BOKO HARAM: THE UNFINISHED BUSINESS

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There is urgent need to scale up intelligence gathering to ensure violent acts are nipped in the bud

That Boko Haram, the violent militant group, still constitutes grave danger for Nigeria is to state the obvious. In the last few months, there has been a dramatic upsurge in violence with the insurgents unleashing vicious and gruesome attacks on civilians as well as members of the armed forces, particular in Borno State. The series of brazen and suicide attacks and killings by the militant group in recent months have shown that the insurgents are still very much in business.

On June 19, a suicide bomb attacks at a mosque and nearby residence killed 12 people while a raid on Maiduguri less than two weeks earlier on June 7–carried out with explosives and anti-aircraft guns–claimed 17 lives. Only on Thursday, four soldiers, including an officer attached to the 133 Special Forces Battalion were killed when improvised explosive devices planted by the rebels exploded in the environs of the Borno State capital. A rash of suicide attacks last week resulted in the death of 16 people in Maiduguri and environs.

One institution bearing the full brunt of the rampant criminality of Boko Haram, which loosely translates as “Western education is forbidden” is the University of Maiduguri. In the last few months, the insurgent group has repeatedly attacked the institution, using mostly young women and girls as human bombs. Last January, four persons including a professor died as a result of explosion inside a mosque in the university. In the latest attack, a male suicide bomber killed a security guard at the university while a second blast the following morning killed only the two female bombers.

The violence around the institution has become such a destabilising influence in the academic environment that Kashim Shettima, Governor of Borno State, last week ordered that a 27- kilometre trench be built around the university to contain attacks from the rebellious group. Although security agencies have managed to foil some of these attacks, it is all the same somewhat bogus to still hawk the impression that the war against the insurgents was “technically” over. It is not.

There is no doubting the fact that the military has whittled down the striking powers of the violent group which has in the last eight years led to the death of over 20,000 innocent Nigerians. The five-nation regional military coalition led by Nigeria has recaptured much of the territory Boko Haram once controlled and the insurgents no longer operate as freely as they used to. They have even been dislodged from their fortress in the vast Sambisa Forest.

However, there is also no doubt that the militant group still constitutes mortal danger to their immediate and outlying communities and indeed, to members of the armed forces. Indeed, we warned, even after Sambisa Forest had fallen, that the combat mission was far from over because of the rebels’ enormous potential for casual acts of terror, including suicide missions. The growing stature of violence in the North-east has testified to that. In addition, the seemingly elusive factional Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, who has been reportedly killed several times by the military, has also appeared in a new video, taunting the authorities and boasting of kidnapping security women and using them as slaves.

The authorities must therefore admit that the insurgents have returned fully to their largely asymmetrical warfare that was once their hallmark. The military pressure has made them to shift tactics to what is now a hit-and-run approach. But the increasing spate of suicide attacks is stoking unease in many communities and indeed hampering the return of some of the two million internally displaced persons living in the poorest of conditions in the camps.

In the current state of the war, there is urgent need to scale up intelligence gathering to ensure these violent acts are nipped in the bud.