When the news broke a couple of days to the last Christmas that the Boko Haram insurgents overran six communities in Borno state, my initial reaction was that it was a fake piece of news carried to a ridiculous extent or a rumour standing on one leg. But as days went by, punctuated by rebuttals by the military authorities, the rumour produced its second leg and stood firm on the ground. I also found my jaw on the ground and had a feeling of déjà vu to boot!
The communities seized by the criminal elements were Baga, Doron Baga, Kross Kawwa, Bunduran, Kekeno and Kukawa. According to eyewitnesses’ accounts, the marauding criminals swarmed all over the communities, causing the civilian populace to flee in different directions leading to Monguno and Maiduguri for safety. The raids took the military forces in the affected locations by surprise. And they too had to beat a tactical retreat.
Aside from those who are politicising the terror war for obvious reasons, many were shocked by the reversal of the gains made by the military since the emergence of the present administration in 2015. I was at my panel beater’s workshop situated along Bwari road, Kubwa, when some folks were reacting to a video clip that went viral last week on the social media. A large number of marauders believed to be Boko Haram insurgents were seen in an armada of Toyota Hilux vans armed to the hilt with all manner of weapons. They were pumping bullets into the skies in a manner that suggested the entire nation was on the verge of being overrun by them. We were made to understand that the location where the invaders were having a field day was somewhere in Katsina state.
The alarm raised by the state Governor, Alhaji Bello Masari, that the state was under siege further sent all those watching the clip into a panic mode. In fact, I had to make some calls to a couple of friends of mine from Katsina based in Abuja. But to my greatest surprise, they responded with calmness, making me sound like someone weeping louder than the bereaved.
At a point, I had to express my disgust over the way some workshop folks were excited about the clip as if it was a fantasy from the Nollywood. I told them I was disappointed by their apparent admiration for the audacity of the criminal elements. They began to disperse one after the other when I told them that the activities of the insurgents were tantamount to a falling sky that would spare no one if they were not stopped. I had to remind them that there was a time in the life of this country that many people resident in the northern cities could not assure their families or neighbours while leaving home in the morning that they would be back. Nowhere was safe; no one was safe! Public places like motor parks, markets, worship centres, military and police formations, offices, schools, (must I continue?) became hunting grounds for the insurgents.
As it is today, the helmsman of Borno state, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, will go down in history as the “War-time Governor” in civilian garb. The first before him, in uniform though, was Gen. Yabuku Gowon as Head of State whose regime battled the Biafran rebels for 30 months from 1967 to 1970. It is about 92 months now that Shettima has been contending with the insurgents’ gruesome activities. The man has known no peace for one day.
Encouraged by the successes recorded by the Buhari administration in close to four years, culminating in the reclaiming of all the local government areas under the Boko Haram thumb, Shettima turned prophet a few months ago with a prophecy that he would not bestow the insurgency to his successor. And I had said a loud “AMEN”. So, l can understand how devastated he was by the latest setback to the extent that he broke down in tears when he led a powerful delegation of Borno stakeholders to the Presidential Villa, Abuja, where he presented a 10-point request to President Muhammadu Buhari. Details of the request were not made known to the public but they must have something to do with getting his prophecy fulfilled by May 29, this year.
To get the prophecy fulfilled, the federal government has to get into overdrive. Nobody foresaw the morphing of the degraded Boko Haram into a runaway faction of the more dreaded Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP). Now that the chips are down, the Buhari regime has to move to a higher level in the war against the reloaded insurgents. This calls for upgrading of weapons and other fighting equipment across the military forces. A massively equipped and well-motivated military will have the courage to take the battle to the enemies’ doorsteps.
A war against terror is not a stroll in the park. There was a time when our troops were fleeing in the face of superior firepower of the insurgents. Now that the criminals have found an ally with the more ruthless ISWAP, the federal government must get our northern neighbours to see the need for a renewed collaboration to rout the criminals before their nefarious operations spin completely out of control.
It will also not be out of place to put together a West African High Command to nip the threat in the bud. What is more, President Buhari is the current Chairperson of the sub-regional block, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). I believe all the member nations would key into the initiative. What has been going on in Nigeria is like one’s neighbour’s beard being on fire and so, the best thing for the member states to do is to start dousing their own beards with water by supporting the efforts at routing the criminals that have declared the West Coast as their new hunting ground.
Finally, for the social media rats that have written the governor off as shedding crocodile tears in the Villa, may they not encounter the Boko Haram phenomenon in their lives.