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MATTERS ARISING: Can we still trust the claims of the military in Boko Haram war?

MATTERS ARISING: Can we still trust the claims of the military in Boko Haram war?
July 28
18:40 2017
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The Nigerian military has churned out many statements since the Boko Haram war began in 2009. From confirming attacks, celebrating “gallant” troops who routed insurgents, to announcing change of guards, the military has been consistent in passing information to the public.

However, the last statement by Sani Usman, spokesman of the army, has not only sparked controversy but also cast doubt on the information that the military authorities pass to the public.

Usman had said all the staff of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) attacked in Magumeri local government area of Borno state, had been rescued.

“So far, they (soldiers) have rescued all the NNPC staff and recovered the corpses of the officer, eight soldiers and a civilian have who have been evacuated to 7 division medical services and hospital. The team also neutralised many of the terrorists. The troops are not relenting in the pursuit, search and rescue effort,” Usman had said.

However, on Thursday, Ibe Kachikwu, minister of state for petroleum resources, told journalists that he could not confirm if any of the kidnapped NNPC staff had been rescued.

He also said oil exploratory activities commenced in Lake Chad because the military assured the corporation that the region was now safe.

“We only heard, but can’t confirm if anyone has been rescued,” he said.

It has been 24 hours since Kachikwu made this statement, and there has been no response from the army. So, can the army be taken by its own words?

In December 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari gleefully announced that Boko Haram had been “technically” defeated. He had given the military the marching orders to rout the insurgents out of the north-east six months earlier.

But the military took its task with shades of half-truths and outright falsehood. Often times, casualty figures on the side of the troops are altered and attacks by insurgents are downplayed. But recent events are shattering the glass ceiling of claims held by the military. A cursory peek into past false claims is necessary to put this analysis in perspective.

SHEKAU ‘FATALLY WOUNDED’

The military had, at least three times, claimed to have killed Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram leader, but he often resurrected in videos taunting the security forces and making mockery of their claim. At the acme of the Boko Haram war in 2014, the army released the picture of dead man, claiming it was the sect’s leader. But Shekau like a phoenix from the ashes, quickly torpedoed the claim. Also, in August 2015, the military claimed that Shekau was fatally wounded in an airstrike, but he countered it as well in a video. So, can the military be taken by its word?

BOKO HARAM DEFEATED

The military, no doubt, degraded the fighting capacitance of the insurgents at the time the president gave it the charge. Most of the villages, towns and cities seized by Boko Haram were re-taken. There was a lull in attacks as well – as if the government had reached an entente with the enemy. But parabolic attacks resumed in May after some Boko Haram commanders, considered to be dangerous, were released in exchange for 82 Chibok girls.

After their release, the insurgents vowed to unleash copious mayhem on the country – Maiduguri specifically. True to their words, a week after, there was a sprawl of attacks, which has continued to date. As the attacks grew in ferocity and audacity, the claim of the military that Boko Haram had been degraded was called to question. But the nation’s security forces maintained that the insurgents had been defeated.

In the face of the military’s claim, Boko Haram took its atrocity to the doors of the army – attacking its formations and laying ambush on its convoys.

Acting President Yemi Osinbajo on Thursday ordered the military chiefs to relocate to Maiduguri and restore normalcy to the area. The order to the military chiefs also betrays the vaunted claim that Boko Haram had been defeated.

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