After six years of violent campaigns resulting in the death of thousands of people including women and children; it appears Nigerian government is finally winning the fight against the Boko Haram insurgent. Yet, security experts call for caution over the dire consequences of assuming the war is over. DIRISU YAKUB, Head of Security Monitor, Northern Operations examines the claims by the Federal Government that the insurgents have been technically defeated.
For the first time in the past six years when the deadly terrorist group, Boko Haram commenced coordinated attacks and serial killings on Nigeria soil, The Nigerian Army in October 28, 2015 released photographs of 100 top suspected Boko Haram terrorists it declared wanted.
The Army Spokesperson, Sani Usman, a colonel, said the release of the photographs of the suspected terrorists was to enable the public to assist with information on the suspects.
“The military is therefore asking members of the public with information about any of them to report to security agents,” Colonel Usman said.
Shortly before then, the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, had in Maiduguri, Borno State capital launched the circulation of large posters carrying photographs of wanted Boko Haram terrorists including the supposed leader of the insurgents, Abubakar Shekau.
The large posters, with inscription written in various languages of Nigeria, also had phone numbers which the public could easily call or text to indicate which of the characters in the numbered photographs they know or have information of.
The photo posters were launched as part of the counter terrorism material packaged by the Directorate of Army Public Relations.
Colonel Usman said that most of the faces on the poster were the kingpins of Boko Haram who are still at large.
The Army public relations gesture yielded results when the military troops acted upon tip off and nabbed one of the wanted Boko Haram suspect, Abdullahi Abubakar along the Borno-Adamawa border. Abubakar is number 58 on the list of 100 wanted Boko Haram terrorists released by the Army. He was arrested at the Uba Askira area along the border of Borno and Adamawa State.
The Brigade Commander of the 28 Task Force Brigade in Mubi, Adamawa State, Brig.-Gen. Victor Ezugwu, confirmed the arrest. The Nigerian military also announced the capture of another two other Boko Haram kingpin along the Borno-Adamawa border.
It is however obvious that Nigeria is on the verge of winning the war against terrorism as Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture recently opined that “Nigeria has technically won the war against Insurgence”. Following the release of photographs of wanted terrorsists, security agencies in Nigeria including the State Security Service, SSS,. Police and the Joint Task Force, JTF have successfully carried out major raids and arrest of suspected Boko Haram leaders including one Abubakar Sidiq who was said to be the insurgent’s Photographer. The JTF also arrested two Boko Haram surveillance experts in Uba a town that bordered Cameroun in Adamawa state. Security Monitor can authoritatively reveal that Boko Haram leaders are fleeing the country en mass due to the Military renewed counter terrorism strategy.
With the possible exception of the Nigerian Biafran civil war (1967-1970) which reportedly claimed about three million lives; no other human-induced tragedy compares to the Boko Haram violent campaign in the last six. What started in skeletal fashion as a religious sect devoted to the propagation of ‘unadulterated’ teachings of Islam has since snowballed into one of the deadliest terrorist groups in the world. From occasional killings of security agents in Maiduguri in 2009; the sect later perfected the act of suicide bombings with the aid of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), in many northern states like Kano, Kaduna, Bauchi, Gombe, Adamawa, Yobe as well as the Federal Capital Territory. Embarrassed by the inability of the then Joint Military Task Force (JTF) to run the terrorists out of town; the immediate past administration of Goodluck Jonathan extended the olive branch to the sect, with a promise not to press charges against them should they embrace peace unconditionally. But as it turned out, only one thing was paramount in the reckoning of the sect: to carry out its deadly attacks was a task that must be done. Till date, analysts finger Jonathan’s lackluster handling of the Boko Haram menace as the primary reason for his defeat in the March 2015 general elections by an opposition candidate, the first time in the nation’s electioneering history.
Prior to the elections, Muhammadu Buhari’s pledge of a successful crusade against the insurgents swayed the votes in his favour given his handling of a similar insurrection led by Mohammed Marwa of the Maitatsine fame in the early 80s. So, in August 2015 while decorating the Service Chiefs-General Abayomi Gabriel Olonishakin, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, Vice Admiral Ibok Ete Ibas and Air Marshall Sadique Abubakar, Chiefs of Defence Staff, Army Staff, Naval Staff and Air Staff respectively; the Commander-in-Chief charged the military to bring the war against terrorism to an end within three months. “The activities of these misguided groups and individuals have resulted in wanton destruction of lives and properties of our citizens as well as a disruption of socio-economic lives of millions of Nigerians. You need to brace up and continue to team up with other stakeholders to come up with a well coordinated joint effort which will bring the desired end to the insurgency within three months.” President Buhari also harps on the possibility of defeating Boko Haram terrorist by the end of December, 2015.
Not surprisingly, General Buratai on a visit to the Third Division of the Nigerian Army, Jos weeks after the Presidential directive, reiterated the commitment of the Military to deliver on the charge, noting that “our strategy and operational plans have continued to evolve with the daily challenges that we have.” But three months later, the sect, though decimated and obviously weakened, are not wipe off as government and its military wing had assured Nigerians ab initio. In the last few weeks, the insurgents succeeded in sending at least 50 people to the great beyond two days after Christmas in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital. Today, the question is being asked how a rag-tag rebel group has been able to stay put in its illicit campaign of violence, in spite of well coordinated assault on it by a government-backed military force.
Boko Haram: Historical Perspectives
Unknown to many, Boko Haram wasn’t the name the sect led by Mohammed Yusuf, the extra-judiciously murdered founder of the dreaded fundamentalist group, called itself at the onset and even now. The coinage became popular in the media after the sect was repelled in Bauchi and Borno states in July, 2009. In Maiduguri, followers of Yusuf were known as Yusufias but Boko Haram stuck very well, a derogatory appellation which translates to “western education is evil or forbidden.” Yusuf, an indigene of Jakusko in Yobe state was the son of an Islamic cleric. Many years on, his family moved to Potiskum, one of the major towns in Yobe state and there, he began his conflict-riddled life as a Quranic School teacher. He moved with his father to Maiduguri when the later, probably in search for the proverbial greener pasture relocated to the Borno state capital. From available records, Yusuf later emerged the Amir (spiritual leader) of Shababul Islam, a sect famous for picking holes in the practices and beliefs of the Izalatul Bid’a Wa Iqamatul Sunna (IZALA) movement. But it was the emergence of the Ahlul Sunna sect that brought Mohammed Yusuf into limelight when he regularly assisted a certain Sheikh Abubakar Adam to deliver sermons and lectures in the Muhammed Ndimi mosque, located along the popular Damboa road, Maiduguri. This time, the Ahlul Sunna sect was attracting youths into its fold largely because of its preaching of modest Islamic lifestyle. As the sect grew in numbers, a sub-set named Shababul Islam was formed with prominent Islamic scholars like the late Sheikh Jafar Mahmud often quick to fault the myopic focus of the IZALA sect in evangelical works only as against training preachers to propagate the message of Allah.
To fill this gap therefore, Shababul Islam established a platform dedicated to the teachings of the core knowledge of the Islamic faith. This coincided with the appointment of Yusuf as the Amir at Ndimi mosque. As the sect grew in leaps and bounds, some youths with a clouded perception of Islam began to accuse preachers of not practicing what they preached. They pointedly labeled them as hypocrites who preached the essence of Jihad without the guts to carry out one. This gave birth to a disturbing controversy amongst the group that was later resolved amicably by some scholars who argued that Jihad was not actually a call to arms but an attempt at self discovery. This was the point notable youths like Bili Tashe and Maikanti Ndimi (son of Alhaji Muhammed Ndimi), hitherto famous for organizing campus beauty pageants and ‘Who is Who’ contests at the University of Maiduguri, began to stir fresh controversy at Ndimi mosque until Imam Adam in charge of the mosque called them to order. Having been indoctrinated to discard secular mode of life, Maikanti and his friend, Bili Tashe began to fault western values and education. At a point, Maikanti stopped using his rich and influential father’s cars; preferring to trek to wherever he chooses to go within the Maiduguri metropolis. As ardent listeners of the sermons of Sheikh Faisal, the London based Islamic scholar, famed for his anti western education posture and call for the Islamization of western values in such a way that school curriculum in Islamic societies would reflect the teachings of Islam; the young men began to quietly question why restoration of Islamic ‘purity’ could not began in earnest. Thus, some of the youth members of the group, mostly children of wealthy figures, Like Maikanti Ndimi, Bili Tashe, Grema Terrab and a host of others were among those proscribing western education.
When these youths began to meet stiffer resistance from scholars on the idea of proscribing western education; they nursed the idea to embark on Hijra (religious migration) but were again discouraged from doing so because Hijra is not carried out from one Islamic environment to another but often from an unfriendly and hostile community to another. Rich but bereft of the needed support to push through its idea, the youths finally succeeded in convincing Yusuf who was then on a missionary assignment in Damagum, Yobe state, that only the proscription of western education would save Islam from the corrupting influence of a sinful world. To press home the depth of their argument, they showed Yusuf the Danish cartoon of Prophet Muhammed as an instance of the negative results of tolerating western education and culture. With that, the well-grounded Islamic scholar on realizing their willingness to make him live in comfort, bought their argument, assuring them of his total and unquestionable support and leadership.
According to Security monitor findings, Yusuf abruptly disembarked on his missionary assignment in Damagum to return to Maiduguri and immediately injected some extreme beliefs into his sermons, one of which was the prohibition of western education in all forms. On Fridays when the worshippers gathered at mosque in large numbers; the late Yususf would remind them of the killing of Muslims in Somalia, Palestine, Iran and Afghanistan and the need to salvage the situation with all means possible. Aware the message had sunk into the consciousness of his folks, he began to quote copiously verses from the Holy Quran dwelling on jihad or semblance of same but with a reminder of the imperative for every Muslim to stand up to their responsibility. Top Islamic clerics, disturbed by the wider implication of Yusuf’s sermons, warned him to back off from his extreme ideologies all to no avail. He was thereafter compelled to vacate his position as the Amir and subsequently told to leave Ndimi mosque. Without a platform for the propagation of his hate sermons, he relocated to Anguwan Doki in the belly of the city where he kept low profile before his father-in-law, Late Alhaji Baba Fugu, gave him a large parcel of land at the Railway terminus from where he continued his campaign against western education and state authorities.
Security sources who confided in this medium say Yusuf was part of the 2003 Taliban-affiliated group that was dislodged from the Gwoza Hills in Borno and some parts of neighboring Yobe state. They were mostly children of rich and influential people who elected to destroy their college certificates, appointment letters and other work documents. Yusuf was arrested four times, charged to court and acquitted. Unconfirmed reports had it that some highly-placed individuals always ensured he secured bail each time he was picked up by security agents. Though young (39 at the time of his murder by the Nigeria Police) and uneducated (in western standard), security experts and sociologists often wondered how he was able to attract the poor and the rich, literates and the unlettered with ease. Though members of the sect lived in squalid conditions, feeding in the fashion of the wretched of the earth; Yusuf lived like a king and drove exotic cars of different make and shape. He had a farm where his disciples sometimes helped out with manual labour; four wives and children which he moved to a secret location before the massacre of scores of people began.
The Modu Sheriff Connection
Although Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, the ex-Governor of Borno state and current Peoples Democractic Party National Chairman has repeatedly denied any link with the dreaded sect; accusing fingers pointing in his direction are quite numerous to count. At the height of the frequent clashes between members of the sect and the police, Alhaji Buji Fai, a former Commissioner in the cabinet of then Governor Sheriff was identified as a member of the sect. According to reports, Fai honoured police invitation to their office only for him to be killed by the security operatives. The police later claimed the ex-Commissioner died in the course of a gun battle between him and the security agents; a statement bluntly rejected by scores of analysts in the land. Those in the know claimed Fai was Yusuf’s representative in Sheriff Government, insisting that the sect played prominent role in the victory of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) in the 2003 guber election with Sheriff as the candidate. The governor according to insider sources pledged the full implementation of the Sharia legal code in exchange for the sect’s solidarity in the course of the electioneering process. In an apparent move to keep faith with his words, the then governor allegedly asked the sect to nominate a candidate for consideration in his cabinet to which Buji Fai got the nod of the sect and subsequently made Commissioner for Religious Affairs. He later tender his resignation letter at the instance of Yusuf. Those who share this position believe Fai was killed to prevent him from implicating all those who aided and abetted the fundamentalist sect in their vain campaign of establishing an Islamic state. Till date, former Governor Sheriff says “like other victims of the sect’s barbaric assaults; I’m counting my personal losses in the hands of Boko Haram”.
Mohammed Yusuf: Arrest and Murder
Following the raid of his Markas headquarters in Maiduguri, Yusuf took to hiding in a goat’s pen owned by his father-in law until armed soldiers acting on a tip-off smoked him out. He suffered a minor arm injury from a gunshot inflicted on him in a shootout with the Army. According to the Nigerian Army, Yusuf was treated medically and handed over to the police for investigation and prosecution. But barely 48 hours after his arrest, he was shot dead by the police in a ‘shootout’; a claim that was later invalidated by a widely circulated video which showed him in stable condition at the time the soldiers handed him over to the police. The Human Right Watch described the death of Yusuf as an instance of ‘extra judicial’ murder even as it called for thorough investigation to unravel the circumstances trailing the death of the controversial cleric and leader of the Boko Haram group.
Although incumbent administration has succeeded in taking the fight into the enemy territory in the last couple of months; available statistics paint a gory picture of how bad things have turned since the dreaded sect birthed on the nation’s landscape. The number of those killed in terrorist attacks for instance, jumped by 80 per cent as over 32, 658 deaths were recorded in 2014 in 11 countries that suffered more than 500 deaths on weekly basis. In a think tank report released penultimate Tuesday by the Institute for Economics and Peace in its 2015 Global Terrorism Index (GTI); the Islamic State and Boko Haram jointly accounted for 51 per cent of these deaths. Founder of the think tank, Steve Killelea put the estimated cost of terrorism in 2014 at $52. 9 billion, adding that five states including Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria (in that order) are the leading centres of terrorism and terrorist acts in the world. Given the latest ranking, only Afghanistan and Iraq are a notch worse than Nigeria as the GTI report noted that “terrorist attacks are much lethal in Nigeria than any country. Nigeria has moved from a country with the 5th highest levels of fatalities in 2013 to the second highest in 2014.” To put it concisely, the country recorded 662 terrorist attacks in 2014, with 7, 512 people killed and 2, 246 people injured. All these have combined to cast a cloud of doubt over the ability of incumbent administration to deliver on his promise of defeating the insurgents in record time.
It would be recalled that shortly after President Buhari issued the military a three-month ultimatum to end insurgency; General Yakubu Gowon came short of labeling the directive an impossible mission. In a chat with newsmen in Abuja, Gowon had premised his pessimism on the fact that groups like the Boko Haram aren’t easy to root out by even the most sophisticated of Armies. “I can tell you this. Nobody can really talk about when any particular operation is going to end. And as a former Commander-in-Chief, I know this,” he had argued. This position enjoyed the backing of Air Commodore Yusuf Anas (rtd), Executive Secretary, Centre for Crisis Communication (CCC) who only recently faulted the timeline given the military to chase the insurgents out of business. “This submission” the CCC boss said, “is predicated on the fact that asymmetric warfare which the Boko Haram is prosecuting against the Nigerian state is not such that can be easily stamped out by the Armed forces.” Relying on the leaning of the United Nations General Assembly, the scribe noted that “terrorism as an ideology is largely emotive because it has to do with the mind. Force has never been known to combat, in a precise manner, any issue that has to do with the mind.”
Possible way out
In the words of Commodore Anas, a marshal plan similar to what obtains in the Niger Delta region could help prevail on the remnants of the fighting insurgents to finally lay down their arms. His words: “The centre is strongly suggesting the establishment of a lead government agency that will develop a Marshal Plan for the rehabilitation of all the displaced people in the North-East. This could also be in the form of inter-Ministerial plan with an administrative office with a similar scope as the Presidential Amnesty Programme for the Niger Delta Youths.” Whether this suggestion largely informed the recent constitution of a committee on the North-East rehabilitation to be chaired by retired former Chief of Army Staff, General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma is a matter in the realm of speculation. What is however glaring to all is that in spite of statements credited to Information and Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed that the fight against insurgency is “largely won,” the insurgents, though decimated are still at their deadliest form as attested to by the 27 December, 2015 suicide bomb blast in Maiduguri which left at least 50 people dead.
Recently however, the United States government opines that Nigeria needs more than military might to tacle the menace of Boko Haram. The US also sent in miltary Intelligence officers to train the Army on how to gather information ahead of the insurgents.