Readings of the Boko Haram War

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The Horizon Kayode Komolafe   kayode.komolafe@thisdaylive.com 0805 500 1974

Some recent developments have shown that there are indeed different readings of the reported progress in the war against the Boko Haram terrorists. The official reading of progress because the capacity of the insurgents has been degraded is being seriously questioned by those suffering the humanitarian consequences of the insurgency. Observers both at home and abroad interpret the situation differently.

Most of the criticisms of the prosecution of the war by the Nigerian state hinge on the handling of the human element of the crisis. Criticisms by human rights organisations fall into this category of views.
Doubtless, the humanitarian dimension is central to the ultimate resolution of the crisis.

Incidentally, an external view on the issue came from the visiting American vice president, John Kerry, who stressed in Sokoto yesterday the point of engaging with the people in prosecuting the war. According to Kerry, “… beating Boko Haram on the battlefield is only the beginning of what we must do … Building public trust in government also requires cooperation from the military and law enforcement. Extremism can’t be defeated through repression or fear.” Counterterrorism is, of course, on the agenda of Mr. Kerry as he visits some countries in the sub-region. It is instructive that this is the American reading of the situation. While Kerry is harping on carrying the people along, some events have put to test government’s capacity to bolster people’s confidence in the resolution of the crisis.

For instance, there was a spectacle of security operatives barring the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) members marching to Aso Rock two days ago. This was a clear indication of the mishandling of the human dimension of the problem by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. Ironically, before the presidential elections last year the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and spokesmen of former President Goodluck Jonathan accused the BBOG of working for the victory of Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) with the calls for the rescue of the Chibok Girls. The APC, of course, admitted that some members of BBOG were sympathisers (or members) of the party. As the party in power then, the PDP saw the attention being drawn to the fate of the poor girls as portraying Jonathan in bad light in an electoral season. The only change that has taken place is that the rescue of the girls is now the responsibility of Buhari as the commander-in-chief and not anymore that of Jonathan. And the people are now saying, “no more excuses”!

While Jonathan was in charge, government officials and agents of the state were inexplicably hostile to the BBOG campaigners. The campaigners who ought to be saluted and supported for asserting our collective humanity on this tragic episode were routinely harassed. The trend has unfortunately continued with the Buhari administration. A sobbing mother of one of the abducted girls questioned the claims of substantial progress by government in the war efforts.

In good conscience, who could blame the poor woman for expressing doubts on Monday about the capacity of the Nigerian state when her daughter had been in captivity for 861 days? A more humane approach would require that government officials meet with the campaigners and explain things to them in a way to ease the pains of mothers hoping for the rescue of their daughters. You can’t be impatient with a mother whose daughter has been missing for 863 days now. It would be sheer inhumanity for anyone to do so.

It is improper to unleash on the campaigners security operatives insisting on some “order’’ and “mandate” to stop the march. It turned out that the BBOG actually had some ideas to put across to government such as the creation of a “monitoring team ” for engagement of the people in the efforts to rescue the girls. They also proposed that negotiation with the insurgents should not be ruled out. Given the wide attention the abduction of the Chibok girls has received it ought to be clear to officialdom that in many quarters news of progress in the war front would be received with deep reservations without the rescue of the girls.

Secondly, the condition of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) deserves greater attention and a more honest and productive approach. The emergency nature of the problem which non-governmental organisations on ground in the northeast have harped on for months recently received an external echo. An alarm has been raised by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) about the humanitarian crisis burgeoning in the camps of the IDPs in the northeast. It has been estimated that Nigeria is facing the humanitarian question of 2.2 million displaced persons. These persons lack basic needs of food, water, shelter and medical care.

The situation is worse for children among the victims. It has been reported that tens of children risk dying daily in the camps if urgent care is not provided. The Doctors Without Borders have raised a similar alarm about the fate of the children in the camps. The insurgents have destroyed the homes and farms of the displaced persons. Just like the BBOG, the IOM’s reading of the humanitarian dimension of the crisis is not as bright as the official explanation of the developments. Here is the verdict of the IOM Chief of Mission in Nigeria, Enira Krdzalic: “The condition of internally displaced people in the northeast is still very precarious.

The majority are women, children and the elderly.” In fact the Director-General of IOM, Wiliam Lacy Wing, puts in a sharper focus: “Conditions in the region have now deteriorated to a point where it now meets the criteria required to activate Level 3 Emergency Status, the highest level of humanitarian crisis”. So beyond the readings of the situation within Nigeria, external observers are warning against a humanitarian disaster. There is, therefore, the urgent need to balance the military activities with humanitarian efforts in the northeast.

For instance, on a positive note, the Nigeria Airforce (NAF) is providing medical services to the people in some areas. In the latest efforts, the NAF has established a 35-bed field hospital in Bama for the care of the IDPs. Before then, the military organisation had established another hospital in Dalori, also in Borno state.

The example shown by the NAF is that it is not enough to fight, it is also important to care for the displaced. The UNICEF seemed to have been overstretched in its efforts to provide medical care for thousands of displaced in the camps before the timely intervention by the NAF. Other organisations both at home and abroad should intervene in providing relief for the needy in the camps.

The moral of the foregoing is that there should be a better coordination of the humanitarian efforts. The federal agencies state governments and private organisations involved in the relief efforts should work in unison for optimal use of the limited resources. The process of distributing the relief materials should be protected against the virus of corruption. All efforts should be made to stop the humanitarian crisis in the northeast.