Nigeria’s Tragedy: The Lack of Political Will to Fight and end the Boko Haram War and Banditry
Priye S. Torulagha
Nigeria seems to be afflicted by perpetual bad luck. Despite rich human and natural resources, it is incapable of taking care of itself. As a result, it bounces from one disaster to another to the point of being choked to death by mischievous forces within and outside the country. Apart from suffering from mismanagement engendered by an unpatriotic political elite, its financial lifeblood is being drained uncontrollably through massive pilfering by public officials while primordial sentiments (nepotism, tribalism, regionalism and religion) tear at its nationhood. Due to constantly galloping from one crisis to another, Nigeria has become a laughing stock in Africa. Otherwise, how can anyone explain the fact that the so-called giant of Africa is incapable of fighting, defeating and ending the bloody Boko Haram War that has dragged on for almost ten years. It cannot even contain marauding herdsmen and bandits that plan like terrorists, operate like terrorists and kill like terrorists but are called different names by the Federal Government of Nigeria.
The saddest part of the Nigerian tragedy is that the once mighty Nigerian military is a shadow of its former self. It is difficult to stomach the fact that the Nigerian military which helped to stop political and military conflicts in different parts of the world, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Lebanon, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Sudan is unable to put an end to the Boko Haram disaster that has claimed more than 35,000 lives and send 3.5 million people into Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps as refugees.
The question is, why is Nigeria fumbling so badly in fighting Boko Haram, herdsmen and bandits, thereby, shredding its internal security architecture? In fact, due to its incapability in inflicting a decisive military blow against Boko Haram, other non-state armed elements, including herdsmen, bandits, kidnappers and violent gangs are crawling over the country. In a frenzy of uncontrollable proportion, they are kidnapping, killing, destroying and terrorizing the populace without the slightest fear of Nigerian security forces. Nigeria seems like a country that does not have an army, airforce, navy, police, and intelligence agencies to protect its citizens and territory. Technically speaking, Nigeria is becoming a failed state.
Purpose of the Article
The purpose of this article is to explore the factors which hinder Nigeria from successfully ending the Boko Haram menace and insecurity in general. To accomplish the task, the following hypotheses are proposed: (1) the war against Boko Haram is winnable in a very short time if the Nigerian military is allowed to fight without political interference; (2) there is no political will to end Boko Haram insurgency due to other strategic considerations by those who wield political power in Nigeria; (3) the so-called herdsmen and bandits are part of the jihadist terrorist network like Boko Haram; and (4) the more government officials try to explain the abduction and release of the Kankara GSSS students, the more they create doubt about the authenticity of the abduction.
1.The war against Boko Haram is winnable in a very short time if the Nigerian military is allowed to fight without political interference.
First, the Boko Haram war is merely a brush fire compared to the Nigerian Civil War. Therefore, if those who wield power wants to end it, they can expedite the process by mobilizing the armed forces for a total war.
Second, without any doubt, the Nigerian military has the capability to defeat Boko Haram in a decisive manner if there is a political will on the part of the national leadership to allow the military to do so. It should be recalled that during President Goodluck Jonathan’s presidency, Lt. Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika was bent on inflicting a fatal blow on Boko Haram by mobilizing the Nigerian Army to carry out an all-out effort to stop the menace. Unfortunately, as soon as some powerful individuals realized that Lt. Gen. Ihejirika was serious about putting a stop to the jjhadist threat, there were outcries from some very powerful individuals to discourage President Jonathan and the general from doing so. Statements were made indicating that Southern Christian leaders were bent on destroying the Islamic North since both President Jonathan and Lt. Gen. Ihejirika were Christians from Southern Nigeria. For instance, current President Muhammadu Buhari warned that “the Federal Government stop clamp down of Boko Haram insurgents, saying Niger Delta militants were never killed or properties belonging to them destroyed.” (PointBlank, 2013, June 2). Thereafter, he added an “attack on Boko Haram was an attack on the North.” The warning indicated that Boko Haram was fighting for the strategic interest of the Islamic North, hence, President Jonathan had no right to destroy the organization militarily. Both were also accused of violating human rights of the people.
It should also be recalled that the National Publicity Secretary of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Alhaji Lai Mohammed, decried the proscription of Boko Haram and Ansaru by the Jonathan administration, arguing that “the recent proscription order against Boko Haram and Ansaru, desirable as it may be in tackling the terrorist organizations, violates the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by stifling the press and tampering with the fundamental human rights of Nigeria (Proscribing Boko Haram and Ansaru wrong, says CAN(2013, June 10).
The view that Dr. Jonathan and his generals were massively violating the human rights of northern citizens prompted Sharon Faliyacham to write: “I expect that by now a powerful coalition of northern leaders should hold a World Press Conference and declare that they are being destroyed systematically through a well-orchestrated state sponsored terrorism, and should raise a powerful delegation to visit world leaders and raise the same issue, and finally take the matter to the International Criminal Court of Justice and secure some arrest warrants” (2014, September 8). Gen. Ihejirika noted the political effort to malign him by saying, “When we commenced operations in Maiduguri against Boko Haram terrorist’s sect, text messages were sent round, to the fact that the Chief of Army Staff has deployed a General of Igbo extraction to avenge the killing of Igbos during the civil war.” (Chief of Army Staff, Azubuike Ihejirika, spits fire, 2013, February 16). The campaign to sow discord started as a senior northern military officer was redeployed following a Boko Haram’s bombings.
The political pressures, warnings and threats from some of the most powerful elements in the Upper North dampened the enthusiasm on the part of President Jonathan and Lt. Gen. Ihejirika and other senior military officers to mount an uncompromising effort to stop Boko Haram. The gap created by the tactical slowing down of the war effort allowed Boko Haram to grow and spread throughout the North-East region like an uncontrollable wild fire.
Apart from statements made by powerful individuals to stop prosecuting the war against Boko haram, many Nigerian soldiers, police officers and some DSS agents seemed to have sympathy for the organization and assist the jihadists in various ways. Hence, Al Jazeera reported: “ten generals and five other senior military officials have been found guilty in a court-martial” (2014, December 18). The officers were found guilty for abetting the enemy in one form or another.
To show that Boko Haram can easily be defeated, prior to the elections of 2015, the entire Borno State which was under the control of the organization had to be retaken. As a result, the Nigerian military, led by Lt. Gen. Kenneth Minimah and a mercenary force from South Africa combined their effort to drive away the jihadists. The success of the effort allowed people to vote in Borno state of Nigeria. As a result, former President Jonathan handed over to President Buhari a Borno State that was secured and a Boko Haram that had been degraded and pushed to the edge of the Sambisa forest and Lake Chad (Adebowale, 2020, December 5). The success of the combined effort indicated that if the military attacks had been sustained when President Buhari came into power, Boko Haram would have been totally liquidated.
Third, as indicated above, as soon as President Buhari took over the mantle of leadership as the president of Nigeria in May 2015, he terminated the contract which allowed the mercenary force to work with the Nigerian Army to rout Boko Haram from Borno State in 2015. Around 2016, soon after Sambisa Forest was supposedly retaken by the Nigerian military, the Federal Government declared that Boko Haram had been defeated. This view was reinforced by the Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism who insisted that Boko Haram had been “technically defeated.” Thus, while the Federal Government maintained the narrative that the war had been won, Boko Haram continued to inflict death and destruction on Nigerian security forces and the civilian population in the North-East.
Fourth, the view that the Nigerian Army can single-handedly put an end to the Boko Haram menace is reinforced by a statement attributed to former Governor Kashim Shettima who said:
Some of our greatest accomplishments in the current counterinsurgency efforts were
recorded under army generals who are not from Borno and northern Nigeria….And we
have recorded in the last six weeks outweighs what was accomplished in the last three years, especially under Gen. Nicholas which is yet another hero of our time (Haruna, 2018, February 5).
The statement indicated that the Nigerian Army has capable officers who can put an end to the Boko Haram problem. However, there are some officers, may be due to religious affiliation or financial interest, betray the military effort to win the war by not being proactive in degrading the jihadists. The governor felt disappointed that senior northern military officers tended not to commit aggressively towards degrading Boko Haram. The implicating being that there is a hidden goal in place that makes it difficult for some senior military officers to commit to ending the war.
Fifth, the fact that Nigerian soldiers are willing to fight to win the war if given the right tools to do so can be shown by the disappointment they expressed over the lack of appropriate and effective equipment to do the job. Frustrated, one Nigerian Army officer said the “war is winnable if the generals give us what we need. Instead they buy soft-skinned Hilux. That is not a weapon…Give us MRAPs.” (Anyadike, 2018, October 30). This implies that while Nigerian soldiers are ready to fight and win the war, for whatever reason, they are not given the appropriate military equipment to do the job. The question the becomes: who does not want the Nigerian Army to end the Boko Haram war by refusing to arm them effectively?
Sixth, the desire to fight and end the war even compelled a high-ranking military officer, Maj. Gen. Olusegun Adeniyi, the former Theater Commander of Operation Latiya Dole to risk his military career by publicly expressing his frustration over the failure of the army to provide appropriate equipment to do the job. On video while being shot at by Boko Haram fighters, he complained about wrong intelligence and the lack of weapons to confront Boko Haram whose fighters outgunned his own troops. For daring to go public, he was court-martialed and demoted. (Adebowale, 2020, December 5). If a general got so frustrated about the lack of equipment to do the job effectively, it means that there is a high political hand that does not want Boko haram to be annihilated. Otherwise, the general would not have been treated the way the Army did, instead of giving him the tools to fight and win the war.
Definitely, the issue is not with the Nigerian armed forces, rather, it is the lack of political will by some powerful individuals who control Nigeria officially and unofficially that does not want the war to end.
Seventh, if the Chadian military can single-handedly almost defeat Boko Haram, the Nigerian military can also do the same. It should be recalled that in the early April 2020 military counteroffensive, the Chadian military forces almost ended the Boko Haram menace, if not for the fact that the surviving members of the organization fled into Nigeria, Cameroon and Niger Republic and Chad did not want to violate the territorial integrity of the country. If Nigerian military had reinforced following the Chadian counteroffensive, Boko Haram would have collapsed. Thus, the Nigerian military too can easily defeat Boko Haram in a very swift manner if there is a political will to allow the armed forces
to operate freely like professional military organizations.
Eighth, thousands of gallant Nigerian soldiers and civilian JTF members gave up their lives while fighting against the odds to prevail over Boko Haram A few of the gallant officers who gave up their lives include: Col. D. C. Bako, Lt. Col. Ibraahim Sakaba, Lt. Col. O. Umusu, Lt. Col. K. Yusufu, Lt. Col. Abu Ali, Lt. Col. B. U. Umar, Lt. Col. Yusuf Aminu, Lt. Co. A. E. Mamudu, Lt Col. Azubuike, Capt. Victor Ulisi, Lt. Lirfa Dashe, 2nd. Lt. Chibuzo Ezenwa (Adebowalee, 2020, December 5). These does not include other officers and thousands of gallant Nigerian soldiers, Airforce personnel and members of special forces, as well as those of the civilian JTF. Indeed, the members of the armed forces need the right tools and a political will that allow them to conduct the war in a decisive manner.
(2) there is no political will to end Boko Haram insurgency due to other strategic considerations by those who wield political power in Nigeria.
The Nigerian military and police forces can easily put an end to Boko Haram, herdsmen and bandits that operate like members of terrorist organizations,
if there is a political will by the leadership of the country. However, the armed forces cannot perform if utterances, actions and inactions and the body languages of those who wield political power do not provide an environment that allow military leaders to operate without the fear of antagonizing certain powerful individuals. The following provide a catalog of reasons that show that there is no political will to allow for the annihilation of Boko Haram and associated groups.
First, Boko Haram’s Islamic jihadism is very attractive to millions of Nigerians who wish to Islamize Nigeria. Those who share the ideological sentiment with Boko haram see the organization as an Allah-inspired force to do the needy for the Islamic dream in Nigeria. Fortunately for Boko Haram and unfortunately for Nigeria, some Nigerians who share the same ideology with Boko Haram are very powerful political, military and religious tycoons in the country. They are so powerful to the point of influencing national policy towards the war against Boko Haram, herdsmen and bandits. It should not be forgotten that when the late Gen. Awoye Azazi, the former Director of National Security (DNS) made a statement indicating that some high and mighty personalities in PDP were responsible for supporting Boko Haram, he was severely criticized to the point of being terminated from the DNS position. In fact, he eventually died in a helicopter crash that some Nigerians believed was sabotaged to kill him since he was a threat to those who wield power in the country.
Second, some people are motivated to make tremendous sum of money from the war, hence, oppose defeating Boko Haram or ending the war very quickly. Those who are benefiting financially put political roadblocks which makes it difficult for the Nigerian military to operate effectively against the jihadists. There is no doubt that a large percentage of the funds that have been allocated to fight the war is embezzled by some of those responsible for running the war. In an investigative report, Premium Times quoted a Transparency International Report which stated that “a network of Nigerian military chiefs, politicians, and contractors worked together to steal more than N3.1 trillion through arms procurement contracts between 2008 and 2017” (Emmanuel, 2018, May 15). The need to accumulate wealth through the war, perhaps, contributes to the reason why high-quality military equipment are rarely purchased by some of those who are responsible for acquiring arms and equipment.
Third, there are some Nigerians who believe that the abductions of the Chibok, Dapchi and Kankara students were motivated to ensure huge financial payments from the government. As a result, there are elements in society as well as in the security agencies who work with Boko Haram, herdsmen and bandits to ensure that the war does not end and kidnappings go on. Even though every peace-loving individual is happy that the students of Government Science Secondary School (GSSS) have been released, nevertheless, there is a suspicious feeling that the abduction was arranged just like that of Chibok and Dapchi. The suspicion is fueled by the fact that the abduction took place in an area that had extensive security umbrella. In other words, how was it possible for men riding motorcycles to abduct over 344 students in a security zone without being intercepted by the army or airforce or police or DSS? Perturbed by the incessant cases of abductions, killings and destruction of communities, Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State felt frustrated and unhappy about the situation. Boluwaju Obahopo of Vanguard reported: “Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State has said that certain politicians are frustrating the war against insecurity by President Muhammadu Buhari. The governor said those politicians are politicizing insecurity for selfish political and economic gains while describing them as enemy of the country (2020, December 19).
Fourth, there is no doubt that a sizable number of political, military and religious leaders in the Islamic North supported Boko Haram while Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was the president of the country. As a result, they equated Boko Haram with Niger Delta/South-South militants. Hence, after a three-day conference held in Kano, northern elders call “on the federal government to grant amnesty to Boko Haram sect members. They urged the government to initiate a restoration, reformation and rehabilitation programme that would reintegrate demilitarised Boko Haram sect members into society. Specifically, they urged President Goodluck Jonathan to dialogue with the sect and grant its members amnesty just as it was done for restive youths in the oil-rich Niger Delta region” (Northern elders seek amnesty for Boko Haram members, n.d.).
Thus, it could even be argued that Boko Haram was encouraged to grow by some regional leaders in order to get the same treatment given to Niger Delta/South-South militants, regardless of the fact that Boko Haram is a terrorist organization and the Niger Delta militants are not. Niger Delta militants fought for equity, justice and fairness in the distribution of the oil wealth, as well as encourage the Federal Government to develop the oil region which lays the golden egg for the entire nation. The militants did not kill people recklessly and destroy communities as if they had gone insane. They focused their attacks at the sources of their marginalization and deprivations. They were willing to negotiate at every given moment with the stakeholders (regional leaders, oil companies and the federal government). They followed the traditional African concept of just war doctrine by warning the targets of their attacks in advance before actually carrying out any operation. They also warned civilians to flee any operational area before they carried out an attack to reduce collateral damage. As soon as Niger Delta/South-South leaders persuaded them to desist from armed opposition, they stopped attacking oil facilities and allowed negotiations to take place.
On the other hand, Boko Haram is like a mad dog that has been unleashed by malevolent forces to destroy Nigeria. It is beholden to a violent Islamic agenda that is a direct threat to the territorial integrity of Nigeria. It wants to ban Western education which no sensible society will accept as a condition for achieving societal progress. It does not follow any acceptable traditional just war doctrine, apart from terrorizing, killing and destroying recklessly. In short, it is a terrorist organization. Sadly, some northern elders and leaders who supported Boko Haram during former President Goodluck Jonathan’s presidency cannot even tell the leadership of the organization to cease reckless attacks against unarmed civilians, towns and villages in the North-East. Similarly, these leaders find it difficult to persuade the armed bandits who are inflicting destruction and death in Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna and other states in the North to sto doing so.. Despite the horror, there are still powerful individuals who support Boko Haram In order to achieve their religious, political and financial goals.
Fifth, instead of paying-back-in-kind for the thousands of Nigerian soldiers, civilian JTF members, unarmed civilians, and members of international humanitarian organizations that have been killed by Boko Haram, the Nigerian military actually has a program designed to rehabilitate captured and surrendered Boko Haram fighters. Basically, thousands of captured
Boko Haram members are rehabilitated while their colleagues continue to invade, kill and destroy. After being in rehabilitation camps for a period of time, they are released back into society as if they had done nothing wrong. There is no doubt that the program to rehabilitate Boko Haram members was in response to the demand of the elders and leaders of the North which demanded that amnesty be given to Boko Haram, as indicated in #4 above.
Governor Babagana Umaru Zulum of Borno State and Senator Dume who represents Southern Borno State have argued against the rehabilitation program since the Nigerian Army and the Federal Government do not provide the same kind of program to support the hundreds of thousands of civilians who have been forced to live in internally displaced persons camps. In actuality, the civilian refugees who are victims of Boko Haram live in squalor in the camps while Boko haram members live in well-equipped rehabilitation camps. Sen. Ndume opposed the rehabilitation program by saying “deradicalizing repentant Boko Haram members is a misplacement of priority, stressing that the government should focus on rehabilitating the Internal Displaced Persons (IDPs) in various camps across the North…it is unfair for the government to lavish its resources on ex-Boko Haram insurgents who threaten the peace of the nation and not those affected by the insurgency” (Ige, 2020, November 12).
Nigerians wonder why is it that hundreds of thousands of people who have been brutalized and forced to live in refugee camps are treated in a ramshackle manner while Boko Haram members who are responsible for brutalizing thousands of Nigerians and killing thousands of both soldiers and civilians are pampered by the Federal Government of Nigeria. Here again, it seems that a higher political hand is at play to protect Boko Haram. This means that the strategic interest of sustaining the organization is far more important than the strategic interest of maintaining peace and stability in Nigeria.
Generally, in an ongoing war, captured or surrendered soldiers are kept in prisoners-of-war camps until the termination of hostilities. In the case of Nigeria, captured and surrendered members of Boko Haram are immediately rehabilitated and released back to society. Some of them eventually end up rejoining their comrades to continue the war to kill Nigerians and destroy communities in the country.
Sixth, the fact that Boko Haram, particularly the wing that is associated with the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) has been very effective in attacking military targets, implies that there are some Nigerian soldiers, intelligence agents and government officials who are actively aiding the organization.
For instance, on September 1, 2014, while a unit of the Nigerian Army was seriously engaged in repelling an insurgents’ attack on an army barracks in Bama in Borno State, a Nigerian Airforce bomber joined the fray but instead of attacking Boko Haram fighters it attacked the army barracks by destroying the armoury and inflicting heavy casualty on Nigerian soldiers (Faliyacham, 2014, September 8). People wondered why a Nigerian Airforce plane bombed a Nigerian Army barracks that was obvious, even from the air. Similarly, in October, 2014, a Nigerian Army colonel and some junior officers were arrested for setting fire on three armoured personnel carriers while taking part in an offensive against Boko Haram between Gulak and Madagali in Adamawa State. In reacting to the unpatriotic act, an army officer questioned, “How can it be explained that several APCs that cost up to $1 million each in some cases or more will be willingly destroyed by commissioned officers (Cos) who swear to defend the territorial integrity of their nation, just to help terrorists” (Omonobi, 2014, October 11). The same Nigerian Army officer added “But the truth is many of them are sabotaging Nigeria and making the insurgents look formidable for reasons that cannot be explained” (Omonobi).
In fact, 2018 and 2019 were characterized by a remarkable increase in Boko Haram/ISWAP attacks against military bases. The period also experienced an increase in the number of deaths involving Nigerian soldiers, both officers and non-officers. Due to the successes, the organization has been able to capture critical Nigerian military hardware. It is safe to say that increasingly Nigeria buys the arms and the Boko Haram/ISWAP uses the arms to fight Nigerian troops. In other words, Nigeria is technically buying arms for Boko Haram to fight against Nigeria. James Reinl wrote “How stolen weapons keep groups like Boko Haram in business” (2019, April 19).
To show that the situation has deteriorated under the current administration compared to the Jonathan administration, Yemi Adebowale noted, “during the Jonathan era, there were 11 formal IDP camps in Borno State, with less than 100,000 people. Under Buhari’s years, the number of formal IDP camps grew to 33, with over 700,000 people. In the last five and half years, over 3000 indigenes of this state have lost their lives to Boko Haram (2020, December 12).
Seventh, if a higher political hand is not at play, why is it that Abubakar Shekau is not afraid of the Nigerian military but is very afraid of the Chadian military. Time after time, Boko Haram tries very hard to avoid an encounter with the Chadian Army while the organization is not afraid of the Nigerian Army. As a result, he pleaded sobbingly for the Chadian Army to leave him and his organization alone. He pleaded, “People of Chad, leave us alone, this operation is not approved by the Qu’ran. It is not the will of the Prophet Mohammed but if you want to continue, God will help us too because he is bigger than you (Opejobi, 2020, April 7). His fear of the Chadian Army and lack of fear of the Nigerian Army seems to indicate that he has assurance from some powerful elements in Nigeria that nothing will happen to him and his boys. Therefore, he is not worried about the Nigerian military. Perhaps, the assurance is responsible for the lack of will by the political leadership of Nigeria to allow the military to apply full force to finish the job. Perhaps, the assurance is also responsible for the fact that whenever Boko H
aram is about to be crushed, something happens to rejuvenate it. As a result, it could be said that both Abubakar Shekau and Boko Haram have more than nine lives.
Eighth. The issue of the lack of political will to prosecute the war comes into play in the manner in which the Nigerian armed forces fight the war. Even though the Nigerian Army and the Nigerian Airforce are parts of the same military establishment coordinated by the Armed Forces Defence Headquarters with a Chief of Defence Staff (CODS), they do not seem to integrate their actions in fighting Boko Haram and the bandits. The Nigerian Army seems to do its own thing and the Nigerian Airforce also seems to do its own thing even though both are supposed to fight a common enemy. It appears that both forces are competing to outwit each other and to get the attention of the president, instead of working together to eradicate the Boko Haram menace. Similarly, the Department of State Service (DSS) and the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) do not seem to work cooperatively with the military forces to share intelligence in an effective manner.
As a result, even though Boko Haram does not have an Airforce, thereby, allowing the Nigerian Airforce to dominate the airspace, the Airforce does not utilize the aerial advantage to pulverize Boko Haram forces when they attack a military base or a community. Due to the inability by the Airforce to dominate the air space, the insurgents sometimes spend three to five hours to attack an army base or a community without the Airforce joining the fray to neutralize the Boko Haram threat. Imagine a Nigerian Army unit being ambushed and fighting for three or more hours without the Airforce rushing in to lessen the burden on the troops on the ground. This is why on numerous occasions, Boko Haram fighters have been able to overrun military bases, towns and villages protected by Nigerian soldiers without incurring much injury. For instance, Zowo village in Gubio Local Government Area was invaded by insurgents on June 20, 2020. The insurgents fought in the area for over three hours and killed 69 people (Adebowale, 2020, December 12). The troops on the ground did not receive aerial support from either jet-fighters or helicopter gunships. The Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) has been very effective in ambushing and attacking Nigerian Army targets in the North-East. In the process, on numerous occasions, it has been able to cart away sizable quantities of weapons to enhance its arsenal while Nigerian soldiers scamper for safety.
The lack of security coordination can also be detected in the recent kidnapping of the 344 students from the Government Science Secondary School (GSSS) in Kankara, Katsina State on December 11, 2020. An initial report indicated that the bandits arrived the school riding motorcycles and operated for hours without any major response from the police, army and the Department of State Service (DSS). Thus, bandits, like Boko Haram, can invade any Nigerian community at any time of their choosing and spend hours in inflicting pain and destruction without interference from the security forces. On many occasions, the security forces only showed up after the bandits have left. The Kankara school abduction is eerily similar to the Chibok, and Dapchi kidnappings. In the three cases, the security forces only responded after the insurgents or bandits have completed their operations and left with their captives.
If there is a political will to actually fight Boko Haram, the Nigerian Airforce would have its units attached to the army units on the ground to facilitate communication and ensure quick response whenever Boko Haram attacks. The Nigerian Police Force and the DSS too should have direct lines of communication with the Nigerian Army and the Nigerian Airforce for a quick reaction response to any threat.
Ninth, if there is a political will to end the Boko Haram menace, most of the troops stationed in the South-South, South-East and South-West would have been mobilized and deployed in the North-East front to increase the size of the troops on the ground. With a large military presence, a major offensive can be launched to flush out Boko Haram elements in the Sambisa forest and the Lake Chad region. The Airforce role should be to dominate the airspace by carrying out regular bombardment of suspected camps for days in order to compel many Boko Haram fighters to surrender.
It should be recalled that when Boko Haram ambushed and killed 95 Chadian troops in March 2020, the government of Chad mobilized a large force to attack Boko Haram in early April 2020. In the process, it was able to reduce the fighting capability of Boko Haram by about 80%. It was this large offensive that compelled Abubakar Shekau to plead for Chadian troops to leave his forces alone. It was also this offensive that compelled many Boko Haram fighters to attempt to surrender. Therefore, the Nigerian Army, Airforce, Police and DSS should assemble a large force, backed by up by special forces to go after Boko Haram. After stabilizing the North-East, the forces should be deployed to the North-West to do a massive weeding operation
Tenth, any careful observer of the Nigerian Army will notice that the organization spends more time demonstrating its military might in the South-East, South-South and the South-West through its “Crocodile Smile 1, II, and III” and “Python Dance, 1, II, and III”, instead of sending the troops to join the war against Boko Haram and bandits in the North-East and the Kaduna, Katsina and Zamfara axis. A careful observer will also notice that the Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Police Force, and the DSS tend to react very swiftly to the slightest provocation in the South-East and the South-South while moving very lethargically in the actual theater of war in the North-East and the North-West. This creates the impression that the Nigerian Army seems to assume that the threat in the south is greater than the threat in the north, hence, it reacts very quickly to show its might in SE and SS while not being eager to show its might where it is really needed to stop the wanton killing and maiming of people and destruction of communities. Indeed, the “Crocodile Smiles” and “Python Dances” are a waste of time, manpower, resources and money since the greatest threat to the national security of the country lies elsewhere. It is inferable that the army and the police are deployed to the SE and SS instead of the North-East in order to slow the pace of the war against Boko Haram.
Eleventh, the inability to put a death nail to the Boko Haram threat is not due to the incapability of the Nigerian armed forces, rather, it is due to lack of political will on the part of the political leadership to allow the armed forces to do their job professionally without political interference. On numerous occasions, Nigerian troops have defeated Boko Haram fighters and forced them to flee to escape total annihilation. Similarly, on many occasions, Chadian troops have inflicted mortal blows to the capability of Boko Haram. These took place in Gamboru, Bama, Damasak, Gajiganna, and so on and so forth. The biggest Chadian offensive took place in early April 2020 when the country launched a massive operation against the organization to pay-back-in-kind for the killing of 95 Chadian soldiers, as indicated above. After taking and holding Nigeria territory, it pleaded with Nigeria to send in troops to prevent Boko Haram from reoccupying the area.
Twelfth, it was widely reported in the media after the Chadian counter-offensive in early April 2020 that the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai had relocated to the North-East to be directedly involved in coordinating the war effort to put an end to Boko Haram. PM News reported, “Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai has relocated to the North East as the Nigerian army gets ready in final onslaught against Boko Haram. Buratai will be overseeing and directing the overall operations in the theatre and other Nigerian army operations across the country from the North East” (War against Boko Haram: Buratai relocates fully to the North East, 2020, April 11). So, what happened to the effort? Is he still in the North-East or has he left? Why has the war not ended despite the presence of the army chief of staff? It seemed that as soon as the focus on the Chadian military success was removed from public consciousness, there was no more reporting about the presence of the Army Chief of Staff in the warfront.
Thirteenth, it should be recalled that following the Chadian infliction of damage on Boko Haram and the Nigerian counteroffensive as a result of the visit of the army chief of staff, Kingsley Nwezen of This Day reported that the Coordinator of the Directorate of Defence Media Operations (DDMO), Maj. Gen. John Enenche said “ while there was no official contact with the terror leader, his body language showed that he was ready to surrender.” The statement meant that the war was about to end as Shekau’s body language indicated a desire to end the war. If Boko Haram was almost brought to its knees, thereby, compelling Shekau to want to surrender, then what happened later to prevent him from surrendering. This is December 2020 and Shekau has not surrendered. Instead, Boko Haram continues to inflict destruction and death on Nigerians. This means that either his body language was wrongly diagnosed or a political hand had stepped in to prevent the surrendering, thereby, allowing him to breathe a fresh air.
Fourteenth, despite the atrocities that Boko Haram has committed against military, police, and civilian JTF members and the civilian population, Nigerian military authorities have never shown any anger that would have motivated them to take the war to the jihadists since this administration came into being. Similarly, the military authorities have never shown any urgency to put an end to the menace by marshalling a large military force to launch massive attacks against Boko Haram the way Chad did after 95 of its troops were ambushed and killed. Boko Haram survived the Chadian offensive by fleeing to the Nigerian side of the border. Frustrated by the fact that its forces could not cross into Nigeria to finish the job, President Idriss Deby Itno pleaded for the Nigerian military to reinforce and prevent the Boko Haram from escaping the offensive but Nigeria reacted lethargically, thereby, enabling Shekau and his organization to rejuvenate. The lethargic response seemed to have prompted the Chadian leader to say that his troops would not hand over caches of weapons captured from Boko haram to Nigeria. He stated quite undiplomatically, “We won’t hand over Boko Haram weapons to Nigeria, unless) (Vanguard, 2020, April). Later, he declared, “from today, no Chadian soldiers will take part in a military mission outside of Chad’ (Vanguard, 2020, April 11). This meant that he was frustrated with the manner in which Nigeria was prosecuting the war.
Fifteenth, a perplexing issue that boggles the mind is that while Nigeria has been fighting Boko Haram for about 10 years now, it seems incapable of gathering appropriate intelligence that would have enabled the military to carry out targeted attacks to eliminate the leadership and logistical centers of the organization. On the other hand, it was amazing that President Deby of Chad knew where Abubakar Shekau was hiding in April 2020 and ordered him to surrender while the Nigerian authorities have never shown any inclination to indicate that they know where the leaders of the organization are hiding. The question is, why did the Chadian president know where Shekau was and the Nigerian military, police and intelligence agencies acted as if they did not know where he was in April 2020? To make sense of the situation, it is preferable to accept the view that Nigerian security agencies know where the leaders and logistical centers of Boko Haram are. However, the lack of political will on the part of the political leadership of the country has thwarted the need to use intelligence in a manner that can result in putting an end to Boko Haram. This could be corroborated by the video which showed Maj. Gen. Olusegun Adeniyi expressing his frustration over wrong intelligence that led to his troops being ambushed by Boko Haram fighters.
Sixteenth, on the issue of gathering appropriate intelligence to fight the war, some Nigerians, including retired military officers and security consultants have suggested the importance of security forces working closely with members of local communities to gather critical intelligence. The suggestion makes sense in theory but not in practice since it is fraught with danger. The danger comes in the form that if members of any local community in the theater of war work closely with the security forces by passing critical intelligence about the whereabouts and the activities of the insurgents, who will protect the community when the insurgents decide to pay the members of the community back by attacking them for spying and snitching on them. In other words, without protection, it is dangerous for any community to work closely with security agencies because it is most likely that the insurgents would monitor the community to know who is working with the government forces. In fact, it should be recalled that Boko Haram stated that it attacked and killed rice farmers in Zabarmari village near Maiduguri in retaliation for the community’s working with the military to capture and hand over one of its fighters to the security forces (Nigeria: Boko Haram killed 76 farmers in Borno State, n.d.). Therefore, it is insufficient to merely suggest an active working relationship between local communities and security forces to gather intelligence without setting up a program to protect the communities against retaliation by the insurgents and bandits. If Nigerian security forces want to cultivate an active working relationship in Nigeria, they must first develop a protection program for the communities to prevent retaliation.
Seventeenth, it is unfortunate that, suddenly, the Nigerian military, police and intelligence agencies now realize the importance of working with the civilian population to gather intelligence. It is unfortunate in the sense that the members of the Nigerian armed forces have traditionally referred to the civilian population as “bloody civilians”’. Hence, whenever there is a confrontation, the military often reacts as if it is fighting a war against an enemy nation by attacking, beating up, killing and destroying the communities that are involved in the civilian-military altercations. The list of Nigerian communities that have been brutalized is very long but a few will do. In this regard, Odi, Zaki Biam, Odiama, Gbaramatu, and Ayakoromo readily come to mind. The most recent cases involved the heavy-handed military crackdown by shooting and killing of some EndSARS demonstrators at the Lekki Gate in Lagos and the army onslaught against Oyigbo/Obigbo in retaliation for the killing of some soldiers and police officers. Oyigbo/Obigbo was sealed up while the troops carried out search, shoot and arrest of suspected perpetrators.
The Nigerian Police Force too has been very oppressive against the Nigerian populace. Apart from forcing citizens to pay illegal fees at check points, people have been beaten or killed extra-judicially without any reason. Quite often, police officers who killed are left off the hook without the law taking its course. It was the unnecessary killings of unarmed civilians by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) that finally compelled Nigerian youths to organize a national
protest against police brutality. Thus, after decades of the armed and police forces oppressing and brutalizing the civilian population, these forces now want civilians to cooperate with them to exchange intelligence. They know that Nigerians do not trust them. The view that the Nigerian masses do not trust those in uniforms is reinforced by Mr. Azu Ishiekwene who wrote:
“It has obviously taken five years for the military high command to find out that the average Nigerian – whether a Zabarmawa or an Ijebu man – doesn’t trust the man in uniform (2020, December 4).
Eighteenth, the clearest evidence that there is no political will to crush Boko Haram is attributed to a statement made by Lt. Gen, Tukur Buratai. He stated: “There is general misunderstanding of what insurgency and terrorism entails. There is likelihood of terrorism persisting in Nigeria for another 20 years. It only depends on the level of escalation and the appropriate responses by all stakeholders both civil and military authorities” (Joseph, 2020, December 3). The statement reveals a lot about why the Nigerian Army is unable to inflict a decisive blow against Boko Haram, for the following reasons: (1) it is strange that the head of the army is conceding incapability to win a war; (2), it is strange that instead of marshaling his forces to expedite the pace of the war in order to end it quickly, he is forecasting that the war could last for twenty years; (3) the statement contradicts the narrative that Boko Haram has been defeated; (4) if Gen. Buratai knew that the war might drag on for about twenty years, why did he not inform the presidency and the minister of Information and Culture that the war had not been won; (5) perhaps, Gen. Buratai is aware that there is no political will on the part of the political leadership to crush Boko Haram, hence, he is preparing Nigerians to stomach the possibility that the war might not end soon; and (6) the COAS’s view of the war nullifies a statement that the Coordinator of Defence Headquarters Media Operations, Maj. Gen . John Enenche made in early April 2020, indicating that Shekau’s body language created the impression that he was about to negotiate to surrender. The COAS position on the state of the war simply adds to the catalog of unanswered questions about the direction of the war. If Chad was able to mobilize its forces in early April 2020 to inflict extensive damage on Boko Haram, why is Nigeria, the so-called giant of Africa, finding it so difficult to do the same?
Nineteenth, if the Chief of Army Staff maintains the view that the war against Boko Haram might go on for about twenty years, the Minister of Information, Culture, and Tourism, Mallam Lai Mohammed explains that Nigeria is being denied the weapons it desired ( Omonobi et al, 2020, December 12) and the Minister of Defence, Maj. Gen. Bashir Magashi (rtd) argues that Nigeria lacks “sophisticated modern weapons” to win the war quickly (Umeh, 2020, December 7), then it means that Nigeria is forfeiting its sovereignty. The reason is that under international law, in order for a nation to gain the status of statehood and maintain its sovereignty, it must have a territory, a population, a government that is accepted by the majority of the people and be able to exercise sovereign authority over its territory. Therefore, if Nigeria cannot protect its territory, population and gain the support of the majority of the citizens, then it means that Nigeria is not able to maintain its sovereignty. Under the circumstances, the independence of Nigeria is questionable since it cannot protect itself and its citizens. Basically, Nigeria is surrendering its sovereignty, hence, Boko Haram, herdsmen, bandits, and cult gangs are able to roam free and do as they wish.
The fact that Nigeria is increasingly incapable of protecting itself and its citizens is very obvious as Boko Haram, herdsmen, kidnappers, and bandits invade, attack, destroy and kill Nigerians at will in a very alarming rate. As the marauding bands invade without Nigeria’s security forces responding proactively to thwart the invasion, it means that the security forces are being overwhelmed. As the security forces are being overwhelmed, Nigerians in Borno, Benue, Katsina, Taraba, Niger, Kaduna, and Zamfara states are paying dearly. The most recent horrendous killing of Nigerians took place in Zabarmari, Borno State. Other zones of the country are not spared of the fear resulting from the incapability of the security forces to deter the unprovoked attacks, kidnappings and terrorizing of entire communities. It is crucial for President Muhammadu Buhari, Lt. Gen. Buratai ( the Chief of Army Staff), Maj. Gen. Babagana Monguno (rtd) (the Director of National Security), Yusuf Magaji Bichi ( the Director of the DSS), Mohammed Adamu ( the Inspector General of the Police), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar ( the Chief of Airforce Staff), Gen. Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin (the Chief of Defence State), Maj. Gen. Bashir Magashi (rtd) ( the Minister of Defence), and other senior security chiefs to realize that Nigeria is forfeiting its sovereignty since the country is increasingly incapable of maintaining its status as a sovereign state.
Twentieth, the reasons provided by government officials and security chiefs to explain why Nigeria has not been able to rout the Boko Haram are totally unconvincing for a number of reasons. First, President Buhari was elected as president because a considerable number of Nigerians felt that since he was a retired military general, he would do a better job in containing and possibly defeating Boko Haram than former President Jonathan who was a civilian. So, Buhari and his team knew their assignment right from the moment his administration took over power in May 29, 2015. Second, former President Jonathan had said repeatedly that some foreign powers made it exceedingly difficult for Nigeria to buy appropriate weapons to fight Boko Haram. This meant that the Buhari administration was supposed to fix the problem of arms supply as soon as he came onboard. Third, this administration declared in later part of 2016 that Boko Haram had been technically defeated. This was seconded by the Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism on two or more occasions where he emphatically stated that the war had been won. At the time, the minister of defence did not say that Nigeria was suffering from lack of military weapons. Then, all of a sudden, lack of military weapon has become a problem in 2020. If the war had been won, as indicated by the presidency and the minister of information and culture, then how can the same war not be won due to lack of appropriate weapons? The excuses merely reinforce the view that a delay tactics is being deployed to prolong the war because there is no political will to annihilate Boko Haram.
Twenty-first, the argument that there is no political will to end the menace caused by Boko Haram, Herdsmen, and Bandits is further buttressed by the indecisiveness of the political leaders of the Upper North. For instance, Governor Babangana Umaru Zulum of Borno state’s convoys have been ambushed three times, resulting in the deaths of both security personnel and civilians. After the recent Zabarmari’s attack which resulted in the death of about 76 farmers, the governor suggested the redeployment of mercenaries to fight the war. His suggestion was backed by other North-East governors (N’East govs back Zulum on mercenaries deployment, (2020, December 2). No sooner he called for the deployment of a mercenary force, he turned around to indicate “clearly that President Muhammadu Buhari has still performed better in handling Borno’s security challenges (Marana, 2020, December). The statement shows that the governor is not serious about dealing with the Boko Haram matter. He cannot on one hand call for a mercenary force and then turn around to say that the existing mechanism is working better. If the president is doing a better job then he should not call for a mercenary force. It is this kind of posturing that is making it difficult for the Nigeria military, the DSS and the police to carry the war to Boko Haram in a fully mobilized manner. It should be recalled that some of the northern elders and political leaders who are now putting pressure on President Buhari to take strong measures to reduce insecurity were the ones who called for giving amnesty to Boko Haram fighters.
Twenty-second, it could even be hypothesized that excessive political interference on the part of some powerful individuals in the country forced former President Goodluck Jonathan to hire the South African Defense Force known as the Specialized Tasks, Training, Equipment and Protection (STTEP) to engage the Boko Haram when he realized that the Nigerian military was mired in politics and highly compromised, hence, could not carry the war to Boko Haram in a manner that would have resulted in the termination of the organization. The sudden manner in which the STTEP contract was terminated in 2015 seems to reinforce the view that there is no political will to end the Boko Haram war.
Twenty-third, for those who do not want the Nigerian military to end the war, it should be noted that the more the war drags on, the more there will be suffering, poverty and hunger. The reason is that the violent actions of Boko Haram, herdsmen, bandits and cult gangs have a serious negative impact on the Nigerian economy. If farmers in Borno and other parts of the country cannot go to their farms, they starve for lack of food. At the same time, the food supply nationally is disrupted, resulting in high food prices. When prices of foodstuffs go up considerably, hunger creeps in to increase poverty. Consequently, the longer the war drags on, Nigeria’s economy will shrink, thereby causing a higher unemployment rate in the country, This can lead to political instability and a threat to the survival of the country.
Twenty-fourth, despite the reputation that the members of the armed forces have in inflicting pain and destruction on “bloody” civilians when provoked, they have been very restrained in dishing out a mortal blow to members of Boko Haram and herdsmen who have killed thousands of Nigerian soldiers and civilians. Nigerians wonder why the Nigerian Army is restrained from paying-back-in-kind to Boko Haram fighters. The only plausible reason to explain the military change of behavior concerning dealing harshly with Boko Haram members, herdsmen, and bandits is that there is a political hand at play to dissuade them from dishing out reprisal attacks against the jihadists the way they do to “bloody” civilians. Look at the manner in which the Nigeria Army pay-back-in-kind to the people of Oyigbo/Obigbo and look at the manner in which the Nigerian Army is restrained in paying-back-in-kind to Boko Haram members, herdsmen and bandits. Even the abductors of the Kankara school students are probably not going to face what Odi, Zaki Biam, Odiama, Gbaramatu, Ayokoroma, Lekki and Oyigbo/Obigbo people faced for annoying the military and the police.
Twenty-fifth, The view that there is no political will on the part of the Nigerian leadership to deal decisively with Boko Haram and associated elements like herdsmen and bandits is further demonstrated by the fact that Nigerian authorities have not arrested any major financier of Boko Haram and the other violent groups. Despite almost ten years of military and intelligence gathering operations against the jihadists, no big financier and supporter of these groups have been arrested, tried and sent to prison for causing so much pain to Nigeria. On the other hand, the United Arab Emirate (UAE), an Islamic country, actually arrested, tried and sentenced six Nigerians to do time in prison for sponsoring Boko Haram. Thus, the Abu Dhabi Federal Court of Appeal sentenced Surajo Abubakar Muhammad and Saleh Yusuf Adamu to life imprisonment while giving Ibrahim Ali Alhassan, AbdurRaman Ado Musa, Bashir Ali Yusuf and Muhammad Ibrahim ten years each (Six Nigerians convicted in UAE over Boko Haram funding, 2020, November 9). Recently, the Republic of Cameroon arrested Mr. Blama Malla, a member of the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement and former member of the Cameroonian parliament for alleged “ties with the Boko Haram terrorist group” (Former Cameroon lawmaker arrested for suspected ties with Boko Haram, December 17). Since the Nigerian military insisted that it rescued the 344 Kankara students, Nigerians pray that the abductors are arrested and tried for kidnapping, just as the Federal Government insisted on trying the organizers of EndSARS movement.
Twenty-six, perhaps, most Nigerians are not aware, some of the individuals who openly supported Boko Haram while former President Jonathan was in power are now government officials in this administration. Thus, it is difficult to be a friend of Boko Haram and turn around to destroy it. This contributes to the reason why Nigerian security forces dance in circle instead of moving forward militarily to put an end to the Boko Haram menace.
3. The so-called” herdsmen” and “bandits” are part of the Boko Haram Organization
Despite the fact that public officials have made strenuous effort to differentiate herdsmen and bandits from terrorists even though they act and react like Boko Haram to terrorize Nigerians, it is inferable that they are all jihadist organizations that are bent on accomplishing the same goal. Therefore, they are technically one and the same with different appellations.
First, despite the fact that herdsmen and bandits have killed thousands of Nigerians and destroyed hundreds of communities, the Federal Government of Nigeria refuses to brand them as terrorists. This is despite the fact that the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) classified herdsmen as the fourth deadliest terrorist organization in the world in 2015 (Buchanan, 2015, November 18). Again, the Global Terrorism Index noted that Fulani herdsmen killed more people in 2018 than Boko Haram (Toromade, 2018, June 12). This meant that herdsmen were deadlier than Boko Haram in that year. On the other hand, the Nigerian government did not hesitate to quickly characterize the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) as a terrorist organization and proscribed it. Since the proscription, Nigerian security authorities have tended to react to the slightest IPOB infraction with swift heavy-handed police and military reinforcements. Due to the heavy-handed manner in which Nigeria reacts to the IPOB and the underhanded manner in which it reacts to herdsmen and bandits creates the impression that herdsmen and bandits have a strong political backing while IPOB does not. This arouses people to wonder why the government is behaving so strangely.
Second, due to the strange manner in which Nigeria’s government defines terrorism, the IPOB is regarded as a terrorist organization while other countries do not view it as such. Hence, IPOB is able to operate freely in most Western countries without being clamped down. On the other hand, based on the report of the Global Terrorism Index, other countries in the world tend to regard herdsmen and bandits as terrorists. The reason is that herdsmen and bandits operate like Boko Haram, by terrorizing entire populations and creating unnecessary fear. If the Federal Government is really committed to eliminating insecurity in the country, why is it hesitant in characterizing herdsmen and bandits as terrorists? It is inferable that due to the terminological somersault concerning terrorism, Nigerian security agencies feel that their hands are tied and they cannot do much to eliminate terrorism.
Well, the reason for the puzzling behavior with regards to the treatment of Boko Haram, herdsmen and bandits vis-a-vis IPOB is gradually unfolding. The unfolding began with the kidnapping of 344 students of Government Science Secondary School (GSSS) in Kankara in Katsina State on December 11, 2020. It should be recalled that initially, the kidnapping was attributed to have been carried out by bandits who rode into the school with motorcycles. People scratched their heads in wonderment as to how the bandits were able to cart away more than 300 students with motorcycles without being seen or confronted by security agents (police, army, airforce, and DSS) as they drove away along the way. The puzzle about the irreconcilable facts relating to Boko Haram and the bandits and the manner in which the bandits took the captives away on motorcycles started to unfold when Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram announced that the kidnapping was carried out by his group. He justified the operation by saying, “What happened in Katsina was done to promote Islam and discourage un-Islamic practices as Western education is not the type of education permitted by Allah and his Holy Prophet. They are also not teaching what Allah and his Holy Prophet commanded. They are rather destroying Islam” (Why we kidnapped Kankara School boys- Boo Haram, 2020, December 15).
The revelation that Boko Haram carried out the kidnapping and not bandits indirectly means that the so-called bandits are probably members of an organized jihadist group or Boko Haram per se. Thus, it can be inferred that both the “herdsmen” and “bandits” are different units of the same Boko Haram or jihadist organization. This further means that the goal of the “herdsmen” and “bandits” is exactly as the goal of Boko Haram, which in the long run, is intended to Islamize Nigeria. This, perhaps explains why there is no political will to use heavy-handed security measures to clamp down on these elements.
The abduction in Kankara follows the same strategic blue-print as that of Chibok and Dapchi. It is mind-boggling in the sense that while Nigerians are still trying to reconcile the facts about the capability of Boko Hara to invade two school compounds (Chibok and Dapchi) in zones with considerable security presence and cart away hundreds of students, suddenly the Kankara school incident hits the airwaves. The fact that Boko has used the same tactics in raiding and abducting hundreds of students without any inhibition indicates that there is a linkage between the organization and some powerful individuals in society and in the security agencies. This is the only plausible way to explain why the security forces have failed to stop Boko Haram on three occasions. Indeed, it is impossible for a non-state actor to abduct 344 students and successfully cart them away without some active support. The possibility of linkage should not be dismissed off-handedly since Boko Haram’’s Islamic ideology is very attractive to many people in Nigeria.
While the administration and its supporters, including some politicians, retired military officers and security consultants insist that bandits and not Boko Haram carried out the Kankara abduction, it is more plausible to say that Boko Haram is the brain behind the operation and not bandits. To carry out an operation of this magnitude, the planners must strategize, receive appropriate intelligence about the target, equip themselves with the tools to neutralize any potential security incursion, have the means to transport hundreds of abductees, have a secured place to keep the hundreds of victims to prevent security forces from intervening to rescue them, and provide housing, food and health care to hundreds of individuals. Indeed, only a well-organized and disciplined group can pull such an operation very successfully. In the case of Nigeria, the Boko Haram is the one organization that has the logistics, experience, intelligence connections, safe places to keep abductees and be able to feed them. Therefore, the so-called bandits who kidnapped the over 300 students of the GSSS in Kankara in Katsina State are simply a unit or an affiliate of Boko Haram. This means that Boko Haram has spread tactically by breaking itself into organizational cells in the forms of “herdsmen” and “bandits.”
4. The more government officials try to explain the abduction and release of the Kankara GSSS students, the more they create doubt about the authenticity of the abduction.
Following the release or rescue of the 344 GSSS students that were abducted by bandits in Kankara, Katsina State, government officials and security officers have given contradictory explanations about the abduction.
First, the world was told that bandits raided and abducted about 334 students of Government Science Secondary School (GSSS).
Second, it was widely reported that the bandits arrived the school on motorcycles and abducted such a large number of students.
Third, Governor Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina State indicated that the whereabout of the abducted students had been located in a forest in Zamfara State.
Fourth, he said that the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MACAN) was actively involved in negotiating with the abductors and hoped to have the students freed. Bashir Bello of Vanguard reported “The Governor said the release of the students was facilitated by the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, MACBAN, who engage in talks with the bandits and government noting that no single kobo was paid as ransom” (2020, December 17).
Fifth, as soon as the students were freed on Thursday, November 17, 2020, Governor Masari informed the public that “Some hours ago, those assisting us in talks with the bandits said they have released all children in captivity. We have sent vehicles to transport them to Katsina” (Bello, December 17). To allay fears that heavy ransom was paid, the governor emphatically stated that no ransom was paid. He was seconded by the Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Lai Mohammed, who insisted that no money was paid to free the students. The statements indicated that the students were released through active negotiations carried out by Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria.
Sixth, the president spoke and created the impression that the students were rescued through a military operation that went so smoothly that not a single individual was killed. The president’s position about a military rescue was immediately supported by the Coordinator, Defence Media Operations, Maj. Gen. John Enenche who disclosed, as Sumaila Ogbaje reported: “ The Defence Headquarters said that the troops of Operation Hadarin Daji successfully rescued all 344 abducted students of Government Secondary School Kankara, Katsina state on Thursday following credible intelligence” (2020, December, 18). The Senior Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Buhari, Mr. Garba Shehu, reinforced the military rescue narrative by saying “Once more, the Nigerian military has delivered on the big stage. They had a plan, kept to it, and got the job done without firing a single shot. Bravo to the Nigerian Military and our security agencies for a well-coordinated and professionally executed mission to the President’s order reuniting the boys with their parents” (2020, December 18).
The contradiction in explaining how the students were kidnapped and how they were freed creates the impression that the abduction was a staged event. Nigerians wonder about how the bandits were able to cart away over 300 students on motorcycles. If it is true that the bandits actualy used motorcycles to abduct the students, it means that there were about 172 abductors who took part in the operation. Each abductor had to carry two abductees. Nigerians also wonder about the capability of the abductors to ride motorcycles for miles in such a large number without attracting the attention of the security forces. Is it possible for such a large number of abductors to ride motorcycles into a school premise and abduct over 300 students and ride away without attracting the attention of the security agencies in a security zone?
Another factor which tends to contribute to the impression that the abduction was an orchestrated event is the disagreement between the major individuals who participated in resolving the abduction. As indicated above, Governor Masari of Katsina State attributed the release of the students to Miyetti Allah who called to inform him that the students had been released by the bandits. In response to the news from Miyetti Allah, the governor decided to send vehicles to Zamfara State to pick up the students. The governor did not mention any military operation before the release of the students. Likewise, Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State corroborated the position of Governor Masari by claiming “that MACBAN negotiated the release” (Bello, 2020, December 18). Then the narrative concerning who was responsible for negotiating the release of the students changed suddenly. Maj. Gen. John Enenche, the Coordinator of Defence Headquarters Media Operations disputed the MACBAN involvement in negotiating the release. Precious Bello reported: “John Enenche, spokesman of DHQ said the military rescued the students and not MACBAN members” (Bello, 2020, December 18).
So, which version of the rescue story is correct. The most plausible version is the one involving Miyetti Allah. The reason is that both Governor Masari and Governor Matawalle agreed that Miyetti Aah coordinated the negotiation for the release of the students. This version is also believable in the sense that both Governor Masari and the Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Lai Mohammed, insisted that no ransom was paid. If the students were rescued militarily, there would have been no reason for these two high public officials to maintain that no ransom was paid. There is no doubt that the Nigerian military and police forces were reinforced and were ready to act militarily but it is more probable that negotiation yielded the release of the students. This accounted for the lack of any major injury.
The contradictory explanations for what happened and the manner of the release or rescue of the students prompted the National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, to say that the abduction and release of the students was a scam. Dapo Akinrefon reported: “In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Yinka Odumakin stated that the recent abduction and rescue of the Kankara school boys in Katsina State by bandits is a joke” (2020, December 19).
Seventh, by claiming that it was the armed forces which rescued the students and not the MACBAN, the military puts itself in a situation akin to the Lekki Toll Gate incident. In that incident in Lagos, the Nigerian Army had to change its story about the shooting many times, thereby, causing public disbelief. Here again, the Defence Headquarters has put itself in a situation where it has to explain what actually happened. For instance, if the military establishment insists that it was the military that rescued the students and not MACBAN, then Nigerians want to know whether the abductors were arrested? Why is it that neither the Nigerian Army nor the Nigerian Police Force has held a press conference to parade the abductors and explain the next line of action that would be taken against the abductors? Why is it that no statement has been made as to when the culprits would be charged for kidnapping the 344 students? Indeed, Nigerians would expect the Nigerian Army to hand over the suspects to the Nigerian Police Force for prosecution. Otherwise, most people, foreign countries and the United Nations might be persuaded to believe that the abduction was a staged event.
The Nigerian military cannot claim credit for rescuing the students without also punishing the abductors the way it did in Oyigbo/Obigbo where the Nigerian Army launched a reprisal attack against the community to pay for what some youths did to some solders and police officers. Similarly, the Nigerian military cannot bear responsibility for rescuing the Kankara students without arresting the abductors the way the 222 Battalion of the Nigerian Army in Bolou-Tubegbe in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State did. In Tubegbe, the members of the 222 Battalion that were in pursuit of some kidnappers were alleged by some members of the community to have burnt down houses (Sunday, 2020, December 11). Thus, if the Nigerian Army can carry out punitive operations against some kidnappers, then the Nigerian Army cannot carry out a massive operation to rescue 344 students without arresting the bandits who perpetrated the crime.
Responding to the Hypotheses
In reference to Hypothesis #1, there is no doubt that the Nigerian Army working with the Nigerian Airforce, the Nigerian Police Force and the Department of State Services can end the Boko Haram war within six months without seeking foreign assistance. The Nigerian Army has a reputation for decisive action when given the authority to act.
There is no doubt that the DSS and other branches of the security forces have appropriate and reliable intelligence about Boko Haram, herdsmen and bandits. These forces know exactly when to act in order to cripple Boko Haram and the marauding bandits. However, their hands seemed to be tied by lack of political will.
In reference to Hypothesis #2, the aforementioned circumstances, events, actions and inactions indicate strongly that there is lack of political will to end the war by those who have other motives in mind. Some people do not want the war to end due to religious, political and financial reasons.
In reference to Hypothesis #3, the similarity of tactics used to abduct students in Chibok, Dapchi and Kankara show that herdsmen and bandits have a working relationship with Boko Haram or are parts of a larger jihadist network.
Additionally, the fact that these abductions tended to take place around areas with some security presence means that there are working relationships between the jihadists and some government officials and influential politico-military elites.
In reference to #4, the contradictory statements about the manner in which the GSSS students gained freedom from the abductors means that the truth has not been told about what really happened. This increases the believability that the Kankara abduction was a staged event, intended either to score political points or make large sums of money. It seems, to a large extent, that MACBAN was responsible for negotiating the release of the students. This does not take away the fact that the security forces were mobilized to put pressure on the abductors to release the students.
The longer the Federal Government of Nigeria hesitates to allow the military to do its professional job due to excessive political interference, the longer the Nigerian economy will suffer. If the economy continues to go down, the greater the level of poverty and suffering among Nigerian masses. If nothing is done quickly to stop Boko Haram, the suffering of the people can lead to violent demonstrations and protests against this administration.
Indeed, the Boko Haram, herdsmen and bandits can be defeated in a very short time if there is a political will on the part of those who make and guide policy towards national security. If Boko Haram is so powerful, why is Abubakar Shekau afraid of the Chadian Army while he is not afraid of the Nigerian Army?
Based on the aforementioned factors, circumstances, actions and inactions, the following recommendations are made:
- It is necessary for President Buhari to personally address Nigerians about the security and economic situations on regular basis.
- Nigeria is a democracy and public opinion seems to tilt towards the view that it is time to change the chiefs of the security forces. Consequently, the president should change the chiefs of the armed forces. The current chiefs have overstayed, thereby, disrupting the standard operating procedures in the military. This is impacting the morale of the officers and men and women of the Nigerian Army, Nigerian Airforce and the Nigerian Navy.
- Since the national security of Nigeria is threatened by Boko Haram, herdsmen, bandits and cult groups, the Federal Government should increase the size of the army and the police by carrying out massive recruitment efforts. Currently, both the army and the police are overstretched. A country of about 200 million people needs a much larger military and police forces. It is also necessary to enhance the conditions of service for members of these important organizations.
- Since the Nigerian situation is increasingly perilous, it might be necessary for the government to call back into service some retired military men an women whose vast military experiences can be utilized to facilitate the war effort.
- President Buhari should immediately detribalize the leadership of the security forces so that every Nigerian can feel that he or she is represented at the highest level of the security architecture of the country. Currently, whenever the chiefs of the security agencies meet, it creates the impression that a council of tribal security chiefs are meeting to determine the fate of a multiethnic state such as Nigeria. In other words, the members of a singe ethnic group cannot speak for the security interest of a multiethnic nation.
- Traditional and religious elders and political leaders in the Upper North should divorce themselves from the love-hate relationship they have with Boko Haram. Their mixed messages create a very difficult situation for the Nigerian Army, Nigerian Airforce, Nigerian Police Force, and the DSS. These forces act and react based on the utterances and body languages of public officials and public figures who wield power in Nigeria.
- It is necessary to establish congruity in the political administration of the country in order to ensure stability. This means that a federal system should not be operated like a unitary system where the central government does not allow the states and local governments to thrive politically, economically and financially.
- If it is agreed that Nigeria is a democracy, then it must not be administered as an authoritarian state. Doing so creates instability since democracy and authoritarianism are incompatible.
- For the civilian populace to work amicably with security agencies in sharing information, the armed forces should stop treating the civilians as mere “bloody civilians’ that could be beaten up whenever there is a confrontation between the two groups. Similarly, the police must stop treating Nigerians as mere money-making machines that could be shot at.
- There is a dire need to coordinate the flow of information in this administration. No two officials of the administration should speak on the same issue without first coordinating with the presidency. For instance, the explanation about the rescue of the Kankara students creates confusion that contributes to doubt about the authenticity of the abduction. The Defence Headquarters claimed that the military rescued the students while the governors of Katsina and Zamfara stated that the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association was responsible for negotiating the release. Which of these two versions are Nigerians supposed to accept as the correct version?
- The same security and law enforcement standards must be applied across the board in Nigeria. If a government treats some Nigerians as sacred cows who are above the law and subject other Nigerians to the full weight of the law as if they are second class citizens, insecurity and instability become the order of the day. Boko Haram, herdsmen and bandits exploit the double-standard to cause a general insecurity.
- Recruit more people into the Customs and Immigration services and send them to man the porous borders in the north to stop foreign herdsmen and bandits from coming into Nigeria to cause havoc In Northwest and North-East.
- The Federal Government should invest on drones that can be stationed in the border areas to monitor human movement. A task force made up of the army, airforce, police, customs and immigration should be responsible for monitoring the border. If a massive human movement is detected, helicopter gunships should directed to the vicinity to check the migration. Nigeria cannot claim to be a sovereign state when it cannot even protect its territory from foreign invaders.
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