One of the campaign promises on which the President Muhammadu Buhari administration rode to power was to improve security in the country and to defeat and “completely route” the Boko Haram terrorist organisation by December 2015. Indeed, only after a few months in office, the president, while speaking to BBC, claimed to have delivered on this promise.
In a news report released by the BBC on 24 December 2015, President Buhari claimed that Nigeria has “technically won the war” against Boko Haram terrorists, and that the group could no longer launch “conventional attacks” against security forces or the larger population in towns. He said the group “had been reduced to fighting with improvised explosives devices (IED) and remained a force only in its heartland of Borno state”.
The president repeated this again on October 1, 2016 during his independence day broadcast; he said: “On Security, we have made progress. Boko Haram was defeated by last December, only resorting to cowardly attacks on soft targets, killing innocent men, women and children. Nigerians should thank our gallant men of the Armed Forces and Police for rescuing large areas of the country captured by insurgents. Now, residents in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States, as well as several neighboring states go about their daily business in relative safety. People can go to mosques, churches, market places in reasonable safety.” The army chief also supported the president’s position.
Although many successes have indeed been recorded by the Nigerian armed forces, notably the sacking of the notorious “Camp Zero” in Sambisa and release of many being held in the camp, the release first of 21 of the girls kidnapped from Chibok during the Goodluck Jonathan era, and later of 82 more of the Chibok girls, out of a group of 276. It was reported that the girls “were handed over in exchange for Boko Haram suspects after negotiations”.
However, various attacks by the terrorist sect have equally been reported since the president’s vote of confidence and declaration of Boko Haram’s defeat; a great number of lives have been lost, and many displaced persons remain in IDP camps, unable to return to their homes.
Within 48 hours of the president’s December 2015 claim in the BBC interview, Boko Haram launched an attack, which claimed about 52 lives and injured over a hundred. This was in a market in Madagali town of Adamawa (one of the states the president claimed is now free) and Borno (where he acknowledged that the sect was still powerful). Adamawa continued to suffer more casualties after this: e.g. this attack reported on January 12, 2016, another recorded on January 13, 2017 with scores reported killed, again another incident as recently as June 9, 2017.
Borno continues to suffer hits and casualties too: many people were killed on June 19 and June 21, 2017. Casualties continue to include civilians, civilian joint task force (CJTF), and the military – soldiers were killed in Maiduguri, a military base was torched, and Boko Haram abducted even more girls.
UNICEF recently raised an alarm over the increase in the number of children, mostly girl, now being used as suicide bombers by Boko Haram. It is also worthy of note that many Boko Haram suspects have been released by the government, either under the guise of rehabilitation of reintegration, or in negotiating the release of some of the kidnapped girls. Many of those being rehabilitated were said to have repented and surrendered.
Whilst a show of confidence and optimism is good for war-front morale, citizens must be made aware of the danger they still face, in order to remain alert, whilst the government must not rest on its oars in a fit of premature celebration. Fortunately, it appears that in sober times, the true state of things, and the magnitude of the task ahead is clear to all concerned. On December 26, 2016, Femi Adesina, one of the president’s aides alluded to the fact that the war is not over. He said “This kind of war is not one that at a point you will say because Sambisa has been taken over, its over for now, no! It is over when we stop having strikes and attacks”. The president himself acknowledged via a letter released on January 10, 2017, that “Boko Haram will not be considered defeated without the rescue of the Chibok girls and all other innocent persons held hostage by the insurgents”.
The war against Boko Haram is a long term one; the country has made some progress, but calls for celebration are premature, as more needs and remains to be done to defeat their ideology, and in the meantime, to secure the population and prevent the deadly sect from launching any more destructive attacks or claiming more lives.