Insurgency and humanitarian crises in North-east: The realities, by A. A. Gadzama

Defeating the insurgency and rebuilding of the North-east were major promises made by President Muhammadu Buhari at the time he took over the mantle of leadership in 2015.
This of course came against the backdrop of the deteriorating insurgency situation in the region then. Substantial part of the geopolitical zone was taken over by the insurgents at the time this government came to power. The raging attacks by the insurgents then resulted in about 2.5 million people displaced from their communities, particularly in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states. Hundreds of thousands were equally wantonly killed by the insurgents.

Indiscriminate bombings were the order of the day then. Millions of people from the affected states were internally displaced within and outside the country. Also very devastating was the destruction of schools, places of worship and communities. People in the region like other parts of the North were expectedly disillusioned by the seeming inability of the government to deal with the situation.

The situation spurred them to mobilize resulting in massively voting for Buhari, a former military governor of defunct NorTheastern State, General Officer Commanding 3 Division, Jos and former Head of State, in the 2015 Presidential elections. The belief in the insurgency impacted communities then was only somebody of the President’s moral standing, courage and background could help stop the senseless destruction by the insurgents and rebuild their ravaged communities. An Issue that swayed the electorate in the North-east during the 2015 election was thus the lack of solution to the insurgency in the region. True to his words, the PMB government’s major policy direction of defeating the insurgency and rehabilitation of the region was pursued with vigour right from the onset.

Since then, unbelievable successes have been recorded in the fight against the insurgency. Remarkable areas of successes are the liberating of communities previously occupied by the insurgents in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states. The cells and structures of the sect in almost all places in the geopolitical zone have been decimated. Thousands of people who were abducted and held hostage have been freed. Attacks on communities, institutions, markets and places of worship that were common place have been stopped by the combined efforts of gallant Nigerian troops of the Nigerian Army, Nigerian Airforce and security agencies.

As at the time of reporting, gradual peace is returning to some of the affected communities. Also hailed as very significant was the release of some Chibok and Lassa women and girls who were abducted by the insurgents. Equally commendable is the stopping of the wanton burning down of communities, public institutions and killing of people with IEDs. Suicide bombings which were almost a daily affair have to some extent become something of the past. Despite the enormous achievements made in the counter terrorism operations, so much however still remains to be done as the gallant troops and security elements embark on the final push to defeat the insurgents. An area that requires serious attention is the pursuit of the fleeing insurgents.
There are reports that some of the insurgents who were previously holed up in some villages have melted away to some remote locations. This challenge is most pronounced in areas around the Sambisa forest, Gwoza general area and communities on the shores of the Lake Chad.

Other areas are the Ngoshe-Cameroon border, Kunduga-Bama-Dikwa as well as Gamborou Ngala axis. Equally of serious concern are unconfirmed reports that the fleeing insurgents are setting up new camps in the NgosheCameroon border general area. Other areas where the presence of the fleeing insurgents has been noticed are Maiduguri-DamboaAskira. Some of the dispersed insurgents have also been sighted in some remote areas around Madagali Local Government Area of Adamawa state. As previously reported, the current situation is not unexpected.

The insurgents will defi nitely search for remote areas where they cannot easily be discovered. They could also move to new areas beyond the North-east, especially in neighbouring states. These are areas for further exploitation to bring the nightmare to an end. To bring the insurgency in the North-east to an end, the issue should be comprehensively looked at. In this regards, the network of terrorists and their sleeper cells should be watched out for. Also necessary for total defeat of the insurgents is locating and recovering their cache of arms.

There are reports that the insurgents are in possession of large quantity of very dangerous weapons hidden in places previously held in some locations in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states. Other areas of serious concern are some places around Sambisa, Lake Chad shore communities as well as the notorious Kunduga-Molai areas. There are claims that some IEDs and dangerous weapons have been buried in Madagali LGA in Adamawa state.

There have also been speculations that some IEDs and mines may have been planted in some areas outside Maiduguri Municipal. The continued use of suicide bombers to attack markets, places of worship and public gatherings, to some extent, gives credence to these claims. Accordingly, other aspect of the ongoing operations requiring determined efforts is going after the terrorist networks in the West African sub-region.
This is in the light of earlier reports that the Islamic State in West Africa (ISWA) is making in- roads into the region. As previously impressed, this phase of the counter insurgency operations is crucial as there are possibilities of the situation relapsing. As previously advised also, reasonable level of alert by the security agents is required as there could be further attacks by the insurgents like witnessed in a Kunduga village in Borno state and the one in Dapchi in Yobe state recently. The reported attempt to attack University of Maiduguri is also instructive.

The gallant troops of the Armed Forces must also be commended for ongoing attempt to completely take over the Sambisa Forest enclave. Equally very critical advice is the need for public support for the very good works by soldiers and intelligence elements. The fleeing insurgents will definitely seek hideouts in some villages, neighborhoods and employments. Close monitoring and surveillance in areas assessed dangerous within and outside the North-east is therefore advised. Other disturbing dimension of this threat is the reported plans by some of the insurgents to get recruited into some of the security agencies.

It is advisable that stringent vetting arrangements are put in place to frustrate such attempts. The citizenry, especially the wealthy, and institutions should be cautious with those they employ as guards. On the whole, the President, security agencies and public spirited individuals should be commended for the successes recorded in the ongoing counter terrorism operations. This however is just an aspect of the war against the insurgency in the North-east.

This effort should be complemented with well structured deradicalization programme and addressing the factors that predispose youths to such extremism. There should also be well measured anti-terrorism measures as the ongoing war cannot be won by only counter terrorism strategies. Caution should also be exercised in releasing some suspected insurgents purely on technical grounds. Proper profiling and deradicalization to prevent rejoining the group should be put in place. Another area very critical in measuring the successes or otherwise of key actors and stakeholders in the Northeast are efforts so far made in addressing the destruction in the insurgency impacted areas. I want to say from the onset that President Buhari meant well by promising to rebuild the ravaged areas in the North-east.
However, despite this promise, the performance of some institutions, organizations and key office holders in this respect leaves much to be desired.

This verdict is corroborated by the stark realities of the conditions in communities previously occupied by the insurgents and several reports of international donors, NGOs and humanitarian organizations as well as the conditions in IDP camps. There are reports that even the provision of basic relief material to some of the insurgency impacted communities is still inadequate, lopsided and fraught with dishonesty practices.

It is very disheartening that despite the very honest intentions of the President, some areas are still not adequately provided for by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). These are the concerns being expressed by the House of Representatives members. It is also not surprising that some elders in some insurgency impacted communities lamented that they only see the distribution of relief material on television and in newspapers.

Worst still is the preoccupation with distributing relief material instead of embarking on permanent solutions such as rebuilding places to stay for the liberated communities and IDPs. A change of strategy is therefore imperative. The rebuilding of communities destroyed by the insurgents, especially schools, hospitals and other public institutions, is an area requiring reconsideration.

It is a fact that, several communities are yet to be touched in terms of rebuilding the places to stay. As previously observed, the rebuilding of communities is just beyond the financial capacity of state governments in the Northeast. The federal government agencies and institutions must therefore ensure the Presidential directives on the rebuilding of the North-east are taken seriously. Everything should be done to provide even the cheapest shelter to the poor people who have been exposed to the elements in the last four years. One would advise here that government should have a strong inspection team to give it honest reports on the situation on ground as it is clear that government is being fed with dubious and doubtful claims on the plight of the insurgency impacted communities.

In a time like this, government needs very honest assessment and views on its efforts. President Buhari and the government have a lot at stake that should not be sabotaged from within by dishonest interests. In this season of orchestrated subversive campaigns against government, the possibility of sabotage cannot be ruled out hence the need for close monitoring. One must confess that the humanitarian crises in the Northeast are just too numerous to mention.

There are, for example, still hundreds of thousands of displaced people from the Northeast in IDP camps scattered across the country who have no hope of returning to their communities five years after, they were forcefully displaced. If the truth has to be told, the situation the displaced people have found themselves in is only comparable to the refugee camps of similarly displaced Somalians in Kenya and Somalia.

Presently, the IDPs are at the mercy of religious and public spirited individuals for sustenance. For many of them, their lives have been shattered and it is not their wish that they remain in IDP camps for ever. The plight of the displaced people is further worsened by insecurity in their communities.

For example, communities in the Ngoshe general area in Borno state, particularly Ahagara, Agapalawa, Aganjara, Zamga, Arboko, Villa and Bokko villages, among others, are at the moment deserted following series of attacks on them. There are also areas around Damboa and Askira Uba which have not been thoroughly cleared of the insurgents and their sympathizers. The Armed Forces and security forces should therefore be supported to systematically clear these communities to allow the displaced people return to their homes.

Currently, many of the displaced people cannot return due to fear of mines, lack of shelter and portable drinking water. Agencies charged with the responsibilities of clearing such communities of the insurgents, rebuilding the communities and preparing for their safe return therefore need to be properly funded, tasked and given a time limit within which this should be achieved. The federal government also needs to know that the problems being faced by agencies established to cater for the rebuilding of the Northeast are allegedly financial constraints.

These claims need to be looked into. Meanwhile, it is advisable funds received from NGOs and international donors are judiciously utilized for the purposes intended. This recommendation is in the light of observations that the work done is not commensurate to the amounts received.

The image of government will also be greatly helped if measures are put in place to monitor and account for the money provided for the rebuilding the North-east at all levels. Much more important is, of course, the take off of the NorTheast Development Commission. One point that should be noted is time is running out on plans to actualize the rebuilding of the North-east. Something accordingly urgently needs to be done. Gadzama, OFR, mni is former director general, SSS

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