Perhaps, the most cheering news to ever emanate from Nigeria and consoling is the official declaration of the eventual suppression and defeat of the Islamic insurgents which goes by the appellation Boko Haram (BH). The triumph over BH, rated as one of the world’s deadliest terror groups is acknowledged by the international community, including the United States.
The feat has been accomplished under the guiding nectar of President Muhammedu Buhari, as none of Nigeria’s 744 local governments is under the sovereignty of BH. Thus, the feeling of respite and liberation has descended on Nigerians.
Although, the presence of BH in Nigeria is traced back to 2002, but the Islamic extremists gained currency in the country in 2008, but were suppressed.
Thereafter, BH went into a long incubation, but resurrected again, in a more deadly fashion, under a new leader Abubakar Shekau. BH terrorists become soulless, recklessly visiting violence on Nigerians, especially in the Northeast. Attempts by federal authorities in Nigeria, to dialogue with the insurgents also failed, much as troops could hardly cope with their alleged superior fire power. And in 2014, BH professed links with other international terrorists groups, particularly, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). It rebranded itself with the name Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP).
In the last six years, BH atrocities in Nigeria, especially in Northern part of the country raised serious internal insecurity issues and international uproar by its proclivity to strike freely, killing and maiming, with destructions. The magnitude of BH destruction is so awfully immense.
However, the struggle by Nigerian military to combat the insurgents proved increasingly difficult, especially under former President Goodluck Jonathan for obvious reasons.
But Nigeria’s face of war against terror radically changed with the emergence of President Buhari. His first step was re-organization of the military, especially the Army by appointing a thorough and audacious soldier, Lt.Gen. Tukur Buratai, as Chief of Army Staff (COAS). Buhari also moved courageously to confront the deep-rooted corruption in the armed forces, which demoralized soldiers by keeping troops hungry and deprived of weaponry at the war front.
The President also ordered relocation of the military command structure to Borno, the epicenter of the insurgency for more effective co-ordination. The move amplified the operational capacity of the military against BH insurgency in the region.
Completely defeating terrorism anywhere in the World is an uphill or a near impossible task. America, with all its sophistry is still battling the vestiges of Al-Qaeda with networks around the world, for more than a decade now, though Osama Bin Laden, its principal leader is dead.
However, the new face of the BH war staged by Buhari gave the Nigerian military the fillip and a pride of identity for their country, which incensed them against the terrorists. External support to Nigeria for the battle against BH had taken place before Buhari came on board, with USA, Britain, France and others extending assistance under former President Jonathan. But BH waxed stronger.
Nonetheless, it would be rash to ascribe the success of Nigeria’s battle against insurgents or similar such battles anywhere on earth to one personality, country or troops. In every situation of war, even the clergy or the religious offer prayers beseeching God Almighty to accord victory over enemies. It is recounted when the war victory is celebrated. The bracket of assistance on terror war is so wide and humongous.
In spite of everything, anchoring the victory over BH insurgents exclusively on the shoulders of Nigerian military and other internal security agencies is incontestable. They were the participants in the war who bore the direct brunt of enemy actions and criticisms for failure. They fought in rain and sunshine, trudged Sambisa forest or its allied forests in the region, havens of the insurgents and dislodged them in gun battle. Despite, the tribulations, Nigerian soldiers remained resolute.
What about the local Joint Civilian Task Force (JTF) or the local vigilantes, who acted as spies and binoculars to the military in accessing hideouts of insurgents? There were instances JTF members secured their villages by repelling BH raids; they fought, killed and arrested some BH members and handed them over to security agents. Some JTF members recount how they were later haunted and murdered in cold blood by the insurgents for exposing them. So, they paid the supreme price. They are all contributors to success of this war.
It was Nigerian security detectives who consistently monitored the dynamics in the modus operandi of BH operations, like the use of teenage girls/boys as suicide bombers, veiled or disguised persons as BH bombers and some who even posed as madmen to access rare places where they detonated bombs usually tied to their bodies. Therefore, these gallant officers or the Military deserve kudos for extinguishing insurgency, even if the victory over BH in Nigeria is temporary as some analysts have conjectured.
Indeed, no Nigerian would disparage the contributions of USA or other foreign countries like Britain, France and the rest for the success of the battle over insurgents in Nigeria. But it smacks of denigration of the country and its brave troops/civilians to ascribe success of the victory over BH to America as claimed by the US Army General in a recent interview on CNN.
The claim spanks as the subsisting archetypal stereotyping of Africans as incapable of achieving any great feat in their lives, except some imperial powers lend a helping hand. But how are Nigerian soldiers on UN Peace keeping Missions perform or are rated? The claim is in bad taste and where the problem resides is America’s perception of the routine military assistance to Nigeria at the critical time of her battle with insurgents as the exceptional contribution that ensured success.
The US Army General credited to the statement on CNN interview might have aired his personal and subjective assessment of Nigeria’s terror war. But it cannot blur the inference that his views are representative of the feelings of most Americans. What then would other countries like France and Britain preach about its support to Nigeria and its victory in the BH war, as Americans are proclaiming on rooftops?
Buhari himself gives this insight; “the Nigerian army has been “reorganized and reequipped”, with training from US, UK and French forces.”
President Buhari has disclosed that the Nigerian military offensive, against BH, compelled the insurgents to flee through the porous borders into Cameroon, Chad, and Niger.
The United States, sensing the danger of the unmitigated spread of the insurgents to neighbouring countries which became safe fortresses, whenever heat was turned on them in Nigeria, US President Barack Obama authorized US troops to participate in reconnaissance and intelligence gathering operations as well as counter-insurgency training to Cameroonian forces.
This laid the eventual foundation for the establishment of the combined Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) against BH, which had changed its war tactics from asymmetrical warfare, to the fertile guerrilla attacks. Nevertheless, the MNJTF had also its own cross to carry in the war against insurgents, as most operations terminated at the borders of constituent countries. And each country was concerned with flushing out the insurgents within its own territory.
It is also worthy of reminiscence that Nigeria, like other countries of the world have had their military personnel trained by America and other countries more advanced in military expertise and technology. Even President Buhari, like other military officers in Nigeria, are distinguished alumnus of the US War College. Again, it is on record that Nigeria has not appreciated to the level of manufacturing weapons of warfare. Agencies like National Agency for Science and Engineering such mandate, is still in its infancy or groping in the dark at best.
Therefore, for America to again offer such assistance to Nigeria at its time of adversity with BH insurgency is consequently not unique, but a further observation of the bilateral understanding. While not scolding America, it is germane to understand therefore, that the gesture should not constitute high grounds for self-esteem as the US Army general punctuated in his CNN interview. Therefore, the grand crown on BH war belongs to Nigeria and nothing more.
Abiodun writes from University of Ibadan, Nigeria