Boko Haram extended the frontiers of its atrocities with the callous attack on an Internally-Displaced Persons camp in Rann, Kala-Balge Local Government Area of Borno State, early this month that left three United Nations aid workers dead. Such an attack contravenes the global convention that an IDP camp is a humanitarian centre. This places a burden on the Muhammadu Buhari administration to bring the perpetrators to book.
Two of the deceased represented the International Organisation for Migration, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, stated. The third casualty, a medical doctor, worked with the International Red Cross. The attack on the 55,000-member camp also saw the abduction of three aid workers and a UN nurse. The consequence was instant. The UN, which has 3,000 humanitarian workers in the North-East, immediately shut its operations in Rann, putting the IDPs in further distress.
Likewise, Doctors Without Borders, known by its French initials, MSF, suspended medical activities because of the attack. It said that 40,000 IDPs, who needed medical attention, were affected by its decision. “The latest attack is a stark reminder that it is the people in Borno who are paying the price of this ruthless conflict,” the IOM said. Indeed, Nigeria is paying a heavy price for the insurgency. Over 100,000 people have been violently slaughtered since 2009, when Boko Haram’s terror campaign began, according to the Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima.
The UN estimates that the humanitarian crisis has grown to become one of the largest in the world. It has displaced more than two million people across the North-East. According to Kallon, 6.1 million people in the region are in need of food, safe water and medicine.
Unfortunately, the government is adamant that the Boko Haram insurgency has all but faded away. At the eighth National Security Seminar recently, organised by the Alumni Association of the National Defence College in Abuja, the President said the sect “is no longer a serious fighting force.” This is out of tune with reality. Juxtaposed with the horrific banditry it is still carrying out, the denial is akin to hiding behind a finger.
Apart from carrying out repeated suicide bombings since the turn of the year, Boko Haram regained global infamy on February 19 when it kidnapped 110 female pupils of Government Science and Technical Girls College, Dapchi, Yobe State. It is a repeat of the abduction of the 276 Chibok schoolgirls on April 14, 2014 in Borno State.
Having taken root for over nine years, Nigeria faces a formidable task to reduce Boko Haram to rubble. Although negotiations have yielded the return of about 100 Chibok girls, lecturers of the University of Maiduguri and abducted female police officers, Boko Haram is still waxing stronger. Buhari had made the same mistake in December 2015, when he controversially declared that the sect had been “technically defeated.” This was after the military high command said it had captured “Ground Zero,” and cleared the Sambisa Forest, the sect’s stronghold.
Before the latest attack, the insurgents, armed with automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and gun trucks, according to the IOM, had raided the military formation at Rann. Damian Chukwu, the Borno State Commissioner of Police, said that four policemen and six soldiers died in the attacks. This shows that the group has not been weakened. At best, it is in retreat, which is the modus operandi of Islamist terrorism. Without saying so, Buhari, last December, asked the National Assembly to approve $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account to buy arms needed to prosecute the war.
Experts state that terror organisations mutate. They operate as the occasion demands, using asymmetric tactics, capturing territories or hitting soft targets with bombs. It is naïve, therefore, to assume that Boko Haram has been tamed because it is not currently holding territories, as it once did across Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states.
The incontrovertible evidence is that it is still a potent fighting force. One, Borno, not underestimating the Boko Haram threat, shut female public boarding schools in 25 of its 27 LGAs on March 12. “If the entire security situation is not addressed, one cannot be sure what could happen,” the state’s Commissioner for Education, Inuwa Kubo, said. “…in a situation where you cannot move to some parts of the state without an escort and you are hearing that, in some cases, soldiers are being ambushed, do you deceive yourself and say everything is okay?” Why, then, is Buhari underrating the Boko Haram menace?
Two, in a state visit to Nigeria on March 12, the then United States Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, said the Boko Haram insurgency extended beyond Nigeria. “Boko Haram is a threat to other regions…in my discussions with President (Idris) Derby in Chad earlier today, we spoke about the threat of Boko Haram….” Put differently, taking Boko Haram for granted could be perilous.
However, being a former army general, Nigerians expect a lot more from the President. Yet, without overhauling the current security structure, the war against terror will linger more than necessary. The intelligence services – the State Security Service and the National Intelligence Agency – have made a mess of counter-insurgency. Along with the military, these institutions have to be reinvigorated.
This is how Saudi Arabia, which is leading the military coalition in Yemen, responded. It fired its security chiefs on February 27. The major shake-up ousted the key security and military brass. The President should infuse new ideas into the war, appoint capable personnel and give them targets, including taking out Abubakar Shekau (the Boko Haram leader) and tracing the source of the Islamists’ funding and weaponry, collaborate with our neighbours and seek financial and technical assistance from the US and Europe.