#BBOGCountdownTo6Weeks: Week 6 Final Statement
Going by the original timetable, Nigeria’s 2015 general elections were planned for February 14 and 28. Everything changed abruptly a week to the first leg of the elections, when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced a postponement, citing the issue of security challenges in the North East of the country.
Almost immediately the Federal Government announced a six-week operation, from February 14 to March 28, to aggressively tackle the Boko Haram insurgency under a regional initiative involving the neighbouring countries of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. The objectives of the operation under the aegis of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) comprised ending the Boko Haram insurgency, reclaiming territories occupied by the insurgents and ensuring the safe return of our abducted 219 Chibok school girls.
As a Movement, despite the contentious circumstances surrounding the disruption of the electoral cycle, we welcomed and endorsed the planned joint military offensive because it seemed that at last some perceptible action would be taken against the terrorists.
However as citizens with a sense of responsibility for demanding accountability in the practice of governance, we decided to monitor the Federal Government’s six-week operation. This birthed #BBOGCountDownTo6Weeks initiative which has enabled us to actively follow developments, collate all relevant information, analyse and disseminate them within the given period. The citizens’ monitoring tool that our initiative has modelled enabled us to ask critical questions about the counterinsurgency/rescue operations. The tool asks and analyses the following questions and our observations of activities related to them:
* Is the Military was making progress or not with the operation and collaboration of our neighbours;
*Are we were reclaiming territories from the enemy;
* Are we were weakening/destroying the capacity and bases of the enemy;
*Are we were closer to having our 219 Chibok schoolgirls and other abducted citizens rescued; and,
*Are we were closer to restoring peace, safety and normality in the North East of Nigeria.
To these ends, we closely monitored a wide range of credible media sources and produced weekly reviews of the operation, that included:
i. All efforts by the Nigerian Military and the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) within the six weeks period.
ii. All security issues in the North East.
iii. All Boko Haram activities; and,
iv. Any news relating to our abducted Chibok girls and their families.
We produced reports on a weekly cycle for the last five weeks which we have made public through a weekly press briefing. Today is the presentation of the sixth and final Report. We wish to specially appreciate all the support given to us by the media in the successful dissemination of our tool, Reports and Statements over the last six weeks.
This week’s Report, being the final one, presents us with the opportunity for a comprehensive summation of our observations and perspectives about the FG’s six weeks renewed offensive against Boko Haram.
B. Observations and Assessment of the Six-Week Counter-Insurgency Operation
1 Evidently, with all that happened and was communicated during the six weeks operation, the Federal Government inadvertently revealed that it had not accorded prime priority to the rescue of the 219 Chibok girls. In conduct and through their utterances, key government officials lent credence to this reading. Two days after commencement of operations, and in obvious reaction to our publicly stated monitoring intentions, a Presidency spokesperson denied that the President had made any commitment to rescuing our girls within the stipulated period. Of course, this was in shocking contradiction to the President’s statement, while providing justifications for the six-week offensive.
To further complicate the matter, a Minister of the Federal Government publicly declared that our girls would not be back. The entire period has therefore been characterised by a cacophony of contradictory statements about our girls — a sad reminder of similar confusion that had preceded the six weeks operation. The most worrying of our observations throughout the nearly six weeks operation related to the absence of specific status updates on the rescue efforts for our 219 girls provided by the FG and the military. The public was made to depend on reactions officials made to probing journalists, leaving most reasonable followers of the abduction tragedy to conclude that once again the Federal Government had overlooked and failed our 219 Chibok girls and their families.
Not surprisingly, an online poll revealed that whereas 75.2% of Nigerians believe that it is possible for our girls to still be rescued, a high majority (88.2%) feel that the Federal Government and the military are not making their rescue the priority that it should be.
2. Another key issue that can affect the prospects of a lasting decimation of the terrorist group are emerging signs and allegations of disjointed collaboration between the Nigerian military and the other members of the MNJTF. Contradictory statements, accusations and counter-accusations have been rather frequent among the collaborating forces. That such unwholesome indications have lingered right up to the closing phase of the offensive are very revealing of the problems of trust, absence of operational cohesion, and therefore a sad misunderstanding of the objectives of the joint military offensive.
3. Although the Military responded to our demands for independent reportage by taking some basic measures to improve the transparency of their exploits in the battle field, we regrettably believe that a lot more remains to be done to pass the transparency and accountability test. What remains are essentials for communicating any counter-insurgency war because they are precisely the indicators that provide the basis for credibility in the manner that the strategy is being executed. For example, there are yet to be accurate figures supported by visuals as are feasible from the military, on the number of Boko Haram insurgents killed or captured. In addition, the public has not seen the numbers and identities of our fallen troops to fully appreciate the cost that our soldiers are paying to secure us and the country. We again state that such opaqueness is inexplicably at variance with even the approach of smaller countries that are our regional allies, because they do provide details of these important indicators of any war fare. We consider it patently unfair that not knowing our loses robs our gallant soldiers the appropriate honours they are entitled to receive from the military and our Nation at large.
We cannot but re-emphasise how urgent it is for the military to rethink its war communication strategy and to embrace global best practice for guaranteeing independent media reportage of the goings on at the battlefront for both conventional and unconventional wars. The latest confusion on reports of events in some of the reclaimed territories would be avoidable, were both the military and independent media working collaboratively. It is unacceptable that the public has no clear sense of what is factually happening in areas that have been recaptured and are thereby compelled to rely on speculation. The attendant confusion and risk to the lives of citizens is characterised by recent events in Gamboru and Damasak. In the case of the latter it has now emerged that over 400 children are alleged to have been abducted. While independent media embedded within the Chadian troops reported as such; our Military, which is alleged to be absent from the territory, has countered the report declaring it to be false. Once again, citizens are left wondering what to believe. Even worse is the de javu that should the abduction turn out to be true, we may risk the repeat of the tentativeness that hindered a rapid response for the rescue of our 219 hapless Chibok girls.
4. When the insurgents began to take over territories several months ago, it seemed there was an official policy of not admitting this unacceptable encroachment of our territorial integrity. That attitude of denial by our Government created an illusion in the minds of most Nigerians outside of the North East that the insurgency was not spiralling out of control and escalating. It was therefore ambivalent for citizens to learn of the depth of the incursion terrorists had made into the Nigerian territory by the level of triumphant celebrations by our Military as it reclaimed several territories. We condemn the fact that it took the six weeks offensive for our Government to open up to the whole country the magnitude of the grave terrorist risks we had been exposed all the time it was previously denying that we had lost any territories to insurgents.
We, therefore, repeat our demand for all records on the risks we still face to be set straight. We had before asked, and wish to again urgently demand for a detailed list of the compromised territories of Nigeria and assessment of the degree of risk for each category of the territories reclaimed. It is only reasonable to accept that without such transparent records of details, it will remain difficult to accurately measure the level of progress being achieved in Nigeria’s and Nigerians’ war against the savage terrorist Boko Haram group.
C. The Key Issue: WHERE EXACTLY ARE OUR CHIBOK GIRLS ?
1. As we earlier stated, during the six-week offensive, there have a litany of unacceptable contradictory statements and updates on the whereabouts and rescue activities of the Government for our 219 abducted Chibok schoolgirls. The latest was the interview granted to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) by our President. We were mollified at the morbid deduction on which the President anchored his assurance that our girls will be rescued; when he stated that as far as he was concerned “the girls are still alive because their dead bodies have not been found in any of the reclaimed areas”. We find this disposition absolutely objectionable considering that our President as the Commander -in-Chief of our armed forces must surely have access to intelligence reports better than waiting for ‘on sight’ evidence at reclaimed territories. We consider the monumental failure of military intelligence on the status of our 219 Chibok girls as grossly unfair, unjust and unkind. In the context of our advocacy, we state categorically that as long as this six -week offensive elapses without the rescue of all our abducted 219 Chibok girls, it cannot be considered a success.
We therefore demand that the Federal Government IMMEDIATELY launches a convincing, visible, targeted, deliberate and result-focused strategy that is also time delineated for the rescue of our 219 Chibok girls. We demand that in so doing, the Federal Government takes the parents of our Chibok girls into consideration and gives them a key voice in the shaping of such a strategy.
2. Second, the matter of using absence of dead bodies to determine the existence of the living raises a basic but fundamental issue. What process of verification does the Federal Government have in place should there be situations of abductees being found? Who is verifying and keeping a database of records of escapees from the terrorist’s den and appropriately debriefing and supporting their rehabilitation and reintegration?
3. We find it grossly disappointing that for 346 days (20 days to one full year) since their abduction, there has been no conscious, contentious and deliberate effort by our Federal Government to provide a detailed account of the rescue operation it allegedly launched for our 219 girls, from May last year up until today. Is it not tragic for the Federal Government to have failed to also provide an update on the value of the military and intelligence support it received from countries like the United States and the United Kingdom in the search and rescue of our girls? Why, despite all that our President has promised and the support the Government had received, does there persist the impression that it has failed to take any tangible action to record even meagre results relating to the rescue of some, if not all, of our 219 girls? What has the alleged mastermind of the abduction, who was apprehended last year, revealed? What degree of action has been taken on what he has divulged?
4. As we were finalising this briefing, we note that media reports convey that a lady who escaped from the insurgents den has informed them that our girls are likely to be housed in Gwoza, where the next battle against the insurgents is about to commence. We are hopeful that the MTJNF will be successful in its bid to recapture that town, and that if true, our girls will not suffer unduly from the impending onslaught. We appreciate the difficulties our Military will be facing in the battle to reclaim the territory, but pray that our girls, if indeed found to be in that location, will be safely rescued unscathed and untouched by the exchange of fire during battle.
5. As we stated in a previous briefing there is nowhere in the world where rescue operations are shrouded in this type of mystery, as has defined our Federal Government’s approach to the rescue of our 219 Chibok girls. 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 of that year, the security services held several press conferences detailing the extent of investigations. The Mexican security exhibited a professional sense of responsibility, and upheld their states’ avowed stance of accounting for each citizen, especially in a situation of distress. It also took the pains to identify corpses it found in the course of investigations. When shall we start learning good lessons from other countries that face similar challenges and yet manage to better resolve them, thus earning the confidence of their citizens?
D. The Broader War Concerns
The six-week offensive has confirmed our long held views that with the requisite political will and appropriate support for the military, we can stem the insurgency and terminate the scourge that has bedevilled our country over the last six years. Unfortunately there have been too many compromises which resulted in the needless deaths of over fifteen thousand Nigerian lives and the destruction of property, particularly in the North East. Despite claims that the insurgents are on the back-foot, it is regularly established that they are lurking around even in reclaimed territories and their capacity to restrategise has not been diminished. When their recent alliance with ISIS is also considered, it shows that nothing must be taken for granted in prosecuting this war to a conclusive and positive end.
To achieve such a positively conclusive victory against the insurgents, our Movement, along with most Nigerians, demand to hear from the Federal Government whether it has enunciated a successor strategy to the expiring six weeks offensive. A counter-insurgency campaign premised on ad-hoc arrangements that are largely reactive rather than proactive cannot be the sustainable path for winning this war. Our country is in dire need of a well-designed strategy that incorporates the lessons from the six weeks operation and builds into lasting measures of national security, rehabilitation and reconstruction.
As this operation comes to an end, we must commend and appreciate the reclaim of territories by our gallant ground troops, as well as members of the MNJTF. The sacrifice of all soldiers in the front line of battle is one that every Nigerian must regularly appreciate and so commit to, being advocates for their welfare by our Government. The feat that our soldiers have achieved in dislodging the terrorists from Yobe and Adamawa State is instructive of how critical it is for there to be an assurance of adequate equipping and morale boosting measures. Considering that according to the Military, we still have swathes of territory under Boko Haram control in Borno State, our soldiers must be supported by the Federal Government and every Nigeria to dislodge and decimate the terrorists, for the purpose of reclaiming every piece of the Nigerian territory still under their control. Peace must return to all parts of our country.
On Saturday, 28 March, 2015, the rescheduled elections will be back on track. On that day, as citizens who are conscious of our civic responsibilities, our members will join other Nigerians to vote and to monitor and protect our votes until they are counted and announced at the polling units. We encourage Nigerians to actively participate in the electoral process as our key duty is to support the consolidation of our democracy.
We shall therefore, unusually, suspend on Saturday the 28th March, what would have been Day 332 of our daily “sit-outs” at the Unity Fountain. We shall, however, resume on our advocacy on Day 333, if our girls have not been rescued by then.
We are a non-partisan civic movement and therefore irrespective of the outcome of the elections, we shall continue to advocate and demand for justice for our 219 Chibok girls. Until our girls are rescued, our Movement shall not stop.
Again, we proudly salute our gallant soldiers in the field, their MNJTF colleagues, and the civilian JTF.
God Bless Nigeria
HADIZA BALA USMAN