The insurgents have been largely contained, but not vanquished
If any proof is ever needed that the war against Boko Haram is far from being over, it is in the fact that on a daily basis, Nigerians are now witnessing consistent and intensifying enemy action in the theatre of conflict, namely, the North-east of the country. Two commanding officers and a number of troops have been killed in enemy ambush in the last one month alone. Suicide bombers have either detonated bombs or been narrowly prevented from carrying out attacks on civilian centres.
All these incidents do not indicate an insurgency that has been defeated. Instead, they imply that Boko Haram still has active guerrilla cells and staging posts in the North-east from where they launch these attacks. Unfortunately, the military and defence authorities still insist that Boko Haram has been defeated. Yet just last week, they declared wanted the Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau that had been pronounced dead on several occasions. To worsen maters, the United States Embassy, in an emergency message to its citizens who reside or do business in Abuja, has warned of an imminent Boko Haram attack within the FCT.
It is possible that the defence authorities may want to reassure a frightened public that they are equal to the task. But the reality is that reports of these ever so frequent attacks erode the credibility of alternative claims. The task on hand therefore is to actually win the war so that the work of rehabilitation and reconstruction of the affected areas can proceed. And that will take not only concerted efforts but also admitting that the challenges ahead remain huge.
For sure, the military authorities have whittled down the striking powers of the violent insurgent group that has, over the years, been responsible for the death of thousands of innocent Nigerians. The military has recaptured much of the territory Boko Haram once controlled and the insurgents no longer operate as freely as they used to. Yet the brutal militant group cannot be said to have been tamed.
Indeed, the group still poses a grave danger and has been inflicting mortal wounds on members of the armed forces as well as civilians. In the past few weeks, there have been increasing reports of soldiers either missing or killed by suspected rebels. 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.
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.
We must commend our military for the vigour with which they have recently taken the battle to Boko Haram and the victories recorded. But there is still a lot to be done. And nobody should gloss over that fact.