After the supposedly vanquished Boko Haram abducted 105 school girls in Dapchi, Yobe State, the falsity of the lie that the terror group has been decimated is now more obvious. So, the premature paeans of victory should cease. The baseless triumphalism should stop.
The Dapchi abduction is an eerie throwback to the Chibok girls experience. It introduces us to the failure of institutional memory to educate and humanize the Nigerian leadership. It is the revenge of a lesson unlearned on unteachability.
President Jonathan regarded Boko Haram as a Frankenstein monster created by his Northern Muslim detractors to make Nigeria ungovernable and sack him from office. He rallied his political base with this hard luck story and left the terrorists to their devices –until they grew in strength and sophistication to establish a Belgium-sized caliphate in the North East.
It was in the height of their ascendancy that they kidnapped nearly 300 school girls of Government Secondary School Chibok and captured the imagination of the world.
General Buhari took over from Jonathan and almost immediately began to announce that he had done a quick job of destroying Boko Haram. He started to downplay and dismiss the terrorists. His goal was to present himself as a better commander-in-chief than his predecessor: Boko Haram conquered Jonathan. I conquered Boko Haram –in no time!
It is a sobering irony that Boko Haram repeated the Chibok stunt after Buhari declared that they were down and out.
He checked Boko Haram off the list hastily for political points. The defeat of the terrorists was one of his foremost platforms. It figures, he couldn’t wait till the fullness of time to declare the mission accomplished.
Buhari foreshortened a protracted and continuing war just to report a success on a deliverable. Boko Haram was actively troubling the North East, ratcheting up human casualties in suicide bombings, scorched earth attacks on villages, kidnappings and raids. But it mattered so much to him that the politically important defeat of the terrorists begins to count as his achievement.
Nigeria logs a deadly Boko Haram attack every three days. Yet, Buhari aggressively pushes the counterfactual storyline that the insurgents have been driven to extinction. His aides parrot the ‘’we have defeated Boko Haram’’ false testimony like a mantra –as if the umpteenth invocation of that claim will somehow disappear the enemy!
The really worrisome part is that the Nigerian Army feel under obligation to validate and propagate the ‘’we have defeated Boko Haram’’ narrative. They issue dispatches that embellish that Aso Rock line. They report time and again the wounds inflicted on the terrorists, citing heroics that support the official rhetoric.
In reality, the defeat of Boko Haram is a truth whose validity is confined to the echo chamber of the political military complex that is the Buhari presidency and the Nigerian Army. If there were a kernel of veracity in the claim, the army would not have made a regimen of routinely affirming the putative victory over Boko Haram. A triumphant army does not sound like a broken record. They are secure in their accomplishment. They do not feel under pressure to defend their feat. Neither do they inundate civilians with the settled fact of their triumph.
The telling, retelling and retailing of ‘’we have defeated Boko Haram’’ by the Nigerian government and military is paranoid trash-talking. It is proof positive that Boko Haram is an abiding threat to national security.
Needless to say, the army should not major in propaganda. Their obsession with trolling Shekau and writing the obituary of his group is incongruent with military professionalism. It distracts them from engaging the enemy on objective terms.
For instance, in February 2016, the chief of army staff, Yusuf Buratai, announced that the Nigerian Army has defeated Boko Haram ‘’as at today.’’
In December of the same year, the army claimed to have captured Camp Zairo, the base of Boko Haram in Sambisa Forest. Buratai said the Nigerian Army will turn the camp into a training ground from 2017 . He promised to make the place ’’more robust to make sure that these criminals do not come back to that forest again.’’
This February 2018, Buratai’s army had cause to declare again that they have ‘’completely defeated’’ Boko Haram and dislodged the terrorists from Camp Zairo –the selfsame Camp Zairo which was not supposed to harbor any living insurgent. They stated that they have ‘’broken the heart and soul of Shekau’s group.’’ ‘’They are on the run and we are pursuing them to wherever they go. This time around there is no place for escape anywhere.’’
Within three weeks, Boko Haram re-enacted the Chibok operation without the least resistance of Nigerian troops, effectively ridiculing ‘’we have defeated Boko Haram’’ as one of those famous last words.
We have seen Buratai celebrate the ‘’capture’’ of Shekau’s flag and Koran. The disputable memorabilia were neither instruments of surrender nor the wanted man in flesh and blood. But he paraded the items as the most precious trophies.
We have seen Buratai give his soldiers an ultimatum to bring him Shekau dead or alive. We watched the deadline pass without the big catch. We have also seen Buratai give a second time-bound mandate for the capture of Shekau, without the remotest reference to the first barren deadline.
In between the expiration of the first deadline and the issuance of the second, he has tried to interest Nigerians in the fantastic fable that Shekau was now on the run, dressed like a disheveled woman.
The pursuit of the target of propaganda victory against Boko Haram is costing the Nigerian Army attention and resources. The reckless deployment of hyperbole and half-truths is also damaging the credibility of the institution, making it appear like the PR outpost of the presidency.
The Dapchi kidnap is a reality check. It is a reminder that Boko Haram is a present and potent adversary. They have yet to vanish.
Granted, the capability of Boko Haram has been significantly dented. They no longer have the structural consistency to form a colony within Nigeria. But Boko Haram has a vital core, which is protean, nimble and adaptable. That core –amenable to reconstitution and reinvention– will guarantee the perpetuity of the group and the currency of its malevolent philosophy.
Today, Boko Haram terrorists are enemies without borders. They are diffuse in spread and more able to sustain a fluid pattern of destructive horrors. They are not slowing down. They live to kill and kill to live.
Incidentally, Buhari has helped Boko Haram survive and thrive. He gave them a boost with poorly negotiated prisoner swap deals that yielded the release of the group’s deadliest commanders. He also paid Shekau generous ransoms, enabling the psychopath to rearm his foot soldiers and restore momentum to his inhuman campaign.
Boko Haram terrorists traverse Northern Nigeria in a kaleidoscope of brutalities. There is no fixity about them. And there is no certainty that visiting them with a particular set of setbacks would fade out the group.
Honesty requires that the Buhari administration and the Nigerian military admit the terrific bouncebackability of Boko Haram. Responsibility demands that they keep working on a strategy to break the resilient back bone of the terrorists.