Nigerians were stunned last week when two Borno State members of the House of Representatives reported a gradual but steady reoccupation of parts of Borno State by Boko Haram. An All Progressives Congress (APC) Representative, Ahmad Jaha, of the Damboa/Gwoza/Chibok Federal Constituency stated that Boko Haram terrorists are in effective occupation of eight local government areas out of the 10 local government areas that constitute the northern half of Borno State, which, in itself, is the centre point of the rebellion.
“In Chibok, I have 10 electoral wards, only two are not under occupation. In Damboa, I have 10 electoral wards, only one is not under the occupation of Boko Haram… the Chief Whip of the House of Representatives, Mohammed Tahir Monguno, can bear me witness, out of 10 local governments in northern Borno, only two and their headquarters, are still not under the occupation of Boko Haram.”
Corroborating his colleague, the Chief Whip, Monguno, who originated the motion for debate as an issue of urgent national importance, said there has been a spike in the deadly expansionist push by the terrorists. He called for a special intervention in the war because, he said, the gains recorded against Boko Haram by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration are gradually being reversed. He feared retrogression and even the risk of a return to the pre-2015 period when Boko Haram occupied some local government areas, renamed them, and hoisted their blood-soaked flags in some of those towns. Such a development would be a social disaster, as it will trigger mass migration to Maiduguri from such occupied towns, he said.
We urge the Federal Government to lend a sympathetic ear to the two House members whose constituencies are partly under occupation by Boko Haram. They seem to think, with some justification, that the government has not given adequate encouragement to the soldiers, and it is also their view that the numerical strength of the terrorists is less than five per cent that of the Nigerian military.
They said whereas the Boko Haram terrorists are committed and stimulated, they are motivated and ready to bring the war to “our doorstep.” In contrast, our soldiers are less committed – an issue raised earlier by no less an authority than the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai – and much less stimulated and, therefore, lack the motivation to take the war to “their doorsteps.” Paying the soldiers N500 a day was indefensible, said Jaha, who appealed to the government to make the soldiers in the theatre more comfortable, provide them insurance covers, and reassure them of their future or else, he said, “definitely, we are not going to win the war.”
Nigerians cannot forget the overwhelming hope and optimism they felt in 2015 at the onset of this administration, which then was expected to rout and root out Boko Harm if not in two weeks, then, at the most, in two months. And it was such a reassurance that leading the charge was a two-star general commander-in-chief who actually was expected to know something about commanding men and fighting wars. And true to expectations, seven months later, indeed, precisely on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2015, President Buhari announced to the world through the BBC that Boko Haram was “technically defeated.
We have won the war because people are going back into their neighbourhoods. Boko Haram, as an organised fighting force, I assure you, that we have dealt with them.” He explained that the key to defeating the militants was reorganising, retraining, and reequipping the army. For a man who was never given to hyperbole or boastful exaggerations, it must have been heart-breaking for the President as it has been for his fellow citizens to discover how wrong he was.
The Buhari administration has continued to recite the “technically defeated” mantra even when it had become obvious that it was not only misleading but also wrong. Nearly four years after that announcement, we think it is time to get back to reality. First, the 2015 strategy has not worked and history of wars teaches that when the strategy is not working a change of personnel is imperative. There are reports that Boko Haram is better armed, that the terrorists even could launch drones. After ten years of war it must be considered a dereliction of duty to send Nigerian soldiers into theatre with equipment inferior to those used by Boko Haram.
It would also be considered utterly reckless not to have retrained the Nigerian Army on asymmetric warfare. In December 2017 when the President withdrew $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account for this war, a few voices of dissent were raised but, generally, the nation accepted the reality and the expenditure of such humongous sum if that is what is needed to see the end of Boko Haram. The ball is in the President’s court. If he thinks there is anything more the nation can do he should challenge the country. But we need to see action from his end.