It is finally becoming clearer that Boko Haram has taken a hit from Nigeria’s military, a bad hit. Things are bad enough for the group to have gotten to the point of splitting down the middle, Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’wah wa’l-Jihād the old school Boko Haram led by Abubakar Shekau and al-Wilāyat al-Islāmiyya Gharb Afrīqiyyah (Islamic State West Africa Province, IWAP) for which the Islamic State (ISIS) recently announced a new leadership have become two dominant strain of the virus that once threatened or future existence.
The next bad news for the terror group was the report that its fighters were fleeing through the desert and across the Mediterranean to join ISIS in the Middle East. Tales carried by those fleeing mirrored camps that have become too chaotic in Sambisa forest to be conducive for continuing to wage an insurgency. The fleeing fighters see better prospects of survival with ISIS as opposed to remaining with a decimated group, whose members are being flushed out daily by the military. Their reasoning is possibly to disappear for a while until the intellectual arm of their struggle can again distract the Nigerian authorities long enough for them recover from their losses.
Closely on the heels of the division within Boko Haram and the flight of its members was the release of the video of some captive girls, believed to be from among those abducted from their school in Chibok in a development that drew international outrage and became bad PR for Boko Haram. International news agency, AFP quoted Ryan Cummings, director at intelligence firm Signal Risk, as saying “This (release of the video) focuses on using the girls as a bargaining chip,”. This goes to show the fighting days of Boko Haram are over except they can find a lull in the military operations to mop up their fighters and then lay dormant to await the return of their members who took flight to join ISIS. Those behind the video are apparently too known to the international security circles to attempt fleeing like their foot soldiers.
The only way to get that lull in the ongoing military operations is to dangle the girls as bait. To underscore their desire for a ceasefire there has been so much emphasis on how some of the girls have been killed in military strikes – no mention of who placed the girls in harm’s way in the course being used as human shield. The logic is that further military operations could lead to the death of those that were shown in the latest video. This thinking shows a terror group that is running short of fighters and command structure to launch the kind of spectacular attacks it needed to recruit new fanatics.
Boko Haram, or at least the faction behind the Chibok Girls video is turning to its intellectual resources to play the mind game with the Nigerian government. As would be expected the parents of the captive girls are imploring government to accede to the terror group’s request for a swap of the girls for fighters in custody.
Under the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, similar strategy of shopping for a slowdown in military pursuit had seen the group able to raise money from phony negotiations to acquire more weapons. There are detailed reports about how the Federal Government representatives were hoodwinked on several occasions leading to billions of naira ending up in the pocket of terrorists. Ahmad Salkida, a journalists turned Boko Haram affiliate, has been a name in all the intellectual manoeuvre by the terror group. One Ahmed U. Bolori and Aisha Wakil are equally connected, posing as negotiator or any other title that does not directly link them with the group but rather present them as people the government cannot do without in taming terrorism.
Frighteningly, Salkida’s name has again been tied to the latest video from the Shekau’s gang. He, even from far away United Arab Emirates, correctly recounted the content of the video before it was published online having been sent an advance copy according to tweets from his verified Twitter handle. It wasn’t the first time that Salkida would be neck deep in the execution of Boko Haram strategies. He had run several content that amounted to doing propaganda for the group in the past and knowing the nature of his business with the terrorists he had the sense to have bolted from Nigeria long before the law could catch up with him.
He has offered to repeat what he did under previous administration: to be a negotiator with the flimsy claim that being a journalist meant he has contact to initiate talks. This is the intellectual wing of Boko Haram at work and the government, military and security forces must immediately counter this. If the country falls for this trick one more time, then things would definitely get ugly. One, there could be a repeat of being connected with the wrong crowd and billions of naira again ends up with the terrorists and other crises contractors. There is also the thing that any talk Salkida brokers would be surrounded by confusion and controversies that will ensure it drags on while his true masters have time to regroup, re-arm with the gotten funds and return to being a threat. Thirdly, regardless of whether the federal government falls into the trap Salkida and his team have set, he has already used the video to make the military and the government look bad, which is a long-running Boko Haram objective.
There is therefore, a pressing need, after defeating its militant wing, for Nigeria to defeat the intellectual wing of the Boko Haram terror group. This intellectual wing would not be defeated by constantly pandering to a culture of political correctness. It would be defeated only by marshalling the political will needed to throw the books at otherwise insulated persons like Salkida, who will hide behind his former profession as journalist – he would allege being persecuted as an investigative journalist in order to continue using this cover to work as the propaganda chief of the terror group.
As some associations are already clamouring, this man should be shipped back to Nigeria under whatever or whichever of our uncountable treaties is applicable and be made to face trial for being a terror collaborator. It is a good sign that the Nigerian Army has declared Ahmed Salkida, (Ambassador) Ahmed U. Bolori and Aisha Wakil wanted, which is a welcome development as these people’s faces should have graced that infamous poster of wanted terrorists. According to the Army, their being declared wanted ” …becomes necessary as a result of their link with the last two videos released by Boko Haram Terrorists and other findings of our preliminary investigations.”
From the information made available, these trio have information on the conditions and the exact location of the Chibok girls. The question we should ask is for what purpose could these people have kept this information to themselves while playing mind games with the rest of us if they are not more connected to the terror group than they are making the world believe.
The security agencies should watch out as lesser ranking members of the Boko Haram propaganda machine would unleash their full capability by whipping up public outcry against their leaders being declared wanted or eventually arrested. They would be banking on other Nigerians falling for their intellectual trick by joining what they would think is a genuine concern about rights violation while in actual fact the reverse if the case.
It is thus up to the government to properly enlighten Nigerians and the world about people who hide under journalistic privileges or posing as negotiators to run errands for terrorists. There are several journalists that have done professionally sound exclusive stories around Boko Haram just as there have been stakeholders making genuine efforts at negotiation without being sympathisers of the terror group. There should therefore, be no dilly-dallying on dismantling the intellectual front of these killers. The eventual arrest and prosecution of Salkida, Bolori and Wakil would send the intellectual component of Boko Haram into disarray and move Nigeria closer to being rid of these vermin.
***Suleiman wrote Maiduguri, Borno State.