By Bisi Lawrence
Are we then at war? Can we admit it at last? The proclamation that slapped a state of emergency on three States—Yobe, Adamawa and Borno —would seem to suggest that much especially from the launching of all-out hostilities on certain areas of the region.
It did not appear that we were really sure of what was going on these past three to four years during which we had borne the scourge of the Boko Haram.
Some of course called it “terrorism” which is, in fact a measure of war. Others described it as “insurgency”, which is also a vibrant variant of warfare. But call it what you may, whenever a group takes up arms and uses them to harm and destroy the life and welfare of another group with the set purpose of eliminating it or subjugating it, the situation is one of war.
Of course, that is an ugly word, a word associated with horror and darkness, brutality and wickedness, and which no one with any sense of decency wishes to be linked with. And so we seem to have been fighting shy of it. Only one voice was raised in pertly identifying it for what it was.
After one of the brazen attacks of the Boko Haram, the Senate President, David Mark, once could not help blurting out: “This is war!” His distinguished audience mostly pretended not to appreciate the gravity of his words. The situation was adopted as an inadvertent development and that tone was laid to rest.
Not many other instances of the truth being allowed to show its naked face could be cited afterwards. A convenient consensus of mild reactions to the fiery situation was welcome to mask the flames, with all kinds of meetings of security officials, following other harrowing destructions of lives, and then properly rounded off by “condemnations” of the “dastardly” acts whose “perpetrators” would be “fished out and made to face the foil rigour of the law”. And then would start another woeful cycle of destruction, bombings and killings, followed by some skirmishes in which the “enemy” did not always come out second best.
Some would have made the President sue for peace under the ruse of “dialogue”, but throughout the strife this nation has had to face so far, and despite the low marks he has been consistently awarded by many people it is, and will ever be, to his credit that he refused to be made to eat humble pie at a table with those he rightly referred to as “ghosts”.
Yet other pacifists proffered a virtual capitulation ploy clothed in the dazzling hue of “amnesty”, for people who themselves declared that they did not deserve such humanitarian consideration, since forgiveness had no place where there had been no offence.
They pleaded not guilty to any crime. But the President bore that humiliation just as he shrugged off the insult of the demand that he should change his religion. While some of us wondered who really the guilty party was, anyway – the men who were creating massive mayhem, or the man whose position as the leader of the victims made him to bear the brunt of the atrocities?
But some of those who have always held back the mighty hand of the government with their “ode to dialogue” or “hymns of amnesty” may have meant well after all.
I wonder, though, if they had lost any of their sons to a sudden, senseless murderous attack from nowhere; or witnessed the anguish of an inconsolable daughter at the vicious hands of a rapist; or the stifled cry of a child in the last throes of strangulation. This is what has been happening. And it is war.
And let us face it. Every war is a “crime against humanity”. No war is won with fancy gloves. Soldiers are trained to kill by not being killed. We should not condone extreme cruelty in a situation that rides, in itself, on extreme prejudice, but that is difficult, It is therefore not very realistic to make flaring headlines out of the fact that populations are being displaced. That is an aspect of a war situation that can only be minimized by firm control.
In the same vein, one feels left in a snit by the hypocrites in the United States whose first reaction about the present situation in Nigeria is co-mingled with strident warnings about “crimes against humanity.” They can be assured that we shall not attain the dizzying heights of Hiroshima and Nagasaki before this campaign is over. It has to be sharp and short.
In any case, the human rights aspects and civil rights protection of the situation had been properly taken care of by the National Assembly.
That is why one was uncomfortable at the reported release of some imprisoned members of the Boko Haram. A case may be made for some of the womenfolk who might not be fully involved in the fighting. But women are swift conduits of information even in times of war. They are not all harmless. With regard to the men, however, we find it difficult to subscribe to such an open-ended gesture.
These are warriors who are committed to a cause and, as we know, many of them are committed to the death. One would find it extremely unlikely that they would not make straight for their weapons the moment they were set free. One would imagine that it would be a celebration as they rejoined their units. In fact there were reports that the routed elements of the Boko Harem troops were regrouping in parts of the Adamawa mountains. Recent harrowing events tend to support these reports.
We are real at war. The Joint Military Task Force has done credit to themselves and this nation, but how far have we gone in eliminating the menace of the Boko Haram from our midst? Not until the last campaign started did many of us realise that the Boko Haram had even carved out an enclave for itself where a foreign flag had been implanted on Nigerian soil. Of course, it was routed.
The Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Reconciliation, on whose advice this decision was taken to release the captured Boko Haram forces, could hardly furnish any sensible reason for it. They may claim to know what is hidden from the rest of us, to come to an apparently cheerless initiative like that which takes little of a war situation into consideration.
The measure, we were assured, was in line with “Presidential magnanimity”, but who was impressed? Who could have been appreciative of such a gesture? In respect of those who even nonchalantly shuned the offer of an amnesty? This is all about human lives, about security in the community and about resultant social progress – and some people think they could flout all of that by some kind of “magnanimity”?
One wonders how much input the members of the JTF, the men who put their lives on the line, were asked to offer with regard to freeing the Boko Haram “prisoners of war”. Though professionally isolated from political decisions, they are the actors on the terrain and a vibrant, in fact the only, arm of security here. It is not clear that they were considered for any role in the decision.
This is war. It has to be total in its operational commitment. You cannot pummel a man’s body while massaging his back. The rules of engagement already put in place are adequate and will be effective in taking care of a humane conduct of the conflict. There will always be complaint on both sides, of course, but we must trust our forces to be a disciplined body of armed men. We cannot afford to be too mild now, for we are face-to-face with a foe that will not walk away, but must be driven – chased – away.
We are no longer offending anyone by linking them to the religion under whose aegis they profess to commit these atrocities. Even the religion, Islam, openly forbids their methods of operation. It should not all be strange to us. This country witnessed the exploits of Maitatsene and brought them down. The JTF must not relent in its continued swoop on the marauders until they are squelched’
We are at war, And this is why we would recommend that a serious look be made to bear on our Budget which was prepared in almost a total negligence of the seriousness of a war situation. It is hard to bear the fact, as testified to by so many responsible people over and over again, that the so-called insurgents carry “sophisticated weapons” and are “better armed” than our soldiers.
That in a country that can afford, or acquire a couple of bullet proof cars for 255 million mazumas and no one sheds a tear? Where trillions of naira leak away in stolen petroleum products and no one winces? Where billions of revenue funds miss their way to the Federation Account and only create a mild discussion as to their proper destination? We cannot arm our security forces with the best weaponry available anywhere?
We are at war. It echoes from the North to the South. We are at war, and we are not really winning.