While the Boko Haram insurgents hit soft targets, the Nigerian military has continued to push to stop the terrorists. Recently, Nigeria’s Army Chief, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, optimistically declared that the military has won the war against insurgency as the Boko Haram militants do not control any territory in Nigeria again.
Buratai had attributed what is happening in the North East currently as vengeance and criminality. Hear him: “What is happening now is just criminality. Since last year, we have not given them any respite. They are now blocked. They no longer have access to foods; their movements are constrained; they no longer get the fuel they needed easily because we have strangulated them. They are now in depressed state; so, they go out with vengeance to attack commuters to abduct individuals and targeting certain religious persons just for their propaganda.”
That is the present reality of the story of Boko Haram in Nigeria today. But those not placated with such assurances or have not even bothered to look at the reality on counter-insurgency operations in Nigeria are excited to dismiss it. But it is normal in the character of homo sapiens. Odd news spread faster and with the speed of a tornado. But good news does not fly. It does not fascinate people. It is unenthusiastic to many ears in spite of its visibility. It’s a universal innate human problem which does not bow to race or creed.
That is even evident in media reportage of the Nigerian Military’s counter operations to quell the several insurgencies and insurrections in the country. Each time news of Nigerian troops resounding and victorious exploits against Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists is played in the media, it’s usually from official military sources. The media is uninterested about the good tidings of troops or their country’s triumph against terrorists. But the same media eagerly scoops and publishes the odd news about Boko Haram terrorists successful attacks on troops or annexation of territories. They reel out fantastic figures or unverified facts and rush to the press, quoting unconfirmed sources. Without named attributions, the news stories still make headlines. But ironically, they hardly devout this energy in reporting the positives of the counter-insurgency operations.
It is obvious that insecurity has heightened in Nigeria in the past months. A tamed, decimated and defeated Boko Haram insurgents were suddenly enlivened by ISIL’s Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) terrorists from Iran. Generally, Nigeria’s experience is replete with accentuated insecurities in the year preceding and during every general election year. Political hawks and politicians with overzealous political ambitions infiltrate and pollute the serenity of the country with terrifying quantum or proliferation of illicit arms and ammunitions. And 2019 had its fair share of such incendiary actors.
And on the terrorism front, similar changes were noticed in confounding resurgence of terrorism. The battles between these terrorists’ sects and the Nigerian troops have been tough and engaging. Boko Haram/ ISWAP terrorists have been insistently desirous to erode the gains the Nigerian Army has recorded over the last four years by their embarrassing repression. Insurgents desperation to retake reclaimed territories of Nigeria’s sovereignty is high. But the resistance of Nigerian troops has equally been stiff, unbreakable and sustained.
Terrorists have been unable to discharge their mandate of annihilating liberated Local Government Areas in the Northeast. Both sides in the counter-terrorism warfare have incurred human and material losses in magnitudes that cannot be ignored. The struggle is consistently fierce and tough. But Boko Haram/ISWAP have longer hours of wailing in defeats and debilitating crushes of their might by soldiers.
But hence the sense of humanity tends to tilt towards the odd and grotesque, the flashes of obscene news from the counter-insurgency operations seem to resonate louder. The news carriers embellish it so excitedly and, in a manner, you would think the Nigerian troops have been perpetual crying babies before terrorists in the battlefront. But it’s far from the truth.
Except that many Nigerians have no opportunity to visit the theatre of war in the Northeastern part of the country. Buratai, the Chief of Army Staff and ombudsman of the counter-terrorism operations, relocated to the North East to direct action at the frontlines when the battle became tougher. And he sometimes, personally led onslaughts on marauding terrorists. He is not a sitcom Army leader.
And the courageous and gallant actions of Nigerian troops in these turbulent months have also yielded amazing victories for Nigeria. The victories are serial and multiple. Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists have had longer hours of nightmare and groaned more than Nigerian troops ever did. It is fair to admit that in war both sides incur bruises.
In the month of December alone, the Nigerian military campaigns against insurgents and the numerous strategic expeditions of the “Operation Deep Punch” have recorded in clearance operations, praiseworthy exploits. That some Nigerians have refused to hail outstanding performances on the battlefront does not dispute these naked facts.
The month of December 2019 presented the most intense of such operations on terrorists and the successes. Yuletide season is particularly sensitive and an enticing period which hungrily galvanise or inspire terrorists to commit more heinous atrocities.
However, in the same period soldiers have neutralised scores of terrorists, rescued hostages including women and children and also seized large caches of arms and ammunitions from terrorists. Dozens of terrorists and their agents have also been arrested; while many others surrendered to the Army.
Soldiers recorded a retinue of defeats and decapitations of Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists in series of encounters in the week of Christmas day. On Christmas eve in December 2019, the troops of 151 Bn, Sector 1 Operation Lafiya Dole humbled a clan of Boko Haram militant insurgents in clearance operation conducted into the hinter Sambisa forest. A Boko Haram suicide bomber who attempted to force himself into the troops’ base was neutralised.
The gunfire the act generated from troops also consumed terrorists cahoots in the game. Vigilante troops averted a calamity on a Military base as the improvised explosive Device strapped to the insurgents body got detonated in the process. In the aftermath soldiers recovered arms and ammunitions like 81 mm mortar muzzle cover, two rounds of anti-aircraft ammunition, one AK 47 magazine and one passport photo of the suicide bombers.
Again, troops crushed insurgents on the eve of Christmas too in Adamawa state. On December 24, 2019, troops of 192 Battalion, Sector 1 Operation Lafiya Dole in clearance operations from Madagali through Waga Lawan, Jaje to Fadama all in Madagali LGA of the state engaged terrorists in a firefight. Terrorists were shattered and all the structures of the armed criminals like farmland, harvested grains stored in underground bunkers and one Lister grinding machine were destroyed.
Another heavy success was recorded by the troops of Sector 2 Operation Lafiya Dole in alliance with the Air Task Force Operation attached to Operation Lafiya Dole. They foiled an attempt by ISWAP terrorists to infiltrate Damaturu, the Yobe state capital on December 22, 2019. Soldiers harvested terrorists in numbers after a ferocious gun battle. The episode led to the death of a top ISWAP Commander, Abu Muqhtar, who reportedly has coordinated several terror attacks along the fringes of Lake Chad. At least 30 other insurgents perished in the encounter.
An official statement from the Nigerian Army stated: “In the aftermath of the encounter, troops captured 1 Gun Truck and destroyed 2 others. Troops equally captured 561 Rounds of 12.7mm ammunition, 1420 Rounds of 7.62mm Special ammunition, 1850 Rounds of 7.62mmX51 ammunition and 2 Rocket Propelled Gun bombs. Other items captured by the gallant troops include, one Hand Held Communication Radio, 27 sachets of Meal Ready to Eat wraps and 350 liters of Premium Motor Spirit (Petrol).”
But much earlier, in the same month, troops clearance operations rescued 31 persons comprising 14 women and 17 children at Mantari, Malam Masari and Gabchari Villages in Bama LGA of Borno state in an ambush they laid for terrorists. The feat was made possible by the troops of 21 Special Armoured Brigade at Darel Jamel, Bama LGA of Borno. The bloody operation also consumed a number of Boko Haram terrorists.
The winning streaks of troops against ISWAP’s armed criminals also manifested positively as the 242 Battalion deployed at Charlie 6 Check Point in Monguno LGA in same Borno arrested suspected Boko Haram criminals’ logistics suppliers identified as Abubakar Aisami and Modu Baba. They were caught with food stuff and drugs concealed in a bag of smashed corn powder headed for delivery to Boko Haram insurgents in their hideouts.
Additionally, the day of glory for the Army and misfortune for Boko Haram agents registered another good result at a different location as troops of 25 Task Force Brigade deployed at Nigerian Army Super Camp 2 Damboa in Damboa LGA of Borno state, on December 25, 2019 arrested an insurgents informant. In a sting operation by troops, a high profile Boko Haram informant/logistics supplier, Ibrahim Bulama Buba and 2 others suspected to be his couriers at Shuwari village in Damboa district, while they were insidiously coordinating terrorists attacks.
In the heat of terrorists intensified onslaughts, on December 14, troops dealt several Daesh/ISIS-affiliated terrorists in the restive Northeast in conjunction with Nigerian Air Force who launched air bombardment strikes. Scores of terrorists were killed when troops promptly responded to credible intelligence reports indicating that some ISWAP leaders had assembled for a meeting in one of the two buildings at the centre of Ankara settlement.
And Nigerians, too busy with Christmas preparations, did not notice that the combined troops of 68 and 94 Battalions of Operation Lafiya Dole uncovered a Boko Haram enclave and slammed it with devastating gunfire at Malam Fatori in Abadam LGA. And the repression of terrorists was extended by troops of 144 Battalion. They also gallantly neutralized three insurgents at Limankara in Gwoza on December 3, as troops foiled their attempt to infiltrate and invade the troops location to cause fresh atrocity.
Among the things harvested by troops in the encounter was the arrest of Boko Haram terrorist, Abba Modu, who was conscripted into the sect since 2015, but willingly surrendered to the troops of 3 Battalion at Gamboru in Ngala LGA on December 3. He was a member of Mamman Nur sect and rustled cattle for the welfare of terrorists in their hideous camps.
The post-Christmas blues from the Northeast were also exciting. On December 27, 2019, the troops of Nigerian Army Super Camp 7 in Bama, Bama LGA of Borno state during offensive clearance operations against Boko Haram criminals at Tafana 1, Tafana 2 and Tafana 3 Villages all in Bama LGA, decisively tackled terrorists. In the ensuing encounter, troops munched a Boko Haram terrorist, captured one alive. The troops also destroyed the criminals’ hideouts, seized their Jihadi flags, recovered16 arrows and 32 refilled rounds of 7.62mm Special ammunition, an indication of acute shortage of ammunition and related resources, which aid terrorists operations. And the operation led to the rescue of eight women and six children. The rescued children were immediately administered with Polio Vaccines.
The fact file of December 2019 also revealed that the troops of Sector 3 Mobile Team in conjunction with elements of Sector 2 Multi National Joint task Force conducted Operation Life Line. It was in the general area of Monguno, Gasarwa, Wamiri, Badu, Gudumbali and Kukawa in Monguno, Guzamala and Kukawa LGAs of Borno State, where they mercilessly neutralized marauding Boko Haram terrorists in fierce battles. The superior gunfire of troops forced the terrorists to bid a speedy retreat towards Garere Village, a gateway in Guzamala LGA leading into the Lake Chad Tumbuns.
Unrelenting, the troops of Operation Lafiya Dole also gave a hot chase of Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists who laid ambush along Jakana-Mainok road. In this instance too, there was exchange of gunfire leading to the death of several terrorists, while others escaped with gunshots wounds. Troops recovered two-gun trucks and other weapons from the escapee terrorists. The efforts were consolidated in January 2020 at Pulka in Gwoza LGA as troops of the 121 Task Force Battalion launched a successful ambush against terrorists on motorcycles at Sabon Garin Kirawa.
Stretching further within the same ambit, troops of 159 Task Force Battalion operating at Gubio, complemented by Civilian JTF neutralized two terrorists, compelling others to abort their plan to unleash another attack on the locality. And four AK 47 rifles and magazines and 46 rounds of 7.62mm Special ammunition were seized. The Army also arrested another high-profile Boko Haram spy and logistics supplier, named Modu Gana at Bulunkutu Ngomari in Jere LGA. Surprisingly, investigation divulged that the suspect had series of communication with ISWAP Commander, named Bukar Fatumani who hired him to conduct discreet surveillance on troops location at Benishiek, Jakana, Auno and Njimtilo vicinities. It has been the source of surprise attacks on Military Bases.
And it was a sad day for Boko Haram insurgents who hibernated in some communities in Adamawa state. Soldiers of the Operation Fufe Kofe of the Operation Lafiya Dole in relentless clearance operations offensives, dislodged them and their hoisted flag destroyed.
Also at Fadama village, the criminals’ flag hoisted on a tree was captured and immediately lowered after the troops had effectively subdued the insurgents with superior fire power forcing them to flee in disarray. Two 2 bicycles, copies of Quran and several other personal effects were recovered from the insurgents.
Precisely on January 2, 2020 was another dooms day for Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists. Troops descended on Boko Haram/ ISWAP terrorists hideouts in parts of Borno state and rescued 165 women and children from hostage. The troops of Sector 3 Mobile Team in conjunction with Sector 2 Multinational Joint task Force also recovered and destroyed 15 vehicles belonging to the Boko Haram terrorists; arrested 75 suspected Boko Haram agents in Northern Borno. The rescued civilians were transited to a humanitarian facility in Monguno and later to officials of Borno State Emergency Management Agency.
Therefore, despite the difficult and engaging times coupled with the rough operational terrains in the Northeast, Gen. Buratai provided nourishing and strategic leadership which anchored serial victories for Nigeria against terrorists. It is his utmost desire to live his pledge of ending terrorism in Nigeria in accordance with the directive of President Buhari. Buratai has remained undaunted by temporary setbacks.
Leader of the counter-insurgency operations, Buratai and the Nigerian troops in the frontlines have not done badly even in the face of instigated renewed terrorists attacks in the Northeast during the last sensitive festivities of Christmas and New Year celebrations. It explains why in a crucial security meeting with Security Chiefs, January 2020, Mr. President expressed satisfaction with security heads in confronting the resurgent and daunting challenges of insecurities around parts of the country.
It was a tacit and a bolstering vote of confidence on the Service and Security Chiefs by their Commander-In-Chief. Therefore, campaigners for their sack in the face of these stark evidence of excellence may have a long road to walk. It is the main reason, President Buhari emphasised a few days back that, “I followed records and thought I picked the best then, of course, their performance may be disappointing but I accept responsibility for not changing them. My reason is based on my experience.”
Mr. President was resolute: “My understanding of security is that, when you have a case of emergency, you have to be careful with tampering with the heads of services. This is again one of my personal experiences.
“I am weighing the options critically, when you have a case of emergency, if you don’t wait for an appropriate time to do it, then you create competition within the service; there are so many ambitious people waiting and only one man can be chief of army staff in the army, only one person can be the inspector-general of police. Don’t forget that it was this administration that appointed all the three.”
Certainly, no Commander-in-Chief like President Buhari would flush out his rare caliber of Service and Security Chiefs in emergency times as presently obtained in Nigeria. Its impossible, if weighed on the strength of their palpably daring exploits geared towards finally blighting Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorism in Nigeria.
. Ataifure is Secretary, Centre for International and Strategic Studies, Abuja.