The fact that many towns and villages in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, which were under the occupation of Boko Haram insurgents, have been retaken by the Nigerian troops within one year, has remained a subject of discussion, not only in Nigeria but across the globe.
Security experts who spoke with Daily Trust on Sunday unanimously agreed that, all over the world, confronting and subduing terrorists who infiltrate communities is always a herculean task. This is evident in the endless efforts of the United States and its allied forces to cut the influence of Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Taliban and other terrorist groups in the Middle East.
Before the 2015 general elections, it was widely believed that the Boko Haram group would take over the whole of the North-East – Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Gombe, Bauchi and Taraba states. However, one year after, their territorial conquests, endless bombing of mosques, churches, markets and motor parks, are gradually becoming history.
The Nigerian armed forces have attributed the recent success against the terrorist group to an amendment in operational directives and tactics. In an interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, the defence spokesman, Brigadier-General Rabe Abubakar, said their operational directives were amended to suit the present circumstance. The chain of commands was reduced and the theatre command established in the North-East.
“Significant success has been recorded in so many areas, including the fact that no territory is under the control of the militants. Even in Sambisa, our operations have been very successful against the militants. Their capacity to attack has been significantly reduced. The era of taking over lands and hoisting their flags is over,” he said.
Territories formerly conquered and occupied by Boko Haram
Although the Boko Haram group became known to many Nigerians in 2002, it actually started to launch sustained attacks against the country in 2009. The group gained universal notoriety in 2014 when its fighters started attacking towns and villages, police and military formations, killing, maiming, looting and kidnapping with impunity.
The abduction of 276 girls from a school in Chibok drew global attention, even as the notorious group occupied over 70 per cent of Borno’s landmass of about 35,868 square metres. In fact, the group had, at a time succeeded in having total or partial control of at least 20 out of the 27 local government areas of Borno State. It was in total control of Gwoza, Bama, Mafa, Dikwa, Kala-Balge, Ngala, Marte, Damasak, Abadam and Mobbar local government areas.
The terrorists equally had partial control of Monguno, Kukawa, Guzamala, Gubio, Magumeri, Nganzai, parts of Damboa, Konduga, Chibok, Askira Uba and Jere.
The only local government areas that were not held completely were Maiduguri Metropolitan Council, Kaga, Biu, Shani, Kwaya-Kusar, and Hawul.
Following its exploits, the group’s elusive leader, Abubakar Shekau, declared Gwoza town as the headquarters of his so-called caliphate on August 23, 2014.
Gwoza, located about 135 kilometers southeast of Maiduguri, is a border town between Nigeria and Cameroon. It covers an area of 2,883 km� with a population of 276,312, according to the 2006 census.
Shekau had announced in a 52-minute video: “Oh people, I am Abubakar Shekau, still standing, the leader of Jama’atu Ahlissunnah Lid Da’awati wal Jihad. We don’t believe in the name Nigeria. We are in Islamic Caliphate. We have nothing to do with Nigeria. We thank Allah for blessing us with the town of Gwoza on behalf of the Islamic Caliphate.”
In Arabic, a caliphate, meaning “succession,” is an Islamic state led by a supreme religious and political leader known as a caliph (successor) to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
The insurgents also seized about one-third of Adamawa State after effectively taking control of Madagali, Michika, Mubi North, Mubi South, Maiha, Hong and Gombi local government areas.
Also, in Yobe State, two local government areas – Gujba and Gulani – were completely taken over by the Boko Haram insurgents, who also had unhindered access to Potiskum and Tarmuwa local government areas.
According to respective rough estimates by humanitarian agencies such as the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Red Cross, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International, over 20,000 people were killed while millions of people were dislodged. This led to the establishment of at least 14 camps for displaced persons in Borno and four in Adamawa.
How troops recovered territories
At the peak of the 2015 electioneering campaigns, former President Goodluck Jonathan had to shift the polls by six weeks in order to redeem his image at home and abroad.
As a result of the nefarious activities of Boko Haram, the image of the Nigerian military was shattered as soldiers were reduced to almost nothing in the battlefields.
In order to save his seat, the former president woke up from his slumber and visited Maiduguri thrice in succession. He gave a matching order to the service chiefs to reclaim all the captured territories.
It was at that time that Shekau, whose fighters had earlier overrun the Multi National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) headquarters in Baga; the 243 battalion of the Nigerian Army stationed at Monguno; the 202 Tank Battalion in Bama; the Giwa Barracks in Maiduguri and the Police Mobile Training School in Gwoza, bragged that he had the capacity to take over the whole of Nigeria.
Although Jonathan established the 7 Division of the Nigerian Army in Maiduguri in August 2013, the Boko Haram monster could not be tamed.
But with a somewhat renewed vigour, the military under Jonathan made a significant progress, reclaiming some local government headquarters such as Damboa and Dikwa in Borno State within six weeks. But they couldn’t recover places like Bama, Gwoza, Marte and Abadam, among others, where the terrorists still hoisted their flags. They continued perpetrating atrocities, including stoning “adulterers” to death, amputating “thieves,” forcing people into marriages, as well as other heinous crimes.
In Adamawa, the military operatives, who earlier abandoned their formations, succeeded in liberating Gombi, Hong, Maiha and Mubi, but Michika and Madagali remained under siege. Gujba and Gulani could not be rescued in Yobe State.
Apart from these major towns in the three states, human right observers and specialised agencies believed that over 200 communities were still under the control of Boko Haram. That was the situation when the six- week ultimatum given to the military elapsed.
Muhammadu Buhari defeated Jonathan in the March 28, 2015 presidential election. In his inaugural speech at the Eagle Square, Abuja on May 29, Buhari said, “Progress has been made in recent weeks by our security forces, but victory cannot be achieved by basing the command and control centre in Abuja. The command centre will be relocated to Maiduguri, and it will remain there until Boko Haram is completely subdued.”
That was the first decision taken by President Buhari. It was a development that opened a new vista to the fight against Boko Haram. Shortly after the announcement by the incumbent president, a senior army officer explained the workings of the command centre thus: “The essence of the centre is to have a commander who will have absolute control over the army, the air force, the navy, and even customs, immigration, the police and other paramilitary establishments.
“A command and control centre is not a new thing; it is obtained in other climes, especially in the United States that is fighting terrorism in various fronts. What President Buhari did was to bring his military experience to bear in order to ensure a permanent solution to Boko Haram excesses.
“Before the coming of the centre, there was no coordination or synergy between the army, the air force and the Department of State Services (DSS). Everybody was somehow taking decisions unilaterally. And there is no way you can win a war when there is no genuine cooperation.
“The commander of the control centre will have the mandate to direct the army to advance to a battle front anytime he deems it necessary. He will give orders to the air force to carry out reconnaissance, as well as ask for intelligence report from anybody without necessarily making endless calls or memos to Abuja.”
To adequately fight the insurgents, President Buhari visited Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Benin, where he galvanised support for the MNJTF.
In July, 2015, the president sacked the National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki (retired) and the service chiefs he inherited from Jonathan, including Alex Badeh, Chief of Defence Staff; Usman Jibrin, Chief of Naval Staff; Kenneth Minimah, Chief of Army Staff and Adesola Amosu, Chief of Air Staff.
Subsequently, he appointed Major-General Babagana Monguno as the new NSA, Major-General Abayomi Gabriel Olonishakin as Chief of Defence Staff; Major-General T.Y. Buratai as Chief of Army Staff; Rear Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas as Chief of Naval Staff; Air Vice Marshal Sadique Abubakar as the Chief of Air Staff and Air Vice Marshal Monday Riku Morgan as the Chief of Defence Intelligence.
Not long after his appointment, Buratai announced the approval for the establishment of the Nigerian Army 8 Division in northern Borno.
This was followed by a timely provision of arms and ammunition for the troops, as well as the release of their allowances as at when due.
Since then, a new vigour began to emerge in the Nigerian security forces, who have successfully turned the tide against Boko Haram and put them on the defensive.
Nearly 50,000 hostages rescued
General Abubakar said a fundamental strategy of the counter insurgency war was to ensure that all captives of Boko Haram militants were rescued. He noted that as at March this year, over 10,000 hostages had been rescued from Boko Haram. Recently, about 5,000 more were also rescued, in addition to hundreds rescued almost on a daily basis by troops on clearance operations.
The Human Rights Watch, through its Nigeria’s researcher, Mausi Segun, said in April this year that over 11,595 Boko Haram hostages had been freed, according to military records.
And in one fell swoop in June this year, troops of 21 Brigade and the Civilian JTF conducted a fighting patrol to Zangebe, Maiwa, Algaiti and Mainari villages, all in Mafa, 40 kilometers away from Maiduguri. They liberated over 5,000 hostages.
It’s now a recurrent feature in the army, through its spokesman, Col. Sani Usman, to announce the recapture of towns and villages, rescue of hostages and clampdown on terrorists, especially in central and southern parts of Borno State.
So far, it is believed that over 50,000 hostages have been rescued and are being catered for in various camps.
On one occasion, the troops reclaimed Masu Yiwa; Ladin Buta; Bazaka; Kesa Gala; Tabla; Fahinde; Shirori; Gizina; Maska Aribe; Maska and Maska Lawanti villages, all in Mafa Local Government Area of Borno State.
Also, in June, the Nigerian Army carried out clearance operations in Bama Local Government Area of Borno State, where Boko Haram militants were chased from Kircha Goniye, Wujjah Alkelu, Kita Jiddum, Jameri, Geri Gana, Gere Kura and Jabe, among others.
Reopening of trans-Sahara road in Maiduguri
At present, three of the five Trunk A roads that lead to Borno State can be used by commuters, a development that did not only kick-start businesses that collapsed, but restored dignity to thousands of people, who the closure rendered jobless and forced to beg.
The latest one is the Maiduguri-Mafa-Dikwa-Gamboru Ngala road, which was reopened on Wednesday, July 6, by General Buratai, accompanied by Governor Kashim Shettima. The road, which was closed three years ago, is the famous trans-Saharan trade route that brought traders to Nigeria from as far as Sudan, Libya and Central African Republic.
In the last 35 years or so, the Monday Market, the Gamboru Market and the famous Bolori Stores, all in Maiduguri, became the nucleus of trading. Traders from the aforementioned countries, including more from Chad and Cameroon, converged to transact business.
In those places, labourers spent hours to load goods on the famous Giwa-Giwa, a huge truck that replaced camels of the trans-Saharan era.
Four years ago, it was common to see heavily loaded Giwa-Giwa heading to Gamboru-Ngala en-route Sudan or the Central African Republic.
The trucks normally conveyed building materials such as cement and paints, as well as commodities such as soap, spaghetti, detergents, mattresses, rubber kettle and other utensils. But with the closure of the road, all countries along the route had to pay through their nose.
“A packet of spaghetti, which was sold at the equivalent of N160 in nearby Chad, skyrocketed to the equivalent of N500,” said Awomi Yusuf, a trader at Bolori Stores.
Malam Nura, a cement dealer along Baga road, in Maiduguri, said that with the reopening of the road, Bolori Stores is now a beehive of activities.
“As I am talking to you, the Giwa-Giwa and other lighter trucks have begun loading goods. We are all happy, we are grateful to Buhari, Buratai and Governor Shettima,” Nura said.
In his remark, Buratai expressed pleasure at witnessing the formal reopening of the road, which he said was very important to Borno State, and by extension, the country.
On his part, Governor Shettima said it was a new dawn for his people because their source of livelihood had been restored.
At a time, the Maiduguri airport was shut, and out of the five Trunk A roads that lead to Borno State from other parts of Nigeria, only the Damaturu- Maiduguri road was accessible to commuters. Those closed included the Maiduguri-Damboa-Biu road, the Maiduguri-Monguno-Baga road, the Maiduguri-Dikwa road and the Maiduguri-Bama- Gwoza road.
However, in the last one year, all the roads, including the airport, have been reopened, with the exception of Damboa and Bama roads, which are only being used by the army and humanitarian agencies.
Top Boko Haram commanders arrested
Several high profile Boko Haram commanders have been killed and others arrested by Nigerian security forces, a development that crippled the capacity of the group to organise successful large scale offensives.
On April 1, this year, Khalid Albarnawi, the second in command in the ranks of the Boko Haram, was arrested in Lokoja, Kogi State. In counter-terrorism circles, Albarnawi is regarded to be as important as Abubakar Shekau.
On April 11, this year, three amirs, Malam Lawal Abba, Malam Hisna and Malam Gana Shatte, were arrested along the Nigerian-Cameroon border in the northern fringes of Borno State.
In March, 2015, the Nigerian Army had said that troops involved in the on-going offensive against insurgents in the North-East arrested a top Boko Haram commander identified as Bulama Modu and 43 others at Janguoriri and Bulatori in Bama Local Government Area.
Also in March, a commander, who was number 95 on the wanted list of the military, was arrested along Daban Masara in Kukawa Local Government Area.
The operation commander of the group, Abu Dardaa, and its chief spokesman, were arrested over three years ago.
3 Borno local government areas, part of Sambisa forest still no-go areas
Despite the elaborate successes recorded by the Nigerian security forces, locals and insiders told Daily Trust on Sunday that Boko Haram insurgents still had absolute control of at least three local government areas in Borno State and a large chunk of the Sambisa forest.
“The truth is that Boko Haram is still in control of Marte, Kala Balge and Damasak,” an officer said.
On his part, the defence spokesman, General Abubakar, said that in certain area of northern Borno, including Abadam, remnants of Boko Haram insurgents were still hiding because of lack of food and logistics. According to him, they attack remote villages to get food and petrol.
He said: “We have caged them. It is systematic and deliberate to ensure that those who are living in those areas are not affected by what we are doing. The Boko Haram flag is not hoisted in any part of the country. They may have what you call freedom of movement, but as a result of our operations, they are not capable of holding any territory.
Another officer who spoke on condition of anonymity said that a harbour, which was constructed at the heart of the Sambisa forest by the military government in the 1980s to serve as a training and logistics base for the defunct National Guards, had been taken over by the Boko Haram.
“The harbour is very big and has some buildings underground. Sadly, all the armaments stocked there were not evacuated up till the time the Boko Haram took over. We strongly believe that top commanders of the group and many high priced hostages are living there,” he said.
He told our reporter that though President Buhari had remained committed to seeing to the end of the Boko Haram, there are issues in the operations of the MNJTF.
“The truth is that funding remains a big problem. Remember, in June, 2014, Buhari ordered the release of $21 million out of the $100 million pledged by Nigeria to the MNJTF against Boko Haram. The money was released, basically for the setting up of the MNJTF, which was successfully done. However, as I am talking to you, there is no money for logistics, and as a result of economic recession, Niger and Cameroon could not do much. And Chad, which had made a lot of effort in the past, is somehow tired,” he said.
Another officer attributed the June 3 attack at an army location in Boso, a border town between Nigeria and Niger to the problem of logistics in the joint operation.
At least 30 soldiers from Niger and two from the Nigerian troops were killed and 67 wounded, according to authorities.
Most of the local government areas in Borno that are still under the Boko Haram control are on the border.
Findings reveal that there are more than 10,000 unmanned corridors into Nigeria from neighbouring countries that have no gate, no police, and no customs or immigrations officers. It’s through those borders that the Boko Haram terrorists and other criminals smuggle weapons and drugs from as far as Sudan, Central African Republic, Mali and Libya.
“From Cameroon, for instance, there are over 300 outlets that you get into Nigeria or out of the country with any kind of truck or load, provided you know the terrain,” a local fisherman, Kunce Mai Zare, who is originally from Kuros-kawwa, a village in Monguno Local Government Area but now living in Maiduguri said.
He said that insurgents and smugglers of contraband goods and those who engage in arm shipment use various methods, including donkeys, camels and bull-driven carts to ferry their consignments into the country without a trace.
Invariably, the absence of technologically based surveillance equipment makes arrest increasingly difficult.
“The Nigerian security forces deserve commendation for closely working with troops from neighbouring countries to bring us to where we are now.
They have really achieved a lot, considering the quantum of challenges confronting them in the North-East,” said Major Salihu Bakari (retired), a security expert.
Observers believe that the achievements of the Nigerian troops will not be complete without the gallant youth vigilantes, popularly known as the Civilian JTF. The youths are the ones who actually know the terrain, and therefore, paved the way for the military to launch offensives.
“As a way of appreciation for what we have done to keep Nigeria one, the federal government should consider our youths in its empowerment programmes,” the group’s legal adviser, Barr. Jibrin Gunda said.
Welfare of troops in battlefield
The defence spokesman, General Abubakar, noted that the welfare of troops was top on the list of all operational commanders, which he said was as a result of the resolve by the new leadership of the military to give everybody his due.
He said, “Before now, there were complaints of lack of equipment and desertion by soldiers, but since the coming of the new military leadership, such complaints no longer exit. They realised that no matter how a soldier is trained, he needs equipment to work with.
“There must be purposeful leadership, which we are lucky to have. In counter-terrorism and warfare, there must be an injection of platforms, equipment and training, welfare.”
Expert urges support
Speaking on the recent military operations in the North-East in an interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, the executive secretary of the Centre for Crisis Communication (CCC), Air Commodore Yusuf Anas (retired) said there was no doubt that Nigeria’s security situation had improved significantly in the past one year.
“Nigerians would recall that there was palpable fear of the increasing menace of the Boko Haram insurgency, which even threatened to mar the 2015 general elections,” adding that, on assumption of office, the Buhari administration was pragmatic in its approach to the country’s security situation.
“We must salute our military and other security agencies for their sacrifices in greatly degrading the insurgents and restoring peace to the region. Nigerians should continue to support the security agencies to secure the release of the Chibok girls and other Nigerians captured by the insurgents.
“We no longer experience improvised explosive devices in our major towns and cities, public institutions and local areas,” he added.
Anas, however, said the challenge remained how the security agencies would fully take over the liberated territories, as well as the reconstruction, rehabilitation and reintegration of the displaced persons.
“I mean that even after the final defeat of the insurgents, we must contend with the post-conflict peace building and the huge humanitarian challenges the conflict has brought on the people in the region and the country in general,” he said.
Source: Daily Trust