Our lukewarm, Boko Haram’s survival



In a bid to, perhaps, tell the world they are far from decapitated the violent Jamaa’tu Ahlis-Sunnah Lid-Da’awati wal Jihad (Boko Haram) insurgents have in the last couple of weeks made stopovers in some towns and villages where they had a bumper harvest of blood. First, it was in Konduga they had a swell time killing, looting and torching houses and in the end took with them 20 young schoolgirls as spoils of war.

Spurred by their huge success they returned within days to Doron Baga and Izghe, shooting and hacking to down hundreds of innocent villagers. In all of these attacks the murderers were unchallenged. And within hours they were back in Bama fully reinforced to cause even more havoc. But the authorities in Nigeria claim they are winning the war.

Wars are not won on the pages of newspapers or in the media. They are won in the battlefield. Last year, as part of an expensive propaganda probably to boost the morale of its men and create a false sense of security and normalcy for Nigerians, the Nigerian military claimed killing the leader of the sect, Abubakar Shekau. Not a few were misled.

But Shekau the belligerent and ever-boastful leader is alive once again – maybe dead and alive. And he has owned up to these bouts of killings, including the assassination of the Zaria-based Islamic scholar Sheikh Muhammad Albany. And characteristically very spiteful of Nigerians and their nonchalant leaders and military, he promises more bloodshed.

Following President Goodluck Jonathan’s declaration of a state of emergency in three states mostly affected by the insurgency some commentators, including me, expressed reservations for the approach adopted to tackle the insurgence. Many argued it would lead to more civilian casualties and would be less effective in ending the violence. In the first of a three-part commentary I wrote:

“President Goodluck Jonathan’s resolve to guarantee Nigeria’s indivisibility and newfound will to tackle the Boko Haram insurgence appears quite courageous and inspiring notwithstanding the president’s vague war proclamation and countless other liabilities like an ill-prepared but bully military and a police force shattered by years of corruption and general incompetence. A pertinent question, therefore, is how ready are we to conclusively end the insurgence without incurring further huge human and material cost?”

From our experience since the war declaration nothing much has changed.  More and more lives are lost on a daily basis and the insurgents are nowhere near conceding defeat. If anything, they bask in new vigour each day, which irks and demoralises our military.
In the second part of the commentary I again wrote:

“Defeating the insurgency is another matter on its own. The trouble with sub-state conflicts like the one Boko Haram is waging is it can hardly be fully defeated militarily. The first major reason is that the insurgents are not conventional soldiers, are not used to or do not plan on employing conventional war strategies and are very keen to keep to this tactic to maximize their gains.

“On the other hand our soldiers are not used to unconventional strategies like the one they face against the Boko Haram fighters. They want to quickly run over the rebels and establish their supremacy, but it does not happen as they plan so they become frustrated and worn out.

“Although the military could use their superior firepower, especially aerial strikes, to significantly reduce the lethalness of the insurgents the trouble is it will only result in the insurgents melting back into civilian population or scampering to other places, where they could regroup, strategize and launch a comeback.”

Again, what we have been seeing is that energised comeback from fighters we have been made to believe are subdued or killed. Truth be told, the Nigerian authorities are not genuinely interested in ending the insurgence. Otherwise, they would not be contradicting Governor Kashim Shettima by insisting the military are on top of the situation only for Bama to be devastated less than 24 hours after.

Like I previously argued the main factors that would continue to support the Boko Haram survival strategy are what scholars of Conflict Studies have identified as the host, agents and environment. The environmental factors that allowed the emergence of poverty hubs that Mohammad Ali and Mohammad Yusuf took advantage of and now Abubakar Shekau exploits to swell the ranks of the insurgents have not changed. And because similar situations abound across the Sahel the insurgents are easily able to find new hosts even when sent scampering, as it were.

The insurgents are very active agents that easily spread their doctrine from place to place. Killing them won’t automatically mean the end of their ideology. It would only be a temporary setback from which they would recover and regroup at some point.
In the concluding commentary, which is available at http://mystandandi.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/a-nation-at-war-3.html, I plainly explained how these factors have immensely contributed to the success of the sect’s campaign of violence.
Postscript:

Bad days for whistle-blowers these are, as our listening president finally finds the courage to kick out Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the Central Bank Governor. This sends an apparent message to all and sundry: expose corruption at your own peril. It further confirms how lowly our president and his men rate us. But would anyone blame them? In normal societies those under whose nose the $20bn Sanusi claims have disappeared would be the ones fighting for survival not the whistle-blower.

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