Beyond the federal governmentâ€™s claim of â€˜technical defeatâ€™, the Boko Haram sect is still very much on the prowl and would require a more coordinated strategy to defeat, writes Iyobosa Uwugiaren
In spite of the huge and consistent efforts by the Nigerian military to mobilise its services and resources against the bloodthirsty and murderous terrorist group, Boko Haram in its current war against Nigeria, reports from the theatre of war in the last few months is nothing to cheer about. While the military said it had dealt a heavy blow on the terroristsâ€™ operational base in the past few months, the casualties on the part of the military and the civilians in the war zone are to say the least, fear-gripping.
To be sure, a global human rights organisation, Amnesty International (AI), said recently that Boko Haramâ€™s several attacks and suicide bombings in Nigeria and Cameroun had left over 381 civilians dead since April 2017, with casualtyâ€™s figures more than double those of the previous five months. The group also said across the Lake Chad region, millions of civilians were in need of urgent humanitarian assistance as a result of Boko Haram violence.
The data collected by the organisation shows a sharp rise in civilian deaths in the far North region of Cameroun, while the Nigerian states of Borno and Adamawa have been driven by the armed groupâ€™s increased use of suicide bombers, often using women and girls, who are forced to carry explosives into crowded areas.
â€œBoko Haram is once again committing war crimes on a huge scale, exemplified by the depravity of forcing young girls to carry explosives with the sole intention of killing as many people as they possibly can,â€ Amnesty Internationalâ€™s Director for West and Central Africa, Alioune Tine, stated in a statement recently.
â€œThis wave of shocking Boko Haram violence, propelled by a sharp rise in suicide bombings, highlights the urgent need for protection and assistance for millions of civilians in the Lake Chad region. Governments in Nigeria, Cameroun and beyond must take swift action to protect them from this campaign of terror,â€ AI said.
In the North eastern Nigeria, for example, AI added that mass killings and abductions by Boko Haram had led to the killing of not less than 223 civilians since April, saying the real figure might be higher still as some attacks might have gone unreported.
The data further stated that between May and August, seven times more civilians were killed than in the preceding four months, while 100 civilians were killed in August alone. It said the deadliest attack came on July 25, when the armed group shot dead 40 people and abducted three others in an ambush on an oil exploration team in the Magumeri area of Borno State.
AI added: â€œBoko Haram suicide bombers have killed at least 81 people in Nigeria since April, while 67 people have been abducted â€“ mostly women and girls â€“ since the start of the year. There have been two reports of raids on villages in August, in which Boko Haram fighters rounded up and shot civilians, burned down homes and stole from peopleâ€™s houses, shops and markets,â€ it stated.
In Cameroun, the global human rights group said the deadly terrorist group had killed at least 158 civilians since April, four times more than in the preceding five months, adding that the recent spike in casualties had been driven by increased suicide attacks, with 30 attacks at more than one per week carried out since the beginning of April.
Another deadly attack was said to have taken place in Waza on July 12, when 16 civilians were killed and at least 34 injured after a young girl was forced to carry and detonate a bomb in a crowded video game centre.
The town of Kolofata, in the Mayo-Sava district, has been especially targeted with nine attacks since April. Mora, the second largest urban centre in the Far North region, has also been hit three times. The group averred that the displacement of Boko Haram fighters from the Sambisa Forest in Nigeria to the Mandara Mountains in Cameroun, following operations conducted by the Nigerian military, may have explained some of the increase in attacks in Cameroun.
â€œA total of 2.3 million people have been displaced across the region. This includes 1.6 million internally displaced people and refugees in Nigeria and 303,000 in Cameroun. Another 374,000 are displaced in Chad and Niger. More than seven million people across the region face serious food shortages, including five million in Nigeria and 1.5 million in Cameroun.
â€œThere are 515,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, more than 85% of them in Nigeria. The recent increase in insecurity has made humanitarian operations difficult, or even impossible, in some inaccessible areas of northeast Nigeria,â€ he said in the report.
The group advised governments across the Lake Chad region to increase efforts to protect the hundreds of thousands of civilians at grave risk of being targeted by Boko Haram violence, abductions and abuses.
â€œMeanwhile, the international community should also rapidly scale up its commitment to provide life-saving humanitarian assistance to the millions in the region, who need it,â€ appealed Amnesty International, which has been documenting human rights abuses and serious violations of international humanitarian law that amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Boko Haram since 2010.
An international news agency, Associated Press (AP) also reported recently that Boko Haram killed at least 27 people by â€œshooting them and slitting their throatsâ€ as they attacked several villages in Borno State in the past week.
THISDAY checks revealed that such deadly attacks in recent months have pressured Nigeriaâ€™s government to increase its efforts against the terrorist group, which it last year declared to have â€œcrushed.â€
AP said Boko Haram fighters entered villages in the Nganzai area recently, â€œslitting throats and using gunsâ€ to kill at least 15 people, while injuring two others. The attackers were also said to have burned homes. The terrorist group attacked in the Guzamala local council area, killing 12 people and injuring at least four, said Mai Abatcha Monguno, the commander of the councilâ€™s citizen defence forces.
The Secretary of the huntersâ€™ association, Bunu Bukar, was quoted by AP as saying that more government support and better equipment were needed to combat the terrorists, whose many years of deadly activities had displaced millions in Nigeria and killed over 20,000 people.
In a major broadcast to the nation on his return from 103 days medical vacation, President Muhammadu Buhari vowed to â€œreinforce and reinvigorate the fightâ€ against the terrorist, which he accused of â€œattempting a new series of attacks on soft targets.â€ But security analysts said his promise was yet to be felt.
Buhariâ€™s reassurance came when more people were being killed daily by Boko Haram in the North-east. Security experts said the daily deadly attack accentuated the tenacious threat posed by Boko Haram terrorists, in spite of government claims that they were a spent force and already decimated. Women and young girls, in particular, have been used against civilian â€œsoftâ€ targets such as mosques, as well as the University of Maiduguri.
Even though the Nigerian military described it as mere propaganda, Boko Haram recently taunted the Nigerian Army, saying it was celebrating Sallah in Sambisa forest after the 40-day ultimatum issued for the capture of Abubakar Shekau, its leader.
Lt. General Tukur Buratai, the Chief of Army Staff, had given a 40-day ultimatum to his men to either capture or kill Shekau. But the deadline lapsed without any action and the deadline has since been extended. Shuaibu Moni, one of the commanders of the group, who was swapped with the 82 Chibok girls in May, appeared in a video mocking the military and issuing threats to the Nigerian authority.
â€œWe have observed the Eid-el-Kabir prayers peacefully with our brothers, wives and children in Sambisa forest under the leadership of Abu-Muhammad -Ibn-Mahammad Abubakar Shekau. We thank Almighty Allah for sparing our lives to witness this very wonderful day and good state of health.
â€œWe want to tell the infidels of the world, infidels in Nigeria and even small ants like Buhari and his attack dogs like Kukasheka and Buratai, who gave 40-day ultimatum to kill our leader, Abubakar Shekau, that here we are celebrating Sallah in Sambisa. I also want them to know that killing Shekau is not the end of us. With or without Shekau, Boko Haram will remain. They should know we worship God and Shekau is only leading us on the path of service to the Lord,â€ he said.
Nearly a year ago, the military had said Boko Haram was a spent force, but its recent acts of terrorism indicated that the Islamic terrorist group is coming back powerfully while the gallant armed forces are struggling to contain the violence Boko Haram has continued to inflict on its targets. And some security experts are raising major questions of inappropriate diagnosis of the capacity of the terrorists.
The thinking is that the striking powers of the group may have been cut down considerably, but it should never be written off. The many recent attacks may have suggested that Boko Haram has regrouped. And security observers believe that a combined technique of intelligence, law enforcement and special operations may help in containing the resurgence of criminality.
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, appears to still be living in denial. He stated recently that there was no resurgence of Boko Haram, contrary to the reality as rightly observed in some circles.
â€œThe truth is that there is no resurgence of Boko Haram. Cowardly bombings and kidnappings are some of the hallmarks of an asymmetric warfare that insurgencies are. And like I say all the time, such wars do not end by the signing off any truce. They taper off with time, as this one surely will,â€ he said
The minister said to ensure that Boko Haram tapered off quickly the Nigerian troops were daily living up to their constitutional responsibility of maintaining the nationâ€™s territorial integrity and securing its borders.
â€œThey are ensuring that never again will Boko Haram take control of our territories, attack our major cities, including Abuja, at will and fly their flag anywhere in the country,â€ he added.
While it is important to commend the entire military for the feat of â€œlargely defeating Boko Haramâ€, he identified certain roles played by the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) in the successes recorded, adding that with the support and the enabling environment provided by President Buhari, young and well-trained pilots were those flying the aircraft in the inventory of the NAF.
Mohammed said unlike what was obtainable in the past, officers below 30 years of age were Flight Lieutenants flying the planes, including the C-130s and serving as Instructor Pilots.