Boko Haram has sent out another strong message that it is still a force to be reckoned with. In an act of pure evil, the Islamists executed an aid worker, Hauwa Liman, on Monday. A gory video posted online by the insurgents showed how Liman, who worked as a midwife with the International Committee of the Red Cross, was shot at close range. The execution — carried out by the Islamic State West Africa Province, a Boko Haram faction that enjoys the backing of demented ISIS — provoked instant outrage at home and beyond. The Federal Government must hunt down the terrorists, ensuring that they pay for their heinous crime.
Also worrisome is the threat by ISWAP to turn Leah Sharibu to “a slave for life” and murder other captives still in their enclave. Sharibu, a teenager, is the last captive with Boko Haram among the 106 schoolgirls abducted from Dapchi, Yobe State, last February. While the other girls were later released following a successful negotiation, Sharibu has been in captivity since then for refusing to change her Christian faith.
Indeed, the Federal Government received a series of warnings in September about the fate that would befall Liman. After months of negotiations between the two parties ended in a deadlock, the terrorists murdered Saifura Korsha, another Red Cross medical worker they had kidnapped along with Liman and Alice Loksha of UNICEF in Rann, Borno State in March. Relying on its warped ideology that Khorsa, a Muslim, had joined forces with the Red Cross, insurgents shot her in the back.
This turn of events strongly suggests that Boko Haram is regaining the upper hand in the fight. In the March incident, the Islamists had successfully overrun the 3rd Battalion base of the Nigerian Army in Rann. At the end, the security forces lost three soldiers, three police officers and a UNICEF doctor. Two workers with the International Organisation for Migration workers were also murdered. Since then, the rampaging terrorists, who have killed about 100,000 people since they launched their jihad in 2009, have inflicted much damage on the military.
This is unlike in the early days of the Muhammadu Buhari administration, which oversaw a strategic degrading of Boko Haram, reclaiming the 27 local government areas they had previously controlled in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states. The military penetrated the Sambisa Forest and sent the insurgents into disarray. Although Boko Haram is now confined to the North-East, that period seems like ages in the face of their current resurgence.
In a new report, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that Boko Haram had deployed 43 child-suicide bombers in its operations between January and June 2018. In July, the jihadists ambushed a military convoy in Bama, Borno State, displacing and killing soldiers of the 21 Brigade. Twenty-four hours later, they invaded the 81 Division Forward Brigade located at Jilli, Geidam in Yobe State.
In truth, Nigeria has a huge task on its hands. Boko Haram, like other terror organisations across the world, does not issue empty threats. After failing to secure tangible avowals from their governments, ISIS executed two American journalists (Steven Sotloff and James Foley) and a British aid worker, David Haines, in 2014 in the Middle East. Therefore, it is high time the government refocused the war against the insurgents. It requires overhauling of the intelligence operations. Buhari should strategically retool the State Security Service for this onerous task. Instead of the SSS dabbling in local politics, arresting journalists and providing cover for government officials, it should infiltrate the Islamist networks.
In other parts of the world, one strategy is to eliminate the commanders of Islamist groups. That gives a reprieve to state actors to become better organised. Using this tactic, the United States eliminated Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda kingpin, in 2011 at his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Although the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, issued a 40-day warrant to capture Abubakar Shekau dead or alive in 2017 (and re-issued it in February 2018), the Boko Haram leader is still walking free. Buratai and SSS should deploy all resources to ensure that this order is carried out.
To prevent a recurrence of the Liman execution and rescue Sharibu, Loksha and the other captives, the Federal Government should consider all the options available. It is a standard practice with governments globally, whose citizens are kidnapped, to free them by all means, including negotiations and the military option. In 2011, Israel demonstrated this wisdom when it freed 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was captured by Hamas.
Since Nigeria has proved repeatedly that it cannot defeat the terrorists on its own, reason dictates that it should enlist the help of the West. At various times, Britain, France, Belgium, the United States and Israel suffered a fate similar to what Nigeria is currently undergoing. But by deploying intelligence and technology, those climes stayed a step ahead of the terrorists.
The Nigerian government should ask for help from other countries in engaging the insurgents. The military, who are in the forefront of the fight, should be well equipped and the welfare of the troops given the utmost attention.