BEYOND BOKO HARAM’S KILLING FIELDS

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The authorities should find a lasting solution to sectarian violence

In yet another wake-up call to the dangers still posed by Boko Haram, the Country Reports on Terrorism 2016 released last week put Nigeria among five countries that accounted for 75 per cent of deaths caused by terrorist attacks across the globe last year. The other countries are Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Pakistan. The report came amid claims by the military and defence authorities that Boko Haram has been defeated, even when the insurgents still kill innocent citizens, especially in Borno State almost on a daily basis.

However, beyond the death occasioned by terrorism, it must also worry the authorities that sectarian violence seems to be defining this season in our country. The recent killings in Kaduna, Taraba, Zamfara and many other states were indeed dark testimony that the security services have more work to do. Therefore, beyond the deployment of more security agencies to contain the activities of some brutal bandits, there is need for the political and traditional leaders to find a solution to whatever may be pushing people who have been living together for decades to suddenly be turning against each other.

The immediate challenge of course is Boko Haram, given the report under consideration. 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 and the dislocation of millions. 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 desperate insurgent group cannot be said to have been defeated, given the frequency of their atrocities especially in recent weeks.

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 police men and soldiers either missing or killed by the insurgents whose leader has for years remained elusive. Besides the spate of fatal attacks in the thick of battle, the series of brazen and suicide attacks and gruesome killings that are targeted at the University of Maiduguri, essentially to cripple the campus 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 several communities in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States.

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 hampering the return of majority of the internally displaced persons living in the poorest of conditions in the camps.

While we must commend our military for the vigour with which they have recently taken the battle to Boko Haram and the victories recorded, there is still a lot to be done. And nobody should gloss over that fact. 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 from all the critical stakeholders but also admitting that the challenges ahead remain huge.