The Return of Suicide Bombings to Borno

Michael Olugbode writes that both the federal and Borno State governments should provide support for the security agencies to tackle the Boko Haram group before the orgy of  suicide bombings returns to other states

Any assurance that Nigeria had defeated the Boko Haram insurgents was obliterated last week when the group, notorious for their cruel attacks, struck again with multiple suicide bombings in Gwoza, Borno State.

The attacks, which left behind a trail of tears, sorrow, and anguish, resulted in the deaths of at least 32 people and left over 100 others with various degrees of injuries.

Gwoza, located in the southern part of the North-east state, was once the emirate headquarters of the insurgents, who at that time, killed the traditional ruler of the hilly town.

Boko Haram has caused over 60,000 deaths since 2009. However, suicide bombings by the insurgents had ceased until last week’s incidents, which have fuelled fears that the reign of terror might have returned.

Though former President Muhammadu Buhari inherited the war against insurgency from the previous administrations, his promise to defeat the insurgents and end insecurity in the country largely accounted for his victory in the 2015 presidential election.

Before Buhari was elected, abductions, killings, burning of houses and suicide bombings by Boko Haram had spread from the North-east to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) with one bombing incident recorded in Lagos State.

Though Buhari’s government succeeded in eradicating the group’s attacks in the FCT and also substantially reducing its activities in the North-east, his administration, however, gave birth to bandits who embarked on killings, abductions, and cattle rustling in the North-west, and other geopolitical zones.

Despite the Buhari-led federal government’s repeated claims that it had degraded and confined the group to Borno State alone, massive attacks continued to be recorded.

Between 2018 and 2021 different officials in the government and security agencies had at different times claimed that the group had been ‘defeated’, ‘technically defeated’ or ‘decimated.’

For instance, in 2019, the then Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, told the country that the military had “successfully defeated” the insurgents. He however said the country was facing a fresh crisis, which he called a “global insurgency.”

He also said that “a faction of Boko Haram has aligned with the global terror group, ISIS, to form ISWAP, the Islamic State of West African Province. In other words, ISIS now has a strong foothold in West Africa – with Nigeria at the forefront of the battle against them.”

Subsequently, the then Chief of Army Staff, Lt-General Tukur Buratai (rtd) also said the terrorist group had been defeated but that the Nigerian military was fighting an international criminal gang known as ISWAP.

He said ISWAP was a group of international criminal organisations that were exploring the loopholes created by the breakdown of law and order in some neighbouring countries to perpetrate criminality in the West African sub-region.

But while they were making these claims, not only were residents of Borno State and soldiers, including senior military officers, frequently killed and maimed, communities were also being razed down.

 Personnel of other security agencies were also being ambushed, killed or maimed.

Signs of the return of bomb attacks by the terrorists in the state emerged in March when two labourers reportedly lost their lives in bomb explosions at two separate construction sites in Dikwa Local Government Area of the state. 

The first bomb blast reportedly occurred at Koibe Primary School in the state, while the second improvised explosive device (IED) exploded and killed another construction worker at a different site on the outskirts of Koibe.

Two weeks later, two people were injured after an IED, strapped to a suspected suicide bomber, detonated near a mosque in Biu Local Government Area of the state.

Given these occurrences, the renewed suicide bombings last week should be a cause for concern for the people of the state, the federal government, and the security agencies.

It is not enough for President Bola Tinubu’s government to always resort to the Buhari government’s rhetoric that the terrorists’ attacks were a clear manifestation of the military onslaught against them and the success achieved in degrading their capacity to launch offensives.

Before and after he was sworn in on May 29, 2023, Tinubu had pledged to prioritise security and effectively tackle the menace, adding that the economy cannot thrive in an insecure environment.

“I shall increase security personnel and better equip them. Advanced air and ground surveillance technology will identify, track and attack the criminals until they are utterly defeated,” he had declared.

Despite these promises, data from various sources showed that over 600 people were killed under the present within 45 days.

According to data analysed by the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), at least 2,336 people were killed in various violent attacks within the first three months of 2024.

Many Nigerians attribute the high cost of foodstuffs in the country to the inability of farmers to go to their farms during last year’s farming season when the current administration was already in charge. Kidnapping for ransom and crude oil theft have also not abated despite the government’s false claims.

Reacting to the latest suicide bombings, former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar, warned the federal government not to allow the North-east region to slide back into terrorism and extreme violence.

In a post on his X page, Atiku condemned the attacks, saying the upsurge in terrorist attacks was due to the government’s “lacklustre posture” to hold firmly on the frontlines.

“It is unfortunate that much of the pushback that had been achieved against the Boko Haram terror sect is being cancelled, owing mainly to the government’s lacklustre posture to hold firmly on the frontline. It is thus important to call on the federal authorities to wake up to their responsibility and to make sure that the North-east does not slide back into a theatre of terrorism and extreme violence,” he submitted.

On its part, the Borno State Government, through the state Commissioner for Information and Internal Security, Usman Tar, said the attacks were not a failure of intelligence, adding that the attackers mainly exploited the state’s porous borders to carry out the attacks.

“It is not an intelligence failure. It is an error that we did not see coming. If terrorists want to attack and they use a particular route that you don’t know, what can you do? As you know our boundaries are porous internationally. Even our local boundaries are porous,” Tar said.

This is why the federal and Borno State governments need to give the security agencies every support necessary to tackle Boko Haram’s activities in the state. Allowing the resurgence of suicide bombings in Borno State and the entire North-east in the face of the banditry and security challenges in the North-west, North-central, South-east, and South-south regions would threaten national security.

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