Derby (M), with two of his soldiers

By OBINNA EZUGWU

Battle hardened and long serving President of Chad, Idris Deby presides over a country of only 15 million people, a fraction compared to Nigeria’s estimated 200 million, and makes no claim to regional leadership. But there is a reason his name is now on the lips of most Nigerians. In the protracted war against Boko Haram insurgents in the country’s northeast region, Deby has continued to prove himself a dependable neighbour. And it’s thanks to him and his soldiers that Boko Haram is presently a bleeding enemy.

Soft-spoken and often wearing a pair of eye glasses, Deby hardly cuts a picture of an ideal dictator. But the man who has been in charge of his country since 1990 when, as leader of the Patriotic Salvation Movement, he led a successful rebellion against President Hissène Habré, has since proven himself a tough nut to crack.

He has survived many armed rebellions against his government, and in most instances, had had to take up the gun and fight to save his seat. As is common with Africa’s resident presidents, he has since transformed from a military dictator to a civilian one, standing for, and winning elections in 1996 and 2001, and after term limits were eliminated he won again in 2006, 2011, and 2016.

A resident president is not one Nigerians would by any stretch, want to contemplate. And no doubt, Deby, 68, has numerous faults. But within the past few days, he has become a darling to many Nigerians, and Boko Haram’s worst nightmare.

When few days ago, precisely between Monday March 24 and Tuesday March 25, insurgents ambushed and killed about 92 Chadian soldiers in Boma, a location in the Lake Chad borderland, they may not have realised that they were messing with the wrong country and the wrong president.

Of course, insurgents’ attacks on soldiers in Borno State and elsewhere in the northeast region have been a regular occurrence over the past years, and although information about real casualty figures have always been shrouded in controversy, it is estimated that they range from more than a few hundreds to thousands.

But the attacks have mostly been on Nigerian soldiers. And indeed, the country has remained the epicenter of the Boko Haram insurgency which broke out in Borno State in 2009.

However, the recent ambush and killing of Chadian soldiers may have changed the story of the Boko Haram war for good, and turned the tide heavily against the insurgents.

Deby has stepped up to the plate, proving to be a capable hand and a leader who is able to lead his troops from the front. With him actively motivating his soldiers, they are now, by several accounts, inflicting heavy blows on the insurgents.

Following the attack on his soldiers few days ago, Derby travelled to the region last week and declared the Wrath of Boma operation, vowing that “we must defeat terrorism for our people to live in peace.”

Adorned in full military regalia, he charged his troops to embark on “merciless operations” in the Lake Chad region. His charge has continued to prove a game changer.

On Sunday, March 29, Chadian soldiers launched heavy bombardment on Boko Haram positions in the area, killing many and destroying their camps.

About four days ago, the troops released a video showing several insurgents killed in what is apparently the highest casualty recorded by the group in recent years. The onslaught has continued.

Two days ago, the soldiers released pictures of captured Boko Haram arsenal to the admiration of many Nigerians who have since watched helplessly as the country’s own war against the terror group appeared to be making no headway.

“I can assure Chadians, the entire zone that borders with Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon is now under control, not even a single Boko Haram terrorist,” Deby declared after the campaign. “We taught them a lesson they will never forget, those of them still alive”

Following the onslaught, Abubakar Shekau, leader of a faction of the terror group released an audio clip in which he appeared to be consoling his fighters, and encouraging them not to abandon the course. It is a rare departure from his usual arrogant posturing in previous messages.

“The odd is heavily against the insurgents at the moment, they are retreating,” a Nigerian military source said. “The Chadians have been of great help. We are grateful to them. We hope to make more gains against them before the rains start. Otherwise it would prove difficult.”

The Chadian soldiers and Deby are, it bears restating, proving to be the game changers in the anti insurgency campaign. Feelers suggest that many insurgents are now retreating to hideouts close to local villages in the region.

But their successes have also come as a surprise to many Nigerians. The Nigerian soldiers on the front lines have continued to complain of lack of equipment. Billions of dollars have been expanded in the effort by the country, yet without, it would seem, much to show on the ground.

But Chad’s entire annual budget is about $2billion, a little sum compared to what Nigeria has spent on the war. Yet the Chadians are evidently better equipped and more motivated to fight. Deby and his troops successes may have proven the point that leading a successful effort against insurgents is not entirely about funds, but leadership motivation, transparency and determination. These, he has provided, but which appear to be lacking in Nigeria.