‎Metamorphosis of Boko Haram

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Boko Haram insurgents

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So far, the Nigerian government appears to have brought the activities of Boko Haram insurgents to a very low ebb, but the metamorphosis of the terrorists is creating problems in other ways thereby afflicting millions of innocent Nigerians, including children

By Olu Ojewale  |  Oct 3, 2016 @ 01:00 GMT  |

TECHNICALLY, Nigeria has won the war against Boko Haram insurgents that has been terrorising the country in the past seven years. At least, that was the verdict of President Muhammadu Buhari when he spoke to the BBC in December last year. About nine months after President Buhari’s victory declaration, the military has not succeeded in uprooting Boko Haram terrorists from their enclaves in the North East of Nigeria.

A case in point was that of Wednesday, September 21, when Nigerian troops of operation  Lafiya Dole and the  Multi National Joint Task Force, MNJTF, captured Mallam Fatori in Borno State after a fierce battle mostly conducted by air operations.

Sani Usman, a colonel and acting director, Army Public Relations, in a signed statement, said the town was captured under “Operation Gama Aiki” of the Operation Lafiya Dole.

Usman said the troops killed many Boko Haram terrorists as the sect fighters withdrew “to a vantage position. However, the terrorists reinforced around the border with Niger Republic. This was while the troops were consolidating on this success. The Operation is continuing,”

There was no immediate reaction from Boko Haram, which does not speak directly to the media and only releases video statements.

But Islamic State, ISIS, to which Boko Haram has pledged an alliance, said militants attacked an army convoy in the area on Monday and killed 40 soldiers. The statement was released in Amaq, its affiliated news agency, and picked up by SITE which monitors jihadist announcements.

Although there was no independent verification of both claims by either the army or the Islamic State account, the militants have continued to carry out suicide bombings in some parts of the North-East Nigeria and neighbouring countries such as Chad and Niger, in their struggle to set up a caliphate in northern Nigeria.

That notwithstanding, contrary to what the Buhari government has been telling the country, the United Nations, UN, in its report released on Friday, September 16, disclosed that about two million Nigerians are trapped and are still controlled by Boko Haram in the North-Eastern parts.

Arjan de Wagt, UNICEF’s chief of nutrition in Nigeria, who disclosed this in Geneva, Switzerland, during a press briefing by the UN Information Service, said the trapped two million Nigerians were also facing serious humanitarian conditions.

Buhari
Buhari

The UNICEF chief, who spoke on telephone from Abuja, said the two million people were still in areas which could not be accessed because of the security situation. “The two million people are in Borno State alone,” Wagt said.

He said the situation of the people trapped in Boko Haram-held areas was unknown, but that sometimes the UNICEF managed to get a glimpse when Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, from those areas came to more accessible areas. Hence, the UNICEF would then check their nutrition and health status, which he said, was bad.

“Before April 2016, there was no access to most areas in Borno State because of the security situation,” he said. According to the UNICEF chief, since April, access has progressively become possible to some of the other areas.

He, however, claimed that: “In the newly-accessible areas, the levels of suffering and of malnutrition are very high.  In some of those areas, there’s a severe acute malnutrition rate of 12 percent, which is a level rarely seen.  It is of a severity similar to that seen during the Horn of Africa crisis in 2011, in Somalia.”

Besides, Wagt raised alarm over looming humanitarian disaster in the North East, caused by the Boko Haram insurgence. He said the three states mostly affected by the insurgence, Borno, Adamawa and Yobe have more than 400,000 children “with severe acute malnutrition, and in Borno alone, 244,000 children are affected.”

He warned that about one in five of those children were likely to die if they were not reached in time with specialised therapeutic foods.

He added that, if nothing was done, about 49,000 of the 244,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition in Borno State would die in the next 12 months, translating to about 134 every day. “Some 65,000 people are in famine-like conditions, the worst level of food insecurity, and facing starving to death for lack of food.  It is a very unique situation in the world,” he said.

As if that is not bad enough, the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative from the United States and the Stefanus Foundation, based in Nigeria, reported on Monday, September 19, that more 14 million Nigerians are directly affected by humanitarian crises in the North-East region of the country. The two international humanitarian groups, which gave the figure on Monday in Abuja, while addressing journalists during a programme organised to highlight the challenges of terror victims in the country.

Mark Lipdo, executive director of the Stefanus Foundation, said a research conducted by the groups revealed that “14.8 million Nigerians from North-East are directly impacted by the crisis. Officially, there are 2.2 million Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs.

“Unofficially, there are five to seven million IDPs. Those in need of special assistance are 2.5 million, comprising children under the age of five, pregnant women and nursing mothers,” he said. Lipdo said the menace of terrorism has had a wide range of casualties, which he listed to include 611 teachers who died as a result of terrorism in the north east; 19,000 teachers displaced, 1,500 schools closed down, and 950,000 children denied the opportunity of accessing education. Others include 13,000 churches abandoned, closed down or destroyed, 2000 children abducted and 10,000 boys forced to join Boko Haram.

“Global Terrorism index shows that Boko Haram is the world’s most lethal terrorist group, followed by ISIS, while Al-Qaeda ranks third and the Fulani militants mostly in the middle belt rank 4th,” Lipdo said.

Sokoto
Sokoto

Elijah Brown, vice president of the 21st Wilberforce Initiative, disclosed that in December 2015, the number of IDPs scattered around Nigeria alone were more than two million. “As of December 2015, there were 2,152,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Nigeria – the third highest figure in Africa and the seventh in the world,” he said.

Perhaps, torched by the grim picture of the plight of IDPs and millions of Nigerians trapped in the Boko Haram enclaves, President Buhari has again cried out to the international community to join hands with Nigeria in its fight against the insurgence. The Nigerian president beckoned on member-states of the Non-Aligned Movement, NAM, to join in fighting Boko Haram and to assist security personnel, victims and countries affected by the Boko Haram insurgency. The president’s statement was delivered by Akinremi Bolaji, spokesperson, Nigerian Mission to the UN, and made available to the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, in Abuja on Monday, September 19. The statement quoted the president as making the call in his speech at the 17th Summit of the NAM at the Island of Margarita, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

The NAM is a group of states which are not formally aligned with or against any major power bloc. Buhari stressed the need to provide assistance to member-countries that had borne the brunt of Boko Haram terrorism, and relief to the Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, and refugees. He explained that twin scourge of terrorism and violent extremism had continued to wreak havoc in Nigeria and countries around Lake Chad Basin. According to him, thousands of nationals have been killed and maimed in addition to the millions displaced from their homes. He, however, stated that the capacity of Boko Haram had been severely degraded with huge sacrifices of the Nigerian Armed Forces and those of the MNJTF.

While noting that the situation in some other parts of the world such as Libya, Iraq and Syria had continued to be a major concern, Buhari appealed for cooperation among members states for the peace process in those countries. “It is essential that the Non-Aligned Movement finds a role for itself in addressing these challenges so as to retain its relevance in the world of today and in the future.’’

Khadija Abba-Ibrahim, Nigerian minister of state for foreign affairs, said at the meeting that Nigeria was firmly committed to the protection of civilians during armed conflict. She said: “This conviction underlines our government’s resolve to take all measures necessary to protect civilians in the battle against the terrorist group, Boko Haram.

“Surely, terrorism must be roundly condemned and rejected by all peace-loving nations and should never be justified or defended under any guise.

“Similarly, no action should also be taken to undermine the morale and professional efficiency of the gallant officers and men of the Nigerian Armed Forces and those of their partners in the sub-region as they prosecute this campaign.”

Indeed, that must have prompted the Nigerian Prisons Service to come out about on Tuesday, September 13, to deny the rumours making the rounds that President Buhari had freed Kabiru Sokoto, the suspected mastermind of 2011 Christmas Day bombing on St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla, near Abuja. About 40 persons were killed in the attack.

There had been several reports on social media, alleging that the president had freed the suspected bomber as part of a purported prisoners swap deal between the federal government and the Boko Haram sect.

Reacting in a statement, however, Biyi Jeje, prisons spokesperson, said, “Please disregard the rumour. He’s still in prisons custody.” Kabiru Sokoto also known as Kabiru Dikko was convicted in December 2013 after being found guilty of masterminding the car suicide bombing on the Catholic Church.

As the dust over the Kabiru Sokoto’s affair was settling, Ali Sanda Umar Konduga,  a self-proclaimed spokesman of Boko Haram, also known Al-Zawahiri, who was recently released from prison where he was serving three years jail-term, was re-arrested at the residence of Mohammed Ali Ndume, majority leader of the Senate.

According to a family source, Konduga’s father and family had claimed he was mentally unstable and sneaked into Ndume’s house the night before Sallah on Sunday, September 11. He insisted that he wanted to see the Ndume who was in Saudi Arabia for the 2016 Hajj exercise.

Reports said Konduga was identified, beaten beyond recognition, and rearrested on Wednesday, September 14, after he had sneaked into the senator’s house for the third consecutive time beginning from Sunday, September 11.

Konduga was arraigned before Abuja High Court along with Ndume, a senator representing Borno South, whom Konduga accused of sponsoring him to undertake Boko Haram activities. Ndume had pleaded not guilty to charges of passing classified information to an unauthorised person and of criminal intimidation.

Ekpe-Juda
Ekpe-Juda

Sources said that Konduga had been taken to Federal Neuro-psychiatric Hospital, Maiduguri on Friday, September 16, to ascertain his mental health before he could be handed over to security agencies.

Nevertheless, Ndume is yet to be cleared by court for his alleged complicity with the Boko Haram.

But what has become apparent is that the battle against Boko Haram insurgency has not been won by the Nigerian state. In fact, it is believed in some quarters that former Boko Haram militants have transmuted to Fulani herdsmen who are now terrorising Nigerians in the South-South and South-East.

Among those who hold such view is Ebongabasi Ekpe-Juda, a security expert. In an interview, Ekpe-Juda told Realnews that the issue of Boko Haram has become malignant and confusing. At the rate the government had fought the war, he said the war should have been a thing of the past. “But it seems it is like a cancer, spreading and metamorphosising. The militants seemed to have metamorphosed into herdsmen, devastating some parts of Delta in the South-South and South-East. You need to see the kind of devastation they have caused in these areas and the kind of guns they are holding; you will see that they are more sophisticated than what the herdsmen usually carry. That is why I believe that they are metamorphorsising.”

While commending the war against the book Haram insurgency so far, he, however, enjoined the federal government to cooperate with state governments to find solution to the menace of herdsmen. Ekpe-Juda said both state and federal should be able to work how gracing reserves should be created so that Islamic Boko Haram militants would not use it to devastate the country. “The situation where you have cattle roaming about Abuja streets does not speak well of us a nation,” he said.

Ekpe-Juda, like many other observers, cannot be faulted on the possibility of Boko Haram militants acting as herdsmen to devastate the country, what that means is that Nigerian security agencies, and, indeed, Nigerians need extra vigilance not to allow this to happen.

In the meantime, the government seems to be having an upper-hand against the insurgents but whether a total annihilation of the group is feasible is another keg of fish. But from all indications, nothing else would please the generality of Nigerians beyond that.

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