The country must guard its victory jealously and remain vigilant for potential surprises
Kashim Shettima, the Borno State Governor, captured the elation. He noted that the fall of Sambisa, Nigeria’s most dreaded forest in the modern era provided him with the best Christmas of his tenure as the chief executive of the northeast state.
The battle has been a fierce and bloody drama, accompanied by military sloppiness, elite larceny, desertion, bonfires of villages, the hoisting of flags as signals of a new and savage caliphate, official denials, the slaughter of boys and women, the ferreting away of school girls at night, girls going off in suicide bombs, boys going off in the same bilious smoke.
But the dust has settled over the dark leaves and long limbs of a dark and incendiary forest. The Nigerian Army declared that the Boko Haram sect has been routed. They tormented a nation and brought it not only to fears but even many of its best soldiers to their knees.
But this year’s victory will mark a turning point. Last year, victory bells tolled prematurely when the Buhari administration declared the end of Boko Haram. After that, the army rolled out its tanks, lost many a soldier, buried a warrior in grand style, suffered a few miscues, but rumbled on for many exploits. Sambisa Forest as an episode was not even in the narrative.
Now, however, the story seems different. The victory is dramatic. We know the date: December 22. The day: Thursday. The time: 1.30 p.m. We even had more theatrical detail. It involved a historic bunker unknown to most Nigerians. It was installed in the turbulent years of former dictator, Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, for his shadowy, military special forces outfit known then as The National Guard. For more histrionics, the place was called Camp Zero.
The President, Muhammadu Buhari, could not conceal his joy. “I am delighted at, and most proud of, the gallant troops of the Nigerian Army, on receipt of the long-awaited and most gratifying news of the final crushing of Boko Haram terrorists in their last enclave in Sambisa Forest.”
But no one explained this impact more than Governor Shettima. Besieged during its most feisty ferocity, he could not guarantee the safety of the government house because the terror brigands loomed. Now, he could boast that its major arteries are abuzz again. He exhaled over the re-opening of the Maiduguri-Gubio-Kareto-Damasak Road and the Maiduguri-Monguno-Baga Road, all leading to the north of the state.
Hear him: “I would want to start by declaring that since I became the Governor of Borno State in over five years, this is the best Christmas season I have witnessed; this is the best December I have witnessed and the year 2016 is my best year so far as Governor of Borno State. 2016 is for me Nigeria’s year of victory and Borno’s year of hope and resurrection. It is in this 2016 that we began to have access to major towns like Gwoza, Bama, Dikwa, Monguno and Damasak following their liberation by our gallant armed forces.
“It is in the year 2016 that major highways began to be re-opened. It is in the year 2016 that we accelerated our major reconstruction of liberated communities; it is in the year 2016 that we recovered some of our daughters abducted at Government Secondary School, Chibok in 2014; and, fellow Nigerians, it is in the year 2016 that the Federal Republic of Nigeria established its supremacy over the Sambisa headquarters of the Boko Haram. For the Government and the good people of Borno State, there is no better Christmas and New Year Gift that is more precious than the conquest of Sambisa Forest by our efficient military.”
The myth of the Sambisa Forest as the redoubt of terror might have been broken. But the war is by no means over. We may discountenance the video from Shekau, the sect leader, but what we fear now is not an organised assault from a standing army but the touch-and-go guerrilla style surprises. The evidence of the combing of Abuja for infiltrators and the arrest of a man who allegedly plotted the bombing of the Third Mainland Bridge are pointers of new theatres, if unconventional. We also had reports of girl bombers on Boxing day in the haze of the fall of Sambisa Forest.
We cannot gainsay the significance of the routing of the forest. But a question still needs to be addressed. The military bunker that Boko Haram used as operational base came as a surprise. But it was a landmark military establishment, and for it to fall, it should have raised questions. Who was in charge and how did it fall? What did we lose to such a major military setup?
In the midst of the euphoria, we need to look back and investigate the circumstances of its neglect and fall. We must not forget, as the President has noted though, that such victories as we have noted, came from an organised military.
It restores national self-confidence and boosts our military as a force against any threat to parts or the whole of Nigeria as a corporate entity.
But what is important now is to strengthen the intelligence forces in the country to ensure that we do not have the recrudescence of a Boko Haram again in another fashion or guise. Hence, the country should focus on southern Kaduna where we are witnessing the onslaughts that Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El Rufai attributes to foreign herdsmen.