Facing Boko Haram: The New Dimension
by Aliyu Tilde
The failure of the federal government to protect its citizens in the Northeast against activities of Boko Haram is not in dispute. The insurgents have captured and retained swathes of territory in Yobe, Borno and Adamawa states. Large towns like Bama, Mubi, Gwoza and Michika and hundreds of villages are among those living under what the insurgents term their “Caliphate”.
The fall of Mubi last week has completely shattered any hope that these areas will be reclaimed soon. It has dismissed any official pretense that government, as it often claims, “is on top of the situation” when in fact, government is way beneath it. The residents of Adamawa State are preparing their minds for the fall of Yola, the capital, which the insurgents are expressing their intention to take. Before then, a number of other towns on their way will share the fate of Mubi.
The military has failed, for the first time in the history of this nation, in its primary statutory function: protection of the territorial integrity of Nigeria. The initial excuse that the military gave when Boko Haram was operating underground was that this is an asymmetric warfare; it was fighting enemies without territories – “ghosts”, the President called them.
Today, Boko Haram has occupied territory belonging to Nigeria where it has hoisted its flag and declared an independent country. The insurgents are running these towns and villages twenty-four hours a day. They are now real people on the ground, who everybody can see. Yet, the Nigerian military, despite the genuine efforts of its poorly equipped troops, has failed even to secure the well-guarded small village of Vimtim, the hometown of its Chief of Defence Staff. Soldiers at every town or village captured by Boko Haram are seen competing with civilians in fleeing from the rampaging insurgents.
Complete military headquarters like the one in Mubi are not spared either. They are instantly abandoned whenever it becomes manifest that the invading “ghosts” are on the way. The insurgents take over the garrisons with delight and pride. In Mubi alone, an insider told Ahmed Salkida, the insurgents have gotten enough military equipment, food and money to sustain the insurgency for a complete year. In a nutshell, our military, very sad to note, is today thoroughly demystified.
As we chronicle these catastrophic setbacks that our military is suffering from day in day out, I must stop, hang my pen and salute those among our boys and officers who fought bravely in their attempt to defend us and the motherland. Many are living, many are killed, and many are maimed. But all are heroes who, when the dust of the insurgency settles, must be honoured with the highest medal ever awarded in this country. Their names will remain, especially in the minds of we the residents of Northeast, indelible; their sacrifice will become a legacy that will be passed on to many generations to come.
How much time will the military need to acquire the requiste equipment and morale to launch an effective counteroffensive that will liberate these lands is open to question and debate in defence circles? In the impatient domain of civilian life, however, any time, no matter how short, is increasingly becoming a risky gamble to grant the authorities because it will only result in more deaths and suffering of innocent people. We want the right thing to be done now.
When soldiers themselves are overwhelmed and the fight comes right into the streets and bedrooms of civilians, there is no wisdom leaving matters in the hands of the military alone. Under such instances, in all nations, civilians are forcefully conscripted, passed through a basic military training and launched into the battle field. When there is not even enough time for that, it becomes an all-out war where everybody is expected to partake with pestle and pistol, just whatever is at hand.
That is the right thing. That is what must be done, now. Civilians must be enabled and allowed to join in the fray before it becomes too late when the situation will warrant a revolt. Boko Haram has set our military fleeing. It has entered and occupied our towns, villages and homes, killing uncountable number, abducting many women and boys, and rendering millions homeless on the move to nowhere. The group has not stopped. It is on the move too, though not fleeing, but capturing and keeping more towns and villages. Every week sees more deaths, abductions, displacements and suffering. It is not in the tradition of men to allow this trend to continue indefinitely. It must be stopped. If it is not stopped by the military, then it must be stopped by us – with or without the approval or involvement of government.
My advocacy at this stage is for government to be wise enough to come on board such that it does not lose control of this part of the country when people become defiant and go their way to handle the situation. Right now, the opportunity is there for government to quickly use traditional institutions in manufacturing an armed civilian wing of its defence against Boko Haram in every emirate and chiefdom. Thousands of volunteers can be registered, trained and released, from different fronts, like a swarm of locust on the offensive against a crop, to chase out Boko Haram from this country. The group cannot withstand the sheer sight of these volunteers; it cannot match their morale. The few RPGs and APCs that Boko Haram boasts of will simply give way to this mammoth of freedom fighters.
We have seen how mobilization of civilian population helped to save Maiduguri from Boko Haram. The group cannot face the hundreds of thousands that are ready to swallow it raw if it attempts to enter the capital. People are ready for anything. The same unarmed strategy can save large towns like Yola, Gombe and Bauchi when their turns come. But it cannot save smaller towns and villages. That is why Boko Haram was able to take the latter and spare the former. What is needed to keep both the capitals and countryside free is complete mobilization that must include arms, not just a mass of civilian volunteers.
This is a suggestion that traditional rulers, elders and elite in the North must press the federal government to adopt now, without delay. The alternative that is inevitable in case of the continuing deterioration of the situation is revolt. Yes, revolt. People will fight back, on their own. They just cannot sit back and accept the position of IDPs in their country or refugees in Neighboring Cameroon, Chad or Niger; that their families, dignity, homes, farms and businesses, education and future are all gone because of some few bandits and the incompetence of a corrupt government. Pastors and their churches, ulama and their mosques, traditional rulers and the subjects in their domain and elite who can contribute with money, organization and training, will all come together at that moment to form a militia or militias that government cannot control.
Once government demurs until these militias are formed, it will be bound to submit to the dictates of an impending revolution, which will naturally follow the expulsion of Boko Haram, just as participation in World War II triggered independence struggle in colonial Africa. People will rise against corrupt government, elite and businesses. It will never be the same for those living fat on our resources. They will be challenged, not by votes this time, but by people with guns and grenades in their hands. Their sun will set. Let no one dismiss this possibility. Let no one countenance that it will stop at the northeast. Immediately after we are done with Boko Haram, the wind of Sata Haram will start sweeping across the entire Northern region. It cannot be stopped and this country will never be the same.
In order to avert a revolution arising from uncontrolled militarizing of this section of the country, I plead with government to grab the first suggestion: Let the federal government organize and arm civilians using traditional rulers and all the relevant elite and institutions for the purpose of fighting Boko Haram, now. In that way, it has a record of every volunteer conscripted and every weapon he is carrying. The latter can be retrieved and handed over to government after the war is won. And normalcy can be restored easily.
If, on the other hand, government continues paying lip service to the fight against insurgents, I expressly suggest here that religious and traditional leaders and youths in the affected areas should start to invent means of protecting their people over whom they will be called upon to account for on Judgement Day. This is a divine injunction as well as a human right. Let no one wait until those enjoying the status quo come on board. Let Muslims and Christians – followers and leaders alike – come together and fight this evil. Let traditional rulers reclaim the right to tend and defend their domains. Let every good heart hearken to the invitation of nature to self-defence, to retrieve its legitimate right to life, property and dignity, with or without the approval of the federal government. This would not be breaking any law at all. For when survival is in question, natural and international law takes precedence over national law. Any form of defence is then justified, with or without permission of any conniving, complacent or incompetent government. Let us remember that this is what was used to justify even acts of terrorism in the Niger Delta.
Before the eyes of this nation, Niger Delta elite – that included their governors and top brass military personnel – armed its youth to the teeth using every means including theft of arms from Jaji and Kaduna ordinances, according to a report written by the office of the Chief of Army Staff, in the name of struggle against environmental degradation. In the end, they were rewarded with allowances, fat contracts and the presidency by Nigeria.
The people of the Northeast are not lesser Nigerians. Their case is not less inviting to arms. The world has witnessed their suffering as well as the inability of the government to defend them. Their right to self defence must, therefore, be acknowledged and nobody should feel aggrieved if they decide to assert that it.
Fortunately, they are not less brave than the Niger Deltans. It was here that the last battle against the British colonialists was fought by Sultan Attahiru at Bormi. This is the home of the Kanuri whose arms have guarded an indigenous African civilization for over two millennia. It is the house of the defiant and brave tribes of the Margi, Bachama, Higgi, Chamba and so many others that guarded their survival in the past with all gallantry and courage. That is not to mention the Fulani whose legendary stubbornness and valor are copiously acknowledged in the annals of African history. These people of the Northeast will soon showcase their noble ancestry by rising to protect their women, children and territory without giving a damn to whatever someone else will feel.
It is high time the emirs and chiefs of the occupied areas start preparing for a comeback from their exile in Abuja and other capitals. If the exigencies of the failure of the military to protect their towns have forced them to flee, the pride and tradition of their ancestors do not warrant the luxury of abandoning their people indefinitely. They must remain with them until death. These are the moments of test in which real leaders are known. They must start mobilizing their people to reclaim their lands. Staying in Abuja indefinitely waiting for the military alone to do the job is tantamount to cowardice and fleeing from the battlefield, something that is not in their noble blood.
And for the Lamido of Adamawa I have a special appeal. By his disposition, we expect that he will not wait until the insurgents see him flee the ancient city. As the Chairman of the Council of Traditional Rulers of his state, we look up to him to organize the civilian population to augment efforts of the military in protecting Yola and the remaining towns. Other Chiefs and Emirs will be there to support him. I am sure he can carry out this duty do without any hesitation.
In conclusion, I will repeat here that government still has a chance to maneuver by taking my first choice: arming thousands of civilian volunteers who will aid in expelling Boko Haram from the country. If it fails to take it, it must be assured that we the population here will not continue to remain idle. We will take the offer of nature with all pride and rescue our land and its people without recourse to anybody’s approval. Simple.
I will finally express my grief over the untold hardship brought to my people. Though still sufferring, they must not despair. When push comes to shove, we are coming to wipe the tears off their cheeks. We are coming, definately. We are coming.
2 November 2014