Boko Haram is not the enemy the Nigerian military was expecting. Given our neighborhood you have to be really paranoid to expect any enemy at all. All our neighbors want to be our friends. We more than reciprocate by playing the benevolent big brother. Whenever we can we help.
When there is a little dispute we initiate peace. When there is a big row we opt for arbitration. When there is provocation we calm everyone down, including our own hotheads who sometimes want to smash the calabash.
Nigeria’s good neighbor policy did not start today. It has been with us from day one. We are talking of 55 years. It has been one thing we’ve been consistent about. It did not change with the kind of garb our leaders put on or where they worshipped or the region or zone they came from.
Even when we put our foot down on an issue, if it begins to hurt our neighbors we offer to take another look. And in at least one instance, the French Atomic Tests in the Sahara, we had to reverse our stand since it hurt a neighbor more than it hurt France, the target of our youthful (exuberance) remonstrance. Even in Bakassi we could have done a few things – repudiate the Maroua and Yaounde treaties, garrisoned the territory, and threatened hell. But that’s not us.
We have had brush fires, but they were usually within the family compound. Sometimes, the police were sufficient to put them out. Sometimes not. That’s how and when the military comes i n. T he fi res come in different forms. Some were slow burning, others not. Some come from poverty protests, some from politics, some from religion.
The religion-tinged fires by their nature tend to be quite sensitive. Authorities are slow to act against them. That’s why they get out of control before decisive measures are taken. When Maitatsine came down in 1979, the Police tried but couldn’t do it. Which was why the military eventually was called in and nearly 5,000 got killed in 1980 to quench the fi re. T he m atter w as t hen fi nished and done with, if you’d excuse the tautology.
The military had imagined it was finished and done with Boko Haram in 2009 when it practically uprooted the sect, killed off those resisting and captured its ring leaders, including Mohammed Yusuf, its founder, who they (the military) then handed over to the police. It was a miscalculation.
The Police had taken a lot of casualty f rom B oko H aram. T he d epth of professional discipline required to handle Mohammed Yusuf was beyond the officers. They had arrested him several times in the past, only for him to be released to return to kill more officers. Worldwide the Police do not suffer ‘cop killers’ gladly. In the United States they would move heaven and earth to put him away for life. The Borno State Police decided to put him away forever.
Yusuf’s deputy who was a commissioner in the Borno State government also died in the fight. He was said to be the chief financier. B oko Haram was thus decapitated, or, Nigeria thought it was.
Those who try to justify Boko Haram based on the deaths of its leaders ignore the ‘war’ atmosphere. The Army people could have flown Yusuf to Abuja or Lagos immediately he was captured, away from the passion of the Maiduguri battle field. But we all get wiser after the fact. Besides, it would probably not have made any difference.
At all events Boko Haram returned t o t he b attle fi eld. U nlike Maitatsine which rested in its grave, Boko Haram resurrected, caffeinated. By whom? No one is telling. The Australian who was carrying messages between the Federal Government and Boko Haram commanders trying to secure the release of the Chibok girls named two individuals last week. Dr. Stephen Davis said Boko Haram leaders had intimated him that the former Borno State Governor Ali Modu Sherrif and former Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika are their sponsors. If Dr. Davis did not know he’s been sold a dummy then he’s not worth twopence. Far from being sponsors these two men are the topmost on Boko Haram’s wanted list – wanted dead or alive.
There can be no doubt that Boko Haram is a home-grown, home-sustained jihadist organization which picked up where the Ahmed Yerima sharia movement left off, war being politics by other means. There can be no doubt that it commands considerable support to be able to survive and resurrect to inflict the massacres and destruction of the last four years. It is obvious, too, it is in a most familiar terrain. It is beyond dispute that it gets good information which explains its occasional audacity. It appears to be well armed, and very well-funded.
As long as it operated in little cells – suicide bombers, little groups of gun men and arsonists, who hit and run, it was easy to give the military a pass. Boko Haram insists it’s carrying out a jihad. The military by itself cannot defeat a jihadist group. There’s no record. Not even Algeria. Only the mosque can. If it is strongly denounced every Friday in every mosque in Nigeria, Boko Haram will die. If every cleric in every sermon cast fatwa on Boko Haram at every prayer, it will fold up in a month.
But until this happens, the military has to do its duty. It cannot just let Boko Haram capture and hold Nigerian towns. And worse, to plant strange flags in those towns. To let Boko Haram seize the huge Mobile Police Training Complex and convert it to its own training camp is a scandal.To carve out a swathe of Nigerian territory and name it an Islamic Caliphate? To assault an air base and damage planes on the ground? To drive huge convoys of 50 and more vehicles with impunity? To kidnap hundreds of girls from a Nigerian secondary school?
The Nigerian Army to lose a fire fight with Boko Haram in a pitched battle? Forcing nearly a battalion of Nigerian soldiers into a disorderly retreat such that they had to be rescued and disarmed by Cameroun’s forces? Is this a joke?These embarrassments are not just the military’s, for those are the scales by which the world judges the country.
I once nearly lost my cool with a Sierra Leonean lady who was ‘glorifying’ Gen. Sani Abacha. What’s great about Abacha? His soldiers. They saved my country, she said. Told about the general’s crimes – murders, incarceration of critics and mindless looting of Nigeria – she said it was a lie. In Liberia, the Nigerian military did all the heavy lifting before the UN came in at the tail end to help. The Nigerian military has become the physician who couldn’t heal himself.
The atrocities of Boko Haram cannot be tucked into the inside pages. Officers of the 7th Division reportedly invaded the Maiduguri office of the Daily Trust looking for the author of an unfavorable report. Current irregular centralised reactions from Defence Information appears far removed from theatre.
The least that Nigerians deserve is truthful, regular and timely information about the struggle with Boko Haram. at elevised eekly briefing by the Commander of the 7th Division and a daily briefing by his spokesman is the minimum. Army Chief Lt. Gen. Kenneth Minimah says a major reorganization is coming. It’s not coming early enough.
But in the end as Alhaji Sidi Abubakar told the Leadership Weekend of August 16 and I completely agree, “if today Northern leaders come together and say the problem of Boko Haram must stop in Northern Nigeria, it will stop within seven days.”