By Ayo Akanji
“Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road maybe; for without victory, there is no survival.” – Winston Churchill
About a fortnight ago, the media space was inundated with accusations that personnel of the 19 Brigade of the Nigerian Army in Baga orchestrated an ambush on the convoy of the Borno State Governor, Professor Babagana Umara Zulum on his visit to a camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP’s) in Baga to distribute food relief. Shots were fired at his convoy by members of Boko Haram. The Governor’s convoy was heavily armed by personnel of the Nigerian Security Services who displayed gallantry in securing him and his entourage while the sector commander led his troops in the clearance operations.
Although one has to commend the Executive Governor in discharging the assiduous task of providing succour to the citizens of the state, and acknowledge the sacrifice made by the security agencies, a word of caution to all stakeholders is necessary here. Open confrontation and accusations would only give the insurgents an upper hand and possibly trigger a chain of negative reactions among troops with attendant untoward consequences for the morale of the corps executing the counter insurgency operations.
At a time like this, the command centre shouldn’t be a storm centre but one that masterminds the degrading of the insurgents and one determined to deny them space. The open blame game needs to be halted forthwith. Tremendous efforts have been made to ensure farmers return to their farmlands. Governor Zulum’s reconstructions and resettlement blueprint has the Armed Forces of Nigeria as strategic partners; the Borno State Government has resettled approximately 1.8 million Internally Displaced Persons in 23 Local Governments Areas, fast tracking the return of all displaced people in the state.
It is imperative to note that, these terrorists feed off misinformation and perceived disunity among key stakeholders to bolster their ranks and propagate fear while hunting for an opportunity to assassinate high networth individuals. According to the Nigeria Security Tracker, the period between July 2018 till now has been the deadliest for security operatives in the theatre of operations.
An equally significant aspect of the public spat was the swift and strategic response from the Defence Headquarters by the Coordinator Media Operations, Major General, John Enenche, who opined that investigatigation by the high command established that it was Boko Haram that attacked the Governor: “We investigated it immediately…. Operational level cleared of that, tactical level cleared of that. We analysed the video: you will discover from the sound of the gunshots, it’s not the professional weapons that we use”.
Despite these criticisms, the Armed Forces remain very committed in sustaining its string of successes chronicled against the terrorists, and ensure that Nigerians feel secure wherever they reside. The Federal Government has procured various state-of -the-art military hardwares on a Government to Government basis, giving the country value for the scarce resources expended. Nigeria is in the midst of an ambitious military procurement, taking delivery of advanced and deadly equipment. The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) is stockpiling an unprecedented number of platforms, a good amount of them have been delivered while more are expected.
Correspondingly, the allegation that troops are engaged in fish farming negates the letters contained in the standard operating procedures approved
by the military authority. The investigation team commissioned found out that the entire sector of Baga was deliberately mined with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Thus far, 55 mines have been discharged since AFN troops dominated the town.
The strategic military Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) base is situated in Baga, which enabled troops to reinforce and thwart the ambush, while the Armed Forces of Nigeria and regional forces have stepped up heavy air power against the various bases of Boko Haram to degrade them and restore confidence of the populace.
Apparently, on August 16 2019 officials of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) on a patrol intercepted four trucks laden with fish based on actionable intelligence, it uncovered how Boko Haram hijacked fishing, in the Lake Chad area which led to a total ban on all fishing activities as it was discovered that it served as a means of revenue generation for the insurgents. The military imposed strict sanctions on the culprits, including the burning of the items alongside the vehicles used in the transportation. The public saw how, at the outskirt of Maiduguri, four vehicles comprising two Toyota Land Cruiser trucks, a pick-up van and a Peugeot 504 salon, were set ablaze to send a firm signal to the insurgents and their collaborators. How then would the same troops engage in such activity?
Indeed, the military has been crippling the insurgents economy, choking them off valuable oxygen they so hugely depend on. Fishing is a vital source of their earnings to finance their murderous enterprise. The military high command implored members of the Nigerian Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) not to take part in the illegal fishing business. Notwithstanding these limitations, it is worth noting that the AFN’s various operations are resulting in the desirable results. Scores of Boko Haram/ISWAP fighters, alongside top commanders, have been neutralized.
Operation LAFIYA DOLE and other subsidiary operations are mopping out criminal elements in the respective exercises. The insurgents are in disarray, armourers are either de-based or apprehended, the military successfully cracked an international illegal arms smuggling cartel which stockpiled arms for bandits and insurgents, giving the warfare an international dimension. The AFN eventually commandeered the dreaded Ottu forest along Abuja – Lokoja, a den for kidnappers and bandits while the MNJTF in sync with the AFN successfully raided an ISWAP camp on the fringes of the Lake Chad a very strategic base of the insurgents.
Over time, the Armed Forces of Nigeria, under the auspices of Defence Media Operations media campaigns have been increasingly changing the narrative and shaping the behaviour of youth perceived to be the main targets of indoctrination or forceful recruitment by the Boko Haram terrorists. Notably, such campaigns are geared towards enhancing civil-military relationship, surveillance and also an all inclusive approach to end ideological warfare. Typical of such campaigns, they have been repeated consistently on social media, radio and television (public and privately owned) stations, to make public announcements and reach a significant amount of the Nigerian population, and beyond including perpetrators of the terrorism acts, reason why a good number of them have been surrendering their arms to the AFN.
The essence of this article was inspired by the renewed onslaught of Boko Haram on soft targets, the use of minors for suicide mission as well as new tactics of forcefully conscripting youths into their fold. The war has been ideological with a surplus application of bullet approach and suicide mission in some instances. War with such parameters needs a more robust approach; a combination of gun and awareness creation to conquer and subdue the spread of the false ideology.
Akanji, security strategist and foreign policy analyst, writes from Abuja