Editor's note: In this piece, Philip Agbese, an Abuja-based author and public affairs commentator writes on the fight against Boko Haram in the northeast region of Nigeria.
Agbese analyses the efforts put into ending insurgency in Nigeria by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration and the Nigerian military.
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Most analysts of Nigerian descent often conclude that Nigerians tend to easily forget yesterday’s history. We must know our yesterday to understand our today and grasp the future better. I dare say, Nigerians indeed have a short retentive memory.
We are tied to ephemeral issues and we tenaciously hold unto it.
I am an ardent apostle and student of history. But most profoundly, I am a researcher on human rights laws and currently working on the role of non-state actors in the global war against insurgency.
With this research interest, I have traversed quite a number of countries, where terrorism and its variants seem to be permanent guests of the people and their countries.
I have spent years visiting some terrorism infested countries in the Middle East and Africa. I have tried to understand the character of sociological content of terrorism; what economic factors accentuate it; perception of leaders of countries under the spell of terrorism, the role of non-state actors in emboldening terrorism; its mercantilist colouration and why it festers near uncontrollably.
While in Nigeria from the United Kingdom on the same mission, I visited the northeastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe. It is famed as the hub of Boko Haram terrorism, from where it has extended tentacles to other parts of northern Nigeria and almost the whole country. I am quite familiar with the Boko Haram history.
In the aforementioned enclaves, Boko Haram insurgents who made their debut in Nigeria in 2009 have killed, destroyed, abducted, ransacked and ravaged whole communities and villages. I assessed its progression over the years and the unsteady blight of its rampaging prowess.
I discovered that prior to 2015, and before the advent of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, a leader with a military background, Boko Haram had literally conquered Nigeria.
It was undoubtedly that no one was safe anywhere in Nigeria, including residents of the nation’s capital, Abuja. The fear of Boko Haram suppressed the courage and the boldness of men of valour.
And for about seven odd years, the Nigerian government under different leaders could not tame the monster of Boko Haram insurgency until the arrival of President Buhari. It was simply because there were many snags in the strategies, tactics adopted, in addition to a defective military structure or precisely leadership in combating Boko Haram insurgency.
Furthermore, consuming mass poverty and wrong economic priorities, divisive political leadership and its lack of a clear focus on tackling security challenges exacerbated the scourge of terrorism in Nigeria. It has reflected in many books, media articles/news reports, conference papers and the whole lot.
In my book titled “Integrity Vs Powerplay: Understanding The Buhari Phenomenon,” (author: Philip Agbese) and published in 2019, I attempted a chronicle of the achievements of President Buhari. As a prophet of God, I wrote the book to capture some of the lofty achievements of the Buhari administration.
I authored the work for a time like this in order to avail fellow citizens of this country or those abroad the opportunity to re-write the efforts, successes and achievements of the Buhari administration, especially on security.
So, strikingly, I took a deep delve into the counter-insurgency operations under the Buhari Presidency, revealing the extent of the damage he inherited; his efforts in repositioning the country on the path of economic recovery; the reorganization of the Military leadership and the sustained focus on combating insurgency in Nigeria to berth the respite we relished.
I, therefore, find it necessary to refresh our minds on the achievements of Mr President on the war against insurgency in Nigeria and to explain why even with the back-up force provided by the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), terrorism has not skyrocketed in the country to amazing levels.
President Buhari started the combat of terrorism by addressing the whammy and extreme mass poverty in the North and other parts of Nigeria. It provided cosy grounds for the recruitment of idle youths as foot soldiers for terror sects and other violent crimes.
And a few months after assumption of office, President Buhari anointed a new leadership for the Nigerian military. He appointed experienced service chiefs and gave them clear-cut directives to end Boko Haram insurgency and other insurrections in Nigeria. As a sign of his commitment and seriousness in tackling security challenges in the country, the president directed all security chiefs to relocate to the northeast, the epicentre of Boko Haram insurgency.
The chief of army staff (COAS), Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, who was also named leader of the counter-insurgency operations, alongside other service chiefs, immediately complied with this presidential order. And consequently, the Command Theatre, Operation Lafiya Dole, Maiduguri was energized and a new Order of Battle (ORBAT) came into full force.
Nigerian troops steadily gained rounds in the battle against insurgents in leaps and bounds. In a short while, soldiers reclaimed all the about 18 LGAs previously captured by insurgents; freed thousands of Boko Haram hostages, including the Chibok schoolgirls and demystified the hitherto dreaded Sambisa forest. Within two years, Nigerian troops were able to restore normalcy in the Northeast, as Boko Haram insurgents had been substantially routed out of the country.
Boko Haram top commanders and hundreds of their foot soldiers who could not withstand the superior firepower of the Nigerian army voluntarily surrendered in droves. Thereafter, they renounced Boko Haram terrorism to embrace a new life.
Populations in IDPs camps which littered the Northeast started to deflate; as displaced persons including traditional and religious leaders began returning to ruined, ravaged and deserted homes and villages.
Schools, public places, blocked roads, markets were reopened and farming activities resumed in earnest. The current service chiefs accomplished these feats.
President Buhari kept and has continued to keep an eagle eye on the counter-insurgency operations.
He has visited the theatre of war a number of times to personally assess the progress of the anti-terrorism combats. Most strikingly, President Buhari was once at Monguno when the chief of army staff annual conference took place in the city.
This was a community where Boko Haram once sacked Nigerian troops. He also visited other areas in the vicinity and confirmed that the military was able to restore peace to the community at that time.
The Nigerian army, therefore, launched clearance operations to get rid of the remnants of Boko Haram who had escaped into the labyrinths of Lake Chad Basin area in the last phase of the counter-insurgency operations.
Every Nigerian could attest that Boko Haram insurgents had disappeared from the shores of Nigeria. They hibernated in nearby countries and intermittently, sneak into Nigeria to unleash attacks on soft targets or obscure locations.
While Nigerians regaled in the relief from Boko Haram, under the serving service chiefs, the 2019 general elections started knocking on the door. Partisan campaigns kicked-off discreetly or later openly.
It was clear President Buhari was gunning for a second term in office. But there were also political actors who felt Buhari had no reason to seek reelection or if he runs again for the same office, he must be ousted by all means.
These opposing elements did not even spare security, which all Nigerians scored President Buhari very high. The attack on it was strong just to discredit Buhari.
And suddenly, whatever gains the Buhari Presidency and the Nigerian Army had made on counter-insurgency and allied insurgencies began to nosedive or reversed to paint his leadership as incompetent and helpless in securing the lives and property of Nigerians. So, the unanswered question is; what is responsible for the new wave of insecurity in the country?
Has the political leadership of the country changed? Has the leadership of the military vis a viz the service chiefs changed? The answer is practical No!
If they could accomplish all that I have earlier mentioned, what is responsible for the resurgent and seemingly untamable insecurity in the country now?
Today, we feel more convenient to blame the President for resurgent insecurities. Others with narrow-mindedness even campaign for the removal of service chiefs as a panacea to end the country’s insecurities. We have forgotten yesterday and interpret today based on idiosyncrasies far detached from reality.
We hate to remember our collective failure to complement the role of the military in the fight against insurgency. Many have not and are still not doing their jobs or rather clandestinely assisting the armed enemies of Nigeria to thrive over us.
It includes even some persons in the lower rung of leadership. But we gleefully look elsewhere for scapegoats.
Why have we not arrested and persecuted any Boko Haram sponsor to date, even though they are in our midst? No gun runner in the international cartel of arms transactions has been apprehended as we see in other countries.
Those given these responsibilities have flinched, but it is easier for us to blame the Service Chiefs or Mr President. Our basic problem is a lack of patriotism.
We delight in the wrong interpretation of what afflicts us. We must reposition ourselves and put things in the proper perspectives or else, we shall continue to revolve in circles. I don’t believe that it is the service chiefs who have failed us. In fact, they have not failed in their assignment of combating insecurities.
The chief of army staff and the Nigerian troops haven’t failed us. President Buhari hasn’t failed in his covenant with Nigerians. Some other persons within the system must own up that they have failed in the discharge of their duties basically because we prefer to look at the interest of Nigeria from our peculiarly faulty lenses.
It is understandable that every nation has its peculiarities. But I believe, we all can still raise the game again together with the military and the Buhari administration.
It is time to do more as stakeholders and discard the penchant of deliberately eroding the gains just to have sufficient grounds to discredit the administration.
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