No one doubts that one of the greatest challenges facing Nigeria today is the Boko Haram insurgency. A reported 600,000 people have perished directly from the insurgency. The entire North East sub-region, particularly the hotbeds of Borno, Yobe, Adamawa and Gombe states, remain economically and socially devastated, with most of their meagre receipts in revenue allocation, servicing problems that root from the challenge. Until President Goodluck Jonathan realised that the losses to Boko Haram were going to cost him the reelection, Boko Haram was conquering, holding, and expanding territory, hoisting its flags and declaring whole local Governments parts of the new nation state. Even as I write, it is believed that yet in some parts of Borno, the Boko Haram rules.
In six weeks, President Goodluck Jonathan and his military chiefs did what they were unable to do in the six years the menace was confronted. Territories of more than 11 local governments were recovered but enclaves particularly the Sambisa forest where the Boko Haram was nested and quartered remained a separate Boko Haram sovereignty within Nigeria. Indeed this means that Boko Haram should not have lasted as long as it did.
Since taking over, President Muhammadu Buhari had always emphasised that his major challenge was to degrade the capacity of Boko Haram to remain an insurgency in Nigeria and to crush it eventually. His approach appeared to be slow and Nigerians who had expected an immediate onslaught did not understand. It is however becoming clear that President Buhari was determined to deal with the crisis by first undermining its foundation. The insurgency flourished on capital leakages from the economy into public hands through the country’s all pervading corruption.
Plugging those leakages and recovering all ill gotten wealth from those who looted the public treasury was inevitable. Initially Boko Haram began from politicians funding and arming their thugs and vanguards. The unique situation in the North East was that religious scholars dabbling as spiritualists to power became partisan and their faith based followers became natural recruits to causes more political than religious, a much ready tool for political intimidation, revenge and reprisals. The Nigerian security forces particularly the Police got sucked into the violent melee, the top compromising with politicians, and the other ranks battling with what looked like sectarian disobedience of the law and resistance to the discipline of State, until vested interests bought in.
President Buhari’s securing of the support and cooperation of western nations through his travels to the UK and other member countries of the European Union helped place a spotlight on movement of wealth by Nigerians such that abnormally huge amounts raised flags and traced loot was returned even if discreetly. Then the shuttle diplomacy to neighbouring nations of Chad, Cameroon, Niger and even Benin Republic, restored Nigeria’s reckoning as a leading key player in the geopolitics of the West African sub-region. There was sincerity in the proposed multi-national force, seen as fundamental to a genuine crack down on regional terror. While Nigerians criticised Buhari as being slow, much has been achieved in the creation of a strategic military gauntlet currently placing Boko Haram in a peril it had never before seen as possible. This is a fundamental achievement.
Turning now to the Nigerian home-front, it is clear that the long time it took to change the leadership of the different arms of the Nigerian Military was valuable in serving to enable appointments that would have systemic impact in guaranteeing the security of the leadership given its desire to lead the counter insurgency by being in charge as the arrowhead. No longer shall the president be cocooned in a safe haven of blissful ignorance, and being fed with half-truths or even lies about the challenges of the insurgency.
We have seen the president and the vice president take the heat, visiting the hotspots and victims of bomb attacks to give assurances and raise the national confidence. Indeed there has been progress in the fight against the insurgency. Boko Haram is now engaged in sporadic hit and run raids of soft village community targets, and as well, suicide bomb attacks on public places. This is typical of receding terror formations. With funding impaired, supply lines for ordinances compromised, and with the territory cordoned, the insurgency has no choice but to weaken. Desertions and internal fights become commonplace as leaders quietly fizzle out. Shekau has not appeared in recent videos, and there have been few so far. Bomb attacks are no longer being claimed on international media, yes, there is hope that indeed, Nigeria might subdue the heathens.
Yet the situation calls for a thorough revision of how matters got to this. Why did a simple fundamentalist extremism start in the first place? What made it grow into a very costly national strife? Who by acts of omission or commission enabled these occurrences? Who knowingly or inadvertently sponsored this mayhem? Herein lie our frustrations, should Boko Haram for all it has done, fizzle out the way it fizzled in?
Why is it that our neighbouring countries are more transparent in the prosecution of the counterinsurgency than Nigeria is? This week, Cameroon and Nigeria each captured a Boko Haram kingpin. While Cameroon named its capture as Bana Fanaye posting his recognisable picture and detailing his role, Nigerians went home happy. Theirs was an unnamed commander. For six years, the nation has been tormented; arrests made, yet not one personality of note has been named.
Need we bluntly put it beyond the fact that Boko Haram is home-grown? It only became multifaceted and franchised. The bitter truth is that while thousands perished, many people grew rich from the situation. It therefore irks in no small way to hear erstwhile Chief of Defence Staff Alex Badeh cry out that there were 5th columnists in the rank and file. There were indeed fifth columnists and Badeh should really come clean with details of issues and personalities that marred his tenure as Chief of Defence Staff. There were also profiteers from our woes for whose protection Government engaged itself in a war.
There appear today, many veiled attempts to cover up pointers to the key players that acted in tandem with extremists, particular sponsors of terror under the guise of funding of political mobilisation, who hibernated in the PDP and hobnobbed with power. There were compromises and indeed assassinations of anyone who had the potential to reveal truths to the Government, and accounts for the fact that a whole region suffered and its leaders kept mum. If General Muhammadu Shuwa’s security could be compromised and was killed in his twilight age, and to date, mum’s the word, who will raise the issue of the extrajudicial killing of Muhammad Yusuf the Boko Haram leader, or his in-law Buji Foi who was killed soon after receiving President Obasanjo and Senator Shehu Sani?
In the renewed counter insurgency, attempts would be made to compromise the Buhari Administration and cause it to fail unless care is not taken. Boko Haram must not be allowed to fizzle out the way it fizzled in. Those who paid the price need recompense with visible justice on the criminals who caused it and those who ate the bread of our bloody sorrow.