The task of securing Borno, by Mustapha Sabo


18 September 2013 was a horrific day for me, the day I saw the dead bodies of over 108 innocent travellers butchered by Boko Haram along Benishiekh Maiduguri Road.

Wikipedia reported 161 Nigerians were killed that day. Boko Haram was so callous and inhumane, they arranged the dead bodies in rows to a chilling effect.

A litany of this gory scene has unfortunately become a common trauma in our lives.

Witness Gubio where Boko Haram/Islamic State in West Africa Province (BH/ISWAP) slaughtered 81 villagers. Many others were hospitalized.

A very repulsive scene, dead bodies littered over a wide area. The Animals, i.e. (BH/ISWAP) even killed animals, stole some along with foodstuff of the humans they heinously murdered.

This writes up is in line with the call by two grieving members of House of Representatives from Borno that called for the arming of our communities to defend themselves.

They mustn’t stop at legislative proclamation only. As the representative of their communities, they should actualize the call by talking to relevant authorities and stakeholders to enact a law and establish an institutional framework for arming our communities to defend themselves.

Not so long ago a first-class Emir in Zamfara made a similar call with the escalation of banditry and senseless killings in the state.

For the avoidance of doubt, the call for community self-defence against terrorism is not new. This was how the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) was born.

They are doing a wonderful job in helping to rout Boko Haram and provide security to their communities even the Army Chief recently called them “our friends”.

Without a doubt, the people of Borno appreciate President Buhari and the security agencies for all that they have achieved in the fight against Boko Haram.

Nonetheless, BH/ISWAP has become increasingly dynamic in its strategy and tactics of terrorism.

It is time to re-strategize and civilianize the war against BH; make it a peoples’ war. We can cite a few examples of nations that involved non-military groups to fight insurgency in their lands, consequently registered remarkable successes and to some extent defeated the insurgency. Iraq and Syria come to mind.

When Islamic State (IS) started terrorism in Iraq the US assisted with military hardware, intelligence sometimes-aerial bombardment. But, mainly Iraqis did the fighting on the ground. The Iraqis defeated IS, the richest terrorist group in history in 2017, within four years.

The Iraq strategy involved its citizen in the fight against the IS along with its conventional army. From 2016, IS suffered series of defeats in both Iraq and Syria. The Iraqis did not take the war with levity.

They took the battle to the terrorist. They never dug trenches to wait for IS to attack before they retaliated. Am not sure there was any super camp of high command authority.

They never waited for a command from superiors before attacking terrorists; they fought in tandem with the tactics of the terrorists.

According to sources, the Iraqis mobilized 54,000 security forces, 40,000 Kurdish militia, 14,000 para-military, 14,000 Sunni/Christian/Yazidi volunteers and 500 US service members just to retake Mosul. All these huge numbers were underarms.

Similarly, besides the Syrian army and volunteers (YPG, Women’s defense unit) Russia, Iran, Hezbollah all combined to confront the threat of IS.

Syria would have finished IS if not because the US and Turkey are criminally frustrating the Syrian army at its northern border by creating no-fly-zone giving cover to the terrorists.

The fight against Boko Haram is first and foremost our business, the people of North East, especially Borno considered as the epicentre.

Sadly the confinement of Boko Haram to one section of the country (Borno) is even considered as an achievement since the big people in Abuja are saved from terrorism. So wake up the people of Borno.

For years able-bodied men are quarantined (even before COVID 19) in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camps, which have become a source of corrupt enrichment for government officials (talking of economics of war).

The State/Federal governments should mobilize and trainable and willing men from the IDP Camps for the final showdown with the BH/ISWAP terrorists. Even the security forces have acknowledged the bravery of our gallant CJTF.

Therefore, mobilizing IDPs to join the fight against the terrorist would provide the numbers and impact to defeat BH/ISWAP, as happened in Iraq and Syria.

My position may be pedestrian since I am not a security expert. But, rethinking the strategy to fight Boko Haram to the finish is an urgent task! In that regard, I would like to proffer some suggestions.

The Federal Government in conjunction with the Borno state government should immediately commence the recruitment and training of volunteers (20,000 – 50,000 strong) to fight BH/ISWAP alongside the Nigerian Army.

It could be recalled that recently the Defence Minister had complained of lack of enough soldiers to confront the nation’s security challenges.

In similar circumstances in the past, Nigerians were massively recruited into the army to fight the civil war in order to keep Nigeria one.

In the same vein, mass recruitment to generate a critical mass of force and surge to defeat BH/ISWAP is imperative!

Our political class, traditional rulers and community leaders must insist on the Federal Government to consider the option of massively recruiting volunteers to fight BH/ISWAP.

There are valid fears of recruiting the wrong people, militarizing society and post-war challenges of dealing with a disbanded militia.

Our political class, traditional leaders, and community leaders along with the DSS, army and the police will handle the task of background-checking and profiling potential recruits.

They can be demobilized into useful trades/occupations after defeating the insurgency. If BH/ISWAP terrorists that surrendered could be deradicalized and reintegrated into society, it would be a lot easier and safer to demobilize and reintegrate community members who had fought the war of salvation to secure their lives and homeland.

In 2013, in the heart of Boko Haram killings, over ten thousand hunters, youths and volunteers demonstrated in front of the Shehu’s palace demanding to be drafted into fighting Boko Haram. Sadly they dispersed disappointedly.

It is, however, important to recognise that the socio-cultural imperative of fighting for the homeland will motivate many to volunteer to fight BH/ISWAP to finish.

Gladly Professor Zulum has already started empowering the CJTF and hunters in many ways to build their capacity to supplement the efficacy of the Nigerian Army.

I understand Yobe and Adamawa states have already organised their hunters/volunteers in the fight against Boko Haram.

There is a need to build and sustain the involvement of a broad coalition of counter-insurgency.

Coalitions win wars by spreading the cost and harnessing creative energies of strategy and tactics. Looking at the wars against insurgency in Iraq and Syria, we saw the active presence of Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, YPG and several volunteers to good effect.

In the same vein, the Chadians should be invited back with a strong mandate to finish off BH/ISWAP in the Lake Chad and Northern Borno. Our people have a lot of confidence in the Chadian army.

They are the best fighting force in Africa. We have seen what they have achieved against BH lately. Even Europe is courting Chad to participate in the fight against Al–Qaeda in the Sahel.

The Chadian army is not better equipped than ours, yet because of high morale, professionalism, and commitment to their performance is outstanding.

Freeing Lake Chad region from Boko Haram is in tandem with the patriotic desire and pan-regional plans of President Muhammadu Buhari to recharge the Lake Chad, resurrect its significance as a socio-economic hub in the Sahel.

Of course, the presence of Russians and other forces in Syria and Iraq comes with a cost to the two nations. Yet, no cost is too much for securing people’s lives; a primary constitutional obligation on all sovereigns.

In that regard, it wouldn’t be inappropriate to request Mr President to please suspend work on the Kano-Maiduguri expressway and divert the resources to pay the bills for inviting back the Chadian to help us wage and win the war against Boko Haram. No road, bridge or rail line is greater in value than fighting to give Nigerians life, livelihood, dignity and peace.

A traditional ruler in Katsina once told Federal Government officials during the annual ritual of fertilizer sales, that his people are fighting for their lives from bandits and fertilizer is their least of worries.

Nigeria can also rejig the involvement of Cameroon to handle Boko Haram in the Mandara Mountains where, according to sources, it (BH) has established its base. It could be assumed that this forested corridor connects with Sambisa in southern Borno.

It could be further assumed that the Mandara Mountains provides Boko Haram leeway to launch attacks on Gwoza, Pulka, Frigi, Banki, Bama and may be up to Adamawa.

Therefore, having the Cameroonian army cutting off Boko Haram attacks along the Mandara Mountains corridor would bring salvation to southern Borno and northern Adamawa.

I want to believe that many Nigerians are rather unfair to the military for expecting them to perform beyond their capacity. The task before them is herculean; defeating Boko Haram and other security challenges are near impossible.

I heard security experts and retired senior army officer say the Nigerian Army is incapable of defeating Boko Haram.

We should, however, salute the courage, patriotism and sacrifice of Nigerian soldiers to the nation especially in the North East. They can’t do better than could in the circumstances they find themselves.

A critical look at Nigeria’s health sector, power, education, infrastructure, security and our political landscape reveals a failed system. It is dilapidation, corruption, rot and decadent paralysis and apologies to late Comrade Tunji Braithwaite.

Have we easily forgotten the military bequeath by the Badehs and Ihejerikas of this world? Just recently Major General H Otiki was court Martial for the theft of N400 million.

The military in Borno is accused of fighting BH and engaging in fish and cattle trade.

BH is also engaged in the trade, so my people are entirely edged out! There is a popular notion that war is lucrative; as people die the dogs of war enjoy its booty. So, it is utter illusion to think the military is insulated from what has befallen Nigeria and expect it to perform wonders.

That is why the civil population must participate in the war, to provide for a sort of troop surge to take the war to and defeat BH/ISWAP.

The joy is we now have a President addressing the decay of the nation, and participative governance is a patent means of cleansing decay.

Allowing civilian participation would enhance credibility, efficiency and effectiveness in prosecuting the war against BH/ISWAP.

Borno has been devastated by the insurgency in the last eleven years. There are absolutely no economic activities in over twenty local governments.

Officially over 33,000 people have died. Borno alone accounted for 1.5 million of the 2.6 million IDPs recorded in Nigeria at the end of 2019. The economic setback from the insurgency is in trillions of naira.

Educationally, Borno is ten years behind other states in the country. Our people, highly confident and productive, are IDPs, refugees and beggars scattered across Nigeria. Our people have become totally distressed and disoriented.

Of course, Borno people are resilient. Boko Haram cannot break a people with a rich history like Borno no matter the evil plans of their sponsors.

It is high time our people reclaim back their lives, dignity and rebuild their communities.

We want to cease being refugees, internally displaced people, and relying on NGOs to feed and clothe us. We want to live in peace and dignity in our communities.

Lest we forget after Gubio, it was reported that Boko Haram attacked two local governments. And we are still waiting to be liberated. Big illusion!!!

The war against Boko Haram must be a peoples’ war. The civil population MUST be mobilized massively to fight BH or we risk the Afghanization of the war, which may last over 20 years, Subhanallah.

We must note that if we refuse to fight Boko Haram it wouldn’t stop them from killing us. Borno people must fight to reclaim every inch controlled by Boko Haram including the dreaded Sambisa Forest.

The people of Kawuri, Chibok and Damboa said Sambisa is their backyard, and if properly mobilized and armed they will liberate it from the terrorists.

Iraq defeated IS in four years, and Syria has all but routed the terrorists except those sheltered by US and Turkish intransigence.

They are able to do that not just because of the fighting power of their standing forces.

Lest we forget, both Iraq and Syria have better-equipped and modernized armed forces than Nigeria.

They are able to win battles and the war against terrorists because they mobilized the people to fight in support of their standing army.

Let’s change strategy and borrow a leaf from Iraq and Syria and civilianize the war; involve the people to fight to liberate their communities, and BH/ISWAP will be defeated InshaAllah.

MB Sabo writes from Efab Estate, Abuja, and can be reached at


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