Boko Haram intensifies its attacks on some northern villages thereby raising fear that some parts of the country may be taken over by the fundamentalist Islamic group, but the Nigerian military says it is on top of the situation despite insinuations of poor funding and low morale among its troops
| By Olu Ojewale | Mar. 3, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
GOVERNOR Kashim Shettima of Borno State is unduly worried. The incessant attacks of Boko Haram, an Islamic fundamentalist sect, on villages in the state forced the governor to pay two unscheduled visits to President Goodluck Jonathan within 48 hours. In an emotion- laden voice and tears welling up in his eyes, Shettima cried to the federal government not to allow the situation to get out of hand.
In an apparent frustration, the governor expressed the belief that the situation in the North-East states had gone beyond the relocation of army headquarters to his state.
After his first meeting with President Jonathan in Aso rock on Monday, February 17, the governor told State House correspondents that Boko Haram members were better armed and motivated than the Nigerian troops sent to fight them. Shettima said that going by the rising activities of the sect, Nigeria was in a state of war and that the Nigerian military might not be able to defeat the Islamists based on the meagre resources deployed to tackle the crisis. According to him, more resources must be committed to the anti-terror war if the government really desired victory. “In a nutshell, what we are being confronted with is that we are in a state of war. It is what I came to update Mr. President. The sooner we stop playing the ostrich and rise up to the challenges of the day, and marshal all resources towards neutralising the antics of Boko Haram, the better for all of us. But the bottom line is that we need more resources, more vote on the ground. In all fairness to the officers and men of the Nigerian Army and Police, they are doing their best given the circumstances in which they have found themselves.
“I made it emphatically clear to Mr. President that the Boko Haram members are better armed and better motivated than our own troops. Anybody who is following events in this country can attest to the fact that they have a very smooth sail overrunning communities, killing people. I am an eternal optimist as I have always said but I am also a realist. Given the present state of affairs, it is absolutely impossible for us to defeat Boko Haram,” Shettima said.
The governor was again in Abuja on Wednesday, February 19, to see President Jonathan on the deteriorating situation in his state. The insurgents had carried out another raid, this time on Bama, the headquarters of the Bama Local Government Area and Buratai, Biu LGA in Borno State. More than 60 people were reportedly killed. This, perhaps, lends credence to the governor’s earlier assertion that the Nigerian military lacks the capacity and resources to restore peace and order in the state. But this time, he refused to answer questions from State House correspondents insisting that he made the statement in good faith.
Shettima also declined to react to a comment by Doyin Okupe, senior special assistant to the president on public affairs, in reaction to his earlier statement that the military was not winning the war against Boko Haram insurgents. “I don’t want to comment on what he (Okupe) said,” the governor blurted adding that his visit to the Villa was “to update the president on the goings-on in Bama.”
Shettima, however, reacted later to Okupe’s assertion through a statement issued by Isa Gusau, his special adviser on media. In the statement, Shettima said it was unfortunate that Okupe disregarded “the sensitivity of a highly traumatic people for no reason other than cheap goal of showing he is working.” The governor said it was an irony that while Okupe didn’t find the senseless killing of more than 300 innocent Nigerians by Boko Haram in February alone worthy of a press briefing, he found it urgent and convenient to attack an honest opinion expressed by him.
Okupe had incurred the governor’s wrath when, in a swift reaction to Shettima’s claim that the Boko Haram insurgents were better armed and motivated, he said that the governor was economical with the truth. He also dismissed the governor’s assertion that the country was at war. Speaking to reporters in Abuja, Okupe said what the nation had been experiencing was guerrilla warfare from the insurgents and that country was not in a state of war. Similarly, Okupe said it was wrong for anyone to say that the military could not defeat the Boko Haram insurgents. He said: “We are certainly not involved in conventional warfare but are rather engaged in guerrilla warfare with all its unpredictability. However, it is heart warming that our military, which has participated in numerous international peace keeping operations where they helped to quell insurgencies, has acquired the sophistication and necessary capacity to adapt to the ever changing modus operandi of the insurgents. It is therefore wrong for anyone, Nigerian or foreigner, to assert that our armed forces cannot defeat the Boko Haram insurgents or to insinuate that the insurgents are better armed. We believe strongly that the statement made by the Borno State Governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, that the insurgents are better armed than our military is based purely on a civilian perception of the situation at hand.”
According to the president’s aide, Governor Shettima lacks the expertise to categorise or classify the effectiveness of any weapon. He disclosed that the Nigerian military is one of the best equipped in Africa and that in 2014, the federal government would be spending more than N1 trillion on the military and other security agencies, an amount, representing about 22 percent of the nation’s entire budget for the year. Apart from that, Okupe also disagreed with the opinion that the morale of the military was low and that there was no motivation for members of the armed forces. According to him, the Nigerian Armed Forces are spurred by a patriotic sense of duty, national pride and strict adherence to professional ethics, whereas the insurgents are motivated by ideological fanaticism. “But the Nigerian military and security agencies have taken up this challenge and like every facet of this struggle, they will put an end to these incursions in the shortest possible time. Therefore, the morale of the troops engaged in this war is high and ought not to be dampened by unsavoury and certainly untrue comments of low motivation. We enjoin all our national leaders and stakeholders across political and religious divides to close ranks with government and our valiant troops defending our territorial integrity and support the Federal Government to rout the scourging menace of insurgency rather than speaking at cross purposes,” he said.
The president’s spokesman reassured Nigerians and members of the international community that although it was in the character of insurgents to create maximum fear, their sporadic attacks on soft targets was being contained and would soon be halted. “We state authoritatively without any fear or equivocation whatsoever, that Nigeria is already winning the war against terror and the activities of the insurgents will be terminated within the shortest possible time,” Okupe said.
Indeed, in the past two weeks, more than 200 people have been killed in the Boko Hram attacks in villages of Adamawa and Borno states. Thousands of other people were also rendered homeless. The attacks have rekindled the debate on the tactics of government and the ability of the Nigerian security forces to tackle the problem. While the problem has also become a touchy issue between the federal government and Governor Shettima, Abubakar Shekau, leader of the sect, on Thursday, February 20, vowed to attack prominent Nigerians including retired generals Muhammadu Buhari and Ibrahim Babangida, as well as other prominent Nigerians.
Apparently unfazed by government’s military might, Shekau, the Boko Haram leader and fugitive, who is wanted for terrorism by both Nigeria and the United States, on Thursday, February 20, sent a warning to those he regards as enemies on his nefarious ideology to be ready to die. He vowed to kill all major Islamic clerics and people that support democracy, Western education, and Christianity, notwithstanding the state of emergency currently in place in Adamawa. Borno, and Yobe states. He also called on his members in every state of the country, particularly Kano, to attack civilians and government institutions. Shekau also promised that oil refineries in the Niger Delta would soon be attacked as well. “My brethren…you should hold on to your weapons and continue fighting. Let them understand that our work is not confined to Yobe, Borno and Adamawa (states). Make them understand that we are not restricted by emergency rule. They should understand that we are under the canopy of Allah. This is the beginning. Yes, this is the beginning.
“We Jama’atu Ahlissunnah Lidda’awati Wal Jihad are fighting Christians wherever we meet them and those who believe in democracy, those who pursue Western education wherever we meet them. By Allah, we will kill whoever practices democracy. And you the infidels of Rivers state, Niger (Delta), the town of Jonathan, Shekau is talking to you (sounds of gunshots). Shekau is talking to you, that small boy that has become the nightmare of infidels, is talking to you. Oh you the leader of the Niger Delta, you will soon see your refinery destroyed. You will, in the incoming days, see the refinery you are boasting about bombed. Our refinery is Allah. Niger-Delta, you are in trouble. Jonathan, you are in trouble…Ban Ki-moon you are in trouble; Benjamin Netanyahu, you are in trouble; Queen Elizabeth, you are in trouble; Babangida, Kwankwaso, Shekarau, Kashim, Buhari, you are in trouble,” Shekau said in the 28-minute video.
The dexterity with which the sect has been operating in the past few weeks is a source of concern for many Nigerians, including members of the opposition. In one of its latest attacks, the sect struck again in Bama, the headquarters of the Bama Local Government Area and Buratai, Biu LGA in Borno State. During the Bama attack in the morning of Wednesday, February 19, 47 people were killed. The attackers reportedly torched the palace of Kyari El-kanemi, the Shehu of Bama, the LGA headquarters, and some other key public buildings in the town. The attack occurred barely a few hours after Lieutenant-General Kenneth Minimah, chief of Army Staff and Air Marshal Adesola Amosu, chief of Air Staff, visited the community which had been attacked several times by the insurgents.
On Tuesday evening, February 18, the Boko Haram terrorists had been more daring in their attack on Buratai when they stormed the private and family homes of Tukur Buratai, a major-general and commander of the Joint Task Force in the Niger Delta. One soldier and a civilian were said to have been killed during the raid. In the three incidents, the insurgents killed about 200 persons in their deadly attacks within five days. They had killed no fewer than 146 people during a raid on Izghe, a largely Christian community in Gwoza Local Government Area, Borno State, on Saturday, February 15. The gunmen reportedly rounded up a group of men in Izghe community and shot them during the attack that lasted about five hours. Residents, who fled the area said some of the victims were shot, while others had their throats slit by the attackers who were chanting: “Allah is great.” “All the dead bodies of the victims are still lying on the streets,” Abubakar Usman, a resident, who managed to escape the carnage said, adding: “We fled without burying them, fearing the terrorists were still lurking in the bushes.”
To restore peace in the troubled states, government has deployed more troops in the areas. The federal government was also set to send back the disbanded Joint Task Force, JTF, in the North-East states, to restore peace and order. That notwithstanding, the wanton killings and devastating effect of collateral damages of the attacks have continued to give Nigerians a lot of concern. Speaking at the inauguration of the new leadership of the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, in Kaduna on Tuesday, February 18, General Yakubu Gowon, former head of state, said dealing with the insurgency would require serious joint action. Gowon said it was imperative for all Nigerians “to come together and unleash their synergy against the security challenges and other national malaise, be it Boko Haram, ethno-religious crisis, kidnapping, militant activism, armed robbery or piracy or any other such acts that disrupt the peace and harmony and threaten the economic and social development of the country. We believe the situation is not beyond redemption and so, should not be allowed to set a national agenda of reconsideration of our unity and nationhood.”
Similarly and in an uncharacteristic manner, General Muhammadu Buhari, former head of state and chieftain of the APC, in his reaction to the insurgents’ massacre in eight Borno communities, condemned the continued violent attacks on innocent Nigerians. Buhari described the ideology fuelling the Boko Haram attacks as devilish and senseless, which should not be condoned in any civilised society. The former head of state, who expressed shock at the audacity of the sect to carry out the attacks despite the heavy presence of the military in the region, therefore, called on the security agencies and the authorities to intensify vigilance. The former head of state, posted the statement on his facebook page on Sunday night after the assaults in which about 121 people were reportedly killed. The statement read in part: “We condemn the recent escalation of senseless violence in Borno State. Our prayers and sympathies are with the victims and their families. There is no justification for this wanton disregard for the sanctity and dignity of human life. Any ideology that traffics in terror and violence is a devilish ideology that has no place in a civilised society… May God grant us the strength and unity to overcome this.”
In the same vein, the House of Representatives also expressed its concern by passing a resolution requesting the Army Headquarters to move to Maiduguri, the beleaguered capital of Borno State and the epicentre of Boko Haram activities. The proponents of the resolution argued that it would fast track the battle against the insurgents. The lawmakers reasoned that the relocation of the Army headquarters from Abuja to Maiduguri would enable Lieutenant-General Kenneth Minimah, chief of Army Staff, COAS, to be acquainted with the reality on the ground. They also argued that it would afford the COAS to devise more effective means of tackling the insurgency.
The decision followed the adoption of a motion by Peter Guntha, a member of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Borno, who painted a grim picture of the situation in Borno State. Guntha said apart from the people and the soldiers killed in Izge village, many others died in Gavva West and East local government, while 150 houses were burnt. He said: “In Zalidva village, Sabon Gari, 14 people were killed, while 30 houses were destroyed previously. In Ngoshe town, 46 people were killed, while 30 houses were razed down; seven people were killed in Hambaged and about 140 cattle were taken away. In Chinene village, seven people were killed and also in Krawa town, 20 people were slaughtered and 20 shops razed down. The Emir of Gwoza’s house at Jaje village was razed with property and food stuffs worth millions of naira destroyed. Several houses in Juba village and places of worship were razed down with property worth millions of naira destroyed.
“Ten people were also killed in Wala ‘A’ and three people in Wala ‘B’, while many cattle were taken away during an attack in the two villages. In Ndufa village, six deaths were recorded and 120 cattle taken away, while in Pulka town one person was killed and eight people were abducted. In Ngoshe Sama village, 18 people were killed and 80 houses were razed, and 150 cattle taken away. A total of about 120 places of worship (churches and mosques) were destroyed by the gunmen between December 2013 to February, 2014.”
As part of their suggestion to end the insurgency,the lawmakers also called on the federal government to liaise with the governments of Chad, Niger Republic and Cameroon with a view of discussing ways of tackling the activities of the terror group around border areas. In a similar wakeup call, Governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger State and chairman of the Northern States Governors Forum, NSGF, also lamented the rising number of attacks by insurgents and called for a political will by members of the forum to wipe them out. Speaking in Kaduna, Kaduna State, after a meeting of the NSFG, on Monday, February 17, Aliyu said: “The situation has gone beyond the normal pattern that we gave to Boko Haram and I think we need to really appreciate the gravity of the situation.” The governor, who spoke on the agenda of a one-day general meeting by the forum, said now was the time for the NSGF to give the federal government every support to rout Boko Haram.
“We must take a position on the crisis in the North-East. If it is a political will on our part, we must create that political will to end the crisis in the North-East. Many countries will go to war on the death of one person but we seem to be callous about what is happening in the North-East. We must encourage the government (federal government) to arrest the situation,” the governor said.
Indeed, following the attacks, President Jonathan summoned the service chiefs immediately he arrived at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, from Lagos on Sunday night for private meetings and consultations. None of the officials spoke with journalists at the end of the meeting, which was also attended by Namadi Sambo, vice-president. At the meeting, President Jonathan must have reminded the service chiefs, whom he decorated with their new ranks early this month, about his mandate that: “None of us will sleep till Nigerians in Borno State can sleep.” At the inauguration, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, chief of defence staff, promised that Nigerians would soon start to sleep with both eyes closed.
But for now, the reverse has been the case. The recent upsurge in terror attacks against the civilian populace in many villages in the North-East by the Boko Haram Islamic sect, has given the country cause for much anxiety. Many factors are said to be responsible for the worsening security situation in the North- East. Among them are poor funding, low morale in the military, increase in foreign funding for the sect, use of mercenaries and lack of cooperation from neighbouring countries to tighten up their border posts. An unconfirmed report said that the country has not been receiving adequate cooperation from Cameroon in order to allow the conflict to fester so that it could have a firm grip on the controversial Bakkasi Peninsula.
On the question of funding, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, coordinating minister for the economy and minister of finance, said in a newspaper interview that there was no delay at any point in the release of funds allocated for the anti-terror war to the military. The issue of release of funds by the finance ministry was clarified on Tuesday by the Defence Headquarters, which insisted that the security forces were on top of the situation and that the soldiers engaging the insurgents were some of the best equipped in the country. Chris Olukolade, a major-general and director of defence information, said he had nothing to add to what the government official had said about the funding. “I want to also assure you that there is constant air surveillance and mobile patrols in the area, and it will not be right to say that we are not on top of the situation. The sudden rise in insurgents’ attacks can be attributed to more funding and support from their backers.” This foreign financial support has enabled the insurgents to acquire more sophisticated arms which they use against Nigerian security forces.
The Nigerian soldiers are said to be lacking in firepower when confronted by the insurgents. Experts say some of the arms being used were the leftovers of those used in the prosecution of the Libyan civil war and the Malian war. Some of insurgents engaged in the raids in the North-East were said to be mercenaries from the two Northern countries where their services are no more needed with sophisticated arms and equipment. “These mercenaries, with stinking funds at their disposal, have not even given up in Libya. On January 18, some of them were said to have overrun an Air Force Base outside the City of Sabha in Southern Libya. They do have an ally in Boko Haram,” an analyst said. Besides, he said the current campaign by the insurgents looks like a conflict against the Nigerian nation. “If you look at the recent pattern of attacks, the insurgents cannot be said to be waging a Jihad or pursuing any agenda to Islamise Nigeria because they have been destroying churches, mosques and killing Christians and Muslims. It looks more of a war against the sovereignty of Nigeria than any religious colouration,” he added.
Recently, the Financial Action Task Force, FATF, raised the alarm that Nigeria would soon be blacklisted by the international anti-money laundering watchdogs based in the United States, for its inability to track the source of funds going to the Boko Haram sect and curb terrorism financing in general. The FATF, the global standard setter for measures to combat money laundering, terrorist and proliferation financing, indicated that despite the earlier warnings to Nigeria on its non-compliance level, the country was yet to take any concrete step to stem the rising spate of financial crimes including terrorism financing, money laundering and corruption. In its recent report, dated February 11, this year, the FATF listed Nigeria among the countries that had not made significant progress in addressing the lacunas in their anti-money laundering and combating terrorism financing, AML/CFT, regimes.
Recent activities of Boko Haram indicate that the organisation has been receiving more funding than in the past. This was the thinking of the Nigerian military as well. In the past, the sect was said to have been partially funded by bank robberies. It is also believed to be funded by other Islamist groups around the world. In February 2012, some arrested officials revealed that “while the organisation initially relied on donations from members, its links with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, opened it up to more funding from groups in Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom.” The officials also claimed that funds were received from the Al Muntada Trust Fund and the Islamic World Society. Since Boko Haram has been recognised by the US Department of State as a foreign terrorist organisation, it cannot receive funds from the US or US citizens. Nevertheless, Nigerians will like to know what has happened to the list of the alleged sponsors of Boko Haram said to be in government’s possession. Since the arrest and the ongoing trial of Ali Ndume, a serving senator, from Borno State, no other person has been arrested or tried as a culprit.
These, perhaps, prompted many prominent Nigerians to side with Shettima that the Boko Haram sect had become more powerful than the military. Ango Abdullahi, a professor of agriculture and spokesperson for the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, agreed with the governor that the war at hand was unconventional and that government would need to show more commitment. “The governor is right; this kind of war cannot be won using conventional tactics. Those denying it are denying it for public consumption. The point is that the governor is right. He also talked of motivation. In a war situation, there are two factors to consider: your reason for going to war and the weapons to fight the war. The governor is right by saying the insurgents appear more committed to their cause than we on this side and they are also able to procure equipment which our conventional army has been unable to match,” Abdullahi said.
Espousing a similar idea, the APC, urged the Presidency to stop being defensive and concentrate on providing the military with all the necessary requirements to defeat the Boko Haram insurgents. In a statement by Lai Mohammed, the party described as counter-productive, unwarranted and ill-advised attack on Shettima by Okupe for speaking his mind. The party asked the government to live up to its responsibility in order to stop the insurgents.
Be that as it may, Ebongabasi Ekpe-Juda, a security expert, said government should acquire available technology to track funding of the group and confiscate the funds. “The only way to stop the senseless killings is that government needs more security experts who can trace the funds and seize them before they get to this group. We also need international cooperation to deal with the insurgents,” he said.
Philip Obaji, founder of One Game, enjoined Nigerians not to be distressed by the situation. He promised that the insurgents would not stop his company’s humanitarian work in the state. Obaji said: “One Game remains committed to supporting the people of Borno State in their struggle to stop the abhorrent actions of terrorist groups, and as such would continue its programmes geared towards combating violence and ignorance in the state through education.”
However, President Jonathan has attributed the relative peace in the country to prayers offered by various religious faiths. Jonathan spoke at the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Olive Tree Parish, Ikoyi, Lagos, where he attended the service, on Sunday, February 16. At the service also attended by Enoch Adeboye, pastor and general overseer of the church, Folu, his wife, and Yemi Osinbajo, resident pastor and former attorney-general of Lagos State, the president had said in part: “In Nigeria too, we have been having our own unfair share of these negative news brought about by Boko Haram, but we believe that God knows it all. Without your prayers, probably it would have been worse than this.” The President, who said God had been faithful to Nigeria, added that “God will continue to hear our prayers so that our country will get out of these challenges and other crimes.”
Adeboye, on his part, said the church would continue to seek the face of God for the country and its leadership. “I can assure you that we are praying and we will continue to pray because we have no other place to go to and God has a reason for that,” he said.
Indeed, except for divine intervention, it appears the current situation, does not give Nigerians much assurance that the April date that Badeh promised to rout the insurgents would be realised. Instead, what seems to have occupied the people’s minds is whether the war against terrorism in the country would ever be won and when.