Boko Haram: The Unfinished Business


The brutal insurgent group still constitutes grave danger to civil order

There is no doubting the fact that the military has whittled down the striking powers of the violent insurgent group, Boko Haram, which has over the years been responsible for the death of thousands of 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. In fact, the insurgents are practically on the run.

Yet the brutal militant group cannot be said to have been defeated. Indeed, the group still poses grave danger and has been inflicting mortal wounds on members of the armed forces as well as civilians, particular in the North-east, the epicentre of the insurgency. These came mostly in form of surprised, but devastating attacks. In the past few weeks, there have been increasing reports of soldiers either missing or killed by suspected rebels. There have also been spikes in suicide bombings, a sign of desperation on the part of the insurgents that now go for soft targets.

For instance, last month, scores of soldiers were reported missing after they were attacked by the insurgents. The military initially denied the report but later owned up that 39 soldiers were indeed missing. More than a month later, their whereabouts are still unknown. A fortnight ago, the bodies of Lt. Col Mohammed Abu Ali and six others were committed to mother earth. The burial drew tears from the Chief of Army Staff, General Tukur Buratai, and many Nigerians. Ali, a brave and diligent military officer (who had been rightly rewarded with rapid promotions) and the six soldiers were on their way to reinforce troops at Mallam Fatori, in Borno State when they were ambushed by Boko Haram insurgents.

Two days after their grisly death, one soldier was killed while four others suffered various degrees of injury, also in the hands of the insurgents. And only last week, the Nigeria army lost Lt. Col. B.U. Umar, commanding officer of the 114 Batallion and eight other soldiers in yet another Boko Haram ambush in Borno State.

Besides the spate of fatal attacks in the thick of battle, the series of brazen and suicide attacks and gruesome killings by the militant group in recent weeks have shown that the insurgents are still very much in business. Only last Friday, suicide bombers attacked a checkpoint and bus station in Borno State, taking in the process six lives, including two civilian defence fighters. It was the fifth attack in three weeks on Maiduguri, Borno State capital and the operational headquarters of the Islamic extremist group.

Although security agencies have managed to foil some of these attacks, it is all the same somewhat bogus to hawk the impression that the war against the insurgents is “technically” over. It is not. Even if we admit that the extremist group must have by now banished the idea of carving for itself a caliphate, because it cannot hold on to any ground for long, it still constitutes mortal danger to their immediate and outlying communities and indeed, to members of the armed forces.

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.

There is still a lot to be done. 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.

QUOTE: The spate of fatal attacks in the thick of battle, the series of brazen and suicide attacks and gruesome killings by the militant group in recent weeks have shown that the insurgents are still very much in business