The country’s gallant forces battling the unrelenting Boko Haram insurgents must always keep in mind the popular soccer parlance which says it’s not over until it’s over. And so they cannot layback because it’s not over. Not by any means.
And the military authorities – from the Commander-in-Chief himself to the field commanders in the theatre of this asymmetric war – must do nothing to lower the morale of the fighting men who are sacrificing their lives so that Nigeria can know peace.
The first lesson from the Metele tragedy on November 18 in which the rampaging Boko Haram fighters overran the camp of our soldiers with sophisticated arms and superior intelligence, is that we can no longer afford to live in denial – to continue to claim that Boko Haram has been decapitated and effectively degraded when, in fact, they pose more danger to our troops with their enhanced fire-power, sophisticated intelligence and a clearly determined ideological will power to fight to finish.
The ease with which the Boko Haram troops dislodged men of the 157 Task Force Battalion in Metele and inflicted maximum casualty on its men was proof positive that there is nothing to show that the Boko Haram fighters are running out of gas. If anything, they seem to be more determined to cause a whole sale embarrassment, not only to the government but to the generality of the populace. Though they no longer occupy territories as they did prior to the coming of the Buhari administration, but their occasional raids into the suburbs of Maiduguri have continued to take more lives.
Reports said they came into the camp as friendly soldiers and went straight into the office of the commander whom they killed along with four other soldiers. And with that, bedlam broke out. The shock of the attack and the massacre that ensued forced the Army to keep sealed leaps until the media started to publish unsubstantiated reports quoting conflicting figures of casualty. Eventually the Army’s top echelon reacted. And it did so appropriately by shifting the scheduled Chief of Army Staff’s Conference from Benin to Maiduguri with President Muhammadu Buhari not only in attendance, but he was on hand to console the victims of the attack who were in a hospital in Maiduguri.
We should not overlook the ease with which the attackers, like con artists, deceived the troops as they entered their camp. According to the reports, they came disguised as friendly soldiers. What it means is that they had better intelligence and they deployed it appropriately. The Federal Government should go beyond the communique issued by the Heads of State and Government of the Lake Chad Basin Commission and do more introspection.
Though Boko haram has assumed international dimension, its major operation is still in Nigeria. Nigeria has borne the brunt of their atrocities more than other countries. They have sought and largely succeeded in creating suspicion between the Christians and Muslims in the country by initially targeting churches to make their activities look like a war by Muslims against Christians.
They have destroyed many homes and converted many wives into widows as they made orphans of millions of children. The unprecedented humanitarian crisis they have caused, has led to the sprouting of uncountable number of Internally Displaced Persons, IDP, camps across the country with their attendant social and economic consequences. In the three states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, people are still leaving in fear and suspicion. Nobody is sure of anybody. Nobody knows who will turn out to be a suicide bomber.
The magnanimous gesture of President Buhari has thrown into this milieu the issue of the so-called repentant Boko Haram fighters who have now been “de-radicalised” and sent back to their families to be reintegrated into the society. This same society, which has not fully recovered from the trauma of the senseless atrocities of these misguided ideologues with their perverted version of Islam and their byzantine notion of jihad and its heavenly reward, received the second batch of 155 “ repentant” soldiers a few days to the Metele invasion.
Some of them may not even have a family to return to because at the initial stage, to prove their loyalty to the Boko Haram cause, they came back home after they had been brainwashed, to wreak havoc on their own immediate families killing their parents and siblings who were, in their view, not true believers.
These are the people that this backhanded amnesty has thrown back into the society in the name of forgiveness. It takes a lot of knowing and some bravado disguised as faith for the Army to trust these repentant Boko Haram fighters who are being reintegrated into the community, in some places against the wish of the people.
On the face of it, reconciliation is a noble gesture sanctioned by African tradition. It is endorsed by the two faiths – Islam and Christianity- and supported by our history. At the end of the unfortunate civil war in January 1970, the Federal Military Government of General Yakubu Gowon, who received the instruments of surrender from the war-weary Biafran officers led by Colonel Phillip Effiong, proclaimed that there was no victor and no vanquished. In the true spirit of African brotherhood, he welcomed them with open hands. To erase the scars of the war, he immediately initiated the famous three R- programme of Reconciliation, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation.
In the same vein, the Federal Government of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua took the unprecedented steps on assumption of office in 2007 to grant amnesty to the Niger Delta militants who were protesting the degradation caused in their community by oil exploration and exploitation by the oil companies and the government at the centre which had done, not so much, to alleviate their sufferings. Armed to the teeth, they had gone into the creeks to blow up the crude oil pipes and to extort money from the expatriate workers on the pain of death. They added kidnapping for ransom to their war arsenal. No doubt, their unwholesome action had a crippling effect on the nation’s economy which depended solely on oil export.
At its wit’s end, the government was forced to negotiate with the militants. Their leaders were flown to a round-table conference in Abuja for the talks during which some kind of armistice was cobbled together. Give and take, it has endured. Even if the peace in the Niger Delta today is akin to the peace of the grave yard, but there is a semblance of peace. The amnesty in the Niger Delta region like Gowon’s three Rs of the Eastern Region in the seventies came virtually after the event – not before it.
Not so, the de-radicalisation programme of the Buhari government. For sure, before Buhari, there had been some amnesty debate during the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. Championed by Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar 111, the debate, though not acrimonious, did not go far because President Jonathan insisted he would not talk with ghosts, since there was no known face to Boko Haram and not many prominent citizens wanted to appear sympathetic to their cause. Plus the fact that not a few people in Jonathan’s government believed that Boko Haram was the instrument of the North to chase him out of the Villa.
Until the truth started to manifest itself. Until Boko Haram, like an unhinged masquerade, started to beat friends and foes alike, killing Muslims in their hundreds in their various mosques as they were killing Christians in their churches. And still, there is no let up. In the last few months they have killed at least two volunteer works. To date an estimated 20000 lives have been lost to Boko Haram.
Chibok girls are still in their custody almost five years after and Dapchi girl, Leah Sharibu, has remained with them despite world-wide appeal. Honestly, Buhari’s de-radicalisation programme is a bold move whose time has not come!