AunoGate: Between the Army of Yesterady and Today By Abdulhamid Al-Gazali

Pretense aside, the Army cannot end what we are now battling with, aptly described as the kicks of a dying horse—and that is the truth we expect them to tell us. But this is not because of any incapacity or incompetence; and if at all it were to be about capacity and competence, it is such an unforgivable disservice to our troops to make such a judgment against the backdrop of an army of a ragtag, hit-and-run cowards inappropriately called Boko Haram—because they are not.

It is not our business to worry about people’s choice to live in denial, since they now say we have rights of even being stupid, but Boko Haram has been technically defeated, accept it or not; and there is no better reference to this reality than the recapture of 20 local governments by our troops. That is why, the ideal of a Nigeria Army troops launching unceasing offensives against the terrorists, reminiscent of 2016, and now apparently reminisced by Gov. Zulum, is gone forever.

The reason why it was so then, is not difficult to discern. The biggest mistake—and yes, to the greatest advantage of our troops—made by the terrorists was when, feeling too haughty and full of themselves, they began outright occupation of Nigerian territories. Unknown, and indeed unknowable to them, the terrorists, by doing that, gave themselves some semblance of form, order and organization. But then, what has haughtiness not caused men?

That our troops found it hard to defeat them, is because they were, for long, spontaneous and lacked defined form, order and organization—not inferiority. And make no mistake, our troops are not trained to fight such ‘cowardice’. It is obviously why all their operations between 2010 and 2014 were a big blunder.

The year 2015 offered our troops, for the first time in this crisis and thanks to naïve haughtiness, the advantage of taking it on with Boko Haram in a conventional manner. And that way, Nigerian Army will take out Boko Haram every other day with ease—and take out they did!

That is why, essentially, in a military parlance, the war is already won after the recapture of those local governments. What follows, the ensuing skirmishes, ambushes and hit-and-run attacks on soft targets, is not primarily a business of the Army—and that is what they must tell us by themselves, and we must be ready to admit. But what is however inconceivable, is why the Army is still not being honest about this. This is not the Army’s mandate, and the reason we still look up to them while police and other paramilitary agencies are in place, as well as their complacence about it too, is my biggest dilemma. But we must ALL stop explaining military operations with the everyday, know-it-all arrogance of the so-called educated mind—because we do not know. A layman, worsened even the more by a bare mind even in his field, will simply arrogate unto himself the expertise of the military, and thus get onto his higher horse to talk down to the rest of the nation on things he truly does not even understand.

The primary mandate of our Army, as is of virtually all other countries, is to protect our territorial integrity at all times—and Boko Haram commanders now answering queries in the great beyond from God on whose behalf they are pretending to kill could have explained better what they went through when they attempted in 2015 to test the might of our men. After recovering territories–which regardless, is sad because they were not supposed to have been occupied by urchins in the first place—it should have been the business of the police and local communities to write off, yes, the kicks of the dying horse. We still need the Army, after such courageous feat, in particularly northern Borno, but this is only to ensure that no attempt is made again on Nigeria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Our police and other security personnel should be deployed to the hinterlands, to, in collaboration with local authorities, wipe out the remnants of the terrorists.

But this was an opportunity we failed to have taken advantage of, largely as a result of failure of leadership. There was, justifiable we can even argue, a clear case of reluctance to restore civil authorities and resettle residents of recaptured towns in 2016 and 2017. And even where this was done, because most of the resettlements were partial, Boko Haram still found the option of resorting to guerilla warfare, taking advantage of the few innocent persons as a cover, to hold on. Whatever anyone will say, as is being said already, Bama, Konduga, Ngala and Gwoza, where resettlement have relatively advanced, the situation is a lot better. The skirmishes that has lurked, and which could last for some time on, can best be handled by police and the local authorities.

To be fair to the Army, they have repeatedly asked authorities to resettle displaced persons and restore civil authorities in recaptured communities since 2016. It was probably to pursue this that the Army Civil-Military Relations Centre was set up. But this was treated with so much disinterest, and the remnants of the scattered terrorists found their way to those scarcely inhabited areas to hibernate. When they run out of stock, and starvation imminent, they raid weaker villages, steal foodstuffs and flee. And with media sometimes bent on attracting eyeballs, what many times is a mere raid would be packaged and sold to the gullible public as a massive attack. This is true even of the ISWAP faction, despite their affiliation to a network of international terrorist organizations. Then the Shekau faction, who are obviously gasping for breath, hibernating from one hiding place to the other and cowardly raiding soft targets to both remain relevant and steal to survive.

This was exactly what transpired in Auno. When they struck, they asked the travelers to give them money and handsets, typical of armed robbers in our highways. They stuffed four vehicles with foodstuffs stolen from the travelers and then carted away with them. Then they set 18 vehicles ablaze, which is what, with petrol and matches, even an individual can do. The news that they came with 18 gun trucks and operated for 5 hours is blatantly false, there was actually none. If it was true, with 18 gun trucks, there wouldn’t have been Auno still after 5 hour’s operation. The truth is that they came on motorcycles, which were parked from a distance such that should anything go awry, it could be easy for them to melt into the community and disappear, as they have done in almost all their raids to avoid clear confrontation with our troops.

Some of the people killed were already asleep or trapped inside the vehicles without an idea of what to do when the terrorists set them on fire, and thus helplessly burnt to ashes in their sleep. Fatima, the political science student sadly killed in the raid was already hit by a stray bullet before the car she was in, a Honda Accord 2005, got torched. The stray bullet, fired spontaneously to scare and cause uneasiness and confusion, first missed the driver, a practicing lawyer, who was at the the driver’s seat and then hit the girl on her forehead. But when the marauders made it to the car, without knowing Fatima was killed already, they asked the driver to give them money. He sold them a dummy by telling them there was money in his car trunk, and when they aimed for the trunk, he fled–and run, he said, he did. It was out of anger that his car was torched with fire, and it is possible that, since we all know how inflammable petrol cars are, the other vehicles were affected as a result of this. But even if they were separately torched, we must not be misled into over blowing the situation; even an individual can do that.

Sad people were killed, and that is that. Our troops could have averted if they didn’t lock them out, but even more so if they had provided them security after locking them out. Whichever way, that has happened, what is key now is how to avert further occurence.

This brings us to Gov. Zulum’s recent call for change of strategy to a more offensive one. The truth is that, that will not happen, and Gov. Zulum does not need it to end Boko Haram because he is doing the right thing already. Trust Gov. Zulum, and thanks to his undiluted commitment, he is anxious to end Boko Haram without waste of time. And why not, since it is in its eleventh year already. But we must tell him that he is already on the right track to keep him afloat.

The Rapid Response Squad and Agro Rangers he has set up, if fully empowered and widely deployed, will, at this phase of the crisis, achieve more results than the military. For instance, the Rapid Response Squad will do better in Auno than soldiers, make no mistake. If you insist on our troops to secure Auno, we should be ready for what happened in Baga in February 2015 where soldiers burnt down the town entirely and killed several people after Boko Haram attacked them.

Boko Haram does not have an identifiable base anymore. They are scattered in different villages and wander from one place to the other. They live among innocent villagers, mingling with them to confuse our troops. Since our local communities are not armed, they are compelled to collaborate with them and conceal them. If our troops must take it on with them, there is no doubt that many villages will be wiped. All students of history know how intractable wars with stateless societies are, they hardly end because of their disorder.

But even I wonder why African countries fail till date to learn the art of fighting against guerrilla groups. At least, the events of the 1960s to 1990s should have taught us a lesson. Terrorism is becoming widespread in our continent and we have only two options to checkmate it. One is to train our troops on fighting guerrilla warfare, since it our habit to deploy them whenever there is a security breach in our lands irrespective of the nature. Two is to set up a special corps responsible for checkmating terrorism.

And here is why I am very happy with the Rapid Response Squad. If we enhance the community component of the squad, it will be easier and more effective for them to comb villages, conduct robust searches and establish regular presence. Let our communities make it impossible for Boko Haram to use them as shield.

Other than this, the best of our troops is over as far as this crisis is concerned–the earlier the government, the Army and all of us reconcile with this reality, the better. If we want to see their best again, let Boko Haram occupy any other Nigerian territory again.

Abdulhameed writes from Maiduguri, Borno State

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