Urgent steps should be taken to eliminate the conditions that provided Boko Haram a nest in the North-east, writes Vincent Obia
Nigeria is in a good mood after the fall of the last stronghold of the Boko Haram terrorist sect in the country, Sambisa forest. It is an expansive woodland in the border areas of the North-east and North-west that stretches across six states, including Borno, Yobe, Gombe, Bauchi, Jigawa, and parts of Kano State.
The forest served as the main fortress of Boko Haram for several years after they were dislodged from Maiduguri and its environs. But penultimate Saturday, President Muhammadu Buhari broke “the long-awaited and most gratifying news of the final crushing of Boko Haram terrorists in their last enclave in Sambisa forest” in a congratulatory message to the Nigerian troops. Buhari said Boko Haram’s most fortified and guarded enclave in the heart of the forest, also known as “camp zero”, fell to the Nigerian troops on the afternoon of December 22.
Many who can speak and be heard, including past and present leaders, have celebrated the fall of Sambisa forest. The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, and other military chiefs have paid confidence-boosting visits to celebrate the Yuletide with the troops on the frontlines of the antiterrorism war.
Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State said this year’s Christmas was his best season of celebration since his assumption of office about five years ago. His state has borne the worst consequences of Boko Haram insurgency since it began in 2009. The insurrection has killed and dislocated thousands of people, and done incalculable damage to infrastructure. There is real cause for joy after the clearance of the main source of the death and destruction.
But beyond the celebration, the authorities should reflect on the conditions that made the North-east a nest of terrorists with a view to redressing them.
The issue of border policing should be taken seriously. The fact that the hub of Boko Haram’s terrorist activities has been the remote border areas is a clear indication that the porous borders have a lot to do with the terrorist onslaught in the country. Nigeria has international land borders of about 4,470 kilometres (2,513 miles) with Chad, Cameroon, Benin, and Niger, and a coastline of 774 kilometres (480 miles). These are largely not policed. There are about 1, 500 identified land border crossings into Nigeria, but only 114 has approved control posts manned by immigration officials and other security agencies, according to the Nigeria Immigration Service. The rest are left as free entry and exit points for all manners of people and activities.
Nigeria must devise feasible and effective means of reclaiming its borders from the ravages of illegal migration. There had been reports about a plan to install electronic surveillance systems round the country’s borders with assistance from the United States and China. It is not clear how far the federal government has gone with that plan. What is not in doubt is that the present-day problem of international or trans-border terrorism has added a new urgency to the question of border security. Nigeria cannot afford to leave the issue unresolved.
There should be a comprehensive mapping of the country’s borders to determine the levels of migration risks posed by the various sections and decide the types of policing measures to adopt.
Terrorism has ceased to be a local speciality, with the advances in communications technology. Nigeria should intensify cooperation with the international community, especially the countries bordering it, to ensure effective border control and prevent attempts to import terrorism.
Interestingly, United States President Barack Obama has recently signed into law, “An Act to require a regional strategy to address the threat posed by Boko Haram.” The new law requires that country’s Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defence to jointly develop and submit to the U.S. Congress within 180 days a five-year strategy to help the Nigerian government and relevant partners counter the threat of Boko Haram. The plan involves the conscious pursuit of measures to address the military and socio-economic inadequacies that have encouraged the rise of the terrorist sentiments and activities.
The Buhari government should not only be identified with the U.S. anti-Boko Haram strategy and similar schemes, but it should also key them to the general security needs of the whole Nigeria.
From reports, it is obvious that the culture of incoherence and abandonment of government property were huge contributors to the making of a nest of evil in Sambisa forest. The heart of the Boko Haram fortress in Sambisa forest, “camp zero”, was said to be a cluster of camps and cells, the strongest and most fortified of which was a huge structure with underground cells and armoury originally built for the training of the former National Guard in the 1980s. The structure, reportedly, constructed by the military regime of Ibrahim Babangida, which had established the National Guard, is said to have about two layers of underground buildings, with tunnels for escape and facilities for residential, recreational, and farming purposes.
Babangida ruled from August 1985 to August 1993. His government had said that the National Guard, a paramilitary force, would be deployed on Nigeria’s borders, stressing that its duties would not conflict with those of the army or the police. It said there was a plan to establish three broad units of the National Guard, which would include ground intervention squads, paratrooper units, and marine service squads. The country was divided into four zones for the operations of the National Guard, namely, the North-west, with headquarters in Kano; the North-east, headquartered in Bauchi; the South-west, based in Akure; and the South-east, with headquarters in Umauhia. The ultimate purpose of the National Guard, according to the military government, was to check crime and terrorism.
But in October 1993, the National Guard was disbanded. And that big national security and defence infrastructure was abandoned. Boko Haram later found its building an excellent fortress.
The authorities have not responded to the reports about the use of the disbanded National Guard’s building by Boko Haram. However, in many parts of the country, the story is the same: abandoned government assets falling into the hands of people who use them for illegal activities. The country’s leaders must embrace the principles of continuity in governance. They must close any loopholes that can be exploited to unleash evil on the country.
As Nigeria marks the eradication of Boko Haram’s fortresses on its soil, everything should be done to remove the conditions that helped to create and develop the insurgency.