Nigerians grieved, parents wailed loudly and inconsolably, April 14, 2014 when Boko Haram terrorists assailed and abducted about 276 adolescent secondary school girls in Chibok, the country’s Northeastern state of Borno. As the helpless girls were agonised in the hands of their captors to the journey of unknown destination with terror vermin, national outrage poured out aplenty against the authorities of Nigeria.
The terrorists captured the girls in a single raid and conveniently ferried them away to their dungeon, which was later identified as Sambisa forest, far from Chibok. The Islamic insurgents accomplished this inglorious feat unmolested and unchallenged by Nigeria’s security agents ,the rest has become history.
Strangely however, the Federal Government of Nigeria under the immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan, the sole custodian of minutely security reports across the nation were delighted more in denial of the incident. The president and his team of security chiefs in a move, publicized the worse indifference to a sovereign absurdity which regrettably dragged the issue into the politics of Jonathan’s re-election gamble in 2015.
The administration hedged action and faltered in the face of this shameful national security lapse and disgrace to Nigeria. It awed many that the Federal Government of Nigerian claimed the incident was crafted to derail his re-election ambition. Meanwhile, several other men and women were either abducted or murdered by same Boko Haram terrorists in the region before the Chibok episode.
The lengthy period of inaction by government and security agents afforded the Boko Haram insurgents to goad their captives into their dungeon neither molested nor challenged.
Days after, when the Nigeria government could not contain the pressure occasioned by the consistent drumming of the incident in the media, accorded indisputable veracity by tales of two or three of the abducted girls who escaped while being ferried away. It was only then that it dawned on Federal Government of Nigeria and security agents that the trouble was beyond boardroom politics. But nevertheless, it pushed no determined military action for their rescue.
The slumber festered until tensions about the girl’s abduction enveloped Nigeria. Mothers and women of all ethnicity in Nigeria unanimously condemned the savage and beastly act. They scolded government for abdicating on its constitutional and sacred duty of protecting lives and property of Nigerians.
It sprouted unimaginable agitations for action. It inspired Dr. Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, who co-ordinatively spearheaded angry Nigerian women by launching the Hashtag #BringBackOurGirls (BBOG). It stirred international outrage to the extent wife of America’s President Barack Obama, Michelle, also conscripted herself in the league of world women leaders crusading for concerted action to rescue them, by a post on her personal twitter handle denouncing the act. Pakistani advocate of girl-child education Ms. Malala Yousafzai also joined the fray.
The advocacy of BBOG which elected upon itself to sit-out, all day, at the Unity Fountain Square in Abuja to draw national and international attention to the plight of the abducted girls suffered regrettable ignominy. On several occasions, gun trotting security agents were used to disperse them and at a point, their quest to take the campaign to Aso Rock was rebuffed almost violently. But they endured and remained resolute.
But the Nigerian military appeared helpless in the face of this dilemma.
Foot soldiers in the battlefield shirked in the war front. They complained of unpaid allowances, hunger and lack of weapons to combat the terrorists and liberate the captured girls. While they loathed, security chiefs, who by unspoken action, dreaded physical appearance anywhere in the entire Northeast.
As it would later be revealed, under President Muhammadu Buhari’s arms probe, over $15billion, popularly christened, “Dasukigate,” was gulped the usual “Nigerian way.” Quite awfully, it was the then service chiefs who allegedly sat in Abuja and shared arms funds meant to prosecute the war against terrorists.
No need to re-emphasize. But the contour of the war against terrorists in Nigeria changed with the emergence of President Buhari. The re-organization of the military top echelon and procurement of arms and ammunitions were one of the first priority actions he took barely weeks into office. The president’s appointment of Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen. Tukur Buratai did not only enliven the army, but gave a new tonic to soldiers on the insurgency warfront.
Expectedly, Buratai re-organized military command structure and brought on board proven officers, who shared in the vision of the Federal Government of Nigeria about the military, professionalism, dedication, and valour to head various commands. Thereafter, he directed redeployments of soldiers, redundant in isolated places to the Northeast, the epicenter of the war on terrorists. He posted about 1,000 soldiers in Lagos from the Reconnaissance Battalion Badagry to the Northeast.
In addition, he introduced combat motorbikes because troops had insurmountable difficulties navigating the muddy or sandy terrain of Borno state to trace terrorists’ hideouts, with military vehicles especially the path to Sambisa Forest. It was one loophole his predecessors never envisaged. His words, “our troops will be able to pursue the Boko Haram sect anywhere.”
Again, he issued stern and strict instructions to commanders of various battalions or Military Tasks Forces not to condone operational lapses in their areas of jurisdictions. Those who reneged faced military court martial. He opened up roads and streets closed for nearly two years and instructed soldiers to ensure civilian users of such roads are not attacked or molested in anyway. It restored confidence in the civil population, which responded positively by gradually returning to abandoned and ruined homes.
Buratai exceptionally led other arms of the military to tour deserted areas in the Northeast. To lead by example, he laced his combat shoes and “khaki,” descended from his high position to personally lead onslaught against insurgents in territories previously captured and annexed; removed their flags and reclaimed Nigeria’s sovereignty from the 16 LGAs insurgents held sway in the Northeast.
As if the feat was not enough, he dared them to attempt a comeback, if they are brave enough. None took the risk. Instead, remnants of Boko Haram terrorists, who sought refuge in communities, began submitting themselves to the Nigerian Military in droves. The action was also spiced by confessions which provided useful insights into the thickest of the hideouts of Boko Haram terrorists.
In effect, Sambisa forest disrobed itself of the trumpeted mystique, as soldiers went berserk on a conquering spree, demolishing their camps, arresting dozens and handing them over to prosecuting authorities.
These fresh milestones’ were sequel to Buratai’s boasting of the morale of troops, through the magnanimity of President Buhari, with new arms and ammunitions, timely payments of salaries and duty allowances of troops, constant field visits for supervision. Soldiers who displayed exceptional gallantry were rewarded with instant replies and decorations with new ranks of promotion, realities only previously tenable in their realm of dreams.
Consequently, several Boko Haram captors, including the Chibok girls regained freedom in trickles, alongside, other men and women variously held hostage for months, if not years. Nigerians are loudly mouthing the instincts of survival of the rescued. As at today, more than 5,000 Nigerians held by Boko Haram have regained their freedom based on the consistency of Buhari’s new face of terrorist’s war under Buratai in alliance with other armed forces as well as the Civilian JTF.
Therefore, the narrative has unavoidably changed, even for Buhari’s impenitent critics and detractors, who never believed in the campaign against terrorists in Nigeria. They score Buhari very high on security and anti-corruption wars in less than one and a half years. It’s trite that respected Western countries have admitted this rare feat and also, thrown their weight behind it with support in multiple ways-weaponry and IDPs packages.
Particularly, even the perpetually strict and cynical America, a super world power, under President Obama has sent her salutations. Its Secretary of State, John Kerry is loud about it; everywhere he berths in the world.
It is no surprise that the BBOG campaigners have also taken the back bench in their public activism and agitations against the military, having sensed some meaningful action in this regard. It is evident by their quiet, pensive, but consolatory mood with the recent freedom of Amina Ali, another freed Chibok girl, received by the Presidency. No doubt, the number is now far less than 160 of Chibok girls still in captivity.
But silently, BBOG organization has to do more. The campaign now should have focused on their public appreciation of the Nigerian military and the Nigerian government under President Buhari. In fact, they should lead agitations for their improved welfare to embolden them farther to reclaim more captives of Boko Haram.
Much more, BBOG campaigns could extend to Boko Haram victims, still in IDP camps in order to stimulate state governments of the affected states and humanitarian groups around the world to do more to assist them reclaim their lives from the ruins.
UN set a recent example, when its humanitarian chief, Stephen O’Brien announced the release of $13 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) of the body to provide life-saving assistance for the victims in IDP camps. Thanks a million times.
But more importantly, like COAS remarked recently, state governors of states affected by Boko Haram terrorism need to do more to finally dispel the fears of IDPs still marooned in distant places by stepping up efforts of rehabilitation, as presently being undertaken by the Peace, Reconciliation and Rehabilitation Initiative. It is necessary to re-enact former Head of State, retired Gen. Yakubu Gowon’s 3 Rs, after Nigeria’s regrettable civil strife.
****Abiodun writes from Ibadan, Oyo State.
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