By Rotimi Fasan
JUST days before Christmas, the Federal Government of Nigeria declared it has met its self-imposed December deadline for the overthrow of insurgent forces in Nigeria. At different forums both President Mohammadu Buhari and his Minister for Information, Lai Mohammed, claimed that Nigeria has won the war against Boko Haram. The capacity of the insurgent group to launch coordinated attacks against targets and overrun towns and villages has been drastically degraded. The group has been reduced to its pre-Jonathan administration days when it launched guerrilla attacks against soft targets. That the group now controls just two or three local governments in its stronghold of Borno State, down from when it was in effective control of about three states- that its capacity for terror has been largely cut down is, for both Buhari and Mohammed, enough evidence that the administration has fulfilled its promise to end insurgency and make Boko Haram a thing of the past.
At the best of times it is not unusual for governments to engage in occasional chest-thumping, congratulating themselves for real or perceived achievements. But these are unusual times when every claim of progress or victory in a particular area of governance by a sitting administration is often combed through and subjected to the most rigorous scrutiny. Nothing is left to chance. Where progress has been made, the government would make so much song and dance of it. But the opposition is quick to downplay its importance. And where such claim to achievement is exaggerated, the opposition wastes no time in pointing it out. Thus, the latest claim by the Buhari administration that it has overcome Boko Haram would no doubt be contested by many in the opposition camp. Indeed, some commentators have before now taken the government to task over what they saw as its attempt to renege on its earlier promise to Nigerians that Boko Haram would be defeated not later than December.
In August this year, Buhari gave the armed forces the marching order to end insurgency before the end of 2015. The target month was December. The military responded by relocating their operational base to the North-east and promised to meet the December deadline for the ouster of Boko Haram. It soon became obvious that much progress was being made on the battle field. But there were occasional dead patches in the prosecution of the North-east campaign even as it became evident that the insurgents were being driven out of their former strongholds. They could no longer fight and maintain their hold over areas they had taken over at the height of their power under the Goodluck Jonathan administration. It was only a matter of time before they would be routed completely. Or so Nigerians thought. But despite major strides recorded by the Nigerian armed forces in the fight against the extremist forces of Boko Haram, it was also clear that they would perhaps need more time beyond December before they could claim total victory over the group.
It was apparently in realisation of this that President Buhari a few weeks ago said that he would not resign, contrary to calls in certain quarters, in the event Boko Haram outlives the current onslaught from the Nigerian military beyond December. For critics of the APC-led administration, anything short of the December deadline is unacceptable. But where were these critics during the six long years Boko-Haram grew into today’s killer machine under the Goodluck Jonathan administration? With just two local governments under the control of the terror group and, perhaps to pre-empt any contrary claim by the opposition, the Buhari administration has deemed it fit to proclaim victory over Boko Haram even before 31st December which many might consider the latest date for the defeat of the terrorists.
Irrespective of what could be said to the contrary, the Buhari administration has to a large extent discharged its remit in its fight against Boko Haram. It has succeeded in pushing back the encroachment of the group and truly downgraded its capacity for large scale attacks. The administration has virtually ended the triumphalism that was the trademark of Boko Haram activities in their heydays under the Jonathan years. Gone are the frequent internet posts and arrogant footages of Abubakar Shekau promising very vicious attacks against Nigerian targets. For all we know, the outcast is probably running for his life or nursing some injury if not dead in whatever cave he used as base for his murderous activities. Whatever are the circumstances surrounding the activities of the terrorists, the coming of Buhari has been bad news for them. It has not been business as usual. The hand of this administration has in the last few months been very heavy upon Boko Haram. They can see they are up against a force greater than them.
Which is why we must be careful not to leave room for another upstart group such as the so-called Islamic Movement of Nigeria, aka the Shiites, to take over from where Boko Haram is leaving. The circumstances surrounding the bloody encounter and subsequent murder of members of this group, reportedly in their hundreds by personnel of the Nigerian Army, should be investigated and persons found guilty of misuse of force should be brought to book. This should be done without shying from insisting on the need for all, including members of the IMN, to abide by the common laws that bind members of the Nigerian society. Nobody should in the name of government, religion or some ethnic consideration operate outside the demands of the Nigerian constitution.
That said, the Buhari administration must not be deceived into thinking it has fully won the war against insurgency. The war is far from over- not until the likes of Shekau and their likely successors are completely put out of business, in prison or worse. There is absolutely no comfort to be derived from the claim of Mr. Lai Mohammad in his CHANNELS television interview that seems to be saying that Nigerians must live with the reality of guerrilla attacks long after the supposed defeat of the insurgents.
The last time any part of Nigeria was outside the control of the central authority was during the civil war. We cannot claim to be a sovereign people and country where some parts of the country are under the control of insurgent groups of terrorists. The two or three local governments still being controlled by Boko-Haram must be liberated and Boko Haram must be smoked out of Sambisa forest or whatever other hideouts they operate from before Nigerians can accept that Boko Haram has finally been defeated. Anything short of this cannot be acceptable. Nigeria cannot be free until we have decimated Boko Haram either as a group that operates as an organised fighting force, guerrilla or lone wolf suicide bombers.