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The fight against Boko Haram requires more than deadline strategy

Boko Haram, the Islamic State affiliate that has nearly eclipsed all notions of civil normalcy in parts of Northern Nigeria as well as parts of neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger does not have barracks. The group does not require to ferry bombs from the much hyped operational camps in the Sambisa forest before detonating same in the cities of Abuja, Yaoundé, N’djamena or anywhere else in the region. In effect, the active cells of the group are yet to be fully identified. It is also too early to contemplate Boko Haram’s impotence because they are still holding over 200 school girls captive for over one and a half years without any trace.

So, why are authorities in Nigeria talking about deadlines for military defeat and elimination of terrorist activities by the group?
Is the public declaration of military conquest of the group intended for political effect at the expense of studied and informed strategic counter force? Exactly the flaws that have been identified in the campaign against the terror group over the years – advance self-serving political hot air over and above strategic intelligence operations.

Recall that in 2013, the former President Goodluck Jonathan told Nigerians that in six months the Boko Haram threat would be a thing of the past, a declaration that had its foundation neither in intelligence nor strategy. Deploying military combatants and top military brass in the Northeast region of Nigeria and the countries bothering it may cripple insurgency no doubt, and bring a needed sense of urgency, but it does not guarantee an end to Boko Haram asymmetric warfare has displaced millions, including 1.4 million children said the UNICEF. Local observers also puts the deaths at about 50,000, which doubles the official casualty estimates.

Clearly, the new sense of urgency and growing confidence among the troops must be rightly located with the energy and direction of General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff. General Buratai has been closing in on several Boko Haram held
territories and camps of recent. His ultimate goal, with the support of the Multi National Joint Forces (that comprise Cameroon, Chad and Niger), is to secure these territories and ensure normalcy returns. But he must address his mind also to the realities.

For one, many of the camps remain unknown as at date and in some instances, it is difficult to make a distinction between an active and inactive member of the group and also a law abiding citizen. A careful appraisal of the situation in the Northeast does not suggest that the Military has the capacity to utterly and decisively defeat the terror band within the given deadline set by the current regime of Muhammadu Buhari and ultimately stop another round of intense bomb blasts across the country because of the following reasons:

The ranks of the terrorists’ network outside the frontline is swelling suggesting an ominous prospect. Another assemblage of the fighters led by no other person than the group’s cagy leader, Abubakar Shekau with his Amirul Jesh (head of Boko Haram military wing), and dozens of foreign fighters remained defiant in the frontlines. A look at how diverse the group is suggest that the issues fueling violence and bloodletting are too complicated to be solved in the battlefield.

Insider opinion revealed that Boko Haram leadership is structured into several different protocols that include a spiritual component as well the group’s most dreaded Hisbah – that keeps devotees in check, recruitment, international liaison, and the operational command. The operations is reported to be superintended by an IS commander. It is worth mentioning that the IS threat in the West African region is not raising much alarm locally and internationally because it is “still undergoing priming” and the Caliphate, according to credible sources, is developing new linkages and “a sustainable module between its different provinces in Africa.”

In all, the greatest weapon available to Boko Haram or the Islamic State in West Africa, as they refer to themselves is its ideology that promotes a version of Islam which forbids captives in the region from taking part in any political activity or social life associated with Western society. Unfortunately, a growing number of people in the region are becoming sympathetic to the message of resistance against those perceived as purveyors of modern day corrupt practices and injustice against the larger Muslim world. As irrational as these views may be, it has become the unassailable grounds of indoctrination.

To defuse this festering fire in West Africa, experts point to the review of Nigeria’s national strategic security framework that must include economic programs, job-related education, intelligence and a more strategic and streamlined official communication.

Salkida is an independent journalist and a Boko Haram knowledge expert. He can be reached on twitter @contactSalkida

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