In the run up to the 2015 presidential elections, my mind was sure made up: Buhari was the man for the job.
My conviction was sourced from my experiences in Maiduguri. My first visit to Maiduguri was in late 1982 when I was detailed by the New Nigerian to cover the Maitatsine uprising in the Burunkutu quarters of the town.
Burunkutu was not my first encounter with Maitatsine. I earlier covered their first outing in Kano in 1980.In both instances, I witnessed first- hand the adverse effects of violent social upheavals on prosperous urban communities.
By 1983 some renegade soldiers from the war weary neighbouring country of Chad crossed over into Nigerian territory. They terrorized and killed some Nigerian fishermen around Lake Chad and were even daring enough to kill some Nigerian soldiers.
An incensed President Shehu Shagari ordered the 3rdMechanisedDivision based in Jos to flush out the renegades. My editors at the New Nigerian sent me to cover the encounter.
The Division moved in and immediately routed the invaders. The General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Division, Major General Muhammadu Buhari then decided to embark on the internationally accepted policy of ‘hot pursuit’. As a young carefree reporter, it was fun to be embedded with the all-conquering military juggernaut of General Buhari. He conquered territories deep into Chad.
I was happy and proud of his exploits. My reports were lavishly placed on the front page of the New Nigerian and frequently relayed by Africa Service of the BBC. But President Shagari was angry.
The 1979 Constitution which he swore to uphold and defend made it mandatory for the President to approach and seek the permission of the National Assembly before declaring war. He had ordered Buhari to repel an invasion on Nigerian territory and not to embark on an invasion of his own. The implication of the hot-pursuit (invasion) of Chad was that Nigeria was at war – a serious breach of the Constitution since the approval of the National Assembly was neither sought nor granted.
Given the parlous state of our security, particularly in the North East as the 2015 elections approached, I remembered with nostalgia our invasion of Chad in 1983. Certainly, a man who gave Chad a bloody nose could deal ruthlessly with Boko Haram, or so I thought.
It looked good from the start. President Buhari on assumption of office on 29th May 2015 immediately ordered the Chief of Army Staff and other commanders of the war against Boko Haram to relocate from Abuja to Maiduguri, the main theatre of war. This was a very inspiring move to all those who were interested in bringing the scourge to an end.
Then, the military under the new Commander in chief recorded stunning successes. So much so that on Christmas eve, 24th December 2015, the President gave us a pleasant Christmas gift: Boko Haram he announced while speaking to the BBC was “technically defeated”. The group, he explained further could no longer engage in “conventional attacks” against civilian or military targets.
About a year later on 22 December 2016, the Theatre Commander, Operation Lafia Dole told the world that the last stronghold of Boko Haram deep inside the dreaded Sambisa forest had been cleared. Still more than a year later on February 4 2018 Major General Rogers Nicholas, the then theatre Commander of Operation Deep Punch 11 announced that the military had “dislodged and occupied the insurgent’s technical ground, “Camp Zero.”
Those of us who are not experts in military matters became suspect of what was going on and the true meaning of these terms. Clearly, the victories our military celebrated were pyric victories. If they captured any grounds, the insurgents soon came back to recapture such grounds because they could not hold onto such territories.
In the euphoria of Buhari’s victory in 2015, I had contacted Ahmed Salkida, the reporter with vast knowledge of Boko Haram who had been bullied into exile by security agents under President Goodluck Jonathan. I advised him to come back home and help put an end to the scourge. He came but gave me a discouraging report after his meeting with the security top brass. “Oga, nothing has changed”, he said in response to my inquiries about his encounter with them.
Amazingly, in the midst of his encounters with our security top brass, they woke up one day and declared him aBoko Haram collaborator and a wanted international terrorist. It was front page news globally. I was devastated. Salkida is back to Nigeria. His profiling as a terrorist made him a persona non grata to his host country of exile. The Nigeria security services are yet to press charges against him after damaging his name.
As he rightly observed, nothing has really changed. On the night of April 14-15 2014, Boko Haram invaded Chibok and abducted 276 Secondary School girls. The Buhari government has been able to negotiate the release of82 of the girls but others still remain in captivity. Then on February 19 2018, Boko Haram again invaded Government Girls Science and Technical College (GGSTC) in Dapchi, Yobe State and took away 110 girls. Some of the girls were reported to have died in captivity while one, Leah Sharibu, is still being held. Ahmed Salkida told me recently that Leah is been held because not only did she refuse to convert to Islam but for the fact that she is the daughter of a Policeman.
Are we going back to the days of Goodluck Jonathan? OnAugust 12 2018, a group of soldiers stationedat the Maiduguri International Airport staged what seemed a mutiny following their protest over military authority’s move to deploy them to the frontline.
The soldiers insisted that the deployment would put them in danger following the fact that those deployed earlier suffered serious casualties due to inadequate arms and ammunition.
The military command in Maiduguri disputed the claims of the soldiers and some of the revolting soldiers were later court-martialed.On May 14 2014 soldiers in Maiduguri had equally revolted on similar grounds and were court-martialed by the Jonathan government.
What has happened to the huge budgetary allocations to the military by President Buhari. Is there a Col Sambo Dasukithe second pocketing the money?
Since the middle of this year, there have been several media reports of the deaths of our soldiers on the frontline.
These reports have been routinely disputed by military authorities. Then came the media reports that over 100 Nigerian soldiers were mowed down at Metele military camp in Borno state. The military have finally put the number of casualties down to 23.
Still, there is every indication that there is something wrong with the fight against Boko Haram. Again, those of us who are not experts in military matters must remain circumspect in rushing to offer comments.
The most damning report on the situation was given by the Shehu of BornoAlhaji Abubakar Ibn Umar Gabai El-Kanemi. He told President Muhammadu Buhari who paid him a courtesy visit last week that:
“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. “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.
“We plead that the federal government and the security agencies review the strategies in nipping this lingering crisis in the bud.”
Certainly, the Boko Haram menace is still very much with us.