By Akanimo Sampson
Boko Haram still remains a threat to security in the North-East axis of Nigeria, Human Rights Watch has said in its World Report 2019 on Nigeria. The verdict is coming despite notable military advances, and a seeming premature proclamations of the jihadists’ group defeat by government forces.
Disturbingly, the Premium Times reported that on Thursday, the rampaging terrorists killed 11 soldiers and wounded 14 in an ambush on a military convoy in Borno State.
Thirty-four brave troops of 154 Task Force Battalion, including two officers, were on a patrol of Mauli-Borgozo area of battle when Boko Haram fighters unleashed terror on their convoy, killing 11 and wounding 14.
The battle began at about 11:25 a.m., but it was unclear how long it lasted before the terrorists disappeared. Two soldiers were declared missing in action as part of the attack, military sources said under anonymity.
The injured, including an officer, have all been evacuated to the Nigerian Army medical centre in Maiduguri. They were administered first aid at the Benisheik Super Camp in Borno.
The terrorists stole 11 AK-47 rifles from the soldiers they killed. They also made away with an anti-aircraft gun truck. A gun truck and a military lorry used in conveying officers and equipment were damaged by the insurgents.
Locals said at least 15 civilians were killed in the attack; it was unclear if any of them belonged to Boko Haram. A spokesperson for the Nigerian Army did not return requests for comments.
The terror group has been largely successful in its rapid attacks on Nigerian troops, with soldiers being lost at a high rate in many firefights. Hundreds of soldiers have been killed since July 2018, and the military lost more than 100 men in a single attack in November that year.
The apparent helplessness of the military leadership to forestall the wanton loss of personnel to insurgents serves as an indication of the precarious state of the war, said security analyst Olumide Adesanya.
“What we have seen over the past year and now come to accept is that Boko Haram is getting stronger and the army has been responding to the situation from one lousy strategy to another,’’ Adesanya said. “Military casualties should not be a daily affair, if we have a good strategy against Boko Haram.’’
Following the repeated takeover of military bases that resulted in heavy personnel casualties, the military announced a few weeks ago that soldiers would no longer be camped in small units. A super camp model was initiated as a replacement.
Military chiefs said it would be difficult for Boko Haram to attack super camps, while responses to the insurgents’ activities would be more effectively coordinated from the camps. But there have been no immediate signs that the new strategy was curtailing attacks. Within the past one month, Boko Haram has carried out about a dozen attacks, inflicting heavy casualties.
On September 6, the insurgents ambushed a military convoy and seized a large amount of cash said to be ration cash allowance for soldiers. On September 29, 18 soldiers were reportedly killed after insurgents entered Gubio local government area in Borno and attacked a military unit securing the area.
Following the attack, the military declared 22 soldiers in the company, including a major, as deserters and a manhunt was launched for them. It was unclear whether any of them had been arrested.
Adesanya acknowledged that bombings by Boko Haram have reduced in recent years, but said the regular killing of soldiers was equally as damaging to the country’s overall interest.
“It is also difficult to ignore Boko Haram propaganda that they deliberately stopped bombing to directly focus on incapacitating the military,’’ the analyst said. ‘It used to be very difficult for ragtags like Boko Haram to kill a single soldier, but now barracks and brigades are being attacked and dozens of soldiers killed in one fell swoop.’’
The analyst blamed endemic corruption and incompetence of military chiefs for the devastating toll of the Boko Haram war. “The insurgents to me are stronger now than they were when they launched their deadly campaign 10 years ago, and I blame this on corruption and incompetence among service chiefs,’’ he said.
Nigerian soldiers have perennially complained about an acute lack of modern equipment to effectively combat insurgents, who often launch attacks with hardware believed to be more sophisticated in comparison. They blamed their situation on corruption and greed among their superiors.
In July, a major scandal broke when soldiers carted away a large but yet-to-be-determined amount of cash in a botched suspicious cash movement errand for a senior military commander. Military chiefs have denied all allegations of corruption and continued to proclaim victory over Boko Haram, disregarding the reality on the ground.
Meanwhile, according to the rights group report, “abductions, suicide bombings, and attacks on civilian targets by Boko Haram persisted. At least 1,200 people died and nearly 200,000 were displaced in the northeast in 2018. In June, at least 84 people were killed in double suicide bomb attacks attributed to Boko Haram at a mosque in Mubi, Adamawa State.
“Decades old communal conflict between nomadic herdsmen and farmers in the Middle Belt intensified in 2018 and further exacerbated the security situation in the country. At least 1,600 people were killed and another 300,000 displaced as a result of the violence.’’
The rights group said although the Islamic insurgents’ territorial control shrank to small pockets of villages around Lake Chad as a result of sustained government military action, “factions of the insurgency group continued to carry out attacks against civilians in the region.
“In February, insurgents abducted 110 schoolgirls from Dapchi, Yobe State, in a style reminiscent of the 2014 abduction of 276 Chibok school girls. One hundred and four of the Dapchi girls were released two weeks later after negotiations with the government. Five of the remaining girls reportedly died in captivity and one girl, Leah Sharibu, continues to be held hostage allegedly for refusing to deny her Christian faith. About 100 of the Chibok schoolgirls remain unaccounted for.
“In September and October, Boko Haram insurgents executed Saifura Ahmed and Hauwa Liman, both aid workers with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The group kidnapped them in March.
“In June, twin suicide bomb attacks and grenade explosions by suspected Boko Haram fighters killed 31 people and injured 48 others during Muslim religious celebrations in Damboa, Borno State. The attack occurred in the wake of Chief of Army Staff Tukur Buratai’s speech encouraging displaced people to return to their communities.’’
Continuing, the rights group report said over 35,000 internally displaced people returned to northeast communities despite security concerns and lack of basic necessities, including food and shelter. Within two months of the return of 25,000 people to Gudumbali Borno State in July, suspected members of Boko Haram’s Islamic State’s West Africa franchise killed eight people and temporarily took control of the town.
“Between October 2017 and July 2018, authorities conducted three rounds of trials of over 1,500 Boko Haram suspects in a military base in Kainji Niger State. Some defendants had been in detention since 2009 and the majority faced charges of material and non-violent support to Boko Haram. The trials were fraught with irregularities, including lack of interpreters, inadequate legal defense, lack of prosecutable evidence or witnesses and non-participation of victims,’’ the report added.