War on Terrorism: Who is Winning or Losing?

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Guest Columnist: Magnus Onyibe

President Muhammadu Buhari has remained consistent about his stance that Nigerian military and by extension his government is winning the war on terrorism by chasing the dreaded terrorist group, Boko Haram, out of all the local government areas hitherto under their control except the mysterious Sambisa forest.

He reiterated that position during his recent trip to the United Kingdom, where he spent his first official vacation since taking over the reins of government on May 29, last year.

Contradicting Mr President, the senator representing Borno central district, Baba Kaka Gabai, whose constituency covers the location of a recent Boko Haram suicide attack in Dalore Internally Displaced People (IDP) camp, says government forces are only in full control of only three local government areas with both the terrorists and Nigerian military sharing the rest of the territories in North-eastern states of Nigeria 50 per cent apiece.

Although the state governor, Kashim Shettima, and Ali Ndume, another Borno State senator have denounced the senator’s contrarian exposition, given the spate of terrorism-related killings that are still ongoing with 65 in Galori, another 50 victims in Dikwa, and 30 in Damboa since February 8th, it is difficult for folks on the street to accept that government is winning.

Related to this is the recent grumbling by soldiers in the war theatre that their emoluments are not being paid as at when due. Since there is no smoke without fire, there is no doubt who the Nigerian public would believe.

The intriguing thing about the continued goofs and gaffes of the current regime which rode into power on the back of change is that this administration need not have pissed off the electorate so soon, but unfortunately the litany of missteps are so much that they are generating too much negativity which is now casting a dark shadow over the regime too soon.

Take for instance the setting of a target date or deadline to end Boko Haram insurgency in the North-eastern part of Nigeria by the end of last December 2015 which was unfulfilled.

Each time the military and by extension government boasts about deadline to wipe out Boko Haram, the terrorist group get more vicious in its bid to put a lie to government’s boast.

Unfortunately, every time Boko a Haram asserts itself, to counter the notion that it had been decapitated, scores of innocent Nigerians pay the ultimate price of loosing their lives simply because government is engaging in, for lack of a better nomenclature, loose talk.

Most Nigerians consider such actions on the part of government reckless especially since it is a sort of death sentence for innocent victims and therefore a wrong headed policy which is reprehensible and attracting public odium to government.

For instance, the last claim by government that all the local government areas hitherto under Boko Haram control have been recovered, inspired the recent suicide bomb attack in the IDP camp in Borno State resulting in the avoidable loss of scores of souls.

Clearly a battle of supremacy between government and terrorists is going on and frankly, government forces are not winning in the manner they would want Nigerians to believe because one successful suicide bombing activity casts a dark spell of despondency over the inhabitants of the territory under siege and that overshadows all the recovery of territories being claimed by government forces.

Much as l have tried, I’m yet to phantom government’s bellicosity and belligerence on the matter of continuous negative propaganda against our country nearly one year after the All Progressives Congress (APC) traded places with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as Nigeria’s ruling party. l have consistently harped on the negative value of boasting about victory over terrorists who are constantly changing their strategies and in the bid to further damage the PDP brand, keep raking up muck about Nigeria and Nigerians through unguarded utterances by people in authority.

Time for propaganda is gone by as the next election circle is at least 40 months away, so authorities should face reality and apply more tact and less talk to the war against terrorism.

Disappointingly, it would appear my appeal has been to no avail hence the recent anti-government campaign in the social media with hashtag ‘#I’m a Nigerian, l’m not a criminal’ which was in protest against an alleged statement by Mr President criminalising Nigerians in an interview with a UK newspaper, the Telegraph, went viral.

In an article “Nigeria In The Eyes Of Donald Trump’s Storm” widely published via online and mainstream media platforms, l made a case against denigrating our country by announcing to the world that Nigeria’s economy is comatose instead of discussing the definitive plans to revive the economy in the face of gloomy global realities. In another article “Lai Mohamed: To Inform Or Inflame” l repeated the plea that our information managers should burnish Nigeria’s image and not tarnish it by packaging all the warts and throwing same into public arena.

There is an aphorism that goes thus: ‘Don’t wash your dirty linen in public’. That philosophy or ideology is very apt and underscores the case that l’m trying to make by stating that our leaders should stop packaging the wrong things about Nigeria into capsules that our traducers would later convert to missiles that would be lobbed at us like grenades with massive collateral damages. For those of us that are familiar with the Holy Bible, allow me apply a biblical analogy to further drive my point home.

As you may recall, Mary the mother of Jesus Christ got conceived while she was married to Joseph the carpenter who ‘knew not’ Mary. In other words, Mary was not put in the family way by Joseph. Had Joseph rushed to the public arena to announce that he was not the one that impregnated his wife before he was informed by the Holy Spirit that the conception of Jesus Christ was through the Holy Ghost, Mary would have been ridiculed and embarrassed. With the kind of similarities between the Holy Bible and the Holy Quoran, l won’t be surprised if there is a similar injunction in the Islamic holy book or Hadith. Self restraint in the manner that Joseph, the carpenter did in the Bible is exactly what l’m advocating.

The presidency need not have waited until the recent clobbering in the social media by new media gladiators to learn the lessons that we can’t afford to denigrate our citizens in public, no matter their ‘sins’. There is an idiom in my native Agbor dialect in Delta State that goes thus: “When a king picks up his staff of office to strike a recalcitrant subject, the king’s body language would be a sort of licence for the palace courtiers to commit murder because the fellow who offended the king would be ‘dead meat’ without the king verbalising the directive.”

Unable to keep ignoring the hue and cry trailing the offensive comments in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, the presidency was forced to release a statement explaining that Mr President’s statement was misunderstood and misinterpreted. The situation reminds me of the popular wise crack, ‘Its too late to cry when the head is off’.

On the thorny issue of setting targets and deadlines to vanquish Boko Haram terrorists, a lesson or two could be learned from the USA. It may be recalled that after the fall of Baghdad during the second Gulf war, the jubilant and triumphant USA president, George W Bush, mounted an armoured tank, from where he proudly proclaimed that the Gulf war had been lost by Saddam Hussein and won by the USA.

As it turned out, Bush was very far from conquering the al Queida leader because the dreaded Saddam Hussein army only melted into the vegetation around the Euphrates River to re-emerge later as guerrillas that tormented coalition forces in a protracted war until President Barack Obama eventually tracked and killed the elusive Al Queida leader, Osama Bin Laden.

For sure, nobody is under the illusion that governance would be flawless but we live in a global society that is interconnected with events happening in far ends of the world being known in a matter of seconds at the other end, so it should not be difficult to learn from experiences of other leaders in other climes and align our thoughts and actions accordingly.

Right now, it breaks my heart that there is so much dissonance in communication, too much discordance in co-ordination and very little focus on delivering on the lofty promises made by APC to the long suffering Nigerian electorate.

•Mr. Onyibe is a development strategist, Futurologist and former commissioner in Delta State and alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.