From Fred Ezeh, Abuja
Recently, Borno State Governor, Prof. Babagana Zulum, announced that over 100,000 Boko Haram fighters had dropped their weapons and surrendered to the military for the sake of peace. In an interview with BBC Hausa Service, Theater Commander, Operation Hadin Kai, Maj. Gen. Christopher Musa, announced that other successes were achieved in the last one year of the operation in the North East.
What was the aim of setting up the Operation Hadin Kai in the North East?
The sole aim of Operation Hadin Kai in the North East is to ensure quick return of peace and normalcy in Borno State and other troubled North East states of Adamawa and Yobe, that have been ravaged by insurgency over the years.
What is the security situation in Borno and these other states you mentioned. What success was achieved by Operation Hadin Kai in the past one year?
We can only thank God for the feats and successes we have achieved over this period, particularly in the last one year that I have been in charge. In the period under review, there has been relative peace in the region and we are happy about that. Evidently, people are confidently going about their daily activities, while some have returned to their ancestral homes that were badly destroyed by Boko Haram insurgents. Generally, socio-economic and other activities are returning to normal as it’s supposed to be. We give glory to God. For instance, students have returned to school for academic and non-academic activities. People in Borno and other North East states now sleep with their two eyes closed.
There are reports that more Boko Haram fighters are dropping their weapons…
Yes. There are lots of them that have surrendered to us and we received them with our arms wide open. We also kept them somewhere for rehabilitation before possible reintegration into society. People should not be afraid of the return of these people into the society because we are on top our game and there’s no need for panic or suspicions. We are bringing many of these people from the bushes and forests, and government is trying its best to ensure that things go as planned. Government has made efforts to ensure they have something doing so they do not return to crime. However, among the surrendered Boko Haram members are the main fighters who have been taken care of by the government. Proper profiling was done on them with the help of the state and local governments.
Obviously, the figures of repentant members are high. Do you have the capacity to manage them and ensure they don’t return to crime again?
It’s important I state that these people began to surrender to the government authorities 14 months ago. If not that we have the capacity to manage them, it would have been a catastrophic situation for us by now and the people of the North East. However, we have three camps where we kept them for proper monitoring, re-orientation and psychological transformation. The state government has assisted us very well and that’s the reason for the successes so far. But, like I said earlier, not all of surrendered members are armed fighters, some were forced into the camps for use of the insurgents. Community leaders know them and they have come to identify them. So, we have separated the armed fighters from those who were used for auxiliary services.
Sometime ago, there were reports that some local governments were under the control of Boko Haram fighters. How true is this?
It’s not true. No local government or territory in the North East is under the control of Boko Haram. The firepower is hitting hard on them and they are running to the forests for refuge. Some have gone to Lake Chad in search of safety but they are being met with superior firepower. Periodically, they come out to operate, and rush back to their base for refuge. Nevertheless, we are working with the police and other security agencies to fish them out and soon we would do that. We have extended an olive branch to them, that anyone that surrenders willingly we would accept them and enlist them for rehabilitation and reintegration programmes, but that would not be the same experience for anyone caught in the cause of our operations.
Days ago, there were reports that you chased some Boko Haram fighters to the point that they were drowned in the river. What truly happened?
In the beginning of the year, we had what we called Operation Desert Sanity. In the same vein, the Multinational Joint Task Force did an operation called Operation Lake Sanity. Together, we were able to unleash superior terror on the insurgents, resulting in the successes we achieved. In the cause of the operations, we invaded the camps of these insurgents and ‘smoked’ them out. In that process, about 17 of them fell into water and died, while Air Force fighters killed about 200 of them. That’s what happened and we would continue to put fire on them until they surrender.
There were also claims that there was no synergy between the security forces operating in the North East and it is affecting the fight against insurgency. What is the actual situation?
That’s not the true situation now. Things are working smoothly now, and that’s the reason for the successes we have achieved over the past period. In fact, apart from the security forces, we have gained the trust and confidence of the local communities to the point that they willingly provide us with support and information that have assisted our operations.
The major concern of the North East people is farming. Is the environment okay for farming now?
Yes. I can tell you that people have returned to their farms. We have provided security and the conducive environment for them to farm this season. Recall that, before now, there were explosives that were planted across the farmlands and most of them were not detonated. So, we made sure we cleared the farmlands of such explosives so farmers don’t step on them and get injured in the course of their farming activities. In summary, farming is going on across the North East and we are happy and hopeful that there would be bountiful harvest this year.
There were reports that you were losing soldiers daily to terrorist fighters.
Yes, and that is because we are in full war in the North East and in such a war situation there will always be casualties on the side of the soldiers, insurgents and even the communities. But, lately, it has been difficult for them to ambush soldiers as was the case before. I can confirm to you that these Boko Haram fighters are even begging the soldiers for pardon because superior firepower is much on them. Besides, we are in the rainy season, and their places of abode are no longer comfortable for them. So, they are looking for elsewhere to hide, which has not been easy for them.
These terror groups were recently said to have infighting to the point of killing themselves. What is the true picture?
That’s true. You know ISWAP are from ISIS and Boko Haram are from Shekau. So, they don’t work in peace with each other. Wherever and whenever they meet, there must be exchange of fire, and that is to our advantage and we encourage them to do more.
There were also recent reports and videos on social media by soldiers that they were not getting the relevant support from the military authorities regarding the fight in North East. How true is this?
It’s not true and I can confirm that to you. It might have happened but that could be in the past. The current Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Faruk Yahaya, is extremely committed to the welfare and wellbeing of soldiers, particularly those in the battle front in the North East. He has ensured that soldiers in war front in the North East get all the support they need, as long as the financial and logistic resources are within his reach. I took over from him as Theater Commander, and since then we have not heard any challenge or genuine request that was not met.
Sometime ago, a minister (names withheld) said that insurgency in the North East would end by December 2022. How feasible is the statement?
Yes, it is by the grace of God. But in addition to the help expected from God, we are working hard to ensure that we achieve that. But it’s important I let people know that insurgency is not what you predict the end, and this is because insurgency has to do with ideology and mindset. So, these factors need to be corrected before we can achieve the desired goal of ending insurgency in the North East, possibly by December 2022.
What level of support are you receiving from people in the affected states and communities?
Sincerely speaking, they are helping us. They have provided the needed support, particularly information. They have also showed us love and kindness. However, you can’t get 100 per cent support from the people because there are others who are working against us, silently or otherwise. These sets of people seem to be working closely with the insurgents for whatever reason. They run different errands for them for financial and other benefits. We have pleaded with them to stop forthwith because we would be forced to come down hard on them whenever they are caught.
Do you have the figure of Boko Haram fighters that you have eliminated in this year alone?
This is not what one would wake up and announce immediately. However, I can confirm that we have killed quite a good number of them and we would continue to do that until they surrender. But we have maintained that whoever surrenders willingly, we would receive and enlist for rehabilitation and reintegration; but that would not be the same experience for anyone caught in our operations.
Of late, some of the abducted Chibok girls keep being rescued piecemeal. How are you achieving this success?
You are right. This year alone, we have rescued nine of the girls. What has helped us is the sustained firepower that we unleashed on the Boko Haram fighters, and also with the help of the rain that has made their place of abode uncomfortable. Before now, responses were always slowed down during the rainy season. But we refused to slow down this time. We have invaded their camps and killed as many as we could, and that opened the window of opportunity for the women to escape because these women, originally, were not meant to be there, as they were forcefully abducted from their homes and schools, and taken to the camps.