President Muhammadu Buhari and the man in charge of war against terrorism in Nigeria, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, like to announce that Boko Haram terrorist group have been technically defeated. Have they really been ‘technically defeated?’
If Boko Haram have been technically defeated then why is it that they are still capable of attacking army battalions, leaving many casualties behind, carting away with military equipment, kidnapping students and bringing them back at will, taking one as hostage, and are said to control eight local governments in Borno State by one of their legislators? What exactly is “technically defeated”?
The premise for which the federal government said they have defeated Boko Haram is that there are no longer bomb blasts outside Borno State by Boko Haram and bomb blast targeting soft targets has almost nowadays stopped. The government said Boko Haram has been curtailed to just the North Eastern part of the country. How true is it?
The truth is that Boko Haram have had a change of strategy and tactical maneuvering since they played allegiance to Islamic State. Back then Sheikh Abubakar Shekau was the leader of Boko Haram. But the allegiance would soon see ISIS leadership dethrone Sheikh Shekau from the leadership of Boko Haram because of disagreement over his Jihad. ISIS saw Abubakar Shekau indiscriminate bombings of soft targets and mosque as problematic. They said he was losing support of Muslims and when they couldn’t agree with Shekau on change of tactics, they replaced him with the son of the founder of Boko Haram, late Muhammad Yusuf. Abubakar Shekau took his own faction and left. Abu Mus’ab Habeeb Bin Muhammad Bin Yusuf al-Barnawi became the new leader of Islamic State of West African Province.
The Boko Haram under Shekau tried to pull some stunt by bombing soft targets to make themselves relevant and have cling to the Chibok girls to still be in the news, but without resources they simply went under and ISWAP is now the real terrorist group leader that is on top. Sheikh Abubakar Shekau tried to reclaim his place by making few videos and talking tough, but it was over. He has gone under for a while now and has not been able to claim the limelight like ISWAP.
ISWAP are strictly following the rules set for them by ISIS. As ISIS crumbles in the Middle East, ISWAP continues to get more and more resources to attack in this very difficult war. They appear and disappear at will. They seem to have mastered the terrain more than government forces. Their target now is to attack army formations and try to take over like ISIS did in Iraq and Syria, after taking advantage of the weak government in Iraq and the Arab spring fallout in Syria.
These are some of the reasons why bombs are no longer exploding in cities across the north and in Abuja. ISIS wants a more organized war when they can have the support of the people. After kidnapping the Dapchi school girls, ISWAP brought them back, keeping Leah Sharibu, the Christian girl, all in their propaganda attempt to win the hearts of Muslims. In the video one can see the people of Dapchi clapping and waving at them like heroes. That’s what ISIS wants. That kind of support. Support that would give the impression that they are not the enemy of the people. That kind of support is a strategy to get recruits.
Sheikh Abubakar Shekau’s Boko Haram may have been “technically defeated” by ISIS, but ISWAP of ISIS have not really been technically defeated. Since President Buhari announced that they have been technically defeated four years ago, reiterated that they have been over the years, ISWAP have successful attacked military formations and inflicted so much damages on the Nigerian Army, sometime if which the media is not even privy of, some not even reported. The Nigerian Army have managed to keep information on some of these attacks and casualties secret, but when over 100 army were killed in an ambush in late December 2018, and Reuters reported it in January 2019, the Nigerian army quickly denied it. But soldiers in the warfront kept calling their families and friends and even the media that it was true.
Recently there has also been a report by Wall Street Journals of the United States of Nigerian soldiers being buried in secret graves in Maiduguri without their families being involved. Wall Street Journal interviewer the owner of the farm that has been turned to a graveyard with her photos. Yet the army denied the story. Keeping casualties secret for the Nigerian army is a strategy of telling the people that the president is on top of the security situation.
The bombing of soft targets that affects the masses may have stopped, at least, because Boko Haram wants support of the masses, but the attacks on army has not stopped. But the Boko Haram faction of Sheikh Abubakar Shekau has been “technically defeated”, whatever it really means, by that of Sheikh Barnawi.
Fighting the war in many front, with the illusion that they would takeover like they did in Iraq and Syria, is going to be the Achilles heel of Boko Haram. The region may have corrupt government and sometimes unserious leaders, but Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria, are tougher than it seems. These government and leaders would never allow Boko Haram take over.
When Boko Haram may not have been defeated or technically defeated, the Nigerian army are more prepared for them and ready for them, more now than before. They can only hit now and retreat, but they have not been able to successfully stay in one place and take over as they did few years ago knowing fully that they would be met by hail of gunfire. ISWAP are comfortable playing cat and mouse game, hit and run.
George Onmonya Daniel writes from NEWISSUES Magazine, 1009, Anbeez Plaza, Wuse Zone 5, Abuja