Boko Haram: the face of Buhari’s failure

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Buhari
Buhari

By Jamila Abubakar

IT will be reasonable to expect that worry lines on the faces of national leaders over the resurgence of Boko Haram would be deeper at this stage. There may be a few Nigerians who will cheerfully point at the dramatic manifestation of the resilience and stronger resolve of this insurgency as evidence of the weakness of an administration they dislike. If there are, they are both right and wrong. They are right in thinking that the Buhari administration has failed to contain or entirely eliminate this terrible blight. They are wrong in thinking that this failure is a source of joy, a tragedy from which political capital can be milked.

The Boko Haram insurgency is an existential threat to every Nigerian, and its evident ability to mutate and cause severe damage to national security and lives of increasing numbers of Nigerians should worry every Nigerian and the world. The administration should remove its earplugs: it should listen and respect the loud screams that the Buhari administration is failing where it matters most, and there is a lot more at stake than its loss of support and goodwill among Nigerians.

Discussing national security and public safety require high levels of responsibility and knowledge. Unfortunately, it is also the one issue in which every citizen is a major stakeholder and expert. More importantly, there are informed and reliable benchmarks that can show whether states are winning or losing in conflicts with threats of all types. In our circumstances, there will be no one who will oppose the case that the Nigerian state under the leadership of President Buhari has failed to win the war against groups of criminals, adventurers, and surrogates of foreign interests under the generic name of Boko Haram.

In fact, evidence on the ground suggests that the enemy is winning, inching its way back into the core of our existence. It is painful to say this from a victim’s perspective because the enemy draws inspiration and strength from our despair. But the enemy already knows he is winning. When we quarrel over this, we dissipate our energy and weaken our will to fight it. This gives it another strategic advantage. The nation has now lived with Boko Haram for a decade. The ‘YarAdua/Jonathan administration will rightly claim the first half of this decade, from the moment when it tipped the scale against itself with the untried murder of Muhammad  Yusuf; to the tragic underestimation and neglect of the powers of his followers to regroup and fight the Nigerian state with higher levels of motivation and mission; and finally with unpardonable self-denial, corruption, and incompetence of the political and military leadership from which the insurgency drew strength and high morale.

In five years, an insurgency grew with no popular roots and support within the population, whose mission was poorly articulated, whose fighting prowess was largely limited to exploding crude devises at soft targets and chasing poorly-equipped Nigerian military away from huge populations and taking and retaining territory. A rag-tag group with dubious claims to a religious cause could do almost anything it wanted because it had a stronger cause than a leadership sworn to defend the nation. By the time Nigerians felt they needed new leadership to roll back Boko Haram, the insurgency had grown into a force that could influence a regime change in Nigeria that had no precedent. The majority of  Nigerians voted against Jonathan and in favour of General Buhari, but few paid attention to the central role of the Boko Haram insurgency in our national security and politics. Buhari’s electoral success was largely predicated on his promise to fight insecurity (read: Boko Haram) and corruption.

In his few weeks as President, he put in place a new leadership in the military which rolled back Boko Haram into enclaves in Borno and Yobe states. A few people were arrested on suspicion of diverting defense funds. The nation was lulled into the illusion that it had won the war against the insurgency, and all that remained was to sweep away the carcass of the enemy.

Boko Haram adapted and changed tactics, intensifying suicide bombing, another threat to the soft underbelly of the population and the state. When it realized that the military assault was limited to keeping it in enclaves, it resorted to hit-and-runs, kidnappings and making money from high profile abductions. The ebbs and flows to the war against the insurgency was not a deadlock. It was a gradual setback for Buhari, the General who told Nigerians and the world that he knew how to re-invent the formidable Nigerian military to defeat the insurgency if only Nigerians will entrust him with leadership. Factions emerged within the insurgency, but opportunities to capitalize on its internal conflicts and isolate the more virulent from the potentially conciliatory were either ignored or bungled. ISIS pushed out of most of the territories it held in Iraq, Syria and other Muslim countries found accommodation with a faction of Boko Haram and re-engineered it as part of its so-called Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).

Buhari won another term in spite of the evidence on the ground that Boko Haram was still a potent force, or, in retrospect, precisely because of it. In his sixth year in leading the war against Boko Haram, the nation’s scorecard shows a tragic failure to substantially cripple or eliminate this insurgency entirely. The leadership of the military appears to have run out of ideas on how to defeat the enemy, but not out of the support of a President who himself is running out of language to explain the current state of national security under his watch. Other internal security challenges have swamped an administration not famous for inventive initiatives. The military which has failed to defeat Boko Haram is increasingly stretched across the country to contain, without success, other threats.

Boko Haram has dug in and expanded its operations, drawing strength from the weaknesses of a state fighting with low morale, poor equipment, and discredited leadership in an environment where beleaguered populations see little difference between living under the state or the enemy. The insurgency can now isolate major towns and cities, attack and cripple major infrastructure, confront our military retreating into large camps and leaving huge populations exposed, pillaging and destroying many rural communities and threatening to take cities bursting with populations. It now targets victims with the goal of dividing the nation along religious lines, with resounding success. ISWAP now covers the Sahel in its operations, confronting Nigeria with the additional responsibility of holding together a regional force and protecting its own territory, something it has not done well.

President Buhari’s worst enemy in Nigeria will hope that he can find a new mission to turn the tide against Boko Haram. The emphasis here is on new. Everything about the way this war has been fought needs genuine and critical assessment, and fundamental changes in leadership, strategy, and levels of commitment must be made. President Buhari has failed Nigerians in an area he was most expected to succeed. We have to pray that he does not leave the nation worse than when he took it over from President Jonathan. If that is, there will be a nation by the time he is through with not leading it.

Abubakar can be reached at jm1bukar@gmail.com

Culled from Daily Trust Online

– Jan. 31, 2020 @ 11:45 GMT |

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