Story by Emmanuel Asiwe
Over six weeks after President Muhammadu Buhari took office on May 29, the murderous Islamist Boko Haram sect has killed an estimated 640 people in a renewed orgy of violence. From the killing fields in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states, the terrorists have widened their areas of operation and changed tactics from pitched confrontation with security forces and control of swathes of Nigerian territory, to the use of teenage girls as suicide bombers against soft targets. Quite clearly, Boko Haram has become more daring. This is unacceptable as it contradicts the yearning of Nigerians for change that the APC promised. Given that the President was fully aware of the dire situation and indeed expressed his firm resolve to defeat Boko Haram, it is not unreasonable to expect that, the killings would have at least been contained. Regrettably, this has not been the case; and this is a huge embarrassment to Buhari.
The activities of the terrorists are doing unquantifiable damage to the country. In the month of July alone, no fewer than 241 innocent civilians going about their ordinary businesses in mosques, churches, and restaurants have been killed by Boko Haram-sponsored gunmen and suicide bombers, including women. And these frightening incidents took place in as wide an area as the Borno State towns of Monguno and Kukawa through Kano and Kaduna, Zaria townships to Jos in Plateau State. This new havoc-wreaking tactic, whereby Boko Haram deploys young female suicide bombers as human bombs, is the most debasing, disdainful and dehumanizing onslaught on the girl-child and a brazen attack on women across the world. It once again demonstrated the primordial viciousness of the sect to stand civilization on its head, in a shameless and cowardly manner by turning girls into agents of death.
The point must be made though, that Buhari has been in power for less than two months and it is unrealistic to expect a national wound that has festered for years to be healed overnight. Nevertheless, Nigerians have not forgotten the President’s campaign promises to deal with the chronic insecurity. And it should be recalled that a final solution to the Boko Haram menace seemed in sight in those six weeks after the postponement of the 2015 general elections from February 14 to March 28. Unsavory as it was, the postponement witnessed a new impetus on the part of the armed forces who took the fight to the terrorists with a gusto that pleasantly surprised everybody. The terrorists’ bases which seemed out of the reach of the military began to fall. The notorious Sambisa forest was combed, and the terrorists’ hideouts were razed. The offensive saw the liberation of several towns, and the rescue of hundreds of citizens who had been held captive by the terrorists. So significant were the gains that, the talk in town began to focus on President Buhari merely coming in to mop things up. Nigerians were already writing the obituary of Boko Haram. The tragedy now is that Boko Haram with a renewed fiendish resolve has resumed doing what it knows best.
A look at the recent attacks would suggest the terrorists are being emboldened by certain factors, not least of which is the change of leadership, which somehow slowed the momentum against the terrorists as security agencies await Buhari’s promised fundamental shift in approach to the counter-insurgency. So far, besides the relocation of the operational command and control center from Abuja to Maiduguri, the new grand strategy remains amorphous. In the short term, Buhari’s shuttle diplomacy to forge regional and international collaboration against Boko Haram is commendable. However, Nigerians cannot afford losing the number of lives currently being lost to the insurgency. As such, while Buhari and his security team are putting finishing touches to the new strategy to defeat Boko Haram, they must think of ways to put the insurgents on the back foot till they are ready to execute the grand design.
Nigerians are anxiously waiting for the President to take other far-reaching steps to halt the resurgent wave of terrorism. One of those steps relates to his security team. The sacking of the Service Chiefs and the appointment of Maj Gen Babagana Monguno as National Security Adviser; who like the new head of the army, Maj Gen Tukur Yusuf Buratai, are from Borno; the epicenter of the conflict will hopefully usher fresh impetus needed to meet the security challenges confronting the country. The tentativeness that characterized the replacement of the security chiefs was anything but discomfiting. Going forward, the President should set measurable benchmarks with respect to the war on terror. Buhari ought to have understood that unlike other areas, which may accommodate delays and deferred action, security does not have that luxury. Nigerian lives are being lost on a daily basis and it is time for a decisive approach.
As presidential candidate, Buhari was categorical and forceful, saying in an interview that he “felt terribly embarrassed that for six years the Nigerian military couldn’t bring order to 14 local governments out of the 774 in the country”, adding that: “…we will quickly marshal support and we are asking Boko Haram to pack and go”. Buhari also talked eloquently about delivering a Marshal Plan on, terrorism, ethnic and religious violence, kidnapping and rural banditry. He also promised a state-guaranteed life insurance to security personnel, the activation of regular meetings of the National Police Council, the recruitment of 100,000 police officers and the creation of Local government and state policing systems. In his inaugural speech Buhari described Boko Haram as “a mindless, godless group who are as far away from Islam as one can think of”.
Buhari’s reputation, military background, and utterances gave Nigerians reason to believe that finally a man who appreciates the nature and the seriousness of the problem, and how to tackle it has come. Part of the new strategy was to move the high command close to the theatre of engagement, which apparently explains the change in tactics by the murderous sect. So the commander-in-chief and his forces must understand that we have a different kind of war on our hands. Boko Haram is a clear and present danger to Nigeria. As Buhari moves to confront the renewed insurgency, Nigerians are eagerly awaiting success, given that security was one of the major reasons for which he got elected. And as stated in Section 14 of the 1999 Constitution “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” Nigerians deserve no less.