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Boko Haram Vs The Nigerian State: Terror war on crutches

*Understanding the resurgence of insurgents

By Jide Ajani

The shameful incongruity between the claim that Boko Haram has been substantially degraded, and the sudden upsurge in terror attacks should be of remorseful concern to the Federal Government of Nigeria.   In the last six weeks, members of Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, which in English means “people committed to the propagation of the Prophet’s teachings and jihad”, have launched over a dozen attacks, leading to incalculable loss of lives.

Yet, in this latest wave of attacks, the government, again, like its predecessor, chose to toe the path of deception which continues to place the expected outcome of the war on terror more in the realm of hope, than expectation.

For instance, when the fundamentalist criminals ambushed geologists, staff of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, and senior staff and other members of the University of Maiduguri, UNIMAID, killing, in the process, not a few and abducting three, the first response of the military authorities was that everyone had been rescued, just as it played down the number of casualties. The military then had to wait until days after, when Boko Haram Terrorists, BHTs, released a video of the three people it abducted during the ambush, to recant – with an apology for the misinformation. This would not be the first time.

As it was in April 2014, so it happened again in July, 2017

Indeed, and under the different circumstance of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, then President and Commander-in-Chief, some girls of Government Secondary School, Chibok, in Chibok Local Government Area of Borno State, were forcibly taken away from their hostels.   When the reports first hit the airwaves, it was difficult to believe that over 200 students could just be abducted from a school.   Perhaps, worse was the first reaction of the military authorities, which claimed that it had rescued all the abducted students.   As if that was not enough, the ruling party at that time, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, took insensitive folly to a new height, as it chose to believe that there was no kidnap episode, just as it blamed the opposition for propagandising on the matter. And during a live telecast of the Presidential Media Chat where Sunday Vanguard was represented, President Jonathan, in early May, 2014, just about three weeks after the abduction, told a bewildered nation that no one knew the whereabouts of the students.

And whereas the Jonathan administration behaved in a most incompetent manner regarding its response to the wickedly embarrassing development, other things were to follow which suggested that politicians and a section of the leadership of the North tended to prefer to use the kidnap crisis as a tool of destabilisation rather than helping the hapless parents in the process of getting the students back.

As if this cocktail of afflictions was not enough, some senior military officers began to feed fat on this sad situation.   The revelations coming out of the probe of immediate past service chiefs suggest that whereas officers and men were being sent to the war front to do battle against terrorists, they were being sent to their deaths as most of the equipment they were handed were at best unfit for the fight at hand or were outrightly unserviceable.   And the amount of money sliced off or embezzled were in billions.   Lives were also needlessly lost.

But by far the most debilitating of all was the seeming destructive insider tendencies that sold out officers and men to the terrorists.

How terrorists were emboldened

While he was not in power, President Buhari did not, going by his political stature and voice of conviction, openly and vigourously condemn, in the strongest terms, the activities of members of the sect in the very early days.   But the members of the sect were to also go after him and almost eliminated him. By the same token, some prominent northern politicians who kept mute and sometimes celebrated, in a propaganda manner, the failings of the Jonathan government, the corollary of which were indirect celebration of the exploits of the group, behaved as though it was a problem only for that administration.   Meanwhile, terrorism knows no tribe, religion or political party.

Worse, there are reports of how some Nigerians allegedly sponsored a report to the State Department in America, campaigning against an FTO (Foreign Terror Organisation) status for Boko Haram.   Some 25 American scholars were reportedly hired and they wrote to Hillary Clinton, then Secretary of State, just as one Johnnie Carson, an American Under Secretary of State for African Affairs, argued before a congressional committee along the same lines.   While some Nigerians saw the danger ahead, and pressed for an FTO status, even the Jonathan administration and some undiscerning Nigerians argued against such a status for Boko Haram.   All these allowed the group to gain ground.   That was not all.

These same hidden sympathizers of Boko Haram were the people who travelled abroad, allegedly working hands in gloves with fifth columnists within the military, got some edited video clips of real life combat between Nigeria’s gallant military men and Boko Haram criminals but deceived western nations that the military was on a genocide campaign.   It was this convoluted reversal of context that Amnesty International, AI, still partly employs today to justify its report about military’s human rights abuses.

Yes, there may have been acts of rascality and overzealousness verging on the murderous by some officers, but using the instrumentality of AI’s report to further damage Nigeria’s military institution, opened innocent military men to public scorn, an act which dampened morale.

Those who ignorantly thought the problem was for the Jonathan administration alone are the same ones now making lame excuses for why the BHTs have gone gaga.   But this appears just to be the beginning except some urgent steps are taken.

The US Department of State recently told the world that “much of the reported progress (of the Nigerian military) is merely duplication of failed efforts carried over from the end of last dry season fighting.   The Nigerian military is unable to hold and build civilian structures in those areas it had cleared”.

The Department also said weaknesses identified included but could not have been limited to a lack of coordination among intelligence agencies, no investigation into cases of terrorism financing nor charges brought against individuals.

The US government’s assertion is contained in the United States country report on terrorism for the year 2016 submitted to the US Congress in compliance with Title 22 of the US Code. The report, published on July 19, highlighted the successes and failings of the Nigerian Army in the fight against Boko Haram terrorists. It indicated that the Federal Government’s progress report on the fight against terror was merely a duplication of failed efforts carried over from the end of last year’s fighting season. According to the report, the Nigerian government has not been able to rebuild civilian structures and institutions in areas captured, just as it has not been able to rescue the remaining Chibok schoolgirls abducted in 2014.

“Most of the remaining students abducted by Boko Haram in Chibok remained in captivity, although one girl was found in Borno, and the government of Nigeria successfully negotiated the release of 21 of the kidnapping victims.”   Now, because the report is based on events of 2016, it did not reflect the release of the over 80 girls earlier in the year. This is depressing.

The conflict within the war

Sunday Vanguard learnt that sometime in December 2013, top military commanders were getting worried that officers and men were being lost to the terrorists not on account of face-to-face combat but due to acts of sabotage occasioned by serial ambush of military convoys.

However, matters began to get to a head with the targeting and killing of a Colonel in his tank in a convoy of many tanks and trucks.   Also, the killing of Major Fambiya marked another very sour point. At that time, the worry was about insider dealings. Today it is about informants.

Defence spokesman, Major General John Enenche, issued a statement, where the Defence Headquarters appealed to the general public and the people in the areas affected directly by the negative acts of terrorism and criminality, to come forward with credible information that would further assist the security and response agencies to tackle the menace of terrorism. It is necessary to point out some of key information required, which, he said, included terrorists sleeper cell locations terrorists, terrorists concentration areas and outpost locations, collaborators and informants to the terrorists. To be fair, a country that had been run for 16 years and has just been handed over to a new political party would need some time to adjust and come to terms with the challenges of governance. This was made worse when the country was almost run aground because of the sheer insensitivity, incompetence, lack of capacity and, in some more bizarre instances, the employment of vindictiveness as a directive principle of administrative policy, a policy the last administration deployed to subconsciously alienate itself.

According to one of the friends of a Colonel who was ambushed by Boko Haram and killed, the operation the latter oversaw was a top secret operation.   The source said, “As they advanced in a convoy of trucks and tanks, barely 10kilometres from base, they were ambushed.   You would not believe that the terrorists directed their Rocket Propelled Grenades, RPGs, at the tank in which the Colonel was riding.   Our officers and men attempted to repel the terrorists but these terrorists came prepared.   Now, to demonstrate that they had fore-knowledge of the operation and they knew where their target was, there were dozens of them. While the battle raged, they just concentrated on the Colonel’s tank.   They burnt him alive before fleeing into the forest and hillside”.

The Colonel’s death caused real anguish for the military leadership.

The source then asked somewhat rhetorically: “Do you know what it means to be burnt alive in a tank”?

You may never know.   And apart from the irreplaceable human life, it does not come cheap to train an individual to the level of a Colonel.

Major Timothy Fambiya’s story is known to military commanders because the operation in which he took part in was both strategic and very sensitive.   Fambiya is a native of Gwoza in Yobe State.   He is a Christian.   Intel extracted from and some made available by detained members of Boko Haram suggested that their leader, Abubakar Shekau, was hiding somewhere around the hills in Gwoza.   Top military commanders brain-stormed and after hours of thinking out how to approach the battle, an action plan was hatched. But because of the hilly nature of some parts of Gwoza and the need to be very dexterous in prosecuting the operation, someone with a good knowledge of the would-be area of operation needed to be part of or lead the operation.

Enter Major Fambiya – he was on a course at Nigeria’s Command and Staff College, Jaji, in far away Kaduna. Words got to him that Shekau may be hiding around the hills of Gwoza but the top commanders were hamstrung in proceeding.   This was in July, 2014.

“That was how Fambiya came into the picture”, a source with knowledge of what happened told Sunday Vanguard in 2015.   “Because he was very familiar with the topography of this town, he volunteered to be part of the operation. The idea was to capture Shekau alive.   Unfortunately, as in some of our operations, we believe some people from within, even among the officer corps, may have leaked the information to the terrorists”, the source said.

Mind you, it was from this battle that the story of Shekau’s killing filtered out.   There were conflicting reports that he was injured during the gun battle and that he died but was quickly buried.   Other reports claimed that Shekau fled with gunshot injuries to neighbouring Cameroun.

Worse, Sunday Vanguard was made to understand that it was after this battle that Fambiya was shot in the head from behind.

A top military source lamented, “In Fambiya’s death, Nigeria lost one of her best Special Forces officer”.

The source charged that “we suspect that Major Fambiya may have been killed by one of his men because he was shot in the head from behind.   Though we have no concrete proof of that,   the incident raises the question as to how the terrorists have been able to infiltrate the military because of some people who seem to share their ideological slant”.

Indeed, Major-General Enenche may have had this sort of situation in mind when he issued his statement last month in the wake of the ambush of the NNPC staff.

Yet, again, on Monday, September 8, 2014, former President Olusegun Obasanjo almost lost one of his sons, Adeboye, a Lt-Col, to the insurgents.

The attack on his platoon in Baza, near Michika, in Adamawa State, followed the same pattern of an insider-assisted information flow to the terrorists.

The officers and men of the Nigerian Army were not even in Michika yet – that was the town they wanted to go and liberate before they were ambushed by the terrorists.

But the manner in which the terrorists ambushed and opened fire on the troops had all the signposts of advance intelligence, that the troops were coming. At the time of the incident which took place at Baza,   Major Gen J.S. Zaruwa, Colonel Victor Ebhaleme, who served as the Brigade Commander of the 23rd Army Brigade, in Yola, and Lieutenant Agwu, were all together advancing towards Michika when Boko Haram fighters ambushed them and unleashed the deadly attack on the soldiers.   Adeboye Obasanjo was shot in the leg.   Many other officers were shot. Some officers and men died during that battle while others died in hospital.

Reason for the upsurge

Negotiation with the BHTs, which some people had long called for, while leading to the release of some of the abducted Chibok school girls, has caused the death of many in the last six weeks. So far, it appears to have been counter-productive.   Some of those released by government, in exchange for the kidnapped girls, immediately came out to taunt government in a publicised video.   There are unconfirmed reports that some of Boko Haram’s bomb makers were among those released in exchange for the girls.   And whereas the federal government pooh-poohed a report that suggested that money was also paid to the BHTs, the renewed wave of attacks by the terror group suggests the contrary.   And it thus appears that whatever had been given to Boko Haram is now being deployed to fight the same government again.

Interestingly, it was members of this same terror group that some people described as freedom fighters some time ago.

They still occupy Amadam and Mate in Borno State.

Part of the strategy of Boko Haram appears to be the stretching the human resource of the military by popping up and attacking soft targets in different parts of Borno State.   In the last six weeks, apart from Borno, it also struck in Adamawa.

Just last week again, it struck in Konduga, on a day the military had concluded plans to launch a massive offensive.

So, the question is, what is reason for the sudden resurgence of Boko Haram, when several months ago President Buhari declared that his administration had successfully defeated Boko Haram?

Part of what should give the military concern is that whereas it had issued statements that it had eliminated Shekau, one of the reasons it gave for the penultimate weekend’s incident with the United Nations was that it had information regarding Shekau in that UN facility.   Such open inconsistency relates to integrity deficit, which, in turn, affects morale of officers and men.

However, after all said and done, there is a general consensus that the military has degraded the capabilities of Boko Haram terrorists.



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