...Redifining Journalism for Development

SIEGE ON MAIDUGURI: More to it than meets the eye by Ahmed Yakubu BK


There was no doubt that Nigeria’s north east region was, until the emergence of Muhammadu Buhari as president in 2015, becoming a Somalia of sort. If the north east were a country, it would have, quite fiitingly, been referred to as a ‘’failed nation.’’ All the characteristics of a failed nation were, after all, reasonably on display in all areas that had suffered the mindless bloodletting and needless battery. At its peak, the Boko Haram insurgency had successfully dazed and overwhelmed the entire security apparatus of Nigeria with the way terrorists literally waltz into territories, fight their way in, hold ground and administer. Conquest, if you like.
Thousands were killed, properties worth billions were destroyed and the entire system of control collapsed, seemingly irretrievably. Hopes were dashed, law and order took flight and anarchy loomed. The Jonathan administration left no one in any doubt that it cared less about whether or not the insurgents went as far as colonizing conquered territories. At a stage, the former President himself believed that the insurgency was North’s way of sabotaging his government and so became askance as to what became the fate of the region, in the long run. If the man had won a re-election, the North East region will have long become a ‘’terror republic’’ of some sort. Shortly before it dawned on him that he could lose the election on account of his abandonment of his constitutional duties to defend the territorial integrity of the country, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan had superintended a country whose soldiers were perpetually on the run from battlefields, occasionally being filmed, dashing for cover and running away from the relentless pursuit of ill-trained and ill-prepared platoons of terrorists. It nearly came to pass until the nation realized the danger inherent in allowing Jonathan mess things further up. So, enter Buhari who came on the dot and salvaged the situation.
But what did he do differently? He did the needful by first of all changing those at the helm of affairs of the fight against terror. In fact, he did much more. He appointed helmsmen from within the areas of the epicenter. General Buratai, from Biu emirate in southern Borno was made the Chief of Army Staff, General Muhammed Monguno (rtd) a Kanuri from Southern Borno became the National Security Adviser while Vice Air Marshal Sadiq, a man that had spent most of his career years in Borno and an indigene of Bauchi state got elevated to the position of Chief of Air Staff. On top of that, President Buhari made available the resources and state-of-the-art fighting equipment required to outgun the insurgents. To their credit and in fairness to them, these set of officers soon changed the narratives of the war by taking the initiative away and completely overwhelming the enemy. All conquered territories were liberated and the bad guys soon took to their heels. Across the borders with Cameroun, Niger and Tchad where the insurgents had exported their brand of extremism and had also brought about pain and agony, it took a while for the Forces there to nip them into the bud. Today, all is quite across the borders and everywhere else in Nigeria’s North East except around Maiduguri and environs where a resurgence of insurgency was lately noticed.
While the Chief of Army Staff is about town beating his chest that the war on terror is won and lost, the insurgents have upped their ante around Maiduguri and on the highways against traffic convoys originating from the capital city. Suicide bombings against civilian targets and gun attacks on security convoys which had resulted in deaths and taking of hostages have been rampant. The Muna/Unimaid axis of the city has bore the bout of suicide bombing attacks and on the last count not less than 15 of such attacks have been executed in both Muna area and inside the University of Maiduguri resulting in casualties which included a Professor. Along the Maiduguri/Damboa road leading to Biu where soldiers have taken over the task of providing cover for convoy of vehicles conveying passengers and goods, the insurgents have, on many occasions launched daring attacks and in the process many passengers, drivers and security personnel have lost their lives. During the last attack mid June, trucks filled with drugs meant for displaced persons were taken away, their drivers, policemen and some passengers were killed while some policewomen were reportedly taken hostage.
The city itself has not been spared of daring attacks despite the array of security men and fighting equipment guarding it. There have been incidents of terrorists infiltrating the city through the Jiddari Polo area. Several people have been killed in such incidents while the fear and the sense of insecurity have rendered residents incapable of sleeping with two eyes closed. Why is Maiduguri vulnerable? Why is it that everywhere else is relatively peaceful apart from Maiduguri? Why is the Army clueless as to what to do to deal with this seeming last vestige of the insurgents? Why should the same Military that had secured occupied territories, rescued thousands of captives and had sent the insurgents running for dear lives find itself at sea in the last leg of the fight? How can homeboy Buratai lose it when it is there for the taking? The questions, all of them valid are endless. I had invested high hopes of an end to it, but now I am beginning to doubt the ability of Buratai, Sadiq and Monguno to bring an end to this war. Of course I take note that these guys had came out smoking at the onset of their appointment, dealing fatal blows to the bad guys. The frequent press releases, press conferences and the daily updates from the Theatre Command headquarters at the peak of the war were simply reassuring and excellent. When the Army declared the Boko Haram ‘’technically defeated’’, I believed them. At that time, parlance such as ‘’fighting patrols, blocking positions, air bombardment and air surveillance’’ as well as hair raising pictures of mutilated bodies of insurgents to back it up were soothing to the mind and confidence-establishing.
In fact, Buratai in particular was gradually becoming a legend of sort with folklore songs waxed by notable Hausa artists. I used to have such songs and I constantly play one of them in particular in my car, but with the unfortunate turn of events I no longer feel obliged to play them. Why should I, when the ‘’technically defeated’’ bad boys have wrestled the initiative away from Buratai? If the combination of Buratai, Monguno and Sadiq cannot eliminate this insurgency, given the ‘’son of the soil’’ advantage and with all the very timely and critical support from the president, will it not be right for us to conclude quite justifiably that we are indeed in serious trouble? The president has played his part very well and just like the football coach that has imparted the right philosophy and depth, the onus, in our situation is on the Buratais to deliver victory, total victory. If they fail to contain the annoying daring attacks on Maiduguri and on the highways, then they will be deemed to have failed woefully. My analysis and conclusion is that they have emptied their bag of tricks and have therefore become surplus to requirement, as they say in football. But again, if these guys proved incapable given the facts of their places of birth and alleged competence, then what right have we got to expect an Army Chief of Akwa Ibom origin for example to do any magic to extricate us from this malaise? When the Army Chiefs of the Jonathan era were posting very embarrassing performances against the insurgents, we in the North nearly brought the roof down citing ‘’conspiracy theory.’’ Now, just because the kettle of fish is different, we have kept mute, stewing in our self-inflicted contradictions and dying piecemeal.

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