These comments by Borno State Governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima have captured the electrified mood of celebrations in Nigeria and the International community over the release of 21 Chibok schoolgirls captured by Boko Haram Terrorists (BHTs) on April 14, 2014. Based on painstaking negotiations anchored by the International Red Cross and the Swiss Government, these girls were released by their captors in the town of Banki on the fringes of Nigeria’s border with Cameroon.
In Nigeria’s history, the nation has never lived with prolonged emotional trauma, which glued both friends and foes like the incident of the abduction of the 276 school girls in Chibok imposed on the nation. It triggered local and international outrage. World leaders took turns to renounce the act of the terrorists as barbaric and uncivilized.
Helplessness of the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) under the then President Goodluck Jonathan, which showed more interest in his re-election campaigns exacerbated the tension. The birth of #BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) campaigners led by Mrs. Obi Ezekwesili, ignited fresh trouble for the government which was scolded daily for refusal to initiate action for their release.
Centrally, there were other issues, but President Muhammedu Buhari as presidential candidate of the APC in the 2015 general elections premised his campaigns on two main cardinal issues. He spoke vibrantly and angrily about ending Boko Haram insurgency and ensure the release of the abducted Chibok girls as well as ridding Nigeria of her pervasive and debilitating corruption.
Nigerians trusted him and overwhelmingly voted him into power. In power, President Buhari has made no pretensions about the issue of defeating BHTs and securing the release of the Chibok girls and the launch of a deafening anti-graft war.
Thus, Buhari started with the re-organization of the Nigerian Military High Command; procurement of the arms and ammunitions, prompt payment of allowances of troops in the battle front to boost their morale and reaching out to the international community to plead their assistance to battle terrorism.
The coming on board of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen. Tukur Buratai among other Service Chiefs renewed fresh songs on ending the Boko Haram insurgency. Specifically, Buratai promised to end insurgency in the Northeast by December 2015. Nigerians waited doubtfully because other Service Chiefs had similarly bragged in the past, but it came to naught.
But the new face of leadership of the Nigerian military had proven to be committedly different. By the December 2015 deadline the COAS promised, tales of BHTs raids of villages, communities and bombing of cities in the North turned into the narratives of terrorists fleeing, killed in combat, captured or surrendering to Nigerian military. Reclaimed territories from BHTs began to experience normalcy and deserted communities breathed fresh air.
President Buhari announced to the congregation of the last United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York that Nigeria has substantially decimated BHTs. The President further disclosed that their capacity to freely launch unbridled attacks on targeted locations has been diminished to occasional attacks on soft targets.
It gladdens the heart that President Buhari has kept faith with this campaign covenant with Nigerians by defeating Boko Haram insurgency. His cake has been iced with the gradual release of the Chibok girls from the claws of terrorists. It has raised a strong hope that the remaining more than 100 of the Chibok girls still in their captivity are nearer liberation too, as hinted by Buhari in Germany thus;
“In getting these 21 out, we hope we will get enough intelligence to go about securing the rest of them.”
What is indispensable in the release of the Chibok girls and the over 20, 000 Boko Haram abductees the Nigerian military has secured freedom at intervals is testimony of a hard working Nigerian military. It has worked in conjunction with the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) and the complementary roles of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) to deflate the once enigmatic and agile terrorists from their safe enclaves in the Northeast.
However, it must be borne in mind that a blood thirsty beast, who is armed to the teeth, would not just voluntarily quit his trade for the fun of it or because he has become a saint; repented upon his sudden discovery of God Almighty and His love. He relapses because of knowledge of his constant haunting by a superior power, potent enough to extinguish him and his generation.
The Nigerian army under Buratai has been very instrumental to instilling this psychology fear into the remnants of BHTs, which accounts for their discovery of the futility in the continued caging of the abductees. Other arms of the military also performed wonderful roles.
But soldiers consistently and exceptionally bore the brunt. They chased terrorists on foot, combat motorbikes and vehicles. They implanted themselves in communities for surveillance, had their command barracks attacked, detonated terrorists bombs, spent nights and days in forests and on roads at checkpoints, braved sun and rain as well as sacrificed their dear lives in the battle against insurgency.
Accordingly, Nigerian soldiers and other arms of the military deserve unrestrained respect and encouragement to keep the spirit alive. Buratai thinks and works round the clock on how best to sustain the tempo of triumph over insurgency.
Last month, Buratai mulled with the idea of launching another phase of the battle against terrorists he code named “OPERATION RESCUE FINALE,” designed to rescue every Nigerian still in the captivity of BHTs. These are rays of positive hope.
Dispassionately, Nigerian soldiers have offered themselves as a major springboard for this cause and deserve encouragement. The enormity of their sacrifice to terror war cannot be quantified. And not only in Nigeria, but the international community has lauded their priceless contributions to the liberation of an endangered nation. As the world appreciates their gallantry, let it serve as a stimulus to greater performance and enliven their resolve to do more for the country.
Also, families of the Chibok girls still held in detention should be consoled by President Buhari’s assurances that the return of the 21 girls would definitely lead to the return of the rest still in captivity.
Israel writes from University of Ibadan.