Terror war: Holding down liberated territories – Punch

Carnage by Boko Haram Islamists since their campaign to enthrone a caliphate in the country started 10 years ago has been horrifying. In the three North-East states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, which are the epicentre of this malevolence, towns and villages have been burnt and have become largely desolate. Many of the about 1.9 million victims and survivors in internally displaced persons camps are living in privation. Ending the terrorists’ orgy of bloodletting demands a new approach. Securing liberated territories permanently against Boko Haram’s counter-attacks should be part of this strategy.

To date, the jihadists continue to make territorial gains and occasionally recapture strategic border villages. This is why the country seems to be experiencing a reversal of fortunes in the war on terror. Evidence abounds where the IDPs returned to their villages but were wiped out sooner than later. As a result, Dambazao, Gwazo, Damask, Nganzi, Gamboru-Ngala, Buni Yadi, Mungono, Mafa, Dikwa, and Damaturu-Maiduguri Highway, among others, are always in the news for the wrong reasons.

The Islamists had been routed in many of these places by the Nigerian military whose onslaughts against them, led to their ejection from the 27 Local Government Areas they had once occupied in the three states. Sadly, recent developments indicate their resurgence, buoyed by the support or involvement of ISIS’ franchisee, the Islamic State in West Africa Province. When the fundamentalists are not retaking some liberated areas, they are being repelled by the military through a combined air and land mauling.

Earlier gains by the military misled the Federal Government to believe that “Boko Haram has been technically defeated.” The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), therefore, often indulged in the triumphalism, echoing that no Nigerian territory was under the jihadists’ control. Many Nigerians never shared this seemingly cheery mood. In fact, present evidence shows that the so-called degraded rogue army is still very active.

A defeated Boko Haram cannot routinely attack military fortresses or invade villages to slaughter defenceless citizens the way it did July last year when it murdered 65 people during a funeral ceremony in the Nganza district, near the Borno State capital, Maiduguri. Just last Sunday, the jihadists killed 30 travellers, abducted others and burnt vehicles in Auno village close to a military checkpoint, on the Maiduguri-Damaturu Highway.

The Borno State Governor, Babagana Zulum, revealed in December that three LGAs – Marte, Kukawa and Abadam – were under Boko Haram control. Many displaced persons could not return to their bases owing to the fear of Boko Haram attacks. A former Commissioner for Local Government and Emirate Affairs, Usman Zannah, noted that despite the fact that many communities had been liberated, over 350,000 displaced persons were still holed up in resettlement camps. The then Kashim Shettima-led government had appealed to the National Orientation Agency and Nigerian Peace Corps to sensitise them to the need to possibly return to their homes to re-launch their lives. Under the Kampala Convention, IDPs are not forced to return home.

Nigeria should go back to its security drawing board. It is clear that the scorched-earth military approach alone is not enough to defeat jihadists anywhere in the world. It took five years of being ahead of them in strategy, intelligence and equipment for the United States-backed Syria Democratic Front to announce in March 2019 that ISIS had been ousted from Iraq and Syria. The then United Kingdom Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, was spot on with the response that “… we cannot be complacent. They’ve dispersed, and they’ll continue to pose a threat… and that is why we will always remain vigilant.” About 5,200 US soldiers are still in Iraq as part of the agreement to maintain the peace or keep ISIS in check.

Defeating jihadists does not come easy. Forming a broad international coalition will not be out of place. On December 3, 2014, at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, diplomats and foreign ministers from 59 countries gathered to plot a way forward against the threat of ISIS. The Buhari regime should acknowledge that the Boko Haram terror campaign has become a global challenge. Nigeria should, therefore, request foreign assistance from friendly partners to improve its military campaign, block the flow of foreign fighters, stop the jihadist financing and funding and address humanitarian crises in the region.

Across the expansive landscapes of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, ravaged by these wanton killings, this tragic scenario is not likely to change until the brutal reality that states should be involved in the security of lives and property is implemented.

To defeat jihadists permanently requires all hands on deck. The present strength of the Nigeria Police Force is grossly inadequate to complement the military’s efforts in defeating the terror groups. Well-trained and well-equipped state security personnel, with knowledge of the environment, culture and language can hold the fort, pending the arrival of soldiers in dire situations.

Nigeria cannot ignore this anymore. This void in the strategy to defeat Boko Haram is basic and Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states should take the bull by the horns by introducing homegrown security initiatives to secure their people. The performance of the Civilian Joint Task Force in this regard, which received the approval of the Federal Government to the extent that 400 of them were formally integrated into the Nigerian Army, underscores this fact.

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