By Jude Obuseh (AGENDAWATCHDOG) – Friday’s sneak attack on the convoy of the Governor of Borno State, Professor Babagana Zulum, in Baga, which left 12 policemen, 13 civilians and 5 soldiers dead in its wake, was the most recent in the latest wave of deadly attacks by Islamist terror group, Boko Haram or ISIL’s West Africa Province (ISWAP), on hard and soft targets in the country’s North-East where it has waged a war of attrition against Nigeria’s military forces for over ten years. The convoy was taking people back to Baga at the start of an initiative by authorities in Borno to relocate displaced people to their homes.
The ISIL (ISIS) group, to which a breakaway faction of Nigerian armed group Boko Haram pledged allegiance in 2016, said on its Amaq website that 30 police officers and soldiers were killed in the attack on Friday on a road leading to the strategic fishing town of Baga in Borno state, with the governor unhurt.
Armed groups have forced more than two million people to flee their homes since 2009 when Boko Haram began an armed uprising aimed at creating a state adhering to a strict interpretation of Islamic law. Some 30,000 people have been killed in the conflict. Most of the displaced have been housed into squalid camps where they depend on food handouts from international charities.
In July, Zulum’s convoy came under attack from ISIL’s West Africa Province (ISWAP) outside Baga, forcing him to cancel his trip to the town.
ISWAP has become a dominant force in the region in recent years. The group has recently intensified attacks on military and civilian targets. Borno is the birthplace of the armed uprising and the state worst hit by the conflict
Interestingly, the ambush on Zulum’s convoy is coming in the wake of raucous claims by the government and its security forces that Boko Haram has been significantly weakened, consequent to the series of devastating loses it has been supposedly subjected to by the country’s military, despite evidence on ground indicating that the group was becoming more sophisticated, better organized, better funded and equipped and more motivated to continue its bloody bacchanalias.
The stark fact facing Nigerians today is that Boko Haram is far from being vanquished, government’s rhetoric notwithstanding, despite the pockets of loses it has suffered on the battlefield. Rather it has devised newer, more effective strategies for reinventing itself, when it seems its powers are waning, in the quest to achieve its principal goal of carving out an Islamic caliphate from the subsisting Nigerian State structure.
Boko Haram’s strength lies in its operational stratagem, which is a mishmash of subterfuge, sabotage, infiltration, propaganda, blackmail, kidnapping for ransom, affiliation with other terror groups, and other covert means, through which it has been able to sustain its insurgency to the chagrin and consternation of Nigeria and the international community, who seem to have run out of ideas on how best to tame this rampaging monster.
Nigeria’s approach to this conflict could be said to be hugely responsible for its escalation, as it has relied more on propaganda and less on well-thought-out practical peace building and conflict transformation strategies. Apart from the adversarial military efforts, which have obviously failed to deter Boko Haram from consistently launching guerilla style attacks on selected targets in the North-East, the amnesty programme, code named Operation Safe Corridor, an initiative that is meant to deradicalise and rehabilitate repentant Boko Haram elements, seems not be achieving the goal for which it was set up.
Way Forward: Technically speaking, terrorism can be contained; it cannot be totally defeated. Ask the countries of the West who have been battling this monstrosity for years without end. It is a hydra-headed Cyclops that has the capacity to keep mutating non-stop; a terminal virus that has come to stay.
A multipronged approach towards transforming the North-East crisis, which would consist of both military action and local peace building measures, would suffice as the best way going forward. Defeating Boko Haram on the battlefield cannot automatically guarantee the peace and stability of the North-East – nay the Nigerian State – if preventive peace building measures that are targeted at addressing the structural/background factors – such as grinding poverty, gross ignorance, social cum economic injustice, corruption et al – that led to the crisis, are not factored into the peace process.
Such measures would include: instituting a system of social justice, creating more jobs for the large pool of jobless youths, fighting ignorance with education, reducing the emasculating state of poverty, engineering political stability by operating an open and inclusive political system, engendering proper youth engagement, better policing and an improved judicial system, breeding quality leadership, fighting religious stereotyping and other forms of intolerance through peace education, in conjunction with other initiatives that would be directed towards blunting man’s violent tendencies.
The Boko Haram issue is an existential challenge to the Nigerian State system as currently constituted; a visceral security challenge that requires a simulacrum of approaches.