Boko Haram: The Return of Terror

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In past few weeks, Boko Haram insurgents have been on rampage, killing, maiming and destroying properties thereby causing anxiety and debate on what brought their renewed strength

By Olu Ojewale  |  Jul 20, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT  |

IN the dying days of former President Goodluck Jonathan in office, it looked as if Boko Haram insurgency was about to die with the exit of the regime. But since President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office on May 29, the members of Boko Haram appear to have gained more impetus, becoming more daring and ferocious in their attacks than before. In the past week, their attacks have become more rancorous in several parts of the North, including Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Kaduna, Kano, Plateau and Katsina states, where no fewer than 500 people were killed and properties valued in millions were destroyed.

All these beg the question as whether the government’s measures aimed at extinguishing the insurgency are working.

In one of the latest attacks by the insurgents, no fewer than 40 persons were killed in a bomb explosion which rocked the government lodge in Sabon Gari, Zaria, Kaduna State, on Tuesday, July 7. About 32 others who sustained various degrees of injuries were rushed to the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Shika, for treatment.

Witnesses said the bomb exploded at about 9:45 am on the day at the secretariat of Sabon Gari Local Government where hundreds of people had gathered for the workers’ verification exercise being embarked upon by the state government. The bomb reportedly exploded in the middle of the crowd that had gathered at the council secretariat for the exercise.

One Abdullahi Aliyu, who said he narrowly escape death, said that the crowd was so large that it was difficult to say how the bomb was detonated. “It exploded in the middle of the crowd, I am not in a position to say whether it was a suicide bomber or the bomb was planted there. It just exploded and the whole place was thrown into confusion as people started scampering for safety,” Aliyu said.

Jonathan
Jonathan

On Wednesday, July 8, the military announced that troops at a checkpoint in Gombe State had arrested the mastermind of the bombing in the Sabon-Gari Local Government Area secretariat, Zaria, Kaduna State, in which 40 persons were killed. The military disclosed the arrest in a tweet on its official twitter handle on Wednesday that the mastermind of the Jos and Zaria attacks had been arrested by a combined team of troops and operatives of the DSS at a military checkpoint in Gombe State, thus: “Following an operation by a combined team of military and DSS operatives, troops have arrested the mastermind of the Jos and Zaria bombings at a checkpoint in Gombe.”

The identity of the suspect was still being kept secret at press time. The mastermind was said to have been trailed to the Gombe where he was arrested with two suspected accomplishes.

Chris Olukolade, a major general and director, Defence Information, also confirmed the arrest saying: “It is true that the suspect of the Jos and the Zaria bomb attacks have been arrested at a military checkpoint in Gombe.” He refused to speak further on the event that led to the arrest of the three suspects.

That notwithstanding, what appears to be alarming to Nigerians is the spate of Boko Haram attacks in recent days. Peter Ozo-Eson, general-secretary of the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, said in statement on Wednesday, July 8, that the frequency of occurrence of the bombings only indicated that Boko Haram had regrouped and would continue to wreak havoc on soft targets.

el-Rufai
el-Rufai

He said: “We are appalled by the senseless massacre of innocent workers (by suicide bombers) who had gathered for screening at the local government secretariat in Zaria. It defies comprehension. A few days earlier, we had had similar fatal explosions in Kano, Jos, and Potiskum. We had also recorded wholesome invasions and massacres in some border communities in Borno and Yobe states.

“We condemn in very strong terms this renewed coordinated violence against innocent and law-abiding citizens who are just beginning to put together what was left of their lives.”

On the international scene, Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the United Nations, UN, strongly condemned latest attacks by the Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria, Niger and Chad. In a statement on Tuesday, July 7, Ban also denounced what he called the deliberate targeting of Christian and Muslim worshippers during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Borno and Yobe states.

“The Secretary-General takes note of President Muhammadu Buhari’s determination to root out this menace, and commends the countries of the Lake Chad Basin Commission and Benin for their steadfast efforts in the fight against Boko Haram,” the statement said.

“The Secretary-General renews his calls to support the operationalisation of the Multi-National Joint Task Force through the provision of the requisite political, logistical and financial resources and necessary expertise, consistent with international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law,” it said.

Olukolade
Olukolade

Abubakar Sa’ad III, Sultan of Sokoto and president-general of the Jama’atul Nasril Islam, while also condemning the renewed terrorists attacks in Borno, Yobe, Kaduna and Kano states, said it was unacceptable and inhuman.

The Sultan, in a statement by Aliyu Khalid, secretary-general of the JNI, in Kaduna on Wednesday, July 8, said: “We, however, use this medium to once again condemn in the strongest terms the recent attack unleashed on innocent civil servants undergoing screening at the Sabon Gari Local Government Area secretariat, Zariam, in Kaduna State.”

Since the renewed brutal attacks, there have been many reasons adduced as to why the insurgents appear to be gaining the upper hand. Some persons have attributed it to the dismantling of military checkpoints ordered by the president after a meeting with the service chiefs on Monday, June 22. The order, some Nigerians argued, have allowed the insurgents free movement and penetration into communities at will.

On his part, Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State attributed it to failure of security. The governor, therefore, announced that extra security personnel were being deployed across the state and urged the people of the state to shun large gatherings but, where impossible, to exercise and practise maximum vigilance and vigorous checks on persons, vehicles and luggage.

In addition, the governor also announced the banning of street begging and hawking. The state government in a statement by Samuel Aruwan, spokesman of the governor, warned: “Any beggar or hawker found on the streets will be arrested, until these measures are relaxed.” The government further reiterated the ban on commercial motorcycle popularly known as Okada, warning that the law would be strictly enforced.

Tsav
Tsav

Ebongabasi Ekpe-Juda, a security expert, said the dislodgement of Boko Haram insurgents from Sambisa forest actually forced the militants into various communities around in the North-East and beyond. “Since they (insurgents) have been rooted out of the forest where they held sway, they have decided to cause panic among the populace. I believe that the president is on the right track in terms of meeting with the neighbouring presidents in order to defeat the insurgents. They have been rooted so this is the only thing left for them to act and show that they can still wreak havoc on the nation,” Ekpe-Juda said.

For the nation to succeed in the fight against the insurgents, he said there must be more emphasis on intelligence gathering and the use of technology. “I don’t think the asymmetric warfare will work. The military should know that using a conventional war tactics will not be effective in fighting this kind of war. We must encourage the local people to give information about these people. The problem is that the local people are afraid of giving information because they cannot distinguish the real military men from Boko Haram who are also clad in military uniform. Intelligence gathering must suffice and our security officers must be trained on modern intelligence gathering methods. We must also employ modern technology to detect people who are carrying weapons on their bodies before they kill or cause damages,” he said.

Ekpe-Juda argued that the existence of the military checkpoints could not have prevented acts of terror. He said it actually helped them to know where to avoid while trying to carry out their nefarious activities. “Those checkpoints were actually tollgates for security men, that is why the dismantling of security checkpoints is a welcome development,” he said.

Similarly, Abubakar Tsav, retired commissioner of Police, Lagos State, said demolishing security checkpoints was a good move because they were being used to extort money from people.  He said: “Let me ask you one thing since they were mounting roadblocks have you ever heard that they arrested some people with guns; arrested any kidnappers or recover any stolen vehicles? No! They have not been arrested. There was a state of emergency in the North East when they came and kidnapped the Chibok girls. There were military roadblocks but none of them saw this thing or was able to stop the kidnappers. There were so many roadblocks in Yobe when they (Boko Haram insurgents) came and killed so many of the students in their hostels. So, the issue of roadblock should not be brought in on this.”

Ekpe-Juda
Ekpe-Juda

However, since the dismantling of checkpoints, Solomon Arase, inspector-general of police, ordered deployment of hundreds of police patrol vehicles in several highways across the nation. Besides, in response to the current spate of attacks, the police have also started stop and measure to arrest the ugly situation. Speaking at a radio programme on Thursday, July 9, Abayomi Shogunle, deputy police public relations officer, said the stop and search measure was based on intelligence report gathered by the police and that it would be a temporary measure to deal with the situation on ground. Shogunle said the police were also using the reports of the local people to tackle the problems of the insurgents.

To avoid the abuse of the system, he said: “The police have also put in place a motoring and evaluation measure to ensure that the operating teams are acting according to directive of the force. To ensure the success of the operation, what I would like to plead with Nigerians is to please cooperate because this measure is for the best of all of us; by answering the question you are asked when you are stopped. When police request to search your person or your vehicle please oblige. Let us cooperate with the police, it is for the good of all.”

But the likes of Femi Fani-Kayode, a former minister of Aviation, and spokesperson of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign organisation, who said he was not surprised by the barbaric insurgence of Boko Haram, believe that Nigerians asked for it by refusing to renew Jonathan’s mandate and instead voted Buhari as president.

Fani-Kayode said he warned Nigerians about the dangers of voting for Buhari instead of re-electing Jonathan, but that they still proceeded to vote for “change.” Fani-Kayode said having voted the way they did, they must learn to live with the consequences of their choices in the last elections, among which is the renewed Boko Haram attacks.

Fani-Kayode
Fani-Kayode

“There is a hideous and frightful hidden agenda which is slowly manifesting before our very eyes. Though we warned them, the Nigerian people wanted ‘change’ so they must live with the consequences of their choice,” he said adding that one of those consequences is the new-found “audacity, courage, growing power and rising strength of Boko Haram.”

The former minister also accused President Buhari of being sympathetic to Boko Haram. “Anyone that honestly believed that a man who secretly shares the same vision and core principles of Boko Haram and who spent many years defending them can do anything but give them a free hand when he comes to power is living in cuckoo land,” he said in a Facebook post Monday, July 6.

He also said the cause of the Boko Haram sect could have been aided by the removal of military checkpoints in towns and along highways.

He said the Nigerian government was also transferring Boko Haram suspects to prisons in the eastern part of the country in order to “spread the word” adding that no less than 182 Boko Haram suspects were released on the president’s orders just a few days ago. “Is all this just a coincidence or is something that is dark and sinister now afoot in our country? Whatever each of us may or may not believe, one thing is clear- that Boko Haram now have powerful friends and secret allies right at the epicentre of power and those friends and allies are running the affairs of the country,” he said.

On Saturday, July 4, Femi Adesina, special adviser to President Buhari on media and publicity, said the government was not adverse to negotiation to stop the insurgency, but that the Buhari administration would negotiate on position of strength and not weakness.

Adesina, who was reacting to comments on interview he granted to a foreign media on the subject matter, said President Buhari was resolute and poised to win the war against insurgency. He said that already, federal government and its allies had since put machinery in motion for the final onslaught on terrorist within and beyond Nigeria.

Saraki
Saraki

He, however, said that if Boko Haram opted for negotiation, the government would not be averse to it. Adesina said: “Most wars, however furious or vicious, often end around the negotiation table. So, if Boko Haram opts for negotiation, the government will not be averse to it…. President Muhammadu Buhari is resolute. He has battled and won insurgency before; he is poised to win again.”

Bukola Saraki, president of the Senate, while condemning in strong terms bomb attack on innocent worshippers at a church in Potiskum, Yobe State, on Sunday, July 5, urged the insurgents to take olive branch held out by the federal government and give peace a chance. Saraki said: “Sending Nigerians to their untimely grave can never be the solution to any religious, political or economic grievances….The recent position of the federal government that it would not oppose negotiation with the insurgents ‘if the Boko Haram terrorist group opt for it’ ought to be seen as an olive branch extended to the sect by the present administration. And I urge them to take advantage of that opportunity to drop their weapons.”

That probably encouraged Boko Haram insurgents to have offered to free more than 200 young women and girls kidnapped from the Federal Government School, Chibok town, Borno State, on April 14, 2014, in exchange for the release of its fighters held by the government, a human rights activist told The Associated Press, AP.

The activist said Boko Haram’s current offer would be limited to the girls from the school, whose mass abduction in April 2014 ignited worldwide outrage and a campaign to “#BringBackOurGirls” that stretched to the White House, US, and other capitals across the world.

The AP said the new initiative would reopen an offer made last year to the government of former President Jonathan to release the 219 students in exchange for 16 Boko Haram detainees, the activist said. The activist spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to reporters on this sensitive issue.

Fred Eno, an apolitical Nigerian who has been negotiating with Boko Haram for more than a year, told the AP that “another window of opportunity opened” in the last few days, though he could not discuss details. He said the recent bloodletting was consistent with past intensifying of violence as a means putting the militants on a stronger negotiating position.

But whether the Nigerian government would be interested in negotiating with the rampaging killers is another thing. Whatever the decision it takes, Nigerians would want the Buhari administration to be careful so that it does not end up being embarrassed as the Jonathan administration which announced a ceasefire sometime last year, only to be caught in ceaseless attacks of Boko Haram who later denied any ceasefire agreement.

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