Boko Haram: 10 lessons from Biafra

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NIGERIANS have continued to be inundated with the ever chilly tales of the deaths of scores of innocent citizens on daily basis in the hands of Boko Haram insurgents in the North-East.

The way out of this trouble has obviously become the pre-occupation of many having realized that it is better to think and proffer solutions than fold arms and blame the government in newspaper publications, demonstrations and public statements.

The Buni Yadi massacre of FGC students left so much bad taste in the                                                             mouth and evoked in me memories of the Nigeria civil war which started when I was barely 10 years old. In those 30 months of my boyhood marred by war which I luckily survived, there are experiences to be shared for the benefit of the children and parents living in the northeastern part of Nigeria now traumatized by Boko Haram.

There are also memories that can benefit the military leaders fighting Boko Haram insurgency even when it has come from an ordinary civilian who experienced war as a boy. Yes, Nigeria fought a civil war for 30 months at the end of which the secession of the former Eastern Region (Biafra) was brutally stopped. The objective was to keep the country one and the end justified all the means employed.

In relation to the current insurgency which now has all the trappirigs of real war, the first lesson to be drawn from the civil war was the Federal Government’s galvanization of the entire citizenry against the people of Biafra with a slogan devoid of ethnic or religious colouration…To keep Nigeria one.’ To defeat Biafra, therefore, became a movement keyed in to by all Nigerians other than those on the side of secessionist Biafra. This national consciousness was the most lethal weapon in the hands of Gen. Yakubu Gowon and his military. In the current war against terror, national consciousness against Boko Haram is yet to emerge despite the unending bloodshed. It is probably because some Nigerians seem to see the problem as Goodluck Jonathan’s challenge and which they pray becomes the albatross that will make him abandon power. Others who are saddened by the deaths of fellow Nigerian citizens in the Northeast look forward to seeing a non partisan and humanitarian movement against the insurgency that will draw them in and add strength and grassroots appeal to what the residency is doing.

Crushing momentum

With the two positions, it means the level of national consciousness needed to confront and defeat Boko Haram is not yet crystallized. Even as I commend the current achievements of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lt. Gen. Kenneth Minimah who has since relocated to Bornu State, we need from all Nigerians a heart that will generate a consciousness with crushing momentum against Boko Haram.

The second lesson from the civil war is the seeming poor awareness of the civilian population in the Boko Haram affected zone of the monumental dangers they face. This was unlike the situation in Biafra where internal propaganda sensitized everyone of the imminence of death in the hands of “vandals”. The popular radio jingle still engraved in my brain was: a time of genocide is a time for vigilance; Biafra be vigilant! Consequent upon this, people were engaged in dog sleep (i.e. with one eye open). Even as a primary five pupil in 1967, we were taught how to dive for cover, how to shield from bullet and how to craw! to safety in the face of attack from land or air. We were clearly tutored to understand that to run was to DIE. Our mothers were taught not to look for their children but save their lives first. Family bunkers where members hid during air raids were constructed. With these, we survived many bomb attacks.

It is doubtful if our citizens facing the wrath of Boko Haram in the northeast villages have been exposed to some current trainings considering how they react to attacks and the consequential death tolls. They should be trained to expect sudden attack and advised on how to respond whenever it happens.

Apparent  injury

The third lesson is the evacuation of people in danger of apparent injury to safety. As a boy in 1968, I lived with people who were evacuated from war endangered communities of Biafra including people from Udi and Nsukka in the present day Enugu state and Ogoni from the present day Rivers State.

One therefore wonders why people in border communities of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states being massacred by Boko Haram daily cannot be evacuated to safe refugee camps. If Biafra could do it in 1967, obviously Nigeria can in 2014. Besides securing the endangered people, it affords the military and intelligence organs the opportunity of appropriately executing their offensive without fear of unnecessary casualties.

The fourth lesson is the protection of school children as much as practicable from disasters consequent upon war strife or civil commotion. This is necessary because the children are the future who will grow to rebuild the city destroyed by wars fought by parents. When air raids on Biafra territory became too severe in 1968, schools were closed to protect the children of Biafra and when they were reopened in 1969 children and their teachers studied under tree shades instead of the highly exposed school premises. The emphasis was the protection of the children. With the vicious Boko Haram operating in the north east of the country and focusing on soft targets, schools should be closed and children relocated to areas where safety , may be guaranteed until normalcy returns.

The fifth lesson bothers on military strategy. In our boy soldiering, we were thought to blow the bridge of disaster and I want to believe this is a long tested operational pattern in warfare. With Boko Haram operating from along our borders with Chad and Cameroun Republics, the borders should be closed. This cuts off the enemy’s supply line and weakens the operational capacity of members within the national boundaries.

The sixth lesson is the need for the military to leverage on native intelligence. Intelligence by the natives of various communities was the cornerstone of Biafran military intelligence. In every community, the good and the bad are well known by the people. Indigenes and strangers can be differentiated and movements interpreted. With careful investigation, it may be that communities severely attacked by Boko Haram in the North-East have bad leadership which led their youth into deviant behavior of joining the insurgent group. The attack may well represent a punitive payback on such community leaders.

THE seventh lesson is the special role the sacrifice made by indigenes of communities in military service played in the survival of such communities during the civil war. Biafran soldiers were allowed the priviledge of electing to lead the defence of their towns and villages in the face of enemy invasion. The local communities usually collaborated effectively with their sons who would do everything to save their kith and kin from calamity. I continue to wonder how a soldier who hails from one of the Borno State

villages affected by the Boko Haram attacks and serving in Lagos would feel hearing that not less than a hundred of his kinsmen perhaps including his parents, brothers and sisters have been massacred. He certainly would have loved to play a role in saving them given the opportunity.

The eighth lesson is the necessity of seeking the collaboration and support of foreign powers. To defeat Biafra, Nigeria got the support of such countries as Britain, USSR (Russian) and USA. The propaganda oozing out of this global support helped to bring Biafra to its knees. In the face of Boko Haram insurgency, Nigeria may seek the support and collaboration of countries that have economic ties with it.

The nineth lesson is the possibility of hiring foreign experts (war mercenaries) to assist our military in certain areas of special need. Most of the military pilots that flew fighter jets during the civil war were expatriates and since we are now faced with a special kind of enemy, people with special skills may be recruited from outside the shores of Nigeria.

The tenth lesson is the necessity of keeping discussion and negotiation with the enemy ongoing. Nigeria never abandoned any opportunity of dialoging with Biafra much as her military was on an assault mission. As faceless as Boko Haram is, the government of Nigeria should continue to seek its face. Hopefully, it would be found someday.

The above lessons from Biafra are for the authorities to consider in line with current and peculiar trends in the Boko Haram insurgency. Beyond this expectation, ordinary Nigerians together with non-governmental, faith-based and corporate organizations should address the humanitarian fallouts of the terrorism challenge. Counter terrorism in this regard means national solidarity with victims of Boko Haram insurgency devoid of unnecessary politicization and driven by freewill gifts of cash, food, clothing and shelter. To show such concern will no doubt strengthen our nationhood which Boko Haram seeks to destroy. Meanwhile, the world is watching our behavior.

By Chief Felix Amadi

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