The military, last week, began an air assault on the notorious Sambisa Forest which has served as a sanctuary for Boko Haram elements and from which they launched numerous bloody campaigns against Nigeria and neighbouring countries.
Reports indicate that the bombings, which began on Monday, February 2, are a precursor to a ground assault and a much bigger push against the insurgents by the Nigerian Armed Forces in alliance with African Union forces from Chad, Niger, and Cameroun.
The bombing of the Sambisa Forest could not have come at a better time. Since the Boko Haram terrorists took over the forest and made it their stronghold, the place has become a tragic reference point in the struggle against insurgency in the country. Sadly, the dithering by the military on the task of flushing the Boko Haram members out of the forest persisted until April last year, when the terrorists kidnapped about 279 girls from the Chibok Secondary School in Borno State. This, unfortunately, necessitated caution regarding military operations in the forest, since the location of the girls was not known.
Even though the Chibok girls are yet to be rescued, the continuing grounding in of the terrorists in the forest and the increasing ferocity of their attacks from the stronghold made its aerial bombardment inevitable. It is, however, necessary for the military to exercise caution on this operation considering the possibility that some hostages may be in captivity there.
The Nigerian military and its African allies deserve commendation for this initiative, which should even have come earlier. The move is rather belated considering the fact that Boko Haram appears to have gone on to the seizing and occupying of cities and towns. But, as the saying goes, it is better late than never. As the attack on the forest continues, however, we appeal to the military to ensure that any hostages in the forest are not caught in crossfire.
The recovery of the Sambisa Forest from Boko Haram is imperative if only to make a statement that no terrorist organization can maintain a sanctuary anywhere in Nigeria or within its neighborhood. The terrorists should be denied the use of the forest as a place for storing their arms, training their operatives and launching attacks on the country. They should not be allowed to enjoy that freedom, but routed from Nigeria.
We are fully conscious of the difficulties involved in trying to reclaim Sambisa Forest. For one, it is a vast expanse of territory spawning some 60,000 square kilometres across Borno, Yobe, Gombe, and Bauchi states, abutting Jigawa with some bits of it extending to Kano State. Since 1991, the Borno State Government incorporated the forest into the extensive Chad Basin National Park. Thus, the Sambisa is part of our treasured national parks and must not be conceded to a terrorist outfit like Boko Haram.
We urge the Nigerian military to utilise the offers of help the country has received from all over the world to counter Boko Haram. In the area of surveillance, we have no doubt that some friendly nations can make up for our own inadequacies in intelligence gathering and monitoring of the terrorists.
We thank the African Union for its fraternal initiative on the 7,500-strong multinational force against Boko Haram. That is true African brotherhood which Nigerians will remember long after this insurgency would have been forgotten as one of those nightmares of Nigerian history. This is one gesture that reinforces the wisdom of Africa being the centrepiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy. The AU intervention is, indeed, a dividend of that policy.
We urge the military to do everything necessary to sustain the momentum of the campaign at Sambisa, and prove the pessimists wrong. Let the attack on the forest signal the beginning of a more focused and concerted operation that will end this insurgency and restore peace to those troubled parts of the country.