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President Buhari and the Northern Borno Conundrum

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By Abba Alli

If there is anything that bothers the president today, it is the case of northern Borno state where our troops are still battling remnants of Boko Haram terrorists. This area remains the sore point of the seemingly dwindling war against terrorists in the North-East region of Nigeria.

According to the words of Governor Babagana Zulum, when President Muhammadu Buhari visited the state earlier in the year, he expressed surprise that Nigerians have “so quickly forgotten the past, some have tried to compare the situation in Borno now with what it was prior to 29th May 2015, when all the major roads leading to Borno were closed except the Maiduguri-Kano road”.

He further said, “There were sporadic killings and attacks even here in Maiduguri metropolis. About 20 local governments areas of Borno State were displaced, but from May 2015, we have recovered most of the displaced local government areas. By the year 2016 and 2017, we have almost celebrated the demise of the Boko Haram insurgency”. This was reported earlier in the year by Premium Times.

I had to refer to the quote above as proof that adequate effort has been made on this Boko Haram issue and in fact, results have been achieved. We have moved away from daily attacks, daring assaults on barracks, endless roadblocks etc.

By then, most of the local governments that were hitherto under the control of the insurgents were liberated by the Nigerian Army. Before 2015, many states in the region were under constant attacks by the terrorist group. Adamawa, Borno, Yobe, Gombe and Bauchi States were major targets with the first three the epicentre of the violence.

However, some few years down the line Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe states have all been liberated from the activities of this terror group. This was as a result of hard work and dedication to the mission by the President and our great military. This did not happen by chance, though.

During his campaign days, President Buhari made clear his three major priorities; tackling insecurity, building the economy and fighting corruption. There is no doubt that top on that list is tackling insecurity and Mr President has shown his desire and commitment to succeed at that by his many actions.

His first foreign engagement upon assumption of office in 2015 was a visit to neighbouring Chad to discuss issues bothering on collaboration between both countries to tackle the menace of Boko Haram. Thereafter, he made one of the best decisions of his administration yet in my own opinion, which is the appointment of quality and tested officers as service chiefs of our Armed Forces.

That appointment will mark a turning point in the battle against insurgency. I was particularly impressed with the choice of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Lt Gen Tukur Yusuf Buratai, a  battle-tested soldier. He was already at the time head of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF). Perhaps the experience from heading that operation was what helped his smooth take over and immediate success recorded upon his assumption of office as COAS.

There is no doubt that his appointment was a game-changer. He got to work immediately, acting on the orders of Mr President to relocate the command and control headquarters of the war against insurgents to the Northeast region. He immediately relocated to Borno and within a few months, the results started coming in. The same troops that left their arms and ammunition and fled from Boko Haram returned back under a new dedicated and committed leadership to take on the terrorists.

The Nigerian Army fought back gallantly and decimated the insurgents hard across the entire region. By early 2017, the sect had suffered casualties aplenty. They lost all capacity to carry out coordinated attacks as they usually did.

I had to make all this narration so that those who may not have been following the events in the region keenly can understand where we were before now and where we are now without which we may not appreciate our current situation.

The war against insurgents, terrorists, separatist groups and others are not really your regular or conventional wars guided by any rules. While state actors like the Nigeria Army are bound by rules and international conventions, Boko Haram/ ISWAP do not operate under any rule and are not committed to anything. They are there for the destruction of humanity.

Unconventional wars like this can be quite complex and tough to handle. In most cases even when a solution is found, they have to be applied surgically. The case of Borno remains a serious worry to the President. He knows his government has done a lot to tackle the menace of terrorism in the area yet the rate of sabotage of success is high, especially in the Northern region of Borno.

Whilst other states and in fact many areas in Borno have been able to maintain the successes of the Army in defeating the terrorists, northern Borno remains an exception. What could be the reason for this continuous set back in this area?

What strategy did the military deploy in other areas and failed to put in place in the northern Borno area? Or what have people in other areas done that Northern Borno people didn’t do? These are critical questions we need to ask ourselves as a nation going forward. I do not have all the answers but I am sure if a round table is organized to discuss this, answers will come.

For instance, Biu in southern Borno State used to be one area where series of attacks took place a few years ago. Today, however, the area is quite safe. The civilian JTF ( a community vigilante group) is reputed to work closely with the Nigerian Army and other security forces. You can see the clear desire by the community elders and the youth to work together for the peace of their community. I hear they work and support the security forces very well. With this amount of cooperation perhaps we should not be surprised that the community is now very peaceful and economic activities have almost normalized there.

This cordiality of all stakeholders in that area cannot be undermined in the process of restoration of peace to the community. Part of the benefits of the return of peace is the establishment of the Nigerian Army University in Biu town. The world-class institution is a testament of President Buhari’s commitment to the total restoration of peace in the entire region. This university has bolstered economic activities in the area.

If you told a visitor to Bui town today that just a few years ago this was an epicentre for Boko Haram attacks in the area he may not believe you. That is the kind of success stories you get when communities are united for a common course.

That said, the issue of the northern part of Borno will have to be critically looked at by all stakeholders. The President seems to have done a lot to tackle the Boko Haram crisis across the North-East and there has been good success in my opinion. The little area remaining in the northern region of Borno, however, requires the collaboration of all stakeholders.

Whilst I do not want to be critical of any group now but it is important that stakeholders in Borno especially leaders of the northern part of the state come with open and sincere minds on how to end the terror of the insurgency in their area.

I have watched and read over the years the inconsistency of purpose of some elders of this area. In fact, there was a time some were even calling for the total withdrawal of soldiers from Borno State. I could not comprehend it. Is this to help the sect gain more ground? Similarly, when you hear some of the elders calling for the removal of service chiefs, I marvel at the logic. How do you change performers with results to show? Who does that? Exactly what could be the aim of those calling for that. These are some of the kind of calls by some elders in that area that cast some doubt on their sincerity to end this war soon.

Mr President has done a lot. I recall in one swoop a whopping $600m USD was expended on 12 super Tucanos fighter jets alone. That is aside from another military spending which is way higher than that. It is not easy on a nation that desperately needs cash for upgrading her basic infrastructure such as roads, rails, electricity, water etc. The nation needs funds to improve education, health, commerce etc. Yet President Buhari continues to devote huge resources to support the war against terrorist in the region. Mr President has tried, our military has also sacrificed a lot.

It is time to have all hands on deck to solve this issue. The elders of Borno will have to be a part of the solution. I am calling on the elders and indeed all stakeholders in the northern part of Borno to come together to resolve this issue once and for all. Quit the politics of distraction and give full support to the military and indeed the government to end this crisis once and for all.

No one will benefit from a peaceful Borno like the natives. Let’s all come together and agree on what needs to be done to finish off these terrorists. Military might alone may not solve this especially if the terrorists get any form of support from the local communities. It is now time to expose all saboteurs in this war and no one can do that better than the people in the northern part of Borno.

Alli is a forensic psychologist and wrote from Maiduguri.

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