by Onwuasoanya Jones
It was Alhaji Lai Mohammed who raised the hopes of patriotic Nigerians when he announced that the Boko Haram terrorists have been pushed into a terminal angle, from where they can do little… Buhari said that the military has seriously whittled down the strength of the insurgents to the point that they have lost all capacities to attack.
I do not think there is any sane Nigerian who still thinks or wishes that the Boko Haram insurgency should continue, no matter that person’s political persuasions. No matter where anyone lives or hails from, the Boko Haram is a threat to him or her. This is not a thing for those in the Northeast alone, neither is it a problem that the Northerners have to contend with alone. We are all involved, and we are all endangered, as we do not know where their next target may be.
I remember a discussion I had with a senior friend of mine who is a top public servant in Abuja. During the upsurge of kidnapping in the Southeast around 2008-2009, this senior friend of mine avoided anything that could bring him to the East. And for two years he never stepped his feet on the Southeast, which is quite unlike him, considering that he is a man who likes visiting home at least, five times every year. On a visit to Abuja, I confronted him on why he no longer visits home as regularly as he used to. “You want them to kidnap me?”, he retorted.
People who live in Abuja can still be kidnapped, I told him. He dismissed that as a trashy talk. “Abuja is the Federal Capital Territory, the seat of power; it is the safest city in Nigeria.” He declared with sharp edged certainty. He told me that if all the other cities in Nigeria are affected by insecurity, those who live in Abuja should feel relaxed, because Abuja will be the last place to be affected. I reminded him of the Boko Haram which at the time was just at a rehearsal stage in Maiduguri; he looked at me like I was one drunken neophyte who likes to be heard.
When the Boko Haram carried out its first attack in Abuja on 31st December, 2010 near the military cantonment, he was the first person I called to know how he was doing, because the pub where the attack took place was one of his favourite hangout spots. He was dumbfounded not just because the attack took place in Abuja, but that the terrorists could impregnate a military environment for their grisly experiment. He made an unscheduled visit to his village the next January and for the first time, he agreed with me that nowhere in Nigeria is safer than the other, it is just a matter of luck and the desperation of criminal elements to penetrate a particular area.
Like that senior friend of mine has come to believe, no Nigerian should feel unconcerned about any act of savagery going on anywhere in the country, just because he or she is not being presently affected by that. Terrorism anywhere signals apprehension everywhere. It beats my imagination that any Nigerian will be anxiously waiting for the news of another Boko Haram attack anywhere, just because they want to spite some people or any political Party. We should begin to understand that for every single Boko Haram attack that takes place anywhere within the Nigerian shores, our potentials as a nation lose some ounce, our siblings’ lives are cut short, investors are scared away and the jobs they are supposed to provide are lost. We all need to pray for a safer Nigeria, we all need to join our faith with that of the Federal Government to ensure that this dreary turn in our national page is quickly and permanently exterminated.
First, it was Alhaji Lai Mohammed who raised the hopes of patriotic Nigerians when he announced that the Boko Haram terrorists have been pushed into a terminal angle, from where they can do little, since they are merely gasping for any little air. Then, our President raised our hope further when he affirmed what his Minister of Information said, by telling the world in an interview with the British Broadcasting Cooperation that because the military has seriously whittled down the strength of the insurgents to the point that they have lost all capacities to attack any urban area, hence, they carry out soft attacks in very remote areas out of desperation, hence, the President’s declaration that the nightmare of Boko Haram has been technically defeated.
On the social media, these statements by Mr. President and the honourable Minister for information, elicited and has continued to elicit reactions from social media users. Those known as PDP sympathisers have continued to dismiss the statements as deceitful, while the APC sympathizers continue to make posts, especially on Facebook, trying to substantiate these statements, even though they have little or no facts.
The best way to really determine the veracity or otherwise of the statements is not by reading what is posted on Facebook or other social media platforms, but by either finding your way to the areas known as flashpoints of the insurgency or getting across to someone or some people who can give you firsthand information about what is really going on there. For me, the second option was available to me and I made good use of it, as I have many soldier friends who are deployed to these flashpoints. While, evidences abound that these terrorists have not being completely defeated- terrorism is not ever fully defeated- what I am interested in is confirming that efforts are being made by those in government to really tackle the trouble in the Northeast and elsewhere in the country.
The first soldier I called over the matter sounded very pessimistic. My interaction with him went thus:
ME: Compliments of the season, brother.
Soldier 1: Same to you, my man. How is family?
Me: they are doing great. Bro, is it true you guys have defeated Boko Haram?
Me: The President said that Boko Haram has been technically defeated.
Soldiers: With what were they defeated? Abeg, my brother, let’s change this topic, I don’t want anything that will spoil my mood.
Me: Na waa oo. I am sorry to bother you, but are you trying to tell me that you people cannot defeat these terrorists?
Soldier: how can’t we? We can! But do you fight such people with your bare hands?
Me: But the President has budgeted huge sums of money for that purpose and those that stole money for arms in the past are being prosecuted.
Soldier: My brother, there are lots of things you do not know and there are things I cannot tell you, but Nigerians should just be prayerful. At the point we are, it is only a miracle that can save us. For now, they are just sacrificing officers and men.
This young soldier, whom I met for the first time in Jigawa during my days as a member of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), went on to fill my ears with some of the most disheartening stories I have heard in recent times. After him, I got in touch with four other soldiers who are my friends and are in battlefronts fighting the insurgents. Just two of them were able to give me some information, which mostly tallied with what my first source told me. The other two were unyielding in their decision not to discuss such with me on the telephone. They promised to give me every detail I may need once God answers their prayers of being transferred out of the Northeast. Unanimously, they confirmed that life as a soldier in the Northeast is hellish, and the Nigerian government is not appreciative of their efforts nor are they provided with the necessary logistics for to enable them wage an efficient war against the terrorists.
I wondered how it is that the media is no longer replete with news about the activities of the Boko Haram terrorists and my soldier friends were as surprised as I am. However, they all agreed that the insurgents are still as deadly as they were and deadlier than they were as at May 2015, when the acquisition of more modern military were helped in seriously repelling them and drastically reducing their capacity for terror. The military authorities in cahoots with the APC led Federal Government may have technically succeeded in clouding the activities of these insurgents, so that the media is either not allowed access to them or are made not to report them.
It has always being my opinion that one of the best ways to defeat terrorism and discourage potential terrorists is through media blackout on activities of terrorists. Terrorists’ foot soldiers are mostly not interested in any other thing but the fact their activities are widely reported and instil fears in people. the major negotiating strength of terrorists is blackmail. And they can only achieve that when their activities receive wide coverage, thereby portraying the government as weak and incapable of protecting its citizens. I also think that the bait of being renowned all over the world may constitute one of the ideas used in recruiting suicide bombers, especially for Western targets. Media blackout on the activities of all terrorist activities should be encouraged. If possible, the media should only publicize travel advisories to prospective tourists on the dangers of travelling to particular areas, while names of terrorists organizations and their leaders should be kept away from the media.
That the APC led Federal Government now appreciates and implements this strategy in the fight against Boko Haram is a burden on their claim to patriotism, as they spared nothing in making sure that the activities of the terrorists received good media coverage during the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. There is nothing the APC used to embarrass the Jonathan presidency more than the activities of the Boko Haram. It is on record that the incumbent Minister of Transportation and former Governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi blamed the Federal Government for the reported desertion of hundreds of soldiers, claiming then that these soldiers did not have enough weapons with which to confront the terrorists. This statement by a top politician, no doubt boosted the morale of the insurgents, as it made it appear that they had the upper hand in the battle and also encouraged other military personnel to either desert or contemplate such.
According to one of my sources, the present government has not added a single pin to the weaponry of the Nigerian Army, while the ammunition acquired by the previous government have gone bad due to excessive usage and non-maintenance. For instance the T-72 and forty barrel guns acquired by the Jonathan administration which the military used in overwhelming the terrorists are now mostly out of use. The 120 Mortar and 81 millimeter mortars are some of the platforms acquired by the previous administration and deployed in the fight against the terrorists. Today, some of these weapons are either malfunctioning or are inadequate for the challenge of defeating Boko Haram.
Another hindrance to the actual defeat of Boko Haram is the morale of the soldiers. No doubt, most of these soldiers deserve exclusive medals for their patriotism and gallantry in the fight against these terrorists, but the feelings from the camps of these soldiers suggest that the Nigerian government is consistently demoralizing them. These soldiers watch their comrades fall in the fight against these insurgents and no reasonable response comes from the government. Some of these soldiers are buried in shallow graves with their families not knowing what fate has befallen them.
For one of the soldiers I spoke with, the fear among most of the soldiers fighting there is not death, after all, they have signed on to death, from the day they were inducted into the Army, but the fear of what will be of their bodies and the fate of their families when they are dead. The government has not taken actions that will motivate them to throw their all into the fight.
The only reason why there are still soldiers in the Northeast is that these soldiers love Nigeria, love ordinary Nigerians, and are irreversibly committed to protecting the country. If they are to look up to the government, then, the Northeast and especially; Adamawa, Borno and Yobe would have been abandoned completely to the terrorists.
It also curious that most of these soldiers have spent three years in the Northeast without being transferred out, while their comrades relax in the Southern part of Nigeria, without having tested a day of war. Most of these soldiers believe that men and officers of the Nigerian Army who have benefactors among the Army top brass are exempted from being posted to the Boko Haram infested areas, while those who do not, are left there to die. Some of these soldiers have not set their eyes on their families for as long as they have being in the battle front while there are others who do not even have the luxury of hearing the voices of their spouses through telephone calls, as they are posted to areas without Network coverage.
The APC led Federal Government will do better, if it devotes more energy and resources towards achieving the actual defeat of Boko Haram than this investment in the curious technicality in the defeat of an actual menace. By the end of 2016, the Nigerian government can be sure of actually defeating the insurgents if they take the right steps. For instance, these soldiers need to be equipped with the necessary platforms for the fight against the terrorists, soldiers should be adequately motivated and made to understand that even in death, their sacrifices will not go in vain. There should not be any sacred cows in the fight against these terrorists, if possible, soldiers should be transferred out of the Boko Haram areas every six months and new soldiers deployed to these areas, to ensure that these soldiers do not feel cheated or even condemned to a dreary fate, while others are loved and protected from getting to the war front.
Nigeria must prevail!
Onwuasoanya Jones is a popular political commentator. He is chief strategist at The Real Imo Rescue Movement and senior partner at Luckcourt Media Systems. He is on Facebook.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.