By Kelechi Mgboji
When the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. Gen Tukur Buratai, told brave troops that December was a month of decision, perhaps not many took him seriously for what he meant in that motivational message to troops of Nigerian military in early December. But last Friday’s announcement of the fall of Camp Zero bears the bell for this military tactician by whose genius the notorious Boko Haram terrorists have been largely routed. No doubt, the fall of Camp Zero marks a watershed in the military campaign against insurgency in North-Eastern Nigeria.
Dislodging the deadly terrorists from their fortress is a military feat which critics never gave any chance. Never has the certainty of an end to the war become surer than since last Friday when brave troops overran the enclave of the criminals, smoked them out of their fortress, sending a host of them scampering for safety from sustained military raids and attacks.
For those who do not know, Camp Zero is the heart and nerve of Boko Haram. In Camp Zero, the notorious Shekau and his faction of Boko Haram established their headquarters. It was between Banki and Camp Zero, that the 21 Chibok schoolgirls out of 219 abducted in April 2014 were released by the Shekau group through a negotiation by the Swiss government and the Red Cross. And there are strong indications that the rest of the girls are quartered within this periphery.
Negotiation for the release of the remaining Chibok girls and other hostages will be faster than expected given the fact that Shekau has lost the last point of his jealously guarded territory. They (Boko Haram) had always had access to Sambisa Forest through Gwoza Hills from Kuka town. Shekau exercised strict control of the massive geographical territory covering Damboa-Abi to the Chad Basin area of Mate Local Government, Gamborungala, Kalabalge, Gwoza Hills down to Sambisa Forest.
At Kuka town, the Nigerian troops working on intelligence report, had established a military checkpoint which tamed the mobility of the terrorists. As a very mobile outfit that leaves destruction on their trail, Boko Haram terrorists were all over Sambisa until Buratai came to the scene barely a year ago, and the table turned. The military tactician deployed expert military intelligence, superior fire power and incentives for troops, before clawing back territories seized by Shekau. Shortly after, the comfort of the terrorists was shattered.
Strife and ripples ripped through the sect. Cracks and factions emerged. Today there are the Maman Nura faction of Boko Haram and the Shekau group. Maman’s group believes that they are late Muhammed Yusuf’s group. Nura’s faction covers the entire Damboa axis with all the territory within Damboa-Abi area while the Shekau group is boxed in between Mate, Gamborungala, Kalabalge, Gwoza Hills down to Sambisa. Thus the Shekau group is concentrated at Sambisa, the Gwoza Hills and the Chad Basin area of Mate Local Government.
What this means is that the military is fighting on two different fronts, the Shekau group in the Sambisa axis and the Maman Nura group in the extreme. The Nura group has more territory than the Shekau group but is said to be more tolerant. It is Shekau group that is believed to have the custody of the Chibok girls which is why the military has turned the heat on Sambisa with emphasis on Camp Zero. Having dismantled the last enclave of the terrorists, the Operation Lafiya Dole has intensified efforts to locate and free the remaining girls abducted from their school in Chibok, Borno State, in April 2014.
Elated President Muhammadu Buhari could not hold back his heartfelt appreciation to troops of the Nigerian military for seizing the Sambisa Forest from the Boko Haram terrorists and securing the North-East. Buhari wrote: “I am delighted at, and most proud of the gallant troops of the Nigerian Army, on receipt of the long-awaited and most gratifying news of the final crushing of Boko Haram terrorists in their last enclave in Sambisa Forest.
“I want to use this opportunity to commend the determination, courage and resilience of troops of Operation Lafiya Dole at finally entering and crushing the remnants of the Boko Haram insurgents at “Camp Zero”, which is located deep within the heart of Sambisa Forest.
“I was told by the Chief of Army Staff that the Camp fell at about 1:35pm on Friday, December 22, and that the terrorists are on the run, and no longer have a place to hide. I urge you to maintain the tempo by pursuing them and bringing them to justice.
“I also want to congratulate and commend the able leadership of the Nigerian Army in particular and indeed, that of the Armed Forces in general, for making this possible. This, no doubt, will go a long way in improving the security situation not only in the North East, but the country in general. But we must not let our guards down,” Buhari advised.
To underscore the routing of the terrorists and the fact that they no longer control any inch of the vast geographical area, two strategic roads in Borno State including Maiduguri-Gubio-Damasak Road and the Maiduguri-Mungono-Baga Road, which link Nigeria with neighbouring countries, were reopened last Sunday after being deserted for more than three years
After reopening the roads on Sunday, the next day troops took over 3,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and refugees back to their houses in Damasak town in Mobbar Local Government Area of Borno State. The IDPs and refugees, who are mostly women and children, were led home by the soldiers in company of Buratai, who paid a visit to the troops of 145 Battalion in Damasak, Borno State, to mark the reopening of the two strategic roads. How could the success recorded by the military on many fronts translate into lasting security in the liberated areas? Working out a system of safeguarding returnees in their homes, farms and markets is as important as food assistance, and should be everyone’s responsibility.
The military personnel are overstretched. They liberate villages hitherto under Boko Haram siege, occupy, and maintain the places. They also protect the IDP camps and provide security for convoys and people passing through the routes that have been cleared.
Mgboji writes from Lagos.
To ensure lasting security, North-East leaders, the police, DSS, the Interior Ministry and other stakeholders should join hands with the military to put in place a security arrangement to protect lives and property within areas liberated by gallant soldiers. When this is done, more soldiers will be available to embark on effective patrols, raids, ambushes and deliberate attacks in ongoing clearance operation until the last Chibok School girl is recovered.
Mgboji writes from Lagos.