The Monday Discourse
With the rising spate of terror attacks in West African countries, the threat of terrorism has become a real and present danger in the sub-region. THISDAY Politics Desk writes
¨On regional matters, we have at the ECOWAS level several security meetings of security ministers, defence ministers and we’ve been planning in the next two weeks to have a meeting of the monitoring unit of the ministerial committee. So, the regional aspect is being well treated too,¨ said President Alassane Ouattara at a joint news conference last Tuesday with his counterparts from Togo and Benin, Presidents Faure Gnassingbe and Yayi Boni, following penultimate Sunday’s attack on Grand Bassam, one of Ivorian beach towns.
The attack on Cote d’Ivoire reportedly left no fewer than 18 people dead, including a Nigerian, Adekunle Sikiru from Ejigbo Local Government in Osun State. It was the first in the French speaking country and had since left an uneasy calm in the hitherto quiet, beautiful and serene tourist state.
Before the Sunday attack on Ivory Coast, the terrorists had in November last year, attacked a Malian hotel and two months after, launched another in Burkina Faso, thus sending very strong subliminal message to the sub-region.
Suffice it to say that soon after the Mali and Burkina Faso attacks, attention had shifted to Ivory Coast for many reasons, chief amongst which was its solidarity with France. Indeed, the French intelligence saw it coming and had issued a red alert to both Ivory Coast and Dakar in Senegal as likely destinations marked out for the next series of attacks.
Interestingly, President Ouattara did not appear dazed in anyway because not only did he see it coming, he claimed to be prepared for it and was proud of the nation’s security forces, which according to him, repelled the assailants and also followed up. He argued that the quick response to the external aggression with calculated precision was quite evident of a competent security system, ready for the unintended at every point in time.
¨We were prepared in case an attack would happen and I think our reaction showed that we managed the situation quite well. We dismantled their attempts and we have also shown our ability to have good follow-up for such an event. But there is no zero risk in this kind of thing. We think what was important was to react very quickly and I use this opportunity to restate the pride of the security agencies in this regard,”Alassane said, speaking in French to THISDAY in Abidjan, the nation’s capital.
Since the 80s, no part of the world has been insulated from Islamists terror attacks, Africa inclusive. Many of these attacks had been followed with huge press coverage, with the list growing by the day. But particularly disturbing, Africa appears to be getting more than its fair share of terror.
For instance, in Nigeria since 2013, the Boko Haram sect has continued its reign of terror, bombing, kidnapping and destroying property and subsequently coasting from Nigeria to Cameroon, Kenya, Mali, Chad and several other African countries, with gradual penetration and increased presence from country to country.
However, experts have attributed the rise of terrorism in Cameroon to the formal declaration of war on Boko Haram issued by President Paul Biya after the regional summit on the insurgency in Paris in May 2014, which resulted in increased military confrontations in Northern Cameroon region – a border with Nigeria.
There have been severe casualties on both sides. The terrorist group displayed a daring confidence in July 2014, when it attacked a residence of the Cameroonian deputy prime minister in the North and captured his wife. French and Chinese citizens were also kidnapped with large ransom allegedly paid
The spate of attacks in the Nigerian territories had peaked in the run-up to the presidential elections of March 2015. Though intensified action of the combined armies of Nigeria, Cameroon and the other interested neighbouring countries, notably Chad has forced Boko Haram onto the defensive lately, the terror group seemed to have shifted strategy from direct confrontation to some more guerrilla tactics, while the number of attacks and suicide bombings had generally shot up on the African continent.
In the coastal town of Zliten, Libya on January 7, 2016, Islamist militants detonated a truck bomb at the police training camp, al-Jahfal. Not less than 50 died in that attack and over 100 persons were wounded. On that same day, there was another car bombing at a checkpoint in the Libyan oil port of Ras Lanuf, which left seven people dead and 11 wounded.
On January 8, 2016, two militants armed with weapons and a signal flare stormed the Bella Vista Hotel in Hurghada, Egypt and injured three persons. Few days later, precisely January 15, 2016, Al-Shabaab terrorists attacked an African Union, Kenyan Army base in El-Adde, Somalia, where over 63 people died and injuring several others.
News of terror attack broke in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso on January 15, 2016 when gunmen armed with heavy weapons attacked the Cappuccino Restaurant and the Splendid Hotel in the heart of the capital of Burkina Faso, killing at least 20 people and injuring 15 others.
Somalia too came under attack on January 22, 2016 when Al-Shabab militants attacked a beachside restaurant and killed 20. On January 25, 2016, suspected Boko Haram insurgents blew themselves up in a market in Cameroon, killing at least 25 people and injuring 62 others.
Nigeria too got into the news on January 30, 2016 when Boko Haram raided Dalori village in Borno State. At least, 65 people were killed and 136 others injured. In the March 13, 2016 Grand-Bassam, Côte d’Ivoire shootings, Al Qaeda gunmen stormed three hotels in the beach resort area, leaving 18 people dead.
Apart from these highly publicised terror attack for which the perpetrators take responsibility, there have been hundreds of unreported attacks, rapes, killings, arson and other unwholesome practices by terror groups daily.
According to the Executive Director of the Institute of Research and the Promotion of Alternatives in Development (IRPAD) in Mali, Mr. Modibo Goïta, who works for USC Canada in West Africa from the head office in Bamako, Mali, said in his research work published in African Security Brief in February 2011 and titled: West Africa’s Growing Terrorist Threat: Confronting AQIM’s Sahelian Strategy,’ “ Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is increasingly well integrated with local communities and criminal networks in the Sahel.”
Goïta, a Professor at the Alioune Blondin Beye Peacekeeping School in Bamako, Mali, noted that counterterrorism efforts among Sahelian governments remain uncoordinated and too narrowly focused to contain and confront AQIM’s long-term and sophisticated strategy in the region. He emphasised that to prevent AQIM from further consolidating its presence in the Sahel, regional policies must be harmonised and security forces refocused so as to minimize collateral impacts on local communities.”
In the same breath, Nigeria’s Ambassador to Ivory Coast, Mrs. Ifeoma Akabogu-Chinwuba, while speaking on the essence of regional coperation said, “There is the need to widen the dragnet because more countries are being affected. Initially, it was concentrated in northern Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger and so, it is normal for a nucleus of that multi-national force to be composed of.
“As the attacks are now widening and consuming the whole region, we have to also widen the dragnet. I read recently that Benin was willing to send some troops, of course, what does that tell you? It’s a collective and concerted effort that we need,” said, claiming Nigeria has shown support and solidarity with the country since the attack.”
The diplomat also reckoned the Ivorian government knew it could be attacked soon and was somewhat prepared for it, saying: “We had expected it and we had beefed up security at our level and we’d also asked the host authority to help us beef up security in terms of diplomatic police patrol. We also know that Burkina Faso was recently attacked; Mali too was attacked and already the government here had also expected that such a thing would happen here too.
“This is due largely to the high number of French people and high number of Lebanese too and the cooperation that exists between France and Cote d’Ivoire and in fact, in certain quarters, they say Abidjan is a new Paris – the African Paris. So, if an attempt had been made in French Paris, so you could expect that it would happen here too.
“We have always felt that Nigeria has been at the receiving end of a lot of these terrorists attacks and people used to ask us in form of jokes that ‘have you caught Boko Haram’s Shekau’ and I used to tell them, ‘you are laughing; it is not a laughing matter’. Terrorists, what do they want? Can you negotiate with them? At least, if they tell you what they want and if you cannot supply, maybe then you can react but, hey, nobody knows what they want.
“It has happened here now because from nowhere, they just appeared and started shooting indiscriminately – blacks, white – it is now clear to everyone now that it is not by national boundaries and every country has to team-up with the other and fight collectively,” she said.
The Nigerian Perspective
Perhaps, of all the countries in the sub-region, Nigeria has been the most affected in terms of terrorism attacks. When he assumed office about nine months ago, President Muhammadu Buhari had one major problem on its hand and it was that some of the Northeastern parts of the country were still under the stronghold of the terrorist sect Boko Haram, thus fuelling the argument on whether or not the Nigerian military has been able to tame the sect.
The Boko Haram issue is one that is capable of casting negative aspersions on the government of the day with many Nigerians feeling that whatever needed to be done should be done to win the war against the sect. A lot of Nigerians are still looking forward to the rescue of the Chiboks girls, who were abducted almost two years ago. Most shocking was the announcement by former president Olusegun Obasanjo that the there was no hope of rescuing the girls alive.
While it would seem that the war has not been won yet, as the insurgents have continued to unleash terror in Borno State and other parts of the North-east, the federal government and President Buhari have continued to proclaim that the Boko Haram was not holding on to any Nigeria territory.
President Buhari reiterated this position to the German President, Joachim Gauck during his recent visit to Nigeria and had also explained at many other fora that “Boko Haram is not what it used to be,” because according to him, they were holding on to 14 government areas, hoisting their flags and were collecting taxes from local when the administration came to power, but that is no longer the order of the day.
The president had told the BBC that the terror group could no longer mount “conventional attacks” against security forces or population centres and that it had been reduced to fighting with Improvised Explosives Devices (IED), while remnants are in the heartland of Borno State.
But those who disagree with the president and the government on the issue have maintained that he was exaggerating the scale of its success against the sect, and that each time the army claimed to have defeated the Boko Haram, the sect had quietly rebuilt themselves and resurfaced stronger.
The suspicion was that President Buhari’s assurance that no territory was under the control of the sect was in sharp contrary with the position expressed by the Senator representing Borno Central, Senator Baba Garbai, who said recently that the story about the terrorist group being completely defeated was not true as they have continued to maintain 50 per cent presence in the troubled state.
Garbai contradicted President Buhari’s claim, noting that both the military and Boko Haram have full control of three separate local governments areas in the state and share control in all the 21 other local governments.
“I feel highly demoralised and devastated in the sense that this is the village we came to during the election and they were going about their normal business. It is a wrong assumption that most of the local governments in Borno State are recaptured from Boko Haram. In reality, this is not true in the sense that apart from Maiduguri metropolis, Bayo and Kwaya Kusar, these are the three local governments that are under the occupation of the Nigeria government, where the military and police are maintaining law and order.
“Mobbar, Abadam and Kala Balge are 100 per cent occupied by the sect. There are some local governments that are partially occupied by the insurgents, especially as the local government secretariats have been liberated but their hinterlands are still controlled by the insurgents.”
He however alleged negligence, stating that in spite of the tip-off a few days before the sect eventually struck, nothing was done to avert the onslaught. He called on the military to intensify efforts in beefing up security around the villages and communities that share borders with the Maiduguri metropolis. “It is very important and more so that this place is porous; there could be attack from any direction.”
The senator, who referred to Konduga recently liberated, but still has many communities in the local government under the sect control, added that though Gwoza town has been liberated, there are still six wards in Gwoza local government that are still occupied by the sect.
“From my count, only three local governments are fully liberated, 21 Local Governments partially occupied by the sect, that is, there is still some level of Boko Haram occupation side by side the military or any constituted authority. We should not live under the illusion that Boko Haram has been decimated or weakened; these are not reality and neither a true reflection of the reality. The reality is that most of the local governments in the state are partially occupied by Boko Haram,” Garbai maintained.
He was however confident that the Nigeria military is capable of retrieving the captured communities from the sect, stressing that the military was still on top of the situation and that the recent setbacks were not limited to Nigeria as the United States and France had come under terrorist attacks.
But in what was an apparent bid to dissuade the public from accepting Garbai’s position as true, Special Adviser to the Borno State Governor on Communication and Strategy, Mallam Isa Gusau, who said the ultimate goal of Boko Haram was not the killing of people, but to control territories and governments, added that the sect was not anywhere near achieving that.
“What Governor Kashim Shettima is saying, which is true is that, that is no longer in place, so people are mistaking attack for occupation. The issue of control and having government in place, which is very fundamental in the case of Boko Haram, is no longer in place. This is a very serious issue to the military because it is like the sovereignty of the country is in doubt,” he said, distinguishing between attacks and the way things are.
He said before October 24, 2015, when the federal government sent a delegation to the state led by the Secretary to the Government of the federation (SGF), Mr. Babachir Lawal, Boko Haram was controlling two local government areas, where they had governments in place. And that Governor Shettima explained to the SGF that the two local government areas were still under the control of Boko Haram, which meant that the governor is not hiding the problem the state is facing under Boko haram.
“Therefore, the issue is to understand the difference between occupation and attacks. This is a very serious issue to the military and the Gwoza community, when you say that insurgents control territories, they have government in place. It used to be the case in the past, where they had 20 local government areas. They had government; they imposed taxes, administered territories and declared places as caliphates in those 20 local governments.”
Borno, the Hotbed in Focus
In an effort by both the government and the sect to claim superiority, there have been conflicting reports coming from Borno on the control of the state. But in order to get a particularly more distinct picture of the prevailing situation, a recent investigative report by THISDAY showed some startling findings.
From Maiduguri to Bama is about 75 kilometers journey. Three weeks back, Dalori was safe and from Dalori to Mairamri, you can travel without hindrance. It is equally safe to get to Madarari and from there to Konduga. But from Konduga, you can get to Bama with security escort.
Bama town is presently well secured, but there is apprehension that the insurgents might attack the town unexpected. The people of the town have been evacuated to Maiduguri long ago before it was liberated and immediately after its liberation.
Those living in the adjoining villages before the liberation of the town have also been evacuated to Bama town and presently camped within the General Hospital in the town, where the military largely and complemented by the local government, attend to their needs. The numbers of IDPs stand between 20,000 and 25,000.
Bama was one of the major economic towns of the state, with a population of about 269,986 going by the 2006 census. It has an area of 4, 997m. The inhabitants are largely farmers and businessmen. Right from the time of occupation of Bama on September 1, 2014 till date, no one can boast of reaching the Banki route as an individual and no individual has traveled through the Gwoza route without military escort.
It takes 70 kilometers from Bama to Banki, a border town with Cameroon and there are numerous villages and hamlets on that route that cannot be assessed. It is believed that the insurgents are still residing along these routes. When it is 4pm, no one travels in or out of Bama town, the journey into and out of Bama with military escort is from 10am to 4pm.
Konduga, until the attack on Dalori about two weeks ago, was reachable, but presently, there are no inhabitants in Konduga town. But in Mandarari, a roadside settlement, there are inhabitants with normal life basically because of the security around Konduga town. From Bama to Gwoza is about 80km. It is still unreachable. The only way to get there is with security. But presently, some people have started relocating to Gwoza as they protest that they have not been adequately provided for in the camps in Maiduguri and that it was preferable that they go back to their former life than living in Maiduguri in hardship.
From Bama to Gwoza is relatively safe. Travelers can travel with security escort from Bama for about 70km without any problem. There is heavy security presence in Gwoza and it is presently safe of insurgency. The only place on the road that is not safe is Wala and Warabe and some people have relocated to Gwoza, though traveling into and out of Gwoza is largely unsafe.
Behind the mountains of Gwoza, some members of the terrorist group still reside. It is said that six wards in Gwoza local government are occupied by the insurgent among which is Bayan Dutse, a border town with Cameroon. The population of people within Gwoza town is gradually growing by the day but the people are escorted into the town by the military.
Maiduguri to Nganzai is relatively safe and can be reached without security. It is about 40 kilometers in the Northern part of the state. Nganzai to Monguno is about 80 kilometers. It is relatively safe, though sometimes there are attacks by insurgents on the road.
In Monguno, the larger population is there. Three kilometers away from Monguno is unreachable. The only safe route is the Maiduguri-Monguno road. Anywhere within three kilometres radius down North of Monguno is unreachable. That means Kukawa is unreachable. Important villages like Kukawa Cross, Baga are inhabited by the military. The military patrols Kukawa during the day and comes back to pass the night at Kukawa Cross.
The insurgents are largely found around the waterside of Kukawa, and mostly in Kangarwa, Tungini, which is the headquarters of the insurgents with some of their leaders believed to be residing in Metele, Kaukiria. They are said to have been harassing the people living around the area. Kukawa town is unreachable. There are no inhabitants presently there.
180 kilometers from Maiduguri is Damasak, the headquarters of Mobbar local government area, also in the North. Before you get to Damasak you would have reached Magumeri, Gubio, 30 kilometers to Damasak is Kareto. From Maiduguri to Kareto there is minimal access but from Kareto to Damasak which is about 30 km you cannot access. There is no security whatsoever beyond Kareto. There is the fear that the insurgents are current occupying Damasak and other parts of the local government that are inaccessible.
Mafa is 40 kilometers away from Maiduguri; it is in the central of the state. Presently, there is no inhabitant in Mafa. It is only with military escort that it can be reached. It is 45 kilometers away from another local government, Dikwa, which inhabitants have been evacuated to Maiduguri.
They are presently at Sanda Kwarimi Primary School. But now in Dikwa are over 73, 000 IDPs from different areas camped in the town. The town is not reachable without military company. There are no persons living in the villages in both Mafa and Dikwa local government area, which are believed to have large presence of Boko Haram.
Ngala local government is also unreachable. It shares border with Cameroon and Chad. It is 45kms away from Dikwa. Most of the inhabitants that earlier fled to Cameroon have returned. Those that returned are about 40, 000. Gamboru as its major town and economic nerve centre is largely unsafe. There is heavy security presence in Ngala and life is returning back to normalcy. It is difficult to travel from Maiduguri to the area without military escort and at present, the inhabitants of the town who fled into Maiduguri and are in IDPs camp seeking a way to return to their homelands.
Kala Balge is 150 kilometers from Maiduguri, in the Central senatorial district of the state. It is unreachable and believed to be occupied by the insurgents. There is no military presence in the area, which shares border with Cameroon and Chad. Damboa, is 85 kilometers away from Maiduguri, in the Southern senatorial district. It is not accessible to the people but there are about 25, 000 IDPs camped in Damboa town. It is surrounded by insurgents. A village to its North, Anjigin is said to be highly populated by insurgents.
Damboa is on the road to Biu from Maiduguri. It is a road inaccessible because insurgents are believed to be living in the villages. To travel from Maiduguri to Biu, a distance which normally takes two hours, now takes eight hours because travelers have to go through Damaturu then to Gombe before getting back to Biu. Biu town is safe, although in some of the villages are pockets of insurgents.
Marte is less than 60 kilometers away from Maiduguri, in the Northern senatorial district. It was at a time under the insurgents but later reclaimed by the Nigerian troops and is presently under heavy military presence, although the inhabitants remain in Maiduguri. But most of the villages in Marte local government area are still under the insurgents.
Guzamala is about 170 kilometers from Maiduguri, it is now unreachable. Formerly, the military used to be in the town but they have since vacated. The insurgents are around the bushes and only attack the town at night. The inhabitants have all fled to Maiduguri.
Abadam is about 265 kilometers from Maiduguri, in the far North and is inaccessible. From Cross to Abadam which borders Niger is about 100 kilometers and it is a desert with untarred road. It is under the control of insurgents without military presence and no one dares travel there.
Kaga with its headquarters at Beneisheikh is on Maiduguri/Damaturu highway and it is relatively safe with heavy military presence but the surrounding villages are believed to be accommodating insurgents.
Jere is largely free from insurgents because it is metropolitan and believed to be part of the state capital (Maiduguri), seen as the safe zone. Though there are some parts that are rural, where insurgents still occupy,
Maiduguri is a safe haven as there is heavy security presence there. The eagle-eyed military officers, paramilitary groups and youth vigilance groups are ever present to ward off attack on the town. It can even be admitted that the town is impregnable.
Local governments in the south of the state, Shani, Hawul, Askira-Uba, Chibok, are largely safe although some say that a few insurgents are still living within them and on few occasions had breached security. It is however largely peaceful.
Many IDPs, who spoke anonymously with THISDAY, said they were unwilling under this present situation to relocate to their homelands as “it would be suicidal” to do such. Some officers and men of the Nigerian Police and the paramilitary, who also spoke to THISDAY off-the-record, said they were not willing to take charge of the security of many liberated towns in Borno as they are still largely unsafe with the insurgents still much around.
With over about 1,000 people said to have been killed since President Buhari took over the mantle of leadership in May last year and contrary to widespread expectations that the attacks would subside with the new administration, it appears the seeming inability of the administration has further emboldened the insurgents.
By and large, the need for a regional review of strategy to confront this real and present danger cannot be over-emphasised given the facts on the table. Not only have the terror groups shown to be strong and daring; they have consistently proven to have the capacity to carry out the most incredible attacks and in the most impossible places.
Africa, particularly, West Africa is endangered and there is no gainsaying that fact. From Nigeria to Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and lately, Cote d’Ivoire with Dakar now believed to be on the chart of the terrorists as their next stop, a reviewed and renewed regional cooperation to subdue this menacing monster is not negotiable and most importantly, time is of essence.
Although it is common knowledge that combating terrorism is not the same as the conventional warfare, the debate about governments upping their game on the security of life and property is equally sacrosanct in this time and age. The increasing threat of terrorism is not one to be taken with levity and therefore, African leaders are expected to approach this with all its seriousness, knowing full well that their survival too, rests on it.