Combating Boko Haram – By Brig. Gen. Idada-Ikponmwen
1. For me the discussion of Boko Haram (BH) should start from the historical perspective. Even though Brig. Gen. Idada-Ikponmwen, a very knowledgeable senior officer I hold in high esteem, has chew the heart of the subject, it is only when we come from the historical background that many remarks by the General will be appreciated. I therefore crave the indulgence of all Parliamentarians to be patience with me. Furthermore, the Gen.’s view was articulated essentially from strategic level. A complete analysis of Boko Haram will not be complete if we do not consider the tactical and the logistics perspective of the operation. It is my intension therefore, to request the Parliament to put these into perspective. For now, let’s have a cursory view of the historical perspective.
2. BH insurgency came to public awareness about 2009. The Sect can be traced to one of the Islamic fundamentalists in the North Eastern part of Nigeria who viewed western education as a ploy for Christian evangelism. It was headed by one Mohammed Marwa also known as Maitasine who was at the height of his notoriety in the 1970s and 80s. He refused to believe that Mohammed was a prophet and he instigated riots in the country which resulted to the death of thousands of people. In fact, the question of what is considered as ‘minimum force’ was raised during the board of inquiring that followed that operation because, support weapons like mortar bomb had to be used as a result of the heavy weaponry used by Maitasine. Many analysts see BH as an extension of the Maitasine sect of the 70s and 80s.
3. At the early stage, BH was said to have operated under the names Shabaah and Muslim Youth Organization under different leadership until one Mohammed Yusuf took over. He opened the group to political influence and popularity. Yusuf established a religious complex that included a school and mosque in Maiduguri in 2002 where many poor families enrolled their children. His main objective was said to be the establishment of sharia government in Borno State that was then under Senator Ali Modu Sheriff. The religious center recruited members from neighbouring Chad and Niger and spoke only Arabic. The complex was later relocated to the neighbouring Yobe State.
4. The group conducted its affairs more or less peacefully until the Federal Government launched an investigation into the group’s activities following reports that its members were arming themselves with weapons. Several members of the group were arrested in Bauchi and Mohammed Yusuf died while in Police custody. Many, especially members of the Sect believe that he was killed. After the death of Yusuf, a new leader with obscure identity at the time emerged. Thereafter the group became more vicious in its attacks on public institutions, markets, churches, mosques, schools etc. However, most of their operations were mainly in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States with occasional attacks in the other parts of the Northern States.
5. The Sect was said to initially rely on donations from members for its funding. However, many believe it has link with Al-Qeada in Islamic Magreb (AQIM) region which is an affiliate of the Al-Qeada – a global militant organization once formed and headed by the late Osama Bin Laden. BH’s link with AQIM is said to have opened it to more funding from groups in Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom (UK). It is also speculated that other sources of funding include the Al Muntada Trust Fund and Islamic World Society. Judging from the manner it has been able to sustain its operations, BH may have other sources of funding which is yet to be identified or disclosed.
6. As soon as Government confirmed that the Sect was arming in 2009, it launched investigation. Several members of the Sect were arrested in Bauchi leading to deadly clashes with the security forces in which many people died. As earlier remarked their one time leader died in Police custody. This further led to the escalation of the Sect’s activities. When it was realized that Government’s effort was not yielding the desire results, many people began to advice on a change of strategy. Government was encouraged to offer olive branch by way of offering amnesty (the magic wand that Government had used to end the militant activities in the Niger Delta region few months earlier) to the Sect. Those who were opposed to the granting of amnesty also argued that the two organizations were not the same. The Niger Delta militants were identifiable and their grievances well known to all.
The BH Sect was largely operating without identity and purpose except that they are known to oppose Western education. Government initially declined to accept the idea of negotiation but later agreed after much pressure from many leaders mostly from the Northern States. The Sect increased their attacks on innocent Nigerians even as Government was trying to exploit the non violent strategy of dialogue and amnesty. The President then declared a state of emergency in the three States of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe on 14th May, 2013 in a bid to stem its activities. The Joint Task Force (JTF) composed of military and police swung into operations. A curfew was imposed in Maiduguri the capital of Borno State as one of the measures to curtail the activities of the Sect. The JTF continued to gain success in its operations to dislodge the insurgents from their bases and hideouts. However, Abubakar Shekarau, the BH leader continued to release videos in which he claims successes and debunks JTF claims of success. In Maiduguri many youths organized themselves into a kind of vigilante groups locally called ‘Civilian JTF”. They cooperate with the security forces in identifying BH bases and hideouts for the JTF to launch their attacks. The JTF helped to reorganize the vigilante groups to ensure that their activities were streamlined and to focus on the main objective and discourage incidents of vendetta.
7. As Government was recording successes in its fight against BH, the Sect continued to spring occasional surprise attacks on soft targets such as schools, and other public places, even outside the North East including UN office in Abuja. When it became obvious that they were losing the war, the Sect changed their tactics and dealt a devastating blow on the Government and people of Nigeria on the night of 14-15 April, 2014, when its men went to Chibok Town in Borno State and abducted about 276 secondary school girls from their hotels and held them captives till today. This action has drawn the attention of the international community with vexation and condemnation. Over 100 groups of protesters from various nations of the world, including Nigeria have registered their indignation on the action of the BH.
8. Unfortunately, the reactions of Nigerians on this issue have not been that of unanimity. Many, especially the politicians politicized the issue and accused Government that it was handling the BH issue with kid-gloves. Others accused Government that it was not doing enough in its fight against BH and in its effort at getting the abducted girls released. In the midst of these, Government has sought and got the support and cooperation of some countries with advanced technology in its effort to release the girls. Prominent among these nations are: the USA, Britain, France and China. In view of the reactions of these countries especially the US and Britain, it is doubtful if the promises of these nations would go beyond mere pronouncement.
9. The elites in the North exhibited complacency and indifference initially to the BH problem believing that it was Government’s problem. The civil populace saw the issue as a military problem. Political opponents especially the opposition saw it as a situation they could exploit to gain political advantage therefore, every step taken by Government was unduly criticized. The military was heavily criticized each time they had reverses during the operation. Like Gen. Idada-Ikponmwen remarked, there was no cooperation between the civil and the military which is a critical success factor in fighting insurgency. For the same reason information gathering and intelligence which ought to flow from the civil populace was completely absent.
10. While concluding, I will like to say that the tactical and logistical factors of the operation against BH should naturally be the next issues for analysis.
BRIG. GEN. PATRICK EGHOSA ONAGHISE (rtd) psc(+), fwc, GSS, Msc, OON