Monday 8 September 2014

Boko Haram, Our Girls And Our Soldiers - by Tayo Ogunbiyi

These, without a doubt, are strange times for Nigeria. To say that the spate of insecurity in the country is becoming very alarming will be an understatement. Suddenly, we are faced with a different kind of insecurity occasioned by incessant terrorist activities. 

Before now, terrorism is alien to our culture. But occurrences in recent years have since altered the picture as the reprehensible activities of the Boko Haram sect, which today remains one of the nation’s foremost adversaries, have made Nigeria a focal point of global terrorism activities. Through a series of bloodletting operations, unrivalled in the annals of the country, the sect has, in the past 12 years, held the nation to ransom.

To underline its newly found status as a global terrorist group, the sect was designated by the US Department of State as a terrorist organisation in 2013. In the first half of 2014, it killed more than 2,000 innocent and hapless civilians, in about 95 attacks. In the last three years, more than 3,000, people have lost their lives as a result of Boko Haram terrorist operations. A recent data claimed that Boko Haram attacks have left at least 12,000 people dead and 8,000 crippled in the last three years while hundreds of thousands have fled their homes for the fear of the insurgents.

Perhaps, the most audacious of the dastardly acts of the group, till date, remains the abduction of over 200 secondary school girls, who were kidnapped in a most notorious manner, from their dormitories in Government College Chibok, Borno State. The girls, henceforth to be referred to as our girls, have since been in the custody of the sect for well over 140 days. The act was met with outrage and wide condemnations across the world. 

Indeed, some of the leading nations of the world offered to help in rescuing our girls. Several local and international groups have equally been clamouring for the release of our girls. A renowned 17-year-old Pakistan child right activist, Malala, recently visited the country on account of our girls’ plight. She reportedly had “useful” discussions with major stakeholders including President Goodluck Jonathan. Malala’s visit eventually opened the door for a Presidential parley between the Presidency and distraught parents of our girls. The parley was, however, beclouded by controversies over the sharing formula for the money purportedly released by the Presidency for the upkeep of our girls’ parents.

Somewhere along the line, we were told by the nation’s military high command that the location of our girls, supposedly in a vast forest named Sambisa along the Nigerian /Cameroonian border by Eastern Borno, had been discovered . However, according to military authorities, they had to tread cautiously in order not to jeopardise the safety of our girls. Good. But, while one appreciates the efforts of all the stakeholders in the bid to free our girls, the point, however, is that we are now becoming very apprehensive, especially with regard to the safety of our girls. 

With Ebola presently capturing the attention of the whole nation coupled with preparations for the 2015 general elections, the fear is that, like most unresolved murder cases in the country, the issue of our girls might soon fizzle out of the consciousness of the nation. Consequently, more than ever before, this is the time to keep asking questions concerning the plight of our girls. Where are our girls? What is happening to them? How are they being fed? With what are they being fed? How healthy is the place where they are being kept? Are they being sexually abused by their captors? Is it true that they have been fully integrated into the Boko Haram family? Is it true that some of them are now being used as suicide bombers? How can we be pretending that all is well when we have yet to find our girls? Are we actually making efforts to bring back our girls?

This brings us to the issue of the Nigerian military. Truth be told, these are unusual times for our military. Perhaps, there is no other time in the country’s history, aside from the civil war era, when the professionalism of the Nigerian military has been fiercely put to test than now. While one values the sacrifices of our military men and women who put their lives at risk to uphold the safety of other members of the society, one must, however, stress that the Nigerian military needs to do more than it is presently doing in order to completely flush out the men who have held our nation hostage for too long. 

One is rather disturbed by several unconfirmed reports of Nigerian soldiers absconding to neighbourng Cameroon in a bid to escape the ferocious firing power of Boko Haram insurgents. Though one is not really schooled in the art of military warfare, it is becoming alarming that we couldn’t really curtail Boko Haram’s incursion through military actions thus far. Some have suggested, though one finds this rather incredible, that the insurgents possess more sophisticated war arsenals than the Nigerian military. Could our military have really sunk that low?

In his inaugural speech in May 29, 1999, former President Olusegun Obasanjo painted a rather horrid picture of the Nigerian Army when he said among others that “the incursion of the military into government has been a disaster for our country and for the military over the last thirty years. The esprit-de-corps amongst military personnel has been destroyed; professionalism has been lost. Youths go into the military not to pursue a noble career but with the sole intention of taking part in coups and to be appointed as military administrators of states and chairmen of task forces”.

Obasanjo further affirmed that “as a retired officer, my heart bleeds to see the degradation in the proficiency of the military. A great deal of reorientation has to be undertaken and a re-definition of roles, retraining and re-education will have to be done to ensure that the military submits to civil authority and regains its pride, professionalism and traditions. We shall restore military cooperation and exchanges with our traditional friends. And we will help the military to help itself”.

To what extent the fortune of the military has improved in the last fourteen years of democratic rule is better left for scholars, researchers and other stakeholders to determine. One thing that is, however, certain is that these are tough times for our military. But with the help of everyone stakeholder in the country, we shall surely overcome. 

We have demonstrated with our commitment to the containment of the deadly Ebola virus that we can fight back when we are pushed to the wall. We need to do more in our resistance against our other adversaries. God bless Nigeria!

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