Boko Haram: It Is About Human Lives, Not Territories, By Ahmad Salkida

By Ahmad Salkida,

Nigeria has been known to place a deplorable value on the lives of her citizens. It seems to run in the veins of successive administrations. And none has been more disturbing than the inclination to celebrate the much hyped technical defeat of Boko Haram over the continual massacre of defenceless citizens in the war-ravaged NorthEast region of Nigeria as well as in camps holding numerous distressed Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).

Yes, ‘Boko Haram or the ‘Islamic’ State West Africa Provence (ISWAP) as they preferred to be called, may no longer lash out and hold territories as it used to, but this should not be the held up as a victory by Nigerian officials who proudly celebrate their “technical defeat” of the group.

The group still operates and kills at will in these areas. Is it the priority of government to protect deserted territories from being reoccupied by Boko Haram or, end further massacres and sufferings visited on civilian populations in the region?

If the two are one and the same, then, Nigeria and the rest of the West African countries confronted with the Boko Haram conundrum are years from celebrating any victory.

Apparently, Boko Haram’s priority is not to spare the lives of the people in the communities they overrun in the Lake Chad area. They have come to realise the hard way that, it is rather implausible to enforce their model of the ‘Sharia’ on the kaffirs, which is how they view the larger Nigerian society. Why, then, are government officials focusing on the diminished expanse of territories under the group’s control as an indication of a war won and settled?

Anyone who says Boko Haram is holding any territory or having a field day in Borno State, such as the ruffled Senator Baba Kaka Garbai suddenly becomes the enemy of the “all is well” Buhari government. What is more tolerable to say nowadays in Nigeria is “Boko Haram is on the run and can only attack soft targets” as if the hapless Nigerians in those so-called soft targets could never attract the pre-emptive security cover of their government.

This official line seems more acceptable because of the value Nigerians place on the lives of citizens is one of the lowest in the world. One can imagine how citizens waiting for help to come from government in besieged communities will feel if they hear from their president on radio saying “there is NOT a single territory occupied by Boko Haram”.

Yet, what is most worrying in several parts of the region plagued by war, as much the brutal massacres of Boko Haram, is the escalating cases of starvation.

Entire communities have been exposed to a lack of essential medicines, food, and water, and are therefore dying of starvation. We have alarming cases of gross human tragedies right before our very eyes in the NorthEast. For many, there are no livelihoods, there is a complete blockade of the area by military authorities, an area that is poor even before the war. Many, in these besieged communities, especially those that can’t escape to the internally displaced camps either depend on Boko Haram for food or do the unimaginable just to survive.

Women and girls sadly, are driven to prostitution merely to be able to bring a meal to their dependants or selves.

In the recent past, we dwelled on a one-sided analysis of bombing and gun attacks in a multiple sided tragedy.

We are not paying attention to the increasing cases of starvation, even in areas fully under government control.

Sadly, some are still celebrating Boko Haram’s inability to control large territories and have started talking about rebuilding the region. My take in respect of rebuilding the NorthEast is that we cannot rebuild if we are unable to save those whose lives are hanging on the precipice.

The debate over Boko Haram’s vanishing territories, instead of a focus on saving lives, seems to have forgotten that, the group only declared their first territorial control in the sixth year of their terror onslaught. In those five years before their territorial control, the violence and bloodletting activities were no less revolting.

So why are many Nigerians using Boko Haram’s failure to hold large territories as the yardstick by which to measure their end? A nation that values the lives of her citizens will celebrate or go to sleep only when none of its citizens are under the daily threat of an enemy’s invasion by any group, be it Boko Haram, cattle rustlers, or any other violent groups.

Even the international community is also untroubled when bomb after bomb blasts kill and maim hundreds in Nigeria because never was there a time, Nigeria’s President cancelled his trip or officials of government cancelled meetings with diplomats to attend to emergencies or disasters in the domestic front. Apparently life is so cheap, where Boko Haram operates.

The army has also done very little to improve its relationship with the civilian population, with continuing cases of high-handedness by the military. Independent voices are continually being stifled or bullied into silence. Security forces also play down the level of human sufferings and worse of all cover ups on the deaths of soldiers that have sacrificed their lives for their country.

Many informed observers were, however delighted when the Nigerian government saw reason and made a U-turn from relocating hundreds of thousands of people to their communities from IDP camps across the country. The ill-informed initial plan was motivated by no other reason than to prove that the government had defeated Boko Haram.

In fact, Boko Haram is as deadly today as it can ever be. This time around, thousands of them are not in their caliphate that is known to all, they have dispersed to the most unlikely places developing cells and creating new platforms to launch surprise attacks, whether on soft targets or not. It remains the responsibility of government to ensure that the lives of every Nigerian deserves sanctuary at the best.

Salkida is a freelance journalist and a conflict analyst