Since 2009, the country has been reeling from serious attacks perpetrated by Boko Haram terrorists. It started like isolated attacks involving terrorists who daily sneaked into people’s homes and murdered them in cold blood. Their activities later grew in proportion and capacity to wreak havoc on hapless citizens. These satanic activities were no longer confined to the homes of their victims, they also hacked people down on the streets, highways, churches, mosques and wherever they chose to ply their lethal wares.
Today, it has assumed the status of an epidemic on its own with countless people and numerous security agents fallen victims in the hands of these terrorists who seem very determined. It was this frightening dimension introduced into the whole saga that prompted the Federal Government to impose a state of emergency on the three North-eastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe on Tuesday, May 14, 2013. This underscores the government’s resolve to confront the growing incidence of violence and insecurity in the country.
While justifying the need for the measure, President Goodluck Jonathan bemoaned the breakdown of law and order in the affected states, parts of which he said terrorists had taken over. In a nationwide television broadcast, the President said: “Following recent developments in the affected states, it has become necessary for Government to take extraordinary measures to restore normalcy… Accordingly, the Chief of Defence Staff has been directed to immediately deploy more troops to these states for more effective internal security operations. The troops and other security agencies involved in these operations have orders to take all necessary actions, within the ambit of their rules of engagement, to put an end to the impunity of insurgents and terrorists.”
After this proclamation, the military moved in with their war arsenals. The first few months were hectic as the terrorists seemed to have dug in. With the more sophisticated weapons paraded by the Nigerian troops at that time, the terrorists were soon routed from city centres as they took to their heels and sought sanctuary in the hills and dense forests of the North-east. But just as people were beginning to heave a sigh of relief, the terrorists came up with deadly attacks using guerrilla tactics. And because the troops were not fighting a conventional war, they had to be mindful in their assault against the terrorists so as not to incur heavy civilian casualties.
As it is, the terrorists seem to be capitalising on the self-restraint of the troops to wreak havoc on defenceless and innocent people, particularly in Borno State, which is the stronghold of the terrorists. Added to this is the fact that the terrorists who obviously enjoy some external support from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb, have grown in sophistication in recent times. This is apparent from the deadly attack unleashed on many targets, including a military base in Maiduguri on December 2.
The attack, which came barely a few days after the President got approval of the National Assembly to extend the emergency operation in the North-east by another six months, took everybody, including military authorities, by surprise. Unfortunately, it was the military that suffered the heaviest casualty in the attack as about five aircraft were disabled by the terrorists when the Air Force base in the town was hit. Other military formations, including checkpoints, were not spared in the coordinated attack. That was just one of the many attacks in which the military suffered serious setback.
Sometimes ago, at least 40 Nigerian soldiers were reportedly killed and 65 others went missing in a deadly ambush by suspected members of the extremist group in the state. The casualty, one of the heaviest for the military in its ongoing campaign, occurred along the Baga –Maiduguri Road on Friday, September 13, in what was described as a classic case of operational and communication failure. A detachment of soldiers under the 134 Battalion of the 12 Brigade under the Multi National Joint Task Force, MNJTF, stationed in Kangarwa village in Kukawa Local Government, had conducted a reconnaissance in order to gather intelligence around the area. During the exercise, they established the presence of previously unnoticed Boko Haram camps. The soldiers returned to their base and filed a report. The report recommended aerial bombardment of the area ahead of a ground operation by troops.
Unfortunately, the plan was cancelled at the last minute by a senior officer without formal communication to the more than 100 troops that had already advanced on the area. Consequently, due to lack of communication, the troop ran into the terrorists without knowing that the aerial bombardment had been cancelled and they were caught unawares.
The soldiers were trapped in the ambush as they came under heavy fire from the terrorists who had surrounded the area, leaving at least 40 soldiers dead. Some 65 others were missing. The terrorists also confiscated a huge cache of weapons from the soldiers. The attack jolted the army authorities which immediately ordered an investigation into the suspected operational blunder that gave the terrorists such an upper hand. The authorities were so irked that the commanding officer of the unit was instantaneously removed from his post.
That attack came less than two months after a similar miscalculation on August 4, which also resulted in a heavy casualty following a similar surprise attack by the terrorists on a camp at Malam Fatori where no fewer than 20 soldiers got missing. Just as with past failures and massacres, the military authorities had placed a lid on the two incidents. These terrorists’ assault are a sad reminder of the difficulties which daily confront the military in its campaign against a dodgy but adept enemy that continues to take advantage of mistakes by military planners to inflict heavy casualties on the military.
This was probably why the December 2 attack on the Air Force base and other security formations in Maiduguri sent the military authorities back to the drawing board. New strategies seem to be unfolding. It may have included the trial of those being held for terrorists’ activities. The Defence Headquarters recently recommended 500 suspects for immediate trial in respect of terrorist operations in the three North-east states. Some of those slated for trial include high-profile suspects, some of whom had been training other terrorists in weapon handling. Among the suspects are a medical doctor and some paramilitary or service personnel who had been fighting on the side of the terrorists. While some of the suspects might face trial in the states where they committed terror-related activities, others may be arraigned before federal high courts.
In the same vein, the report also asked the authorities to release 167 others from detention. It described 614 cases inconclusive and recommended a review of the issues against the suspects. The suspects are among the almost 1,400 detainees screened by the Joint Investigation Team set up by the Defence Headquarters at the detention facilities in Maiduguri, Yola and Damaturu between July and September this year. The report also proposed that some of the detainees be tried for other offences ranging from armed robbery, murder to drug-related offences. This is a good development.
From all indications, the military high command needs to look inward in order to be able to contain the activities of these terrorists. There is no doubt that with the various ambushes and surprise attacks on military formations, there are moles within the military itself.
Take the attack on the Air Force Base for example. Without insiders’ involvement, it would not have been easy for the terrorists to overrun the base and other military establishments with ease. And the fact that the attack was carried out by the terrorists as a pre-emptive attack on the military on the eve of a planned major offensive on the terrorists’ locations in the forests and hills of Maiduguri, shows the hands of insiders in the whole episode.
The military will do itself some measure of good if it can conduct a thorough investigation into both the December 2 spontaneous attacks and previous attacks on security formations in the past. It is only by doing this that the wings of the Boko Haram terrorists can be safely clipped.
The opinion expressed above is solely that of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of Nigeria Intel.