Wednesday 24 September 2014

Boko Haram And The Battle Of Konduga - by Uche Igwe

The news coming from Northern Nigeria in the past few days has been very cheery. Media reports from the Military High Command indicate that a senior Boko Haram member likely to be an imitation of the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, might have died during a confrontation in Konduga, Borno State. 

Lately, it has been one sobering humiliation after another as the Nigerian military battle fiercely to repel the advancing Boko Haram insurgents. 

First, it was Gwoza, a border town about 135 kilometres southeast of Maiduguri, where the insurgents reportedly sacked all the military formations including a Police Training College. The terrorists later occupied the town, hoisted their flag and proceeded to declare their caliphate.

From Gwoza, they gradually advanced to the next town known as Bama, which is about 60 kilometres to Maiduguri the state capital. They attacked and successfully occupied it. The battle in Bama was very strategic for the insurgents as they reportedly sacked the Emir and appointed a new one. They also took over the Bama Prisons and captured and imprisoned some locals who refused to obey their directives.

The capture of these two local government areas bolstered the confidence of the terrorists and emboldened them as they continued to chant songs of victory in jubilation around the town. It was in Bama that the insurgents attempted a change in strategy to see if they could enhance their acceptability and legitimacy within the communities. They began to break into shops and allow the local people to collect food items for free. They also took over some of the houses that had boreholes and allowed the community members to collect water for free. However, many of the community members continued to be fearful and suspicious of the insurgents.

From Bama, they proceeded to Konduga with full confidence. The Local Government Area is about 25 kilometres to Maiduguri on the bank of Ngadda River. In fact, part of the area covered by the University of Maiduguri falls into the territory of this local government area. With Gwoza and Bama fully in the hands of the insurgents, it is likely that the plan of the insurgents was to capture Konduga and then use it as a base to launch an attack on Maiduguri. 

However, that was not to be. On their way to Konduga, the insurgents ran into a calculated ambush of soldiers who levelled them. The casualty figures were heavy on the side of the insurgents. In fact, in one of the videos that shot by the locals, corpses of the insurgents littered the streets and farmlands. Community members were seen raining curses at the corpses of the insurgents. Before they could consolidate their grip on Bama, the revelations of the Australian “negotiator”, Dr. Stephen Davies, hit the media and triggered some finger pointing among politicians. It will be interesting to find out the level of impact this had on the success or failure of the insurgents lately. 

Another interesting part of what may be an unfolding drama is that since the insurgency started, this is probably the first time that the military successfully ambushed the insurgents. How come? The pictures from the videos indicate that Boko Haram is still the same rag-tag group of ill-trained young men. How have they been managing to defeat a well-trained Nigerian Army up to the point that they had to beat a “tactical manoeuvre” twice into the Republic of Cameroon? What has changed suddenly?

Another fact that is noteworthy is that many residents of Maiduguri were jubilant as soon as they sighted the soldiers indicating that they were happy with the victory. This suggests that it is likely that ordinary citizens and Nigerian soldiers may be in agreement on the need to eradicate the Boko Haram insurgency. What may yet be unclear to many observers is the disposition of senior military officers to this goal. Who could be jeopardising or even sabotaging the efforts of these soldiers? Who are those who issued those conflicting orders that led to many causalities on the side of the military? What about the reported withdrawal of soldiers a few hours before the arrival of the insurgents? How valid are the complaints that our military is less equipped than the insurgents and who is to be held responsible? What about those who allegedly count rounds of ammunition and give to soldiers in cellophane bags in a way that put them at risk and lower their morale? When will a comprehensive inquiry be done into the probable reasons that pushed those convicted soldiers from Giwa Barracks to attempt mutiny even though they knew that death is the consequence? It is obvious that the insurgents are not sophisticated. However, it appears that they allegedly have possible channels of sensitive information which they leverage on coupled with a terrain advantage. It is clearly evident that the insurgents do not have superior tactics. It appears the ground is prepared for them perhaps by some unscrupulous collaborators somewhere in the crowd.

A clear pattern that is beginning to emerge to discerning minds that unlike other insurgencies like the Al-Shabaab in Somalia, Hamas in Palestine and Talibans in Pakistan, Boko Haram has neither acceptability nor trust in communities where it operates. Its new strategy to rebuild legitimacy in Bama suffered a setback. This legitimacy deficit may turn out to be its greatest undoing and should make its defeat and ultimate annihilation relatively easy. The attack on the rural market in Mainok suggests that the fighters have now become hungry with very limited food supplies. If such a blockade is a deliberate effort, then it should be sustained as hungry and thirsty insurgents are likely to have low morale and surrender faster. Intelligence gathering should be strengthened in collaboration with embedded community members. 

After the second defeat in Konduga the morale of these fighters might have been terrified and demoralised. The bombardment from the military should continue ceaselessly at such a time. If possible, all the borders between Cameroon and Nigeria should be blocked temporarily to ensure that the insurgents do not escape into their country. In between the questions raised above and the suggestions offered, one is confident that the end of Boko Haram insurgency may not be far away. Insinuations that the insurgents have the capacity to fight for another 45 years is a fallacy. It is not surprising that as they are about settling down to establish their caliphate and attack Maiduguri, they are simply throwing themselves open for a sucker punch. Kudos to our military. This cup will soon pass us by.

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