By Ochereome Nnanna
OVER the past weekend, the Nigerian Army announced it had “completely defeated” Boko Haram, the Islamist insurgents wracking the North East, especially Borno State. Did I hear you say “again?” That was exactly what fell out of my mouth when the Theatre Commander of Operation Lafia Dole, Major General Rogers Nicholas, surrounded by his troops, made this announcement that ought to set off celebrations throughout Nigeria.
Before I go on, let me reflect briefly on the way an elated Governor of Borno State, His Excellency Kashim Shettima, put it at a Townhall he held for the military and security agencies at the Government House, Maiduguri. He declared: “Interestingly, these accomplishments were made possible by an Igbo from Mbaise, Imo State. The Operation Lafia Dole has been able to penetrate all corners of Sambisa Forest and chased Boko Haram away.”
Ordinarily, it should not matter where the leader of the “final” onslaught against the fiendish agents of darkness comes from. The Boko Haram war, like all wars that nations fight to keep their citizens safe, is a collective effort of all patriotic Nigerians. That an Igbo man from Mbaise led its finale should be non sequitur. After all, other heroic commanders and troops from other ethnic backgrounds took the campaign to the point where General Nicholas and his men/women delivered the “final” stroke. We cannot forget the supreme sacrifices of great warriors like Col. Abu Ali from Kogi State, whose death in action in November 2016 brought tears to millions of eyes.
But I understand what Governor Shettima intended by his reference to “an Igbo from Mbaise, Imo State”. The “Governor General” of Northern Nigeria wanted to stress the point I made above, which is that there ought not to be anything ethnic or political about the war against Boko Haram. Perhaps, he wanted to remind the so-called Arewa Youths who issued the Igbo a “quit notice” during the pro-Biafra rallies six months ago, that it was someone from among the Igbo that led to the “end” of the terrorists who have been killing their kinsmen and destabilising the North. He obviously made the point to promote brotherhood among Nigerians.
That being said, we must admit that all of us have been grossly irresponsible with this Boko Haram mess. The politicians and religious leaders in Northern Nigeria, especially Borno State, created this monster through their marginalisation of the poor and lowly classes. They refused to educate the children of the poor. They chose instead to keep them in darkness. Forces of darkness used religion to capture their minds and use them to destroy the little progress already made.
When the Boko Haram war started, our collective irresponsibility went through the roof. Some Nigerians adopted the attitude of “let them kill themselves, na dem-dem”. Sadly, this unfeeling attitude was reflected at the highest level of governance. That allowed the insurgency to spread to the point where the Chibok Girls were abducted in April 2014. Some Northern leaders hungry for power by all means worsened matters. They at first denied Boko Haram existed, warning that the anti-terror military campaign (then ably led by General Azubuike Ihejirika) was “a declaration of war against the North”.
But when they finally admitted the reality of Boko Haram, they promised to flush them out within six months if voted into power. When they realised their dream in May 2015, they took on Boko Haram frontally. But rather than wilt, Boko Haram killings intensified. In spite of the rising body count the Minister of Information, Mr. Lai Mohammed, declared them “technically defeated” in December 2015. The APC Federal Government gave “defeat” a new meaning. It no longer meant the total annihilation of a military threat. It became a child that dies and reincarnates or ogbanje”. “Defeat” was brutally bastardised at the altar of cheap propaganda.
The Federal Government, the Army and the Borno State Government stubbornly maintained that Boko Haram “no longer occupied any territory in Nigeria”. I wondered aloud whether the insurgents now lived in the air from where they continued their attacks. Since then, in addition to the Chibok Girls, the terrorists also ambushed and abducted three members of an NNPC oil exploration team near Gaidam, Yobe State in July last year.
Something still puzzles me. In December 2016, the Army announced it had defeated Boko Haram at their “Camp Zero” base in Sambisa Forest. Their flag was brought to Aso Rock for President Muhammadu Buhari to admire. Now, we are being told that Boko Haram has been flushed out of their “Camp Zairo” base! I thought they did not occupy any territory? Did they flee “Camp Zero” to set up “Camp Zairo”? if so, how can that amount to a defeat? Or, are “Camp Zero” and “Camp Zairo” one and the same thing? If so, we’ve been lied to again!
I will not yet rejoice at this “complete defeat” of Boko Haram until the remaining Chibok Girls and the oil workers are brought home or accounted for. I will not yet rejoice until the leaders of the insurgency, especially Abubakar Shekau, are killed, captured alive or their bodies or whereabouts accounted for. I will not rejoice until the killing of innocent Nigerians stops and the displaced persons return to their devastated communities to live happily ever after. I will not rejoice until the effort to rebuild Borno and North East can proceed uninterrupted.
The war that destroyed Syria will change Europe forever because of the surge of migrants. The fall of Muammar Gaddafi of Libya helped Boko Haram because of the flow of sophisticated arms and influx of hardened foreign fighters. In that case, we should stop calling the Boko Haram insurgency a “dem-dem” affair. Yoruba would say: ti wan-ti wa. It is ours.
As for the “complete defeat” of Boko Haram, I withhold my celebration, for now.