By: EMEKA OMEIHE
Shortly before the end of last year, we were treated to the cheering news of the final defeat of the Boko Haram insurgency. The nation’s leadership had announced with much fanfare, it had impregnated the much dreaded Sambisa forest and dislodged the last stronghold of the insurgency group.
It said the last bastion of defence of Boko Haram had been overrun with the capture of what it termed “Camp zero”. By the calculations of the military, with the dislodgement of “Camp zero”, the war has been won.
A highly elated President Buhari did not waste time to commend “the determination, courage and resilience of troops of Operation Lafiya Dole at finally entering and crushing the remnants of the Boko Haram insurgents which is located deep into the heart of the Sambisa forest”. He said he was told that the terrorists were on the run and had no place to hide.
This came precisely a year after the initial deadline to smoke out the insurgents, degrade and destroy their ability for mischief. Then, President Buhari had in an interview with the BBC said Boko Haram has been “technically defeated” and that “Nigeria has technically won the war against Boko Haram”.
When prodded further given renewed attacks by the same terror group shortly after, he said “my own description is that they can no longer mobilize to attack police and army barracks and destroy aircrafts as they used to do. But they can regroup and go after soft targets”.
Since then however, we have seen different fierce engagements between the seemingly degraded Boko Haram group and the Nigerian military. There have been series of high scale attacks from both sides with serious casualties. The casualty figure and the high profile military officers who have unfortunately paid the supreme sacrifice on account of the resurging confrontation raised doubts about initial claims by the government on the progress of the war.
That has been the situation until the same government at the end of last year came up to say again that it has destroyed the last remnants of the insurgents with the capture of the last bastion of their defence deep in the heart of the Sambisa forest. Before then, the government had secured the release of 21 of the abducted Chibok girls, raising hopes that an understanding which would permanently end the war had been struck. One had thought everything was going on well for the government.
When last week, the government advertised its intention to ferry some leaders of the Bring Back Chibok Girls group and journalists to the Sambisa forest to see things for themselves, it was generally viewed as an indication of the final end of the insurgency. But behold, as the trip was about to go on, the terrorists struck within the University of Maiduguri mosque leaving in its toll sorrow and awe.
As the nation was still contending with that loss, came the chilling incident of the bombing of a camp for Internally Displaced Persons IDP’s in Rann in the same Borno State killing more than 100 people including officials of the Red Cross and other humanitarian workers. Reports said the pilot mistook them for Boko Haram insurgents who were regrouping.
Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole Major General Lucky Irabor said he coordinated the air component of the operation following information that Boko Haram terrorists were gathering around the Kala Balge area of Maiduguri. He said when the operation was conducted, it turned that some locals were affected including soldiers.
The government sympathized with families affected by this colossal disaster, attributing it to what it called “regrettable operational mistake”. Condolence messages in their torrents have been coming in from far and wide with many harping on the need for thorough investigation into the matter. The House of Representatives, apparently not satisfied with the rationalization of the bombing, has resolved to probe into the matter.
Many are unable to come to terms with the excuse adduced for this colossal disaster especially given the very casual manner the presidency and Gen. Irabor addressed the matter. Operational mistake resulting in the killing of scores of those still suffering from the pangs of displacement from their homes by the war, is too costly for this nation to bear.
Apart from casting doubt on the conduct of the war all along, it seemed to have put to question some of the claims we have been treated to by this regime regarding the overall progress of the war. How come the same military mistook an IDP camp it set up for a gathering of the terrorist group? How did the information come about and was there due diligence before the air force plane was cleared to roll out the lethal weapons?
It is unclear the distance between Rann and Kala Balge where the terrorists were said to be regrouping. But even if they are very close, we are yet to hear what action the military took thereafter having discovered that they hit off target. Did those regrouping at the Kala Balge disappear thereafter or were they now allowed to fortify themselves?
These issues underscore the fact that it was too early for the government to have swallowed the excuse that the killings emanated from operational mistake. First, if the air force could bomb an IDP camp at the dying moments of the war, what guarantee is there that the rules of engagement had all along been adhered to? What of its implications on human rights abuses?
Secondly, to accept that will throw into serious doubt, the proficiency of our military without prejudice to the enormous sacrifices and personal risks to their life in the prosecution of that war. Again, for a war that has been touted won, accepting the excuse of operational mistake coveys the miserable impression of exaggerated claims regarding its overall progress. We do not expect a war that has been won to produce complex situations that confused our military to the extent of bombing a camp it set up and privy to.
What signals did the pilot see on ground to confirm these were terrorists? And if terrorists could still gather in such large numbers requiring an air force plane to be dispatched to bomb them, what remains of the claim of the defeat of the insurgency group?
Overall, it would appear there is more to the circumstances leading to the disaster than ordinarily meets the eyes. In the face of recent disclosures that some soldiers sympathetic to the cause of the insurgents would face trial for cattle rustling to fund the terrorists, the presence of moles even with the progress made in the war can no longer be discounted.
These are some of the possibilities to be looked into instead of the offhand dismissal of the fatal onslaught as a mere mistake. It could as well turn out a mistake. But that can only be determined through a thorough and unbiased investigation. Nigerian Air Force cannot investigate itself on this matter and expect an impartial report.
It would appear the nation is not being fed the right information on the overall progress of that war. And the reason is not farfetched. It hovers around the urge to take quick credit for having defeated the insurgents in keeping with campaign promises. Having failed to meet the first deadline, the government seems in a hurry to announce a conclusion of the war a year after.
Ironically, as it goes about this, issues arise casting serious doubt to the claim. That was the position a year ago when it announced a technical defeat of the insurgents. The same trend re-enacted last week with the fatalities recorded in the IDP camp. The problem is with the negative politics we had played with the war against Boko Haram. We seem caught up by the monsters we created.