By Charles Ibekwe
Since the onset of the Boko Haram insurgency in North-East, Nigeria in 2009, Nigeria has witnessed a period classified as one of the most trying in its history. I would say that the Boko Haram insurgency was underestimated. Consequently, conventional tactics were deployed in an asymmetric war.
And the outcome of such military deployment remains a topic for another day. However, the crux of this piece is to systematically analyze the security situation in present-day North-East Nigeria and the factors that have proved to be the game-changer in the prosecution of the war against insurgency.
There have been concerted efforts that have resulted in gains and losses. There has been realignment and strategizing towards nipping the Boko Haram scourge in the mud. This is why the focus of this piece would be centered around 2016 to date when the Nigerian Military gained ascendency over the Boko Haram insurgents.
At the front of the renewed charge is the Nigerian Army, the arm of service that has received praises and bashings in equal measures from stakeholders and other segments of the Nigerian population. Despite, all the Nigerian Army has continued in a most commendable fashion.
This much was brought to bear recently by the Governor of Borno State, Babagana Zulum at the occasion of the formal presentation of First Class Staff of Office to the Emir of Biu Emirate in Borno State, HRH, Mai Mustafa Umar Mustapha II.
Governor Babagana Zulum indeed captured the real situation of things regarding the efforts of the Nigerian Army in the prosecution of the Boko Haram insurgency that has ravished most parts of North-East Nigeria mainly Borno State. In his words, he stated thus:
“I must commend the Chief of Army Staff, Directors and Principal Staff Officers of Army Headquarters, the Theatre Commander, the General Officer Commanding, Sector Commanders, Brigade Commanders and Commanding Officers, Men and Officers of the Nigerian Army, Men and Officers of the Nigerian Police Force and other paramilitaries, Civilian Joint Task Force, hunters and vigilante for the support they have rendered in securing the territorial integrity of our nation”.
This coming from the governor of a state that is regarded as the epicenter of the Boko Haram insurgency is an indication that the commendation that has poured in for the leadership of the Nigerian Army and other paramilitary agencies involved in the Boko Haram insurgency is indeed worth every inch of it. The statement has also quashed some of the negative narrative pushed by some segment of the population with regards to the commitment of the Nigerian Army in the preservation of the country’s territorial integrity.
I believe that no other person is competent to comment on the Boko Haram insurgency than the governor of the state that is the epicenter of the insurgency. In my opinion, the governor has demonstrated patriotism through his actions, and I expect all those hanging on the fence to come to terms with this reality.
I don’t hold brief for the Nigerian Army or any other paramilitary agency. But I am constrained to lend my voice to this debate because I am conversant with the happenings in North-East Nigeria. And I know of the tremendous sacrifices that have gone into the restoration of normalcy in the region.
I recall that on numerous occasions I had advocated that Nigerians must form the habit of appreciating the efforts of the Nigerian Army. This is especially with the fact that we were up against an ideology that is deeply rooted in mischief, politics and extremism. This is indeed what the Boko Haram insurgency is all about. Take it or leave it.
It is not a conventional war, and as such, we should not expect troops to move in and smoke out Boko Haram insurgents within a timeframe. No, that is abnormal thinking that Nigerians must avoid. And unfortunately, this has been the yardstick that has been used in measuring the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria. This is also aside from the conspiracies both internally and externally by some vested interest towards ensuring that the Boko Haram insurgents continue to perpetuate evil and cause untold hardship in North-East Nigeria.
If not for anything, when one makes a detailed comparison of the state of affairs in North-East Nigeria pre-2015 and post- 2015, we would realize that a lot has changed for good and the threats posed by the Boko Haram insurgents has been reduced tremendously. From controlling over 16 local government areas, to directly engaging the Nigerian Army in battles and many other daring acts which included the systematic spread of terror to other parts of the country including the Federal Capital Territory.
Today, the story has changed as the remnants of the Boko Haram insurgents have been confined to the fringes of the Lake Chad Basin region, with no territory under their control and largely carrying out offensives in Gestapo hit and run style. If this is not something that should elicit commendation, I wonder what else should do—my candid thoughts.
If not for anything, I am glad that such a statement from the Governor of Borno State would inspire the troops to work harder because their efforts have been noticed and commended. This psychological boost is what is indeed needed as we push towards ending the Boko Haram insurgency. I used the word push because this is an ideological war and not a conventional war. And as some of us may know, insurgencies the world over is not something that comes to an end with the snap of the fingers. Some historical accounts stated that insurgencies take a minimum of 15 years to be addressed entirely because insurgency is an evolving phenomenon.
The Boko Haram insurgency is not any different; we recall that the target was security agents initially. From there it moved to the establishment of caliphates. It also moved to abductions and attacks on soft targets in women and children and today; it is now focused on guerrilla warfare.
Having said all, I am also in awe as to why Governor Babagana Zulum chose to make this statement in Biu. In case we do not know, the Biu Emirate has remained one of the regions in Borno State that have shown outstanding commitment towards ending the Boko Haram insurgency in the state. The Civilian Joint Task Force that is in place in all parts of Borno state is an expansion of the Biu model that was effective in neutralizing Boko Haram threats.
As a fact, the Boko Haram insurgents found it difficult to recruit fighters from Biu. And it is on record that they always meet their waterloo whenever they attempt to infiltrate Biu. And this is largely why Biu has remained one of the most peaceful cities in Nigeria. With the benefit of hindsight, the governor indeed was strategic in the choice of Biu to make such a remarkable statement.
I am glad. I am elated, and I must not fail to use this medium to register my profound appreciation to the leadership style of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai who has led the Nigerian Army at this historical time. He has displayed a firm conviction towards ending the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria. His approach and strategy are topnotch, and I won’t talk about the numerous awards that have come his way for lack of space. But what I can say is that the provision of leadership in the Nigerian Army is responsible for the feats recorded in the prosecution of the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria.
I can only wonder what the story would have been if there had been a continuation of the pre-2015 era where troops’ morale was at its lowest ebb. I dare to say that if this momentum is sustained, the Boko Haram insurgency would be a thing of the past soon. But we all have a role to play; we must continue to extend our support in ways that we can as this is not a conventional war but an asymmetric one.
I doff my hat for the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai for he is indeed the soldiers’ soldier. And one that is an epitome of hard work, resilience and passion for Nigeria. What more can I say? This is indeed a victory bell in Biu.
Ibekwe is a public affairs commentator based in Enugu.