by Ikeogu Oke
Following the postponement of the 2015 elections, now scheduled to commence on March 28, rather than February 14, 2015, questions have arisen as to the possibility of the Nigerian Army and its allies from the neighbouring countries of Chad, Cameroon and Niger defeating Boko Haram in six weeks.
This Day columnist, Olusegun Adeniyi, hinted at this reservation in “2015 Election: Jonathan’s Risky Call,” his article of February 13, 2015, by noting that the Nigerian Army has fought Boko Haram for several years with “mixed results.” Sonala Olumhense was more direct in his negative assessment of the possibility of defeating the group and its violent insurgency in the stipulated time. “The prospects are poor,” he declared in his article entitled, “Rejoice, Nigeria! A Six-Week War!!” – published on page 53 of The Guardian of February 15, 2015. And this poor rating is the result of his recognition of Boko Haram as “the ruthless enemy Nigeria has fought, and lost to, for six years.”
Such misgivings, expressed by such high-profile public affairs analysts, reinforce a question that seems to be on the mind of many, which may be framed thus: Can the Nigerian Army defeat the insurgents in six weeks, even as part of a reinforced joint military task force comprising troops from the said neighbouring countries?
For purposes of contextualisation, it should be recalled that six weeks is the period by which the elections were postponed. Also, that the need to root out the insurgency so as to ensure peaceful and credible polls in the affected Nigerian states of Borno, Yobe and Admawa, was the reason the relevant authorities gave for the postponement.
So, the question, put differently, would be: Is it not misplaced optimism to expect Boko Haram to be defeated in six weeks, since the effort of the past several years to check the activities of the group, let alone defeat it, has produced “mixed results” or ended in “failure” – as some would rather see it?
While I consider this a pertinent question and the scepticism that prompts it justified, I believe the evidence from our recent, if contemporary, history of successfully combating another form of home-grown terror is a sufficient ground for answering it in the affirmative.
I refer specifically to how, under the Jonathan administration, the Nigerian Army ended a long reign of terror foisted on our country by kidnappers operating in the South-East, with their nerve centre in Abia State, incidentally my home state.
Like the Boko Haram insurgency, the activities of the kidnappers went on for years, and seemed impossible to control let alone exterminate. Many businesses closed down in the commercial city of Aba and nearby towns for fear of their operators being kidnapped for huge ransoms for which they faced possible death at the hands of their captors if they or their relatives proved unable to pay. And there were cases of victims who were killed by their kidnappers after paying ransoms running into millions of naira!
Overseeing this booming underworld business was a man named Obioma Nwankwo, alias Osisikankwu, which literally translates as “A tree greater than the palm tree.” In his capacity to induce widespread fear, “Osisikankwu” could be compared to the Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau. With his cohorts, he rendered the entire Abia and some neighbouring states numb with terror, manifesting mainly as the fear of kidnapping.
I could feel the relentless grip of fear on Aba and its environs each time I travelled home while the kidnappers reigned. Panicky drivers were in a hurry to enter the city before dusk; and most businesses closed by dusk as the city’s denizens hurried home to a semblance of safety that everyone felt its elusiveness across its landscape. People ceased to drive expensive cars for fear of being identified by the kidnappers’ ubiquitous but unrecognisable informants as prospective victims who could pay the coveted ransom, with predictable consequences for such prospects. The activities of the kidnappers even forced banks in Aba to suspend their operations for two weeks.
For luxury buses headed for Aba from the south-western or northern parts of the country, especially Lagos and Abuja, the drivers and passengers preferred to suspend their journeys midway, and pass the night on the highway, exposing themselves to other forms of hazards, rather than risk arriving or driving through the city after dusk.
While they held sway, the kidnappers reduced Aba from a majestic elephant of a metropolis, ever confident in trumpeting its glory, to some pathetic, sluggish, nondescript animal.
And as we have noticed with Boko Haram, even children, in and out of school, were not spared by the kidnappers in their desperate trawl for victims. For while the kidnappers could see nothing wrong in abducting a busload of schoolchildren for ransom, Boko Haram seems not to have seen any wrong in attacking and murdering students in their dormitories, or using young girls as suicide bombers. And there are parallels between the abduction of the Chibok girls and the kidnap of the busload of schoolchildren in Aba, which galvanised global condemnation against the kidnappers and triggered the decisive move by the government to annihilate them and their activities.
Following the kidnapping of the schoolchildren, the Nigerian Army launched an operation which lasted for about six weeks and ended the kidnappings and returned peace not only to Abia State but also to other nearby states to which the activities of the kidnappers and their terror had spread. And rather in the mould of Boko Haram, the kidnappers were well-armed and highly organised, with a well-articulated structure involving several cells with their control centres located in “evil forests” like the infamous Sambisa Forest of Boko Haram.
For instance, following the routing of the kidnappers and the total liquidation of their enterprise of crime and terror, the Nigerian Army reportedly conducted a cordon and search operation into a forest where the following items belonging to the kidnappers were discovered: “48 empty magazines of AK 47; 3,848 rounds of 7.62mm special ammunition; 538 rounds of 7.62mm Nato; 41 expended cases of 7.62mm special ammunition; some quantity of dynamite and three RPG prima.”
One inference that can be drawn from what transpired with the kidnappers is that a well-armed, highly organised, ruthless and determined group can operate in our country for years and yet take a matter of weeks to defeat with the right kind of intervention by our government and security forces.
So while not making light of the pessimism of those who believe the Nigerian Army and its allies cannot defeat Boko Haram in the stipulated six weeks, I think the precedent I have cited here – involving the same Nigerian Army backed by the same Jonathan government – is proof that, with the support of committed troops from the neighbouring countries – it can achieve this seemingly impossible feat and restore peace to the states affected by the Boko Haram insurgency in preparation for the rescheduled 2105 elections.
In sum, the optimism of those of us who believe that Boko Haram can be defeated in six weeks is not misplaced, for it is founded on such a precedent derived from our recent experience as a people.
Oke, a public affairs commentator, wrote from Abuja, via [email protected]; Mobile no: +234-(0)8034531501
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.