DURING an operational visit to Bita, Tukumbere and other areas in Sambisa forest, not took long ago –areas captured by Nigerian army, said to be the remaining hideouts of remnant Boko Haram terrorists – Nigerian Chief of Army Staff, Lt-General Tukur Buratai, on high optimism, ordered the army to go after the factional leader of Boko Haram, Abubaka Shekau and get him “dead of alive”, if he fails to surrender.
December 2016, the military claimed it dislodged Shekau from his camp in Sambisa forest. Later, the terrorists re-grouped in the camp to launch skeletal attacks. In 2017, Buratai gave the troops 40-days time-limit to capture Shekau. The army offered N3 million reward for information that could lead to capturing him.
January, 2018, the army said it has finally destroyed Shekau’s camp in an operation tagged “Deep Punch II”, and taken over the general area of the Sambisa forest. Shekau was later reported to have declared unwillingness to continue with terrorist activities, after the army said it has decimated the terrorists and dislodged the remnants of Boko Haram fighters from Sambisa forest.
At Camp Zairo, former Command and Control Centre of the terrorists group in Sambisa forest, Buratai, during the visit to the troops said: “Let me say congregations. But we must move across to wherever this criminal [Shekau] is and catch him red handed. I want you to go after him”.
“Mr. President, Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces says congratulation to all of you for recovering the Sambisa forest. As far as we are concerned, we have come to the end of this operation – clearing the forest of the remnants of the terrorists”. He added.
Buratai said: “What is remaining now is the Lake Chad waters only”. He was hopeful that the army will clear the terrorists from the location very soon. Buratai told the army “you know these criminals are still on the run, these guys are on the run. You must make sure that you get them wherever they are around this area”.
The military euphoria about the likely end to Boko Haram insurgency, was short-lived. Monday, February 19, 2019, armed fighters, believed to be Boko Haram militants, moved in at ease to Yobe State, Nigeria’s north east, had a field day, sought directions to a local school, kidnapped and drove away with over 100 Dapchi School Girls.
Shortly after the abduction, Nigerian army and police engaged in blame game over who should have protected the girls. Argument between Nigerian security agencies festered. Nigeria’s minister of information, Lai Mohammed reacted that the terrorists carried out the abduction to embarrass government.
Lai Mohammed’s statement was said to have undermined the seriousness that should be attached to finding the over 100 missing school girls in a country where they should have been guaranteed security. Nigerian army admitted withdrawing its troops shortly before the abductions of the girls.
The army claimed it handed over to Nigerian police division located in Dapchi. Sumonu Adbulmaliki, Yobe State Police Commissioner, said the army’s claim was “untrue”. He said the military did not categorically inform the police of the withdrawal.
President Buhari was slow to react to the incident. Understandably, due to the embarrassment it may have caused the government. And the pressure the government was facing in rescuing the remaining Chiboks girls. With military precision, government deployed air and ground forces and diplomatic negotiation to rescue Dapchi school girls.
Meanwhile, the incident brought agony to the parents of the girls. The row became major talking point in local and international media. The media reported that instead of blame game by the security agencies, government should focus on finding the girls and not fighting over who should have been responsible for the safety of the girls.
Now, most of the abducted Dapchi school girls have been released by their Boko Haram captures. They are back to their parents, amidst claims of complicity in some quarters on the abduction of the girls. With the return of the girls, some lessons are obvious.
First, strategic military operations, such as the Boko Harram terrorists’ activities in Nigeria, often take years to complete. In most cases, a full and clear picture of the situation is almost always far from been clear and certain. This is the reality with the abduction of Dapchi school girls. At a time the Nigerian military was celebrating total defeat and end of Boko Haram insurgency, they were caught unawares.
Second, reclaiming from the terrorists what was left of the areas they occupied in Sambisa forest, according to Buratai, at best, created a picture of victory situation. It shows the military was consistently making advancement in the war against terrorists’ activities in the country. It certainly was not the end of the war against Boko Haram insurgency, as Buratai seemed to believe.
Third, Nigerian military needs to be more professionally focused. Public comments from the military and its spoke person[s] about its operations should be guarded and kept to be barest minimum. War situation, as the case with the Boko Haram insurgency should not and never be politicized.