By Kola King
On the assumption of power in May 2015, the immediate concern of President Muhammadu Buhari was to isolate and rout out insecurity in the land and to defeat the Boko Haram insurgents operating in the northeast region. Many believed he had the magic wand to defeat insurgents. Of course, with military alacrity, he gave marching orders to the military high command to relocate to the northeast and defeat the insurgents once and for all. The military obeyed the command and recovered territories hitherto under the command of the insurgents.
In all fourteen Local Government Areas were recovered. Within a short period of time, the military had recorded some gains in the war against terror and later the government announced with glee that Boko Haram had been technically defeated and their base in Sambisa forest captured.
Nonetheless, Boko Harm’s attacks have been coordinated armed assaults, rocket attacks, assassinations, kidnappings, use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), bombings using child and female bombers, car bombings and arson.
Much as the military had recorded some measure of success in the northeast, though pockets of terror still remains, the theatre of terror has widened with the upsurge in banditry in the northwest and parts of the north central. The most frightening dimension is the alleged linkage between some terrorists groups in the northeast and freewheeling bandits in the northwest.
Another thing is the nexus between banditry and kidnappings, which has resulted in the kidnapping of hundreds of school children in the north. According to an analysis of media collated by the US Council on Foreign Relations, over 1400 pupils have been kidnapped from schools in that region, resulting in the closure of schools, which has further endangered education in the region. Besides, sixteen died in the attacks.
The kidnapping of about twenty students in Greenfield University, situated along the Abuja-Kaduna highway has petrified the general public and captured the state of insecurity in the north. Add to this is the kidnapping of 121 pupils of Bethel Baptist College, Kaduna. Also, the kidnapping of 37 students of Federal School of Forestry Mechanization, Afaka, Kaduna further amplifies the security challenge.
According to reports, the sum of 40 million naira was paid by parents as ransom to secure the freedom of the university students. At the moment, kidnapping has turned into big business as ransom running into millions of naira are collected by the bandits in exchange for the freedom of hostages. Payment of ransom now fuels the kidnapping business.
Moreover, the attack by terrorists on the foremost military training institution, the Nigeria Defence Academy, Kaduna during which two military officers were killed further underscores the rising security challenge.
According to SB Morgen reports, over 2000 Nigerians were killed by bandits and insurgents in the past year. Even the military and other security agents were not spared. A total of about 943 security personnel reportedly lost their lives in the course of defending the nation. Out of these, 642 were soldiers, 322 policemen and 129 Vigilante. On the other hand, 973 Boko Haram foot soldiers, 290 cultists, 100 IPOB members were killed during the period of review.
Based on its findings, SBM, a Nigerian intelligence geopolitical research consultancy concluded that these figures of casualties were indications that the nation was at war. The report examined combat attacks in the period covering fourth quarter of 2020 and third quarter of 2021.
Not since the civil war has the nation witnessed so much bloodletting. Bandits have spread a reign of terror in the north west and parts of the north central, where they roam and raid villages and communities, sowing terror, death and destruction along their trail. In this reign of terror, some villages have been sacked and burnt to the ground and where others have been spared the bandits have gone ahead to impose taxes and levies on farmers and entire villages, and also calling the shots there. This has led to thousands seeking refuge in Internally Displaced Person’s (IDPs) camps in both the north west and north central regions.
In the south east the growing agitation for Biafra has reached a crescendo where it can no longer be ignored, and this has witnessed increasing bloody clashes between Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and security forces. Several security agents have paid the supreme price in the course of duty.
Arising from this is the growing cases of unidentified gun men who have run amuck in the region, creating fear and panic in minds of the people. Several people have been killed by unidentified gun men. The climax of this was the killing in broad daylight of Dr Chike Akunyili, husband to the late Minister of Information and Communication, Professor Dora Akunyili, by unidentified gun men. His dastardly murder has further heightened fear and tension in the region.
Agitated by the activities of IPOB, President Muhammadu Buhari in an interview with Arise Television had said IPOB is like a dot in the circle and that the agitators would be treated in the language they understand. The president noted that many of those causing trouble were not yet born during the civil war, hence do not know the consequences of war.
President Buhari’s comments drew anger and outrage in the south east and from a cross section of Nigerians who considered his language and tone bellicose. Even Twitter had to remove the president’s comment on its micro- blogging site. In reaction to this, the government applied the sledgehammer and banned Twitter.
However, things took a turn for the worse with the arrest of IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu in Kenya from where he was repatriated to Nigeria. The arrest of Kanu was a dampner for the separatists movement. In order to force the hand of government, IPOB has almost crippled commercial activities in the south east with sit-at-home orders on Mondays, which started Monday September 15. The order has since been lifted by IPOB.
There were also threats by IPOB for the boycott of the gubernatorial elections which recently held in Anambra State in November. However, common sense prevailed and the election went ahead without a whimper after the heavy deployment of security forces to the state. Yet to stem the tide of the growing agitations in the southeast, Federal Government has reacted with both stick and carrots.
Despite the renewed war against insurgency by the armed forces in the north east, the Boko Haram insurgency has not abated. The insurgents have continued to engage the armed forces in hit-and-run operations. They have even taken the fight to the doorsteps of the military by attacking some military formations in that region. The ambush and killing of Brigadier General Dzarma Zirkusu of the Joint Task Force in the northeast, alongside three soldiers, in Askira Uba, Borno State during an encounter with Islamic West Africa Province (ISWAP) further reinforces the growing insecurity in the region. Again, rocket attacks on Maiduguri on December 4, signals that the insurgents are still active.
For good measure, the south west has also had its own share of insecurity. Frequent clashes between farmers and herdsmen in the region has also led to shrill calls for Oduduwa Republic. Also, the increasing cases of kidnapping by criminal elements have further created a security challenge. However, the situation took a new dimension as a result of incessant clashes between farmers and Fulani herdsmen particularly in Oke Ogun, Oyo State, which has led to the deaths of many people in that area. In a bid to arrest this drift, a political enforcer, Mr Sunday Adeyemi aka Sunday Igboho single-handedly took up the challenge to defend the people in Oke Ogun. Along the way, Igboho also became a voiceferous champion of Oduduwa Republic.
Thereafter, an ultimatum was issued to the Fulani herdsmen to vacate that community. But there was a backlash as Igboho’s threats was viewed as an affront by the government. Shortly thereafter, the Department of State security Service (DSS) invaded Sunday Igboho’s house in Ibadan where two persons were reportedly killed. Still, the quarry the DSS came for disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Sunday Adeyemo was later declared wanted by the DSS.
But soon after Sunday Igboho resurfaced in Benin Republic only to be arrested at Cotonou International Airport by security forces in that country as he made his way to board a flight to Germany. He has since been remanded in police custody in Benin Republic where he’s undergoing trial for infractions against the law of the land.
As the war drags on, the military have recorded some success in the counterinsurgency operation with the surrender of 8000 repentant Boko Haram fighters and members of their families within three months since June 2021. The killing of Abubakar Shekau, a leader of Boko Haram by ISWAP forces will redound to the battle against insurgency.
Finally, the recent court ruling which pronounced bandits as terrorists has strengthened the hand of government in the battle against terrorists. Now the security forces can lawfully declare war on the bandits. Besides it provides government the opportunity to charge suspected members of the group with terrorism related offenses.
*Kola King is a Nigerian journalist and novelist, and currently the Managing Editor of Nigeria Now, a news magazine based in Abuja, Nigeria.