By Esther Okpabi
Since the advent of the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria, a lot of scholars have posited various factors responsible for the rebellion. Some say it is as a result of injustice and uneven distribution of our commonwealth, while some also argued that the menace of Boko Haram is as a result of a lack of clear-cut policy on the part of our security agencies in intelligence gathering. While both lines of arguments could be tenable, in my opinion, the fact that remained that Boko Haram has been decimated through the political will provided by the current administration and the dynamism with which the Nigeria Army carried out the war so far, and so good.
From 2016, when the Nigeria Army gained ascendency over the Boko Haram terrorist in North East Nigeria, it has recorded tremendous progress, so much so that accolades were never in short supply locally and internationally. For example, Territories that were hitherto under the control of the insurgents were reclaimed, and life returned to normalcy in most villages and communities that dot the nook and crannies of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa, Gombe, and Bauchi state respectively. The question thus is; how did all of these happen?
I will attempt to proffer some answers. As a start, I said political will. In this context, the quality of the appointment of service chiefs for the armed forces played a vital role. And as stated in most forums, the selection of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai was the game-changer in the war against Boko Haram Insurgents. This is so because been an infantry general, and one that once held sway at the Multinational Joint Task Force, in the battlefield, he had been able to provide sound and exemplary leadership. The Chief of Army Staff wines and dines with troops on the front lines to boost their morale. He is also in the habit of continually engaging the fighting forces directly and indirectly. I would like to give an example.
Sometime in 2017, the Chief of Army Staff was on a routine tour of the operations of the Nigeria Army in the North East when his convoy was ambushed at about 45 kilometers east of Maiduguri, Borno State. Instead of turning back, as typical, he merely ordered that the convoy should proceed. And he advanced with the troops to battle that saw scores of Boko Haram fighters killed. I recall that this incident made the headlines in most newspapers. That, in my opinion, was exemplary and a huge morale booster for the troops, which has ultimately led to the various successes, recorded by the Nigeria Army in the battle with Boko Haram terrorists.
It must also be mentioned that during an interview granted by the Chief of Army Staff sometime in 2016, he stated thus “As at the time I took over leadership in the Nigeria Army, troops morale, especially those in the battlefield was low, a situation that paved the way for Boko Haram terrorist to gain advantage over the troops”. My take away from the statement was that of a leader that understood the efficacy of psychological boosts in warfare.
A World War, I scholar, Dr. Mathew Shaw, in an article on how did soldiers cope with war? Stated that “men respond differently under fire. For many, the helplessness of suffering artillery bombardment was the hardest thing to deal with. As soldiers spent more time under fire, they tended to develop lethargy and become hardened to the rigors of the front. Soldiers also had to cope with long stretches of anxious waiting, or even boredom, as well responding or participating in attacks. And this scenario had a toll on the morale of the majority of the troops on the battlefront.”
I agree with this position because that was what happened to the bulk of the troops fighting the Boko Haram insurgents in North East Nigeria before the advent of the Buhari led administration. And for the Chief of Army staff to have started with boosting the morale of the troops through the routine, visits to the battlefronts, improved welfare, and transparency and accountability as the watchword, it was apparent that in a matter of time the tide was going to turn against the Boko Haram insurgents. And it did.
So in a way, when the Nigeria Army started recording successes in the battlefront, it was not surprising to some of us that were knowledgeable about the strategic importance of psychological balance in warfare situations. And so when the Chief of Army Staff made a public statement recently on the fact that Boko Haram has been substantially degraded, he wasn’t far from the truth. But why his remarks were misconstrued in certain quarters is left to be imagined.
While it is understandable given the fact that he is an interested party in the situation that is not to say that Boko Haram has not been degraded. We were all witness to the state of insecurity that permeated all the nook and crannies of Nigeria when the Boko Haram onslaught against the Nigerian nation was in full swing. Could it be said that the security situation in Nigeria today is still the same as it was previously? The answer is a huge no. I dare to say that the situation has improved tremendously. And this much has been corroborated by scholars, members of the international community and other critical stakeholders.
For example, it is on record that over 30,000 hostages kidnapped by Boko Haram have been freed by the Nigeria Army and as well as the recapture of over 16 local governments areas that were once in the hands of Boko Haram terrorists. This much was corroborated by the Governor of Borno State, who stated during an interview that “five or six Boko Haram terrorist will come and kill scores of unharmed villagers so that their prestige in the international jihadist community will rise. These are lunatics, but otherwise, considerable progress has been made, they have been sufficiently decimated.”
Two and half years ago, the Boko Haram terrorists were holding sway in 20 out of the 27 local government areas of the state. The Nigeria Army did a fantastic job by driving them out of all the local government areas of the state” These were the words of the governor of a state that is the epicenter of the Boko Haram crisis. If such can come from such a critical stakeholder as the governor, do we now have any more reason to doubt the claims made by the Nigeria Army that Boko Haram has been degraded?
Whichever we choose to believe, one fact remains. And which is Boko Haram had been substantially degraded through the sustained efforts of the Nigeria Army and other critical stakeholders. As I mentioned earlier, the Nigeria Army had indeed recorded a feat in the containment of the threat posed by the Boko Haram terrorists. And in record time too. It also behoves on all well-meaning Nigerians and stakeholders to continue to render support in their quest to weed out remnants of Boko Haram terrorists that have gone into hiding and recently taken to guerrilla fighting by engaging in more or less suicide bombings, and the target of the vulnerable groups of women and children in an attempt to paint a picture of strong fighting force, while in truth, there is nothing left of their activities.
Okpabi writes from the New Nile University, Abuja.