Ten years ago in 2009, the Boko Haram rebellion began in Bauchi, following the death of its founder, Mohammed Yusuf. Observers are skeptical about the government’s often repeated claim of “degrading and technically defeating” the insurgents. Deputy Political Editor RAYMOND MORDI looks at how the anti-terror war has fared under President Muhammadu Buhari, who made security one of his top priorities.
After 10 years of Boko Haram insurgency, the Federal Government believes the extremists have been degraded and defeated, while its opponents think differently. Three days after the insurgents killed 60 mourners, the Presidency restated its often-repeated claim that the sect has been defeated.
In a statement, by the Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, to mark 10 years of the insurgency war, the said President Muhammadu Buhari has made the country safer than it was in 2015. He said: “The position of the government is that Boko Haram has been degraded and defeated. The real Boko Haram we know has been defeated.
“At the moment, the Nigerian government under President Muhammadu Buhari has made the country safer than it met it. In 2015, when he first took over power, Boko Haram terrorism was active in nearly half the number of states in the country. They controlled a territory the size of Belgium, with a flag and systems of administration and taxation of their own. Emirs and chiefs had fled their domains, along with hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens. Such is no more; they have been taken from them.”
Shehu said the government has recently embarked on electronic and digital border monitoring scheme to curtail the porosity of the borders. He added: “A few weeks ago, the administration inaugurated the Northeast Development Commission, to fast track development and poverty eradication in the affected areas.
“The Buhari administration is strongly encouraged by the successes recorded so far by our armed forces and the Multinational Joint Task Force, and is optimistic that in the same way as our military defeated the Boko Haram, so would the ISWA terrorism be defeated.”
Given its numerous blunders on security matters, the government’s claim of making the country safer than it was in 2015 is highly debatable.
But, what can be said with certainty is that the Boko Haram extremists have found themselves at a crossroads. Their campaign to overthrow the government and create an Islamic state has failed. The insurgency group has broken into two major factions and has been heavily degraded.
From December 2015, it has lost the territories it held prior to that time and the frontal attacks on big towns and cities, with the anarchists thumping their noses against the much-vaunted federal might, has fizzled out. So has the lunatic boasts of Abubakar Shekau or his reincarnated ghosts.
The threat it currently poses has become restricted to the usual hit-and-run guerrilla tactics.
It was the death of the then young preacher, Mohammed Yusuf, 10 years ago that led to the escalation of Boko Haram, which had started a year earlier. The preacher had been going around the streets of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, canvassing for the application of Islamic law and for people to turn their backs on the Western way of life. He declared that “Western education is a sin” — or, in Hausa, “Boko Haram”.
Following the return to civil rule in 1999, when the population was hoping for the fairer distribution of wealth and an end to rampant corruption, the late Yusuf was resolute in his belief that Western way of life cannot satisfy the aspirations of the people. He believed Western education and the so-called modern way of life is the cause of the maladies in the society. The disenchantment of the people with the status quo proved a fertile soil for this preacher and his radical assertions, though he initially said he opposed the use of violence.
It was his increasing confrontations with the security services during daily demonstrations in the main cities in early 2009 that that pitched him and his group against the Nigerian state. When a Boko Haram demonstration was banned toward the end of July 2009, rioting broke out in the city of Bauchi, spreading to Yobe, Borno and other regions. The clashes lasted several days, and at least 300 people died in Maiduguri alone
The government responded with a large-scale police operation. A large number of people were arrested, including the leader of the sect, Yusuf. He was shot dead under controversial circumstances while in detention on July 30, 2009. Members of the sect were reported to have been illegally executed by the police.
At the time, Yusuf had already named his successor: Abubakar Shekau. Under Shekau, Boko Haram began a merciless “holy war” against the state. The sect’s activities moved underground, and its terrorism entered into a new dimension. It carried out many suicide attacks, including one on the police headquarters in the capital, Abuja. With time, Boko Haram’s increasingly brutal attacks, which often targeted civilians, began to spread fear and terror in the region. Over 32,000 people are believed to have been killed in the last 10 years, with millions driven from their homes.
After years of fighting, Boko Haram insurgents became aggressive and started to seize large territories areas in the Northeast. The violence escalated dramatically in 2014, with 10,849 reported deaths. Nevertheless, it was the April 14, 2014 abduction of 276 girls from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State that brought the reality of the Boko Haram insurgency home to many observers around the world. The girls were forced from their dormitories onto trucks and driven into the bush. Fifty-seven girls, however, managed to escape.
At the same time, the insurgency spread to neighbouring Cameroon, Chad, and Niger, thus becoming a major regional conflict. Meanwhile, Shekau attempted to improve his international standing among Jihadists by tacitly aligning with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in March 2015. Thus, Boko Haram became the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP).
With the vigour brought into the fight against the insurgency, when President Buhari came to power in May 2015, Boko Haram fighters were driven back in 2015 by a regional coalition led by Nigeria. This forced the Islamists to retreat into Sambisa Forest and bases around Lake Chad.
Discontent about various issues consequently grew among the insurgents. Dissidents among the movement allied themselves with ISIL’s central command and challenged Shekau’s leadership, resulting in a violent split of the insurgents. Since then, Shekau and his loyalist group are generally referred to as “Boko Haram”, whereas the dissidents continued to operate as ISWAP under Abu Musab al-Barnawi. The two factions consequently fought against each other while waging insurgencies against the local governments. After a period of reversals, the real Boko Haram and its ISWAP version have launched fresh campaigns in 2018 and 2019.
But, since Boko Haram ceased to be the major security challenge facing the county, others such as banditry, the farmers/herders clashes, kidnapping and the Shiites menace have emerged. For instance, the Middle Belt region has been facing violent clashes between farmers and cattle herders. At the core of the conflicts are disputes over access and rights to land and water resources and rapid desertification which has changed the grazing patterns of cattle. These clashes are not necessarily new, but since 2015, the disputes have become more frequent and violent.
Besides, there has been an upsurge in the incidence of kidnapping. Unlike in the past, it now affects an increasingly wide spectrum of the population. Hitherto, kidnapping mostly occurred in the Southsouth and the Southeast region. but now, it has become a national epidemic and a business.
Source: The Nation Newspapers