By Ochereome Nnanna
ON Saturday, December 24, 2016, President and Commander in Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, Muhammadu Buhari, announced that “finally”, the Boko Haram insurgency had been crushed following the invasion, by our gallant troops, of “Camp Zero”, the final bastion of the evil Islamist group, Boko Haram, in Sambisa Forest.
Shortly after, our Army Chief, Lt-General Tukur Buratai, disclosed that the Nigerian Army would make the Forest an operational base which, I believe, is a very sound idea. It will enable our troops to master difficult terrains and be able to deal more effectively with future military challenges such as guerrilla-style insurgency.
When the President made this announcement, those who have followed our Boko Haram saga sighed: “again?” You will recall that in December last year, even while the terrorists still murdered innocent Nigerians in their villages with sporadic sallies from the Forest, the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, said Boko Haram had been “technically defeated”; that they had been so decimated that they no longer had the capacity to stage attacks, which was a blatant lie.
Unfortunately, the Presidency and the Nigerian Army continued to peddle this untruth, saying that Boko Haram no longer occupied any inch of the Nigerian soil. Was this Camp Zero that was recently captured located in Cameroon, Chad or Niger Republic?
The truth is that the war against Boko Haram has been sullied by dirty politics and propaganda, which is why it has lasted for so long. Former President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the North East several times without accompanying them with necessary action. As the Chief of Army Staff, retired Lt General Azubuike Ihejirika, dislodged the terrorists from Maiduguri and major towns in the North East and bottled them up in the Sambisa Forest in 2013. He was not given the support which Buratai got in order to finish the job. His retirement was due and he was asked to go.
Instead, the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, former Adamawa State Governor, Murtala Nyako, numerous civil society and political interest groups in the North portrayed the war on terror as a campaign to “depopulate the North”. Nasir El Rufai even said there was nothing like Boko Haram, and that President Jonathan merely used it as a façade to make war on the North.
Faced with massive blackmail, his fear of losing Northern support for his re-election bid and his lack of resolve as a leader, Jonathan sacked all his Service Chiefs, including Ihejirika, and brought in a new team led by the greatest disaster of the war, Air Marshall Alex Badey as Chief of Defence Staff, in April, 2014. Shortly after, the Chibok Girls were abducted.
The Nigerian Armed Forces almost went to pieces, as troops in the front lines started deserting their duty posts. Mutinies became rampant, and some Muslim soldiers frequently drove our armoured tanks and weapons straight into the camps of their Boko Haram “brothers” to join in the insurgency against their own nation. Court Martials took place. Emboldened by the support it was getting from all sections of the Northern society, Boko Haram abandoned guerrilla tactics and started accumulating territories, like their international paymasters, the Al Qaeda, Taliban and the Islamic State.
The conspiracy against our efforts to defeat Boko Haram had international dimensions, as fellow Nigerians colluded with foreign countries to ensure that Nigeria could not procure the necessary arms to crush the insurgency. After many abortive efforts in the black market, Nigeria finally made a breakthrough when it turned to Russia. It was the weaponry that the Jonathan administration procured from Russia that was used to stage the six-week surge between February and March, 2015, which the Buhari regime subsequently took to the point where we now celebrate the conquest of Sambisa Forest.
As Commander-in-Chief, Buhari enjoyed a better atmosphere to fight the insurgents. The populace in the North and the North East in particular, became far more cooperative. The internal sabotages disappeared, and those who had alleged that the war on terror was a war against the North now started seeing it differently. Clearly, if the atmosphere that held sway under Jonathan had continued, no magic could have been performed to turn the situation around.
The lesson from this overview is simple. When we politicise issues of crucial national interest involving the lives and property of our fellow countrymen, we harm and render ourselves vulnerable and weak. But when we close ranks there is no problem we cannot surmount.
We must, however, bear in mind that the capture of Sambisa Forest is not the same as the crushing of Boko Haram. President Buhari used the wrong words in his “victory” statement. The Army’s spokesman, Col. Usma Kukasheka, put it more realistically when he said though “Camp Zero” had fallen, the troops were still fighting to capture “Point Zero”, where, probably, we might locate and rescue the Chibok Girls (or at least, know their fate and whereabouts) and apprehend Abubakar Shekau and Al Barnawi, the terrorist kingpins. Without these two elements being sorted out, there is nothing like “victory”. Buhari himself said so in his maiden broadcast after sworn-in last year.
I am, however, greatly gratified that the terrorists have been flushed from Sambisa Forest. It is a milestone achievement, and we must celebrate it. It is probably a crucial turning point in our war against terror; a welcome relief for the people of the North East, especially Borno State, which has borne the heavy brunt of it all.
Now, the internally-displaced persons, IDPs, can look forward to returning to their native lands. We can now plan how to help them live vigilantly in their communities, working with the armed forces and security agencies to ensure we keep the enemies at bay.
Governor Kashim Shetima of Borno State, who has been bursting at the seams to rebuild his state, can now launch his ambitious and visionary plans. It is a welcome New Year gift for 2017.