By Gambo Dori
THE fight against Boko Haram has seemingly reached an impasse. After 10 years of fighting against what we all thought was a ragtag group of misguided religious hooligans, we have probably reached the lowest point now. All the gains of 2015/16 that we all hailed are being obliterated before our very eyes. The insurgents have sprung up in the bushes and the highways killing and maiming citizens whether as residents of villages or hapless commuters on the roads. They have also added kidnapping for ransom to the very long list of their atrocities, cherry-picking those victims that would attract the largest amounts as well as the best attention by the world media.
In Borno State the towns and villages have become dotted islands in the landscape, disjointed and isolated from each other, that might only be reached safely by air as the case of Maiduguri or Bama, Gwoza and Damboa that you could only reach safely if you are led by a military convoy. Most of northern Borno, which is really the bulk of the state, has been emptied. Many of those that can run have gone away. My mother’s village Magumeri, a short run from Maiduguri, up north, had defied the insurgents but a blistering attack by the terrorists last year left it comatose. Many of the citizens have now moved away.
A former Borno State governor whose roots are in Baga recently told me that he had not been able to go home since the fight intensified around the Lake Chad. In fact, at a time, the Amir of the insurgents had commandeered his house as a booty and forcibly occupied it. In the last two or so years, the resurgence of the insurgency had slowly built up, hitting soft targets here and there, and crowning their nefarious efforts with a blitz to take over major towns. Times and again they tried to penetrate Damaturu and Maiduguri. They were unsuccessful but they were able to cause lots of havoc to other major towns such as Baga, Kukawa, Gubio, Monguno, Gamborun-Ngala, Damasak and several others. In recent days their ability to cause major security irritation on the Damaturu-Maiduguri road had been a cause for concern as the highway is a major artery linking the rest of the country with Maiduguri.
This whole impasse is becoming scary to the people and worrisome to the governments of the affected North-East states. Perhaps the consequences are felt far more in Borno State than anywhere else. This is where the fight has been going longest forcing a large number of the population scurrying to IDP camps in Maiduguri or in other parts of the country. A big portion of the state cannot be governed. There is no possibility of farming taking place in those blighted areas and trading is only restricted to Maiduguri and the dotted towns and villages. The borders are closed and trading with neighbouring countries is stymied. There is a lot of frustration and dejection all over.
Maybe it is this anger and frustration that pushed Governor Zulum to altercate with the military at a checkpoint in Jimtilo outside Maiduguri – an altercation that had gone viral in the media and is quoted today as a defining moment in the people’s anger against the slow-footed fight against the insurgency. However, it is heartening to find that our representatives in the National Assembly are not caught napping whenever the debate on insecurity is on. I doff my hat to Rep Usman Zannah who made a very passionate contribution to the debate, recently, expressing frustration that we are not taking the fight to the terrorists as we should. Very much on the ground in the political arena in the state, Zannah was a commissioner before winning a seat in the House of Representatives. Here is what he said: “Mr Speaker, I am Usman Zanna representing the people of Kaga, Gubio and Magumeri Federal Constituency. I am from Borno State.
“Mr. Speaker if you recall, about three or four months ago when the security situation deteriorated in Borno State you called all of us, the Borno representatives, to meet with all the service chiefs. When they sent representatives you declined and rejected them. The next day, when they came, we talked about equipment, we talked about synergy, we talked about other logistics that the military required to fight the insurgents.
“Actually Mr. Speaker the situation has now deteriorated to the extent that as my other colleague from Yola is saying, our constituencies are abusing us that we are not doing anything regarding the security situation in the states, particularly the Maiduguri-Damaturu highway. If you leave Damaturu you have to pass through my constituency-Kaga, before passing to Maiduguri. And that is where the Boko Haram are abducting people, that is where the Boko Haram are killing people.
“We talked severally to the military and realised that the synergy is not there. Let me tell you the fact, that it is not there. Because the Directorate of State Security Services will provide all the necessary intelligence report to the military, but the military will not use it. The synergy that we discussed about in that meeting is not there. Because if there is an attack now in a particular place, in a particular location, the military will be informed, the air force will be informed. If you inform the air force, the air force will not take any action because the military did not inform them; when they inform them maybe it is late.
“So, Mr. speaker, we have to do something regarding the Maiduguri-Damaturu highway. We have to commend the Governor; very recently he has set up the rapid response squad team, comprising of the police, the SARS team and the other para military organisations to man the Maiduguri-Damaturu highway, and they have succeeded. Mr Speaker we have to change tactics, because the military cannot just sit-down, dig a hole – trench, sit down and be waiting for the Boko Haram.
“We are tired of this ‘repel-repel-repel’. Actually we have to commend the military in some instance. About two days ago, the Boko Haram attacked Damasak in northern Borno, and many of them were killed but the attack was repelled. For how long can we be hearing this word ‘repel-repel-repel’. So we have to have a change of tactics. We have to go for technology, we have to use the drone, we have to use several other means to combat this insurgency.
“So, Mr. Speaker, when the Chadian troops withdrew from the Multinational Joint Task Force recently, most of our people panicked. Why did they panic? Because if you see a Chadian troop, if you see their vehicle, you can find 20 RPGs in one pickup van; but go to our military,… how many RPGs will you have in a military vehicle? Maybe two or three. How can you fight Boko Haram with two or three RPGs in a military formation with only outdated and old AK 47? You cannot fight them!
“So, Mr. Speaker, I think the military has to change the tactics. They have to change the tactics, and Mr. President has to be told. Mr. President has to do this for us, since the National Security Adviser (General Monguno) is from Borno. He is from the same Monguno along with our Chief Whip (Mohammed Monguno). So we have to wake them from their slumber to defeat this insurgency. I rest my case Mr. Speaker.”
We will continue the conversation next week featuring more contributors to the debate. Keep a date with this page.