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The next phase

By Bisi Lawrence

We can now all admit that we are at war. The proclamation that slapped a state of emergency on three States—Yobe, Adamawa and Bornu—a while back would seem to suggest as much, especially from the launching of all-out hostilities in certain areas of that 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 warfare.

Burati, Chief of Army Staff
Burati, Chief of Army Staff

Others described it as “insurgency”, which is also a variant of the same. But call it what you may, whenever a group takes up arms 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 seemed 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 former Senate President, David Mark, could not once help blurting out: “This is war!” His distinguished audience mostly pretended not to appreciate the gravity of his words. The situation was glossed over as an inadvertent development and that tone was laid to rest. Not many other instances of allowing the truth to show its naked face was permitted 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 harrowing destructions of lives. And then each episode would be properly rounded off by “condemnations” of the “dastardly” acts whose “perpetrators” would be “fished out and made to face the full 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 ever come out second best.

Some would have made the the former President, Goodluck Jonathan, sue for peace under the ruse of a “dialogue”, but throughout the strife this nation had to face, and despite the low marks he was 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 even 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 ex-President bore that humiliation just as he shrugged off the insult of the demand that he should change his religion. Some of us were left wondering 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 would have felt so civilized, or urbanized, or patient, or decent, or whatever it is that makes them advocate a mild approach to such an urgent situation, had they lost any of their sons to a sudden, senseless murderous attack from nowhere; or witnessed the anguish of a grief-stricken daughter at the vicious hands of a rapist; or heard the stifled cry of a child in the last throes of strangulation. This is what happens during the “insurrections” and “terrorist” attacks. 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 among our foreign friends whose first reaction about the present situation in Nigeria was 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. Indeed, it is so easy to issue such hollow warnings about propriety in a war situation in which one is not involved.

Until the ISIL marauders came calling a week ago in Paris, France too did not actually call it “war”. But on Friday, the 13th of this month President Francois Hollande vowed to inflict a merciless reprisal on the ruthless perpetrators of the evil that made Paris stand still. That day, a Friday that falls on the 13th of any month is usually associated with horrible, tragic events— like the day Murtala Mohammed was cut down.

Hollande probably knows nothing about all that, but it is remarkable that Nigeria’s assistance has been solicited in the forthcoming war against terrorists. It is also noteworthy that Nigeria made an identical request when the Chibok girls were abducted, and Jonathan went to Paris for a meeting with Hollande. It is worth mentioning that nothing seems to have come out of that meeting.

It is also remarkable that Nigeria has also been named as one of the countries that cold offer France some help in these troublous times. The principal terrorist group, ISIL, now seems to make a routine exercise of attacking France in urban areas, notably Paris. And President Francois Hollande has also announced, “This is war!”

The United States of America had come to that realization painfully with 7/11. Iraq had been painfully made aware of how the Americans respond to anything that touches their welfare like war. That open confrontation full of reprisals, however, is what has been absent in the war against ISIL. The US has refrained from subscribing to the extent of “boots on the ground”, depending on air strikes that have amounted to very little effect. President Barrack Obama has been able to resist all attempts to commit. American lives to a war in Asia. History is on his side. But he has shown no great anxiety about releasing the prisoners captured after the Iraq invasion—another sensible decision in a time of war.

That is why one was uncomfortable at the reported release of some imprisoned members of the Boko Haram some time ago. 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.

We are really at war. Not only us, but the whole of Europe as well, as ISIL has made everyone to realize that the idea of “degrading and destroying” may be tenable only in an hypothetical format. War against terrorism has to be total.

The Joint Military 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 this campaign started did many of us even realise that the Boko Haram had even territorialize a part of Nigeria as an enclave for itself where its offensive foreign flag had been implanted on Nigerian soil.

This is war and again we state that 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? And 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 cannot yet openly declare that we are really winning. Not when we leave the door of initiative open to the opponents. The next phase now must be to join in the international move to pursue and rout the terrorists from our vicinity.

Time out.

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