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Published On: Sun, Jan 6th, 2019

2019: Growing insecurity threatens polls 

Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, INEC Chairman

By OBINNA EZUGWU

It’s a little more than a month to the February 2019 general elections, but for a vast number of communities affected by terror in different parts of the country, particularly in the North East which is battling Boko Haram insurgents, the thought of an election is a luxury they can ill afford. Yet, the frontiers of insecurity is growing. In Zamfara, North West, a new brand of killers known as bandits have continued to wreak havoc, killing tens of people almost every week, while displacing communities. The story is hardly different in Sokoto, Kastina and Kaduna. Still, the herdsmen carnage in the North Central is rarely abating. The question many ask therefore is, how possible will it to have elections in these insecure areas?
Last week, Governor Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina lamented that no one is safe anymore in the state, not even himself. He noted that kidnapping, armed robbery, banditry and cattle rustling were now the order of the day in the state.
“Reports I receive from security agencies are all about threat of kidnapping, armed robbery and banditry,” the governor at an extraordinary security meeting in the state.
“Not one, not even myself, is safe. The Permanent Secretary was just informing me that the his close relative was kidnapped and a ransom of N5 million was demanded and the person who took the money to them was shot. Some people visited me, and as they left, they were trailed and robbed of their belongings.”
Masari’s outcry had come after his Zamfara counterpart, Abdulaziz Yari, in expressing his frustration with the continuing bloodletting in Zamfara, said he wouldn’t mind a state of emergency being imposed, or even stepping down all together.
In Borno where Boko Haram has continued its reign of terror, the state governor, Kashim Shettima equally cried out last week, admitting at an extraordinary security meeting he convened, that the security situation was getting worse.
Renewed Boko Haram onslaught in Borno has left communities devastated. On December 26, the terrorist group took control of six communities in the state: Baga, Doron-Baga, Kross Kuwwa, Bunduran, Kuwawa and Kekeno after launching coordinated attacks, causing residents to flee. Military posts, including Multinational forces headquarters, naval fighting base, police base, among others, were overrun.
Sources say there are not up to three hundred people left in Baga, Doro and other communities in Kuwawa local governments. Attacks on military installations have been relentless, with many soldiers killed and others unaccounted for.
Recent Report by the US Council on Foreign Relations said about 54,595 lives had been lost to the insurgents from 2011 to 2018.
Amnesty International put the figure of those killed in 17 states this year at 1,814. Millions have been displaced. Although billions of naira had been expended in prosecuting the war, the effort seems to have had little impact. Ten years on, Boko Haram is apparently waxing stronger.
Worse still, the splintering of the group into two factions seems to have compounded the challenge of dealing with situation; Abubakar Shekau no longer calls the shots as his leadership is being challenged by Abu Musaub al-Barnawi. Another frontier for terror – militant herdsmen – has been added making bad situation even worse.
Yet the murderous group which now holds sway in the North West, particularly Zamfara have proved capable of more mischief than people may have anticipated. A few days ago, it was reported that 21 people were killed. This was followed up by the killing of soldiers by the same group.
The recent killing of the former Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and onetime Chief of Air Staff (CAS) Air Chief Marshal (rtd.) Alex Badeh, 61 who was shot dead while returning to his farm along the Abuja-Keffi Road few days ago, as well as the former Chief of Administration of the Nigerian Army, Maj.-Gen. Idris Alkali, who was killed months ago, all lend credence to what has become a dire situation.
It’s a matter of weeks before the country goes to the polls, but with increasing insecurity and the displacement of communities that have come with it, many have expressed fear that the thought of peaceful polls may be farfetched.
Rising from its 5th General Assembly fortnight ago, Northern Traditional Rulers’ Council, warned that with the growing security challenges, the much awaited polls may be in jeopardy, as according to them, the situation was rising to catastrophic level.
“The rising wave of kidnapping and banditry, rising farmers-herders conflicts, resurgence of insurgency and other forms of criminalities may seriously affect the conduct of the 2019 elections,” the council said in a communique signed by its coordinating committee chairman, the Emir of Gummi, Justice Lawal Hassan.
The is fast emerging as the terror centre of the world and a nation perpetually at war. A Global security Index stipulates that any nation or a part thereof where 1000 or more people are killed in a year is technically at war. In its 2018 report, Global Index on Terrorism (GIT) put Nigeria as the third most terrorised country on the planet, behind Iraq and Afghanistan – the two nations battling ISIS and Taliban respectively.
Dubbed the world’s fourth most deadly terror group in the GTI’s, herdsmen have made life unlivable in the country’s Middle Belt region. It’s a conflict over land resource that has persisted for decades, but has got much worse in recent years with attendant bloodshed, destruction of properties and livelihood.
The US Council on Foreign Relations in its report said herdsmen have killed 19, 890 people since June 2015. It’s a conflict many say the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has shown unwillingness to tackle. And has instead, preoccupied itself with presenting a false image of the situation in view of the general election.
US based intelligence agency,  Defense & Foreign Affairs (DFA) had, in its latest report, said that Buhari’s government has “completely and comprehensively lost control of the engagement with Boko Haram” and that that it can show “no instance when the Government presently has tactical, theater, strategic, or information dominance of any aspect of the conflict.”
The report titled Nigeria’s “Buhari Government Massively Upgrades the Fight … to Protect Itself; But Boko Haram Still Dominates the Battlefield Analysis. From GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs, Abuja,” which was published on December 28, 2018, further stated that the Nigerian intelligence community itself is no longer sure what groups even comprise “Boko Haram”, nor has it addressed the international logistical, ideological, and support aspects contributing to the ongoing viability of the groups.
It noted that the “only significant engagement which the Nigerian military leadership — up to and including the National Security Advisor, Maj.-Gen. (rtd.) Mohammed Babagana Monguno — seems to prioritize is the fight to stop the leakage of information about massive corruption, running into the equivalent of many billions of dollars, in the purchase by senior military officers of major military capital goods and military consumables, including the troops’ own food.”
The desperation to hide this massive corruption, the report alleged, was the reason behind the killing of former Former Chief of Defence Staff Badeh, as well as Maj.-Gen. Idris Alkali.
In its recent report titled “Harvest of Death,” Amnesty International said 57 percent of 3,641 deaths in the hands of herdsmen occurred in 2018. The human rights body accused the country’s security forces of showing “gross incompetence” and failing in its duty to protecting lives in the region.
The body said security forces were often positioned close to the attacks, which according to it, often lasted for hours and days and yet, they could not act. It further said the forces sometimes had prior information of an imminent attack but did nothing to stop it.
“Nigerian government has displayed what can only be described as gross incompetence and has failed in its duty to protect the lives of its population and end the intensifying conflict between herders and farmers,” said Osai Ojigho, AI’s director for Nigeria.
“The authorities’ lethargy has allowed impunity to flourish and the killings spread to other parts of the country, inflicting greater suffering on communities who already live in constant of next attack.”
It’s a submission that is consistent with several accounts of community members in the past. Indeed, former army chief, Gen. T.Y. Danjuma had gone as far as accusing the military of colluding with the herdsmen. But it’s an accusation the army staunchly denied. It has also denied the recent allegations by Amnesty, accusing the rights group of trying to destroy the country and calling for the closure of its office in the country.
“They (AI) have tried over the years using Boko Haram terrorists’ conflict, Islamic Movement in Nigeria, some activists and now herders/farmers conflicts. The NGO is on the verge of releasing yet another concocted report against the military,” a statement by army spokesman, Brigadier General Sani Usman said in response to the report.
“Consequently, Nigeria should be wary of the Amnesty International (Nigeria) because its’ goals are to destabilize Nigeria and to dismember it. The Nigerian Army has no option than to call for the closure of AI’s offices in Nigeria, if such recklessness continues.”
It’s a continuation of what has been a cat and mouse relationship between the army and Amnesty. In March, the rights body accused the army of failing to act on intelligence before the abduction of over 100 school girls in Dapchi, Yobe State. In May, the group also alleged the army was raping women who escaped Boko Haram in the North East, both of which the army denied.
Accusations of top military officials and local leaders profiteering from the conflict are rife. Many say the conflict currently costing the nation huge sums of money has become a racket. And that in part, explains why the war is not abating.
“I think there must be some people who are benefiting from what is going on in the North East,” said Akogun Tola Adeniyi, veteran columnist, author and former Managing Director of the Daily Times.  “Some people are really benefiting hugely from Boko Haram in purchase of arms, in strategies and several other ways. And they are powerful people.”
For residents of the beleaguered region, it has been a life of misery, pain and uncertainty. For soldiers in the front lines, confronting an enemy now perhaps better equipped and more motivated, they say is almost tantamount to suicide. And they have their superiors and the Buhari government to blame for the lack of sufficient fighting equipment.
“I can’t just tell you how it feels,” a distraught soldier fighting in Borno lamented. “It’s very devastating. We are treated as if we are not humans. But we are humans, we have families, we are here doing this for the love of Nigeria. Give me all I need I will give you 100 percent,” said the soldier who didn’t want his name in print.
“You cannot put 300 soldiers at a location, give them T72 tank of 1960 and one or two Hilux vans and you say they should fight Boko Haram that ISIS has fortified with the latest fire power. Boko Haram comes to attack with sophisticated weapons.”
Indeed, Brigadier General Usman, army spokesman had disclosed days ago that the terror group had started using drones and foreign fighters.
“We have noticed daring moves by the terrorists, increased use of drones against our defensive positions and infusion of foreign fighters in their ranks. These potent threats require us to continually review our operations,” he said, while assuring that the force is prepared to tackle the challenge. It has thus far failed to do so.
It’s a familiar story. Following the unfortunate attack on soldiers in Metele, in which not less than hundred soldiers lost their lives to Boko Haram, BusinessHallmark caught up with a soldier whose tour of duty at the front lines in Borno had only come to a momentary end days before. The soldier had been in the North Eastern State for nine years. And according to him, the war against the terror group has become, in a sense, a field of deceit, death and destruction.
“It’s a tale of woes,” he had said. “The soldiers are poorly paid, scarcely fed, and poorly equipped. Boko Haram is increasingly gaining the upper hand.”
The Metele attack served as a sharp reminder that contrary to claims by the President Muhammadu Buhari led federal government of ‘technically’ defeating Boko Haram, the group is alive and well.
“It’s almost an unwinnable war,” the soldier had continued. “Boko Haram is waxing strong and parades the kind of weapons the army doesn’t have. In this latest attack, the surviving soldiers confessed to me that they had never seen the type of guns the group used in all their lives in the military. The guns can shoot for 30 minutes non-stop.”
Evidence of recent attacks by the terror group suggests that things are hardly getting any better. Soldiers who went to retrieve those killed in Metele faced another onslaught from Boko Haram, forcing them to beat a hasty retreat.
Attacks on army formations have continued without relenting. The Metele base attack was followed by another on a military base in Cross-Kauwa village in Borno, near Lake Chad. Just last week, the insurgents attacked Maiborinti, a remote settlement in Molai near Maiduguri, forcing scores of residents to flee their homes.
“Buhari is a disappointment,” one soldier blurted out. “(Goodluck) Jonathan was voted out for failing to do the right things, yes, but Jonathan was more effective than Buhari and he had us at heart.”
The renewed attacks had led to an emergency meeting conveyed by President Buhari with the Lake Chad Basin countries to find lasting ways of dealing with this new upsurge. The development led to relocation of the Chief of Army Staff conference from Uyo in Akwa Ibom state to Maiduguri, Borno state which Buhari attended and delivered a marching order to the military.
But soldiers who gave situation reports to BusinessHallmark say nothing has changed. And Buhari has disappointed them. Borno, and indeed the North East, is gradually becoming uninhabitable. And the consequence, according to Hon. Sani Mohammed, member of Federal House of Reps whose team went on an oversight function in the zone two months ago, it will have impact on other parts of the country.
“The northern part of the country has failed in so much part of it,” Sani told his colleagues on the floor of the House few weeks ago. The video had indeed gone viral. “And my fear is that this grave situation will have contagious effect on other parts of the country. There is no doubt about it.
He lamented that Bama which used to be the second largest city after Maiduguri hosts less than 200 people presently as residents have fled due to Boko Haram attacks.
The above is a ‘reality’ the Buhari administration has been coy about. The president, as candidate of the APC in 2014, had promised to lead the battle against the insurgents from the frontline and to bring an end to it in only a matter of months. The then incumbent Jonathan had apparently failed abysmally in that regard. Buhari offered new hope, one that many bought into.
It’s almost four years since the president took over. Boko Haram is still wreaking havoc. Buhari has another election to face next and somehow, there appears to be a deliberate attempt to give the impression that things are a lot better than it used to be under the Jonathan government, and that Buhari has delivered on his promise.
“Boko Haram has been active all these years,” Adeniyi said. “What has been said by government to the contrary have tissue of lies. They said it was degraded, they said it was technically defeated, but those are lies.”
The administration had ostensibly laid claim to technically defeating the group. It’s a claim that has long been overtaken by events. It has turned out to be an obvious misrepresentation of facts. A few days ago, soldiers recorded a distress video of what they go through in Sambisa Forest, lamenting what they called poor state of their weapons which according to them, were procured during the Shehu Shagari era in the late 70s and early 80s.
“They (military commanders) are using us to make money,” soldiers had lamented in the video while showing tanks and other military hardware destroyed by the terrorists. “They say we are zombies.”
The soldiers alleged that the military authorities are using them to make money, confirming earlier revelations that the war has become a racket for generals and community leaders.
“They gave us equipments bought during the Shagari government, that’s what we are using and it is outdated. The Nigerian Army is using us for business. We lost 200 soldiers. There are only 150 of us left, and they want to waste us.”
Claims of soldiers fighting with outdated weapons, and being shabbily treated, have persisted despite huge sums of money being spent to procure military hardware and other logistics, including welfare. It’s one topic our correspondent sought clarifications from the affected soldiers. And the answer was largely in the affirmative.
 “Yes, I thank God for Shehu Shagari. It’s the weapons he bought that year that we are using till today,” one of the soldiers said.
“Our aircrafts, rockets, bombs, missiles, cannons are 90 percent the ones Shagari bought. Buhari has not bought anything. The ones they paid for in this administration would come in 2022 and 2024. Aircraft contracts take long. So, whatever Buhari pays for I doubt if he would enjoy in his administration. Goodluck bought tanks and platforms.”
There is yet another dimension to the events in the region. Boko Haram, which literally translates to,      Western Education is forbidden, or a sin; is fighting what is seen as a religious war; a jihad to enthrone a caliphate in the region, and perhaps the entire country. Some soldiers have, in what represents a new twist, alleged that there is a wider religious war being waged, and such war has backing from interests outside and within the country.
“What is happening I feel is an attempt to conquer Nigeria using Boko Haram,” one soldier said. “If you look at what is going on, it is not that the soldiers are not ready to fight, but people in government and in the military are sabotaging the war.”
The soldier who craved anonymity said support for the terrorist group also comes from outside the country and other groups such as ISIS, and that the level of devastation by soldiers has been enormous.
“If you go to Ikeja Cantonment, there is hardly anyone who doesn’t know someone who has died or a woman who has lost a husband,” the soldier said. “There are many who are not accounted for. They have not been declared dead, but their whereabouts have been unknown for years.”
But the fact that the group attack both Christians and Muslims, and have historically bombed Mosques as much as they have bombed churches, some insist its not an Islamic war and has nothing to do with religion.
“You need to know the root cause of Boko Haram before you can end it. And the root cause of Boko Haram is the cold blooded murder Mohammed Yusuf. The government did not appreciate the anger of Yusuf’s followers. It is therefore, more of a psychological war,” Adeniyi said.
“We must know why they are fighting the society. As we have seen, they are fighting Muslims; they are fighting Christians, destroying churches and mosques. So, it’s really not a religious insurgency. It is more of anger and bitterness against society and against the government.”
There seemed to be a consensus from amongst the soldiers that the war is not as difficult as it is being made out. And that with the right equipment and support, the terror group can be defeated in months.
“The military high command in Nigeria is indulged and pampered by the presidency,” said Adeniyi. “All the heads of the armed forces have reached retirement age. I don’t know why the president is allowing them to stay on. Maybe that’s why they see themselves as untouchables. I don’t know why they should take on the UNICEF or any international agency. Are they supporting Boko Haram?
“It’s the government themselves that captured some members of Boko Haram, told the world that those they captured have now repented, and then reabsorbed them into the military. What kind of nonsense is that?”
“As a former military general and head of state, we expected Buhari to do better,” said Comrade Alimi Suleiman, Chairman, Centre for Human Rights and Social Justice. “But he has demonstrated total lack of capacity in handling Boko Haram, including the Chief of Army Staff, General Buratai, who is from there. I wonder why he has not been removed.”
Adeniyi insists, however, that it would have been unrealistic to expect that Buhari can defeat Boko Haram, having according to him, expressed lack of support for using force against the group in the past.
“I didn’t expect anything different, because I knew from day one that the Buhari presidency would not be able to tackle Boko Haram in the sense that years back when Buhari was not head of state, he challenged Jonathan government not to touch Boko Haram, which was a shock that time to discerning Nigerians that someone of his status could say that. So, when he became president, I didn’t expect anything different.”
But the president has insisted that his administration has been doing its best. When he visited Maiduguri in the aftermath of the Metele attack, he drew comparisons between his administration and the one it replaced, and concluded he has done better.
“We have to remind ourselves where we were and where we are now and what happened in-between. People of Borno know what we did in the last three years. The situation would have been worse,” he said. Buratai made the same argument, noting that internal security had greatly improved from what it was in 2015 when Buhari assumed office.
Nonetheless, the Shehu of Borno Abubakar Elkanemi, whom he paid a courtesy visit didn’t seem to agree.
“It is unfortunate that despite all efforts put in place to restore peace in our land and the north-east, we the people of Borno state are still under Boko Haram siege,” he told the president. “”Nobody can dare move out of Maiduguri by 10 kilometres without being confronted, attacked by Boko Haram.”
“Quite a number of farmers are being killed and kidnapped on a daily basis around Molai General Area, which is just 10 kilometres away from the metropolis, along Maiduguri -Damboa -Biu road. Most of the surrounding villages and communities in Konduga, Damboa, Mafa and other local government areas have been razed down in the last two weeks.”

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