By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo
Dapchi does not call for finger pointing and trading of blames. Dapchi demands clear eyed sober reflection. Dapchi is an unspeakable calamity. One hundred and ten teenage girls snatched from their school by Boko Haram vultures. The nation, four years after Chibok, has failed disastrously to protect children in a school. It’s truly a national disgrace. But we must understand the precariousness of our situation. And we must channel our anger and grief into rescuing the girls and into exterminating the scourge.
The odds are stacked against us. The girl child is very vulnerable in our society. Dapchi makes the girl child in northeastern Nigeria especially endangered. Girl child enrollment figures in the north are abysmal. The abduction of girls and their use as pawns would only complicate a terrible situation exacerbate its generational consequences. The abductions must cease.
But with Boko Haram alive, technically defeated or terribly degraded, abductions may not go away soon. The insurgents have learnt through Chibok that any mass abduction of girls can be very lucrative. It disseminates fear. It fetches them international publicity. It fetches them sex slaves. It fetches them tons of cash. It retrieves their captured commanders from the clutches of death in prison. It, literally, magically rejuvenates them. And once abducted, it’s always immoral to argue that ransom should not be paid to retrieve the children.
A cursory look at the two recent mass abduction incidents reveals that very little effort goes into these abductions. A few trucks, a few guns, one vulnerable school, some innocent girls, no shots fired. So it is not foreseeable that the terrorists can resist the allure of this stratagem. But the country cannot afford the loss and scarring of school children. It cannot stand further erosion of its dignity and international reputation. Neither can it afford the colossal damage to school enrollment figures. We cannot fail to guarantee the safety of girls in schools. Mass abductions of girls must be made prohibitive rather than lucrative. So what can be done?
The geographical width of the northeast is daunting. The military cannot protect every single school in that region. The military doesn’t have the manpower to hold the ground in every liberated village. And even if it tried to keep soldiers in every school, it would not be effective against a surprise attack by 200 vultures from Boko Haram. So it wouldn’t even matter that 5 soldiers or 20 policemen are posted to every boarding school.
So should boarding schools be closed in the northeast?
It would be difficult to offer qualitative education in a region of vast sparsely populated terrains without boarding schools. But we can’t have another abduction. Yes, we cant afford it. Yet we cannot afford to close the boarding schools without furthering the aims of a murderous sect that is committed to the eradication of western education. We cannot hide the girls under their fathers’ beds in their homes.
So what must we do?
We must quieten Boko Haram. But that’s easier said than done. We beat them 100 times, they strike one blow and they win. The odds are always stacked in favor of terrorists. We are particularly vulnerable. We have thousands of kilometers of very porous borders. With Mali and Libya awash with lawlessness and guns, the insurgents replenish with frightening ease. Our soldiers have done well. They have degraded the insurgency. But at some point we must seek a political solution. But we can only do that meaningfully against these insurgents after we have bled them into coma. Because we cannot meet their main demands of shared sovereignty.
So what must we do?
Our military has done very well since Buhari came. Our neighbors have given us tremendous support lately. We have decimated the enemy. But we have not managed to cut off the oxygen and food of the cancer. This enemy must be destroyed from within. We must infiltrate Boko Haram. But that is much easier said than done.
Most countries that have been afflicted with a religious insurgency of this strain have not managed to eradicate the scourge completely. But I am optimistic that we can. But we must try something unorthodox. We once hired South African mercenaries during the previous government. That raised eyebrows because that regime failed woefully to equip and motivate our own troops. But we have been fighting at probably our full capacity recently. And we thought the insurgency was in the throes of death. Unfortunately, with Dapchi , this war evidently has acquired a new intractability.
We cannot afford more mass abductions of girls. Neither can we afford to balloon the size of our military. We cannot continue to fund this war for much longer. The local tribes in the war areas have suffered too much. 20,000 dead. Thousands upon thousands maimed and fractured. Three million families dislocated and languishing in IDP camps. Home lands laid to waste and abandoned. The fertility and peace of the region consumed by fear, violence and hopelessness. This war must end, somehow, now.
The local tribes have given their youths in courageous militias that have helped the military. But they must do more now. They must find more anger and more desperation. They must stab the soul of the insurgency.
The youths must be taught that the destruction of Boko Haram isn’t just dignity and survival. It is the will of God. It is His command. It’s counter indoctrination as counter insurgency. God hates the destruction of women and children. God abhors mass rape of girls. God hates destruction of families. And perhaps God hates cowards.
So the local traditional rulers and religious leaders must find volunteers. We must announce that volunteers killed by Boko Haram are martyrs. We will take volunteers, train them , indoctrinate them and seed them into Boko Haram recruitment areas. They will serve Boko Haram its own medicine. They will die for their mothers, and sisters . They will die for the nation. They will fight for God. We will read out their names and bestow on them national honors. We will take care of their families. The communities in the affected areas must take their destiny in their hands.
Boko Haram must be destroyed from within.
Dapchi has called for inventiveness. Religion must be used against religion. Food sellers, market people, fishermen, transporters. Mosques, Imams , Emirs. The time for passivity is gone. We cannot leave the war to the military alone. Islam must be used to counter the insurgency. Everyone must be recruited into what the locals must perceive as a Jihad against the insurgency. A struggle for God, and for Islam. For freedom, and for peaceful religions.
That’s what Dapchi demands.