East must recognize the gallantry of the Nigerian Army, Nigerian Air Force and the intelligence services. The officers and men of these organizations and their leadership have contributed immensely to changing the course of the counter terrorism operations. The armed forces and intelligence services have regained their lost glories It is indeed commendable that there has been no incidence of soldiers deserting their duty posts in the past one and half years. One also needs to recognize the fact that, the achievement of these organizations wouldn’t have been possible without the leadership, direction, and support of the Ministry of Defence, and Ministry of Interior. Mention must also be made of the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) and the office Chief of Defence Staff (OCDS). The Police and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps have also made notable contributions within their areas of responsibility. They are expected to play more critical roles in the coming months when hopefully the military hands over reclaimed areas to them.
Police authorities need to have a template to deal with expected post-insurgency challenges, especially heightened level of criminality, and the proliferation of dangerous weapons. Rebuilding the Mobile Police Training School in Gwoza and transforming it into a counter-terrorism school should be explored. Counter-terrorism operations are today at a critical phase but much still needs to be done to prevent reversals and relapses. Without prejudice to the strategies being considered, the routing out of insurgents embedded in communities should be accorded priority.
The insurgents holed up in Sambisa Forest, towns and villages in the Lake Chad Basin area need to be equally flushed out. Areas in Abadam and Damasak in Borno should particularly be of interest. Special attention also need to be paid to areas around Maiduguri and Bama as well as, the Damboa, Chibok and Askira/Uba axis. The GomboruNgala, Kalabalgi and Dikwa areas are also deserving of sustained interest. The same strategy also needs to be deployed in other border areas with Cameroon especially around Ngoshe and Pulka. So also is, the Biu general area, especially Buratai which has been the target of intermittent insurgent attacks.
(To be concluded next week)
Gadzama, a former Director-General of the SSS, wrote from Abuja.