- Foreign interests involved, alleges plot to divide MNJTF
- Warns of dire consequences
- Boko Haram, ISWA growing in Nigeria – Campbell
Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja and Bayo Akinloye in Lagos
As Nigerians await another civilian-to-civilian political transition on May 29, the fifth since the return to democracy in 1999, the Army has alleged that some citizens are funding the Boko Haram terrorist group on purpose to disrupt the handover. The Army said this on Saturday in a statement by Acting Director, Army Public Relations, Colonel Sagir Musa. It stated that there was also a plot to cause disaffection within the sub-regional military coalition, Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), to give room for the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) and its local franchise, Boko Haram terrorists group, to bud.
This was as former United States Ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell said the Abubakar Shekau and Abu Musab al-Barnawi factions of Boko Haram had continued to grow in Nigeria. Campbell, a Ralph Bunche fellow for Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), said this in a recent post on the CFR website. He stated that Borno State was being characterised as the largest remaining caliphate of the Islamic State (IS) after the collapse of IS in Iraq and Syria.
The Nigerian Army statement said after failing to ruin the general election in February and March, some influential Nigerians were now bent on scuttling the handover process.
“The Nigerian Army has noted with great concern efforts by some unpatriotic individuals, groups and foreign interests determined to cause mischief and exacerbate the security situation in this country, in particular, and West African sub-region. These persons and groups are making concerted efforts to further induce ISWAP/Boko Haram terrorists and bandits with funds and other logistic supports,” the Nigerian Army said.
It added, “Their body language and unguarded utterances seem to be in tandem with above and imply tacit support for the criminals. For example, credible source has shown that some individuals are hobnobbing with Boko Haram terrorists, while others are deliberately churning falsehood against the security agencies with a view to set the military against the people and the government.
“They are also demoralising troops and security agencies through false accusations and fake news. Therefore, it has become necessary to inform the public and warn such persons and groups to desist as the consequences of their actions would be calamitous to themselves and our great country.”
According to the Army, “Some of these mischievous elements thought that we would not have a safe and successful general elections but were proved wrong, hence they want to derail the scheduled handing over later this month and to scuttle the democratic process in the country.”
The Nigerian Army stated, “We also noted that foreign interests are also working assiduously to cause disaffection and divide the coalition Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) to give room for the so-called Islamic State for West African Province (ISWAP) and its defeated local franchise, Boko Haram terrorists group to resurrect.
“While we have confidence on the Federal Government of Nigeria’s efforts at sustaining and reinvigorating the MNJTF to continue its good work, we would not relent in clearing the visages and remnants of Boko Haram terrorists and their sympathisers.
“The Nigerian Army is a stakeholder in our national security and sustenance of democracy in Nigeria. Additionally, we are making this statement because the military, particularly the Nigerian Army, has always been called upon to intervene in conflict situations in order to resolve crises in most cases when they get worse, while the public expect miracles.
“We would like to reiterate our unalloyed loyalty to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and we are determined, more than ever before, to continue to uphold the constitution and defend the territorial integrity of this nation from both external and internal aggression. Nigeria is a sovereign country with clearly established judicial system, therefore, all aggrieved persons and groups should take advantage of that and resolve differences amicably.”
Meanwhile, Campbell warned about the expanding influence of Boko Haram and IS in Nigeria, stating, “With the collapse of the IS in Iraq and Syria, some observers are characterising Borno as the ‘largest remaining Caliphate’, though how and to what extent it is a direct successor to IS remains unclear.”
He, however, pointed out that the “command and control” among the Boko Haram factions operating in Borno State and adjoining territories “remains obscure”.
Writing further in his post, the expert at CFR, a New York-based nonprofit think tank specialising in U.S. foreign policy and international affairs, stated, “One faction appears to be led by Abubakar Shekau, well-known for his taunting, bloody videos, and his kidnapping of the Chibok schoolgirls in 2014. Another, the Islamic State West Africa (ISWA), apparently backed by the Islamic State (IS), was once led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi, though Mamman Nur was understood to hold real power.”
Campbell, who is an expert on international diplomacy and extremism in Nigeria, added that in 2018, Nur appeared to have been assassinated because he was very “soft”. He explained, “In March 2019, Abu Musab al-Barnawi was replaced by Abu Abdullah Ibn Umar al-Barnawi. (Al-Barnawi denotes that the person is ‘from Borno’, so the current and former ISWA leaders do not necessarily have any blood relationship).”
He noted that the report of a leadership change within the terrorist network was based on IS audio recordings, though the extent of IS control over the leadership struggle with ISWA was unclear.
“If, indeed, Abu Musab and Mamman Nur were ‘soft’, it is likely that Abu Abdullan Ibn Umar will be ‘hard’,” Campbell reasoned, saying, “However, what ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ actually means is obscure, as is the relationship between the Boko Haram factions and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. North-east Nigeria and adjacent regions continue to be the centre of Islamist jihadist extremism. Scores of civilians were targeted and killed in south-east Niger by Boko Haram in early April, forcing thousands to flee to Diffa, a Nigerien border city.”
Campbell said, though, the Nigerian Army, in conjunction with MNJTF, continued to claim military success against Boko Haram, the number of Boko Haram incidents had not declined.
He said, “In neighbouring Chad, officials are claiming that Chadian forces killed 63 ‘terrorists’ in a mid-April attack on a military facility…. But In early April, the Islamic State West Africa released a video showing its execution of five Nigerian soldiers; subsequently, it was determined that three of the soldiers were members of the Civilian Joint Task Force, an informal militia that assists the regular army. In the past, such videos have had a deleterious effect on military morale.”
The Nigeria Security Tracker (on the CFR website), nonetheless, indicated that military casualties had increased significantly since July 2018.
Campbell said the Boko Haram factions, for now, appeared relatively distinct, stressing that the original split in 2016 had to do with, among other things, Shekau’s leadership style, his understanding of Islam, and his targeting of Muslim civilians.
“ISWA, according to experts, has been more focused on winning hearts and minds, and has even developed a tax base. Especially since leadership changes over the past year, ISWA has attacked a number of military targets with success, overrunning military bases and stealing equipment,” the former US ambassador stated.