Going Tough With Boko Haram

•Nigerian soldiers set to show their might against Boko Haram

•Nigerian soldiers on patrol in north east Nigeria

The military deploys its might to regain national territories from Boko Haram as President Goodluck Jonathan belatedly declares state of emergency in three states in North-east Nigeria

•Nigerian soldiers set to show their might against Boko Haram
•Nigerian soldiers set to show their might against Boko Haram

Most parts of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states had begun to look like war zones few hours after President Goodluck Jonathan’s national broadcast last Wednesday during which he declared state of emergency in the three states. Residents of Adamawa and Yobe had watched with anxiety, the massive movement of troops and military equipment to their areas from the weekend before the presidential broadcast. But with the declaration of the state of emergency and the President’s acknowledgment that what the country was facing “is not just militancy or criminality, but a rebellion and insurgency by terrorist groups which pose a very serious threat to national unity and territorial integrity”, there is no doubt that the country is set for war to preserve its territorial integrity.

“These terrorists and insurgents seem determined to establish control and authority over parts of our beloved nation and to progressively overwhelm the rest of the country. In many places, they have destroyed the Nigerian flag and other symbols of state authority and in their place, hoisted strange flags suggesting the exercise of alternative sovereignty,” said the President. He subsequently directed Admiral Ola Ibrahim, the Chief of Defence Staff, to deploy more troops to the three states, to assert the territorial integrity of the country and put an end to the impunity of insurgents and terrorists.

•Admiral Ola Ibrahim: Ordered to increase troop presence in affected states
•Admiral Ola Ibrahim: Ordered to increase troop presence in affected states

In line with this directive, the Nigerian Armed Forces started moving troops and equipment to the country’s North-east border areas last Wednesday, even as fighter jets were also reportedly hovering over the cities, an indication that the military would deploy its full might against the Boko Haram insurgents.  “The operations, which will involve massive deployment of men and resources, are aimed at asserting the nation’s territorial integrity and enhancing the security of all territories within Nigeria’s borders,” Brigadier General Chris Olukolade, Director, Defence Information, said in a statement last Wednesday. President Jonathan had been embarrassingly forced to cancel his state visit to Namibia and return home following news of wanton killings of scores of men of the Nigeria Police Force and other security agencies in a space of 48 hours about one week before his national broadcast.

A day before Jonathan decided to return to Nigeria, a cult militia, Ombatse, operating in Alakyo village, about 10 kilometres from Lafia, the capital of Nassarawa State, had ambushed and killed close to 100 police and State Security Service operatives who had gone to arrest their leader. In Benue State, there were also reports of loss of many lives, especially of women and children, in the recurring war between Fulani cattle herdsmen and farmers.

Less than 24 hours before, members of  Boko Haram had, in Bama, a border town in Borno State, showcased their increasing sophistication and ambition with one of the most daring attacks ever launched by the group since it began its insurgency activities about four years ago. Operatives of the militant group had early that morning invaded Bama in a string of vehicles mounted with anti-aircraft guns, carrying AK 47 rifles, RPG, bomb-making devices and assorted ammunition. Residents of the town told journalists that the insurgents burnt down parts of the Mobile Police barrack and set many cars and motorcycles ablaze, even as they attempted to gain entrance and take over the Army base located in the town. About 60 persons, including 22 policemen, two soldiers and 14 prison officials, were murdered in cold blood by the terrorists. Some newspapers carried the picture of some of the Boko Haram members dressed in military uniform who were killed while trying to storm the Army base.

Brig-General Ibrahim Attahiru, Director of Army Public Relations, told journalists that the suspected Boko Haram terrorists dressed in military fatigues launched the attack on 202 Battalion barracks in Bama with rocket-propelled grenades, general purpose machine guns, bombs, 18-seater bus and six Hilux vehicles fitted with anti-aircraft guns. While the attack aimed at overrunning the barracks was successfully repelled, the terrorists, he said, succeeded in burning down Bama Police Station, Police Barracks, Local Government Secretariat, INEC office, the local Magistrate’s Court and a primary school. He listed the number of lives lost during the attack to include 14 prison officials, two soldiers and four civilians, as well as three children and a woman who were burnt to death by the insurgents. Attahiru added that about 105 inmates of Bama Prison were set free by the insurgents, while he listed items recovered from them to include four vehicles, 14 weapons, 12 IEDs, assorted ammunition, several RPG tubes, and bombs. He added that 21 Boko Haram members were killed during the attack.

The assault on Bama by the insurgents occurred just as the Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in the North, saddled with the responsibility of identifying and constructively engaging key leaders of the Islamic fundamentalist sect and developing a workable framework for amnesty and disarmament of the members of the group, was laying the foundation for its work.

Assault weapons recovered from Boko Haram recently
Assault weapons recovered from Boko Haram recently

The Committee, led by Taminu Turaki, was established based on postulations by key leaders and groups in the northern part of the country, led by Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Ábubakar III, the Sultan of Sokoto, that members of the militant group would be willing to disarm and stop their deadly campaign which has claimed about 4000 lives if they are offered amnesty.

While reacting to the Bama incident, President Jonathan said that he believes the continuation of callous and wanton attacks of  Nigerians, government facilities and security formations flies in the face of  efforts to establish a framework for dialogue and the peaceful resolution of security challenges posed by Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria.

The Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Action Congress of Nigeria and Congress for Progressive Change, as well as different groups in the North had, in reaction to speculations, counselled the President against the state of emergency plan. However, this magazine gathered that the military chiefs were able to convince Jonathan that the most viable option for tackling the increasingly sophisticated insurgency of Boko Haram was to go after the sect with all the force the country can muster. This argument, it was gathered, was based on the argument that while the military has succeeded, to an extent, in reducing the activities of the fundamentalist group in the metropolis of Maiduguri, Damaturu and other towns, the sect has been amassing men and ammunition in the sparsely populated and less policed vast border areas of the three states.

But the situation is worse in Borno, where some government officials told journalists in Abuja about a month ago that the militants control at least 10 local government areas in the northern, semi-desert region areas of the state. Weeks before the Bama attack, there had been reports that Boko Haram members were acquiring vehicles, painting them in military colours and mounting guns on them. Reports indicated that some of the vehicles, like the three new Hilux vans snatched from officials of Chad Basin Development Authority, were stolen from government officials on assignments. Also, members of Boko Haram are now said to have established links with other terrorist organisations operating across the Sahel region and have access to weapons, funding and training from their partners. The group is said to be beneficiary of some of the weapons used by Libyan fighters. A report in Abuja-based Weekly Trust listed the local government areas in the northern part of Borno under Boko Haram control to include Marte, Magumeri, Mobbar, Gubio, Guzamala, Abadam, Kukawa, Kaga, Nganzai and Monguno. The local governments share international borders with Cameroon, Niger and Chad republics. Members of the deadly sect, according to reports, had in some instances chased government officials away and were implementing the Sharia law in the areas under their control.

•Jonathan: Gets Tough
•Jonathan: Gets Tough

The newspaper also reported that the sect controls most of the villages in Marte Local Government and were openly preaching in a village market in Krenuwa, which it said is the hometown of Ambassador Baba Ahmed Jidda, the Secretary to Borno State Government and member of the Presidential Amnesty Committee. Reports also indicated that primary and secondary schools in four local government areas – Marte, Kala-Balge, Gamboru Ngala and Mabar – have been closed for months as students, fearing attacks by the militant group, kept away from school. Students from the areas were recently escorted by heavily armed soldiers to take their school certificate examination in neighbouring Dikwa.

The sect, according to sources, has also been importing arms into the country, using Nigeria’s borders with Cameroon, Chad and Niger, and it is believed that it may have established a base in the border areas from where it is training and planning its attacks as reflected in some of the recent videos it posted online.

Sources claimed that men of the Joint Task Force had looked the other way even as the insurgent group established its authority over a large area of Nigerian territory. The few attempts by security agencies to reassert authority resulted in massive loss of lives and property of residents of the areas under Boko Haram occupation. A clash between members of the Multinational Joint Task Force in Baga, one of the border towns, and Boko Haram members late last month, for example, resulted in loss of over 200 lives and large-scale destruction of property.

The loss of lives provoked outrage locally and internationally, with reports that soldiers involved in the clash had gone on the rampage, indiscriminately shooting and burning houses of ordinary residents over suspicion that they were harbouring the insurgents. However, the Commander of the MNJTF, Brig-Gen Austin Edokpaye, in a statement said only six civilians were killed and 30 thatched houses were burnt “from explosions from Boko Haram terrorists’ rocket-propelled grenades, anti -aircraft guns and sophisticated IED materials that triggered fire” during the clash. He added that the troops killed 30 Boko Haram gunmen and arrested five others, while a soldier died and five others sustained injuries during the incident. The items the military chief listed as recovered from the insurgents – three rocket-propelled grenade launchers, two rocket-propelled grenade bombs, four AK47 rifles, 435 assorted ammunition, and three Toyota Land Cruisers – further demonstrated the increasing sophistication of the group. The Nigerian government and the National Human Rights Commission are investigating claims of massive killings and arson by soldiers during the Baga incident.

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Before the Baga incident, the JTF, in late April, also clashed with Boko Haram elements in Bama, during which five police officers and 16 others were killed. A.G Laka, the commanding military officer in charge of Bama Barracks, told Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State that Boko Haram gunmen started the incident with an attack on a patrol vehicle of a Divisional Police Officer, killing two cops. He added that members of the militant sect also laid ambush to soldiers in the town on the same day, killing one soldier and injuring four others. In return, men of JTF killed 10 of the insurgents. Residents claimed that soldiers set fire on scores of commercial premises and homes in the area, but the soldiers have always accused them of shielding members of the sect in their homes.

Rather than declaring a state of emergency, Northern groups like the Arewa Consultative Forum argued last week that the federal government should have continued to seek dialogue and granting amnesty to members of the group. But Abubakar Shekau, the alleged leader of the militant sect, in a video posted on YouTube some weeks ago, rejected the amnesty offer. Rather, he insisted that it is Nigeria that should apologise to the group for the extra-judicial killings of Yusuf, its leader, hundreds of other members and destruction of its mosques and other property during a clash with security agencies in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, in 2009. The group has repeatedly claimed the 2009 incident drove it to embark on insurgency.

In another video last week, the group claimed responsibility for the Bama and Baga attacks, even as it officially announced that it has added kidnapping to its terrorist activities. The sect actually showed some women and children it claimed were kidnapped in the video. The group had earlier in the year kidnapped and held hostage for many weeks, a French family of seven tourists just across Nigeria’s border in Cameroun. The French family was recently released, reportedly after the sect was paid a ransom of N500 million. With such developments, something drastic had to be done and the security chiefs, as this magazine gathered, were able to convince the President that with the declaration of a state of emergency, they will be able to take all actions necessary to rein in the insurgent group, whether inside the country or on the fringes of the nation’s border.

Thus, while he was quick to remind troops involved in the operation to operate within the ambit of their rules of engagement, President Jonathan said under the State of Emergency rules, the soldiers will have the authority to arrest and detain suspects, take possession and control of any building or structure used for terrorist purposes, lock-down any area of terrorist operation, conduct searches, and apprehend persons in illegal possession of weapons. This magazine also gathered that there is the possibility of the military carrying out air strikes against the deadly sect within or outside the nation’s shores if it is deemed necessary. The movement of Air Force jets to the states under the state of emergency further reinforces this possibility, while Jonathan also said in his national broadcast that Nigeria will seek the cooperation of its neighbours in the fight against Boko Haram.

•A Police Station bombed by Boko Haram
•A Police Station bombed by Boko Haram

Section 305, sub-section 1 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended, empowers the President to declare a State of Emergency when the country is confronted with problems similar to that posed by the insurgents in Northern Nigeria. Shettima and Ibrahim Geidam, governors of Borno and Yobe states, in separate statements last week indicated they were in support of the President’s action.

“As everyone knows, there is no alternative to peace. The Yobe State Government therefore agrees with Mr. President on the need to take more effective measures to address the problem of insecurity in the country,” the Yobe State governor said in statement issued by Abdullahi Bego, his the Special Adviser on Media and Information. “It is the constitutional responsibility of the President to take such measures. It is also the duty of any responsible state government to support lawful efforts that would guarantee the security of lives and property,” Governor Shettima said in a broadcast to the people of the state.

The President had indeed met with the two governors in Abuja just before he made the national broadcast, to convince them of the need for the action. Also, the fact that the governors were not ordered removed and the political structures in their states were left intact, unlike during similar actions in the past, meant that the state chief executives have lost virtually nothing. However, Murtala Nyako, the governor of Adamawa State, as at the time of writing this story last week had not publicly reacted to the inclusion of Adamawa among the three states. However, other stakeholders from the state said the inclusion of the state cannot be justified because the problem of insurgency and loss of lives was quite low in Adamawa when compared to states like Plateau, Kaduna, Nassarawa, Kano and Taraba states, where there have been mindless killings in recent times.

“It is a good step in the right direction. But Mr. President is playing politics with people’s lives. If he did not impose state of emergency in Plateau, I can see the hand of the National Chairman of the PDP in the state of emergency in Adamawa State,” Adamu Aliyu, a former minority leader in the House of Representatives, said. “If he did not declare the state of emergency in a state where policemen were killed and he declared it in Adamawa, the whole exercise is political,” he added. But some sources said last week that the military is already overstretched and may not have enough men to go round all the troubled areas of the country.

“The declaration of a State of Emergency by President Goodluck Jonathan in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states as a result of months of ceaseless bloodshed and carnage by insurgents is a step that has long been overdue. The bloodletting in these states left the President with no other option but to take this extraordinary step. This step must be appreciated in the light of the refusal of the insurgents to even dialogue with the Federal Government,” Human rights activists and lawyer, Festus Keyamo said in a statement.

Even before the announcement, the Peoples Democratic Party caucus in the upper chamber of the National Assembly had indicated that it will back the move if the President requested for it. “The Federal government has shown faith with Nigerians with the decision. Nigerians asked for amnesty, we asked for emergency. He has shown faith with the way the emergency was declared with regards to the constitution by not demanding that the political structures be sacked. I was there recently and I can report to you that the governor said that some parts of the state had been taken over by these people. They are no longer under government control,” Senator Abdul Ningi said.

The Christian Association of Nigeria, the South-south Governors’ Forum and other groups have also supported the declaration of emergency in the three states.  CAN President, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, in a statement by Kenny Ashaka, his Special Assistant on Media and Public Affairs, called for the sack of the Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in the North with the declaration of the state of emergency.

Others said the fact that a similar action in 2011, when state of emergency was declared across 15 local governments in four states in the same part of the country, did not succeed in reining in insurgents is indicative of the fact that nothing also will change this time around.  “If the medicine given to a patient has not cured his or her illness, is it not futile to prescribe more of the same medicine for the patient? If the declaration of a state of emergency in 15 local government areas in four states in 2011 has not curbed the activities of the insurgents, why extend such measure to other areas? If the use of force in the affected states has failed to curtail the activities of the insurgents, why send in more troops?” ACN queried while declaring that there is nothing new in the declaration of state of emergency as the areas affected have since been under military occupation. The opposition party, in a statement issued by Lai Mohammed, its spokesperson, said if the use of force was capable of ending the Boko Haram crisis, it would have ended a long time ago. “In the first instance, this stepped-up militarisation of the states amounts to an asymmetric use of force in an environment where the insurgents operate within a civilian population, hence it will ultimately be counterproductive as the death toll will continue to mount while the civilian population – who will be caught in the cross-fire – will be alienated,” the party said.

On its part, the CPC said the declaration of emergency may have more to do with 2015 elections than curbing the problem of insurgency. Borno and Yobe States are under the control of the opposition. Former governor of Lagos State and ACN national leader, Bola Tinubu also spoke in the same vein. The Presidency has however dismissed such insinuations, even as it accused the opposition parties of playing politics with security.

Even as this story was being written last week, news of a raging battle between Boko Haram elements and soldiers in Maiduguri broke, an indication that the terrorists will not surrender the territories under their control without being forced to do so by superior firepower.

—Ayorinde Oluokun/Abuja

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