By Gambo Dori
THIS is the question nagging the minds of many in the north-eastern parts of the country. Readers may recall that there were sighs of relief all round in 2017 when the nation was told by the Security Chiefs that Boko Haram had been defeated. We had celebrated and applauded our gallant Nigerian Armed Forces for that feat. It was an event worthy of celebration because the whole nation, not only the north-east, had lived under the yoke of the fear of bombs for a number of years thence. Even in the epicentre of the crisis, Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States, who had borne most of the calamities caused by these rampaging and misguided terrorists, life was gradually returning to normal.
I recall driving from Abuja to Maiduguri in July last year and posting my impressions on this page about Damaturu, the capital of Yobe State, where I was pleasantly surprised to find that those military check-points that used to intimidate and waste valuable travel time have all disappeared. I found a town at peace with itself wallowing in the pleasure of its new found freedom, the people confidently going about their businesses in the markets and offices as if the years of Boko Haram onslaught were just another bad dream.
After the armed forces had completed their operations, the Governor, Ibrahim Geidam, I could see, had worked hard to bring quick normality to the state. Damaturu had been emptied of the presence of Internally Displaced Persons, IDPS, and evidence of public constructions works were everywhere mostly to recover from the destruction caused by the Boko Haram rampages. There were plenty of construction works completed and ongoing, from housing estates to roads, schools and clinics. I even stopped to inspect the new University Teaching Housing Hospital the State Government had built and equipped for the Yobe State University, a feat only a few states had accomplished.
Then suicide bombings started in the outskirts of Maiduguri principally at Muna garage, the outlet to Dikwa and the border town of Gamboru Ngala, then at Dalori the vicinity of Maiduguri University, and the outlet to Bama, a spot where the largest number of IDPs are camped. The other outlet from Maiduguri leading to Damboa and Biu was not spared either. Suicide bombers had targeted mosques and other soft targets around the Molai settlement and the Bakassi IDPs camp. As the incidences of bombings continued and became worrisome, the narrative changed. Defeat became degradation. We were then told that: ‘Boko Haram has been degraded. They hold no territory.’
Yet, throughout last year the marauding terrorists have continued to inflict mayhem and fear – particularly fear – on a significant swathe of the country. But many have seen this resurgence of Boko Haram insurgency coming. Having no territory meant the fighters would easily retreat and fade into the vast terrain of this region and come out to cause mayhem whenever it pleased them. And they would have no compunctions to inflict the maximum damage whenever they find the opportunity. They share the same needs with all bandits of their ilk – money, food and women – and they will come for them whenever we blink on our guards, as they are ever watchful.
The stealthy and lightning recent attack on the girls’ school in Dapchi is a pointer to the capacity of how these ragtag terrorists can inflict heinous damage on towns and villages that are so far-flung that protecting them is a major nightmare for the authorities. When the terrorists recently attacked an Army post at Mainok, about 70 kms on the Damaturu- Maiduguri highway, it seemed that they were only testing their capacity to hit at targets away from their Sambisa and northern Borno battlegrounds.
Dapchi, known to be a junction town, from where, at a major intersection, roads forked out to Geidam and Yunusari local governments and the other lead to Gashua and Nguru. The peace in Dapchi was rudely disturbed that Monday just before the evening Maghrib prayers when the terrorists descended on the town in an openly brazen manner driving through the town in a convoy of vehicles. Reports after the event said that the terrorists were unchallenged whence they operated in the town for hours carting away food and other commodities.
Perhaps, what drew the most media attention was the abduction of over 100 girls from the Government Girls Science Technical College, Dapchi, in a manner that was reminiscent of the Chibok school girls’ abduction in 2014, an event that attracted the attention of world leaders. Yobe State itself had suffered massacres of students in Potiskum and Buni Yadi at the height of the Boko Haram murderous campaigns but this abduction of 100 students is probably the tipping point. It is a pity that that the army post that provided some form of security to the town was moved away without a replacement, allowing a vacuum for the terrorists to wreak havoc on the community. The reaction of both the Federal and the Yobe State governments must be commended so far for the prompt empathy shown to the community. Of course, the hostile reaction by parents to government officials who came visiting them at Geidam is understandable. The parents were still pained by the loss of their daughters and would not appreciate any entreaties. Be that as it may, we expect the government agencies on the ground, the armed forces and other security agencies to put their heads together, find these girls and return them safely to their parents without delay.
I would share with readers a few observations that have come out of this ongoing saga. It is obvious that there is need to fine tune the level of coordination between the high commands of security forces sent to states for operations and the Governors who are the putative holders of security levers in the state. The brutal fact is that the Governors have no troops even if they are said to be the Chief Security Officers in their States. Yet, there is absolute necessity to have them informed when troops are being moved from place to place. One of the saddest pieces of information that came to light was that troops at a post in Dapchi were moved away without the knowledge of the State Governor just before the terrorists struck.
The other matter has to do with the level of security in public schools especially in those areas prone to terrorists’ attacks. As a result of the fallout from the Chibok girls’ abduction, a lot of initiatives were began to make the endangered schools more secure. Gordon Brown, a former British Prime Minister, and then United Nations Special Envoy for Education came to Nigeria to launch a ‘Safe Schools Initiative’ in response to the growing attacks on the rights to education. Money was raised by international donors to be spent on a pilot scheme targeting at least 500 schools in the Northern States. What I found most uplifting was the focus of the initiative, ‘to build community security groups to promote safe zones for education, consisting of teachers, parents, police, community leaders and young people themselves’. Unfortunately, the initiative got stalled at the tail end of the last Federal Government. This government, in its wisdom then decided to subsume the initiative into the larger General Danjuma’s Federal Initiative for the North-East. We probably need to revisit the earlier initiative as a means of getting rid of the menace of these terrorists from our schools? Or what do you think? Let us continue the discussion on this page next week.