By Majeed Dahiru
While the political leadership of Nigeria was basking in the euphoria of a false sense of triumph, the dynamics in the theatre of war has changed from civilian terrorism to a full blown insurgency, which has seen ISWAP take ground forces of mainly the Nigerian army head on, leaving many dead and carting away caches of arms.
The Muhammadu Buhari administration has been unable to draw a line of distinction between politics and governance in the business of government since its coming to power in 2015. Round the clock, the administration appears to be distracted by partisan politics, away from its critical function of state management. Its pre-occupation with politics at the detriment of governance has resulted in the politicisation of national security to such an extent that the precarious situation it inherited in 2015 has become worse four years after in 2019.
Almost always in a hurry to give the impression of having succeeded where its predecessors failed, the Buhari administration inadvertently made the failures of the past its bench mark for measuring its own success. By often resorting to measuring its success against the failures of the past, rather than against a benchmark of overall indices of good governance in line with acceptable international standards of best practices, the Buhari administration has reduced the barometer of comparative governance to a competition between two sets of incompetencies.
By viewing the problem of insecurity, pretty much like other fundamental issues of the economy and corruption, through the narrow prism of exclusivist partisanship, President Buhari under estimated the Boko Haram insurgency by considering his predecessors’ inability to rein in the group as entirely their individual faults. President Buhari’s simplistic reduction of the Boko Haram terrorism to corruption and indiscipline of past administrations, was responsible for the faulty diagnosis of a problem that is far beyond the physical but rooted in a radical ideology of global Islamist revivalism.
The Buhari administration gleefully took credit for the appreciably scaled down level of lethal attacks on mostly soft targets in vulnerable places such as markets, schools, mosques and churches, in wide range of areas outside the North East including Abuja, by triumphantly declaring “Boko Haram technically defeated”. This premature declaration of victory over the insurgents was not only disingenuous but a wilful display of ignorance about the true nature of the enemy, in what became the greatest undoing of the government’s war on terrorism effort.
The scaled down attacks on soft targets, which reduced civilian casualties, while the Boko Haram insurgency appears to have been restricted to the North-East, wasn’t so much the effort of the Buhari administration but a deliberate change of tactical strategy by the terror group. In March 2015, Abubakar Shekau, the Boko Haram leader pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL) and was acknowledged by a top official of the international Islamist terror group, Abu Mohammad Al-Adnani. That singular act, henceforth, internationalised an otherwise local insurgent group that was under immense pressure from the renewed offensive of Nigeria’s security forces, which pressed it to the fringes of Sambisa forest, while several communities that had been earlier occupied where liberated in the process.
The ferocious resurgence of Boko Haram is an indication that contrary to official claims, the deadly sect is far from being degraded. To sustain the impression in the public space…the Muhammadu Buhari administration has deployed more energy to either suppress or obscure and, in some cases, filter information about the true state of things at the epicentre of the war…
Following its effective internationalisation, Boko Haram was directed by ISIL to subsequently abide by the Islamic rules of war engagement, which forbids the killing of unarmed and non-hostile Muslim targets. In effect, this meant a cessation of indiscriminate suicide bombings and attacks on mosques, markets, schools, as well as other soft targets, including unarmed and non-hostile Muslims. This was also a strategic move to regain its lost religious legitimacy among the local Muslim population, following the carnage visited upon them and their communities, which pressed them towards the government side. Abubakar Shekau, who is clearly imbued with the Takfiri doctrine, which equates disobedience to disbelief, would have none of this. As far as he is concerned, any Muslim who is not heeding the global call for Jihad by joining the ranks of his Boko Haram group, is not a Muslim in the first place.
Following Abubakar Shekau’s refusal to abide by the Islamic rules of war engagement, a split in the ranks of the Boko Haram insurgents occurred in 2016. A powerful column of fighters and commanders broke with the original Boko Haram group, forming a splinter under the banner of the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP), and led by the ISIL-appointed Abu Musab al-Barnawi. This split left the Abubakar Shekau group sufficiently weakened and unable to carry on its hitherto indiscriminate killing sprees across the country, which gave the false impression of a technically defeated Boko Haram.
ISWAP, otherwise known as the Albarnawi group, in complete obedience of the Islamic rules of war engagement, by meticulously avoiding Muslim targets and backed by ISIL logistics, as well as training, will emerge as a ferocious fighting force. Between 2016 and 2019, ISWAP has swooped on several hard targets, including military installations, inflicting the heaviest casualties on Nigeria’s security, on a scale never seen since the civil war. While the political leadership of Nigeria was basking in the euphoria of a false sense of triumph, the dynamics in the theatre of war has changed from civilian terrorism to a full blown insurgency, which has seen ISWAP take ground forces of mainly the Nigerian army head on, leaving many dead and carting away caches of arms.
The ferocious resurgence of Boko Haram is an indication that contrary to official claims, the deadly sect is far from being degraded. To sustain the impression in the public space about its self-assessed successes in the war against terror, the Muhammadu Buhari administration has deployed more energy to either suppress or obscure and, in some cases, filter information about the true state of things at the epicentre of the war, than to the real task of energising boots on the ground to decisively defeat one of the world’s deadliest insurgent groups.
In the past week alone, ISWAP has attacked military bases in Damasak, Monguno, Mobbar and Nganzai local governments of Borno State. These attacks also coincided with a suicide attack by the Abubakar Shekau-led Boko Haram group, which left several people dead and injured in Konduga town, some 36 kilometres from Maiduguri the state capital.
While the government is pre-occupied with well-choreographed cameo freak shows of its successes in degrading Boko Haram insurgents, the deadly activities of the group have not only become widespread like untreated cancerous cells in the human body, but have actually stretched Nigeria’s security forces to breaking limits. Whereas, the Boko Haram insurgents have mutated into a well-armed professional fighting force, the Nigerian Army has been left without adequate men, equipment and motivation. In the past week alone, ISWAP has attacked military bases in Damasak, Monguno, Mobbar and Nganzai local governments of Borno State. These attacks also coincided with a suicide attack by the Abubakar Shekau-led Boko Haram group, which left several people dead and injured in Konduga town, some 36 kilometres from Maiduguri the state capital.
Frustrated by the lack of progress on the frontlines of the war on terror, Nigeria’s army chief, General Yusuf Buratai made a startling revelation to the effect that, “it is unfortunate, but the truth is that almost every setback the Nigerian Army has had in our operations in recent times can be traced to insufficient willingness to perform assigned tasks or simply insufficient commitment to a common national and military course by those at the frontline”. This is a clear indication that Boko Haram has technically defeated Buratai’s Army.
An insurgency that is primarily driven by a radical ideology cannot be defeated by the force of arms alone. Similarly, the leadership of Nigeria’s security forces that is heavily skewed in favour of a section of the country is not likely to command national loyalty. That ISWAP abides faithfully with the ISIL decreed Islamic rules of war engagement, which forbids the killing of unarmed and non-hostile Muslims, is of strategic disadvantage to Buratai’s Army as the insurgents now enjoy enormous legitimacy as the predominantly Muslim population in the main theatre of the war on terror no longer consider them as lethal adversaries. The implication of this is far-reaching, to the extent that there is a near freeze in cooperation between the local population and government forces, particularly in the area of native intelligence-sharing, making it easily possible for ISWAP to occupy larger swathes of land today than ever before through the hearts and minds of the native Muslim population.
Considering the reality that the seeds of radicalisation were sown in the mainstream Muslim theology guarantees a steady flow of radicalised individuals that are daily swelling the ranks of the insurgents, at a rate that outpaces both its own loss of men, with capabilities to overwhelm an already overstretched Buratai Army. It is the seeming intractability of the war on terror, arising from an incompetent political leadership of the Nigerian state, that has made officers and men of the Nigerian Army war-weary. Unfortunately, concerted efforts to tame the scourge of radical Islamic ideology, which propels global Jihadi movements such as ISWAP, has not been activated, as the conservative political leadership of northern Nigeria appears to make useful tool out of this situation for election protectionism against non-Muslim Nigeria, in the power struggle over the control of state resources for elite benefit. The long term strategy of ISWAP is to effectively decimate Nigeria’s entire security forces substantially, in terms of men and equipment, by narrowing the insurgency to a single theatre of war in the North-East corner of Nigeria.
Majeed Dahiru, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja and can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org
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