#BBOGCountdownTo6Weeks: Week 4 Statement; 8 March to 14 March, 2015
Review of Week FOUR
Sunday 15 March 2015
The #BBOGCountdownTo6Weeks is a monitoring initiative that has provided us with an invaluable prospect to closely scrutinize the Federal Government’s activities for reclaiming territories lost to Boko Haram insurgents. As has been stated repeatedly, this monitoring is driven by the need to show that the role of citizens holding those in positions of governance accountable for their actions is both necessary and practicable, especially in a democracy. Therefore our observations have consistently been hinged on the following critical questions:
- Is the country making progress or not with the ongoing operation and collaboration of our regional neighbours?
- Are we reclaiming previously lost territories from the insurgents?
- Are we weakening and destroying the strength and bases of the Boko Haram sect?
- Are we closer to having our 219 Chibok girls freed from the captivity of their abductors?
- Are we closer to restoring peace, safety and normality in the North Eastern part of our country?
Fortuitously, Nigeria is today celebrating Mother’s Day and we cannot but spare more than a passing thought for the Chibok Mothers who have had to bear so much agony for almost a year.
B. Key Issue: WHERE ARE OUR #CHIBOKGIRLS???
Having waited with great anxiety for news of our 219 #ChibokGirls over the last Four Weeks we are now extremely agitated that they are not being accorded the priority attention that should lead to their rescue. Appalling, does not even adequately describe the situation concerning our abducted 219 Chibok schoolgirls. The country’s leadership, charged with ensuring the security and well-being of every Nigerian citizen, regardless of ethnicity, class, religion, gender or age, seems content with paying lip-service to the fate of our girls. There is no modicum of empathy for the emotional torture the parents of the girls are going through.
Some days ago, Vice President Namadi Sambo continued with that same uncaring attitude by restating what has become a convenient mantra that our #ChibokGirls will soon be back. It is incomprehensible that 335 days after the Chibok abductions and four weeks after the highly publicized 6-week Multi-National rescue operation, there has not been a specific statement about these hapless abductees. Our question is how soon is “soon”?
The singular purpose of our advocacy has been to ensure that 219 #ChibokGirls, who have been let down by the country into which they were born, are rescued from the evil tentacles of the monsters holding them captive. Moving on can never and will never be an option until there is proper accountability in this matter which involves the lives of our citizens.
There is nowhere in the world where rescue operations are shrouded in mysterious silence. There is always, in societies that place a premium on the well-being of their citizens, some amount of detailed briefing during rescue operations. For instance, when three Israeli boys were abducted last year, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) not only swung into action without delay, but provided regular detailed updates that did not jeopardise its operations. A position it maintained until there was a closure in the case.
The IDF exhibited a professional sense of responsibility, and upheld the state’s avowed stance of accounting for each citizen especially in a situation of distress.
In Mexico when 43 out of 100 students disappeared during a demonstration in September 2014, the authorities did not engage in political blame games, but gave the situation the attention it deserved. From September 29 to December 9, the security services held several press conferences detailing the extent of investigations. There was no mysterious silence or serial repetition of a non-committal mantra such as, “the students will soon be back”.
The IDF as well as the Mexican security agencies exhibited a professional sense of responsibility, and upheld their states’ avowed stance of accounting for each citizen especially in a situation of distress.
It is very shocking that the politicians continue to shamelessly politic with the tragedy of our girls even 11 months after. The political squabbling over our girls is the worst manifestation of heartlessness considering that the political class at both federal and state levels have failed our girls and their parents in one way or another. We consider the repeated name calling and threats as sign of remorselessness.
All diversionary tactics must cease forthwith and the immediate focus should be an absolute effort on the rescue of our girls who are sadly the victims of the collective failures of Nigeria’s leaders. At the appropriate time, citizens will want to see a full inquisition into the multiple issues surrounding the abduction of our girls. For now, ALL that we expect is for our girls to be located and rescued.
Today, we stand with the grieving mothers of Chibok. We ask our leaders to pause for a moment and think about what these women have been forced to suffer and the nightmare they are still burdened with because of leadership inaction. Would our leaders allow their own mothers experience a quarter of this emotional torture
We demand therefore, at this stage, a full disclosure of the circumstances surrounding the previous and current rescue operations of our 219 #ChibokGirls. It must be noted that as of now, not one single girl has been rescued. We maintain that the life of every Nigerian citizen matters.
C. Matters Arising from Previous Statements
1. Within the fourth week under review, the military achieved a string of operational successes. This includes clearing Boko Haram bases in Lame-Bura forest of Bauchi State, recapturing two towns in Yobe State, as well as Madagali in Adamawa State. According to the military, recapturing Madagali is significant because that was the last stronghold of the insurgents in the state. So, save for the mopping up activities, the military claims that Adamawa State is completely rid of Boko Haram.
2. We have noticed that in response to our steadfast monitoring, some of our advisories have been taken on board especially in the area of providing information from a non-singular source. Thus we have seen improvement in reportage with a variety of visuals that tend to enhance credibility in relation to the most recent operations. A case in point is that of the forest in Bauch State where reportage was accompanied with details of items recovered from the terrorists.
We note that this appreciable progress has been made possible by allowing journalists on the scene, as the military claims it has allowed journalists from 10 domestic and foreign media organisations to take part in a tour of some reclaimed areas. Such places visited include Mubi, Hong and Michika in Adamawa State, as well as Gujba and Buni Yadi in Yobe State. There has also been a visit to Baga and Monguno in Borno State.
3. When we marked the one year anniversary of the Buni Yadi massacre on February 25, it was necessitated by the neglect the Federal Government had shown to those directly affected and in keeping with our core Values which place emphasis on empathy with fellow citizens. We had called on the relevant authority to take on the responsibility it had ignored.
We are delighted that during the week, the Federal Government eventually reached out to the families of the boys who were slaughtered in that school. This initial engagement should not be a one-off affair, as the process needs to be fully explored so that all belated remedial actions are followed to a logical conclusion. This should include a comprehensive inventory of the dead and missing, appropriate compensations, as well as trauma counselling for the survivors.
Indeed this will be an opportunity to design a Trauma Counselling Model that can be used for all communities affected by the Boko Haram terrorism, especially in the North East. In a way, it was significant that Buni Yadi was recaptured within the same week.
4. Despite making available a list of recaptured territories, though the media seem to have the exact figures mixed up, there is yet to be in the public domain a list of those places yet to be recaptured. Having both lists enables the public to keep track of the military’s progress in dislodging the insurgents.
D. Review of Week Four of the 6-Weeks Operation
1. The resort to urban guerrilla warfare by the terrorists became even more pronounced with a spate of suicide bombings especially in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital. Quite a large number of fatalities were recorded. The despicable development confirms what several security analysts had speculated, that being on the back-foot, Boko Haram would reach for such tactics that would terrorise the urban populace.
There has to be consistent public awareness campaign for alertness, not only in the affected areas, but also all over the country. Boko Haram has shown that it has a network of cells outside the immediate conflict zone and so general alertness is important at this time. Returnees to reclaimed territories must also be made aware of the possibility of booby-trapped buildings.
A related worrisome dimension is the report that some of the recent suicide bombers were scanned at the entry points of the locations where they eventually detonated the explosives. It could be that the scanners in use at those places are defective, or that those handling them need to be properly trained.
It is also necessary to call for apposite forensic analysis of the debris from the recent explosions, especially those in Maiduguri, so as to determine whether the terrorists have come up with a means of packaging explosives devices that defy metal detectors. Keeping abreast with the strategies of insurgents, and possibly second-guessing their moves should never be taken for granted, particularly at a time they seem to have their backs against the wall.
2. There are disturbing situational reports about some of the recaptured towns and communities. In Baga, for instance, apart from the extensive damage done to most of the buildings, it has been established that large numbers of decaying corpses litter the town. There is no way such an environment can be considered healthy. Here, as in other reclaimed places, plans should be underway to facilitate removal of corpses, effective disinfection of the environment, instituting a process of reconstruction and putting in place some form of security. Reclaiming the territories is only one part of a process that must include provisions for ensuring the terrorists do not have the capacity to reverse the recent territorial gains.
Custodians of the Terror Victims Fund should see the unfolding situation as an opportunity to firm up plans and swing into action without further delay. There is a growing need that must be met immediately.
3. As the week in review drew to a close, a report indicated that Chadian troops had been ordered by their Nigerian counterparts to relocate from their current position in Nigeria, to another location in Cameroon. So far the report has not been controverted, and the development raises some anxiety.
Given what has happened in similar circumstances in the past, we sincerely hope this is not another case of alleged distrust, antagonism and non-cooperation within the ranks of the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF). The need for resolving operational differences at this stage of the collaboration cannot be over emphasized.
4. It surfaced also that in the neighbouring Niger Republic, there is increasing agitation for the outcome of the investigation into the accidental aerial bombardment of a border community in the early stage of the 6-weeks operation, which had claimed over thirty lives. When it happened, it was unclear where the aircraft had come from as the Nigeriens had insisted it was not one of theirs. The lingering silence will only create needless ill-feelings and undermine trust and co-p on both sides.
E. Our Concerns
1. Unfortunately the issue of mercenaries has refused to go away and the past week has seen intense international media spotlight, in the wake of the alleged death of two South African mercenaries. Both, as reported, had been casualties of “friendly fire” in the course of an operation. The matter has become even more pronounced as the identity of one of the mercenaries has been made public, including his picture and profile.
While the defeat of the insurgents is the utmost desire of all patriotic Nigerians, there can be no justification for deliberately ignoring internationally established conventions. Whatever the short-term gains of using non-state actors, as the South African authorities have disowned their citizens operating with the Nigerian military, there can be a variety of devastating consequences. Apart from the uncertainty of loyalty, there is the demoralizing impact that disparity in things like remuneration can have on our own soldiers.
As long as the long standing deficiencies which have sorely compromised the efficiency of our gallant soldiers on the field are not robustly addressed, the mercenary factor or whatever official euphemism is used for these non-state actors, will only complicate matters.
Our anxiety will become obvious when these hired-guns eventually leave, and our soldiers will be saddled with retaining territories which we should not have even lost from the outset, had all been well with our military. The ills of Mercenarism, which are comprehensively documented, should not be allowed to become an Achilles’ heel at this point of the counter –insurgency operations.
2. The situation concerning Bama, the second largest town in Borno State, is an embarrassment that reflects a strand of dubious information management which has been running through the various phases of the counter-insurgency all these years. For most of the week, the media had been awash with headlines boldly indicating that the town had been taken back from Boko Haram. The Vice President, Arc Namadi Sambo had also been emphatic about Bama’s recapture in a widely publicized interview. The subsequent retraction is most unfortunate and also shows the degree of lack of consultation within the ranks of our leadership.
There appears to be conflicting claims too about the true status of Damasak, which has supposedly been retaken by Nigerien and Chadian soldiers. These information contradictions do not help the counter-insurgency operations, as they are bound to create confusion even among those in the field.
3. Since the current operation is two-thirds gone based on the established time scale, this is a good opportunity to provide a detailed account of how much ground has been covered, and the objectives that have been achieved. The entire exercise will be put in a clearer perspective, clarifications can be made, and critical fine-tuning can take place discreetly to make the concluding phase a resounding success.
4. The alliance of Boko Haram and ISIS, which has been a trending issue, was seemingly downplayed by the Nigerian authorities. While this position could be interpreted as a strategy to avert creating panic in the minds of the citizens, we hope that there are concerted efforts behind the scenes to scrutinize the possible implications. The pronouncement by ISIS that fighters should join Boko Haram must not be dismissed as a mere publicity stunt. Libya, which already has a significant ISIS presence, shares borders with our immediate neighbour Niger. Another neighbour, Mali, is also still unstable. Our porous borders should remain a major source of concern. Finally, Boko Haram itself has shown ability of bouncing back from assumed positions of annihilation. This should never happen again.
We are fully expectant of a victorious 6-weeks of the Nigerian Army and MNJTF operations that will ensure peace and security in the North East of Nigeria, and those regions in our neighbouring countries that have been adversely affected.
The gallantry of our soldiers in the field and their colleagues from our neighbouring countries, are highly appreciated. We also recognize the sacrificial bravery of the Civilian JTF, whose emergence was critical in not allowing Boko Haram overrun most of the territories.
The weeks ahead remain precarious for us all, but our optimism is that we have turned a critical corner in the ongoing counter-insurgency operation.
God Bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
For: BringBackOurGirls Group