Chibok, Sambisa and the Struggle for Liberation
Jibrin Ibrahim, Deepening Democracy Column, Daily Trust, 30th December 2016
On one front at least, the year 2016 is ending on a positive note. One week ago, camp zero in Sambisa forest, the veritable world headquarters of the Islamic State in West Africa was taken by the gallant armed forces of Nigeria. 1,240 Boko Haram fighters were taken prisoners over the period and reports indicate that the flag of Abubakar Shekau was recovered after he had apparently fled the area. The war against Boko Haram, which was announced to have technically ended in December 2015, is finally ending. The cost has been very high. At least 15 million people have been directly affected by the insurgency. So many officers and men of Nigeria's armed forces and over 20,000 civilians have lost their lives. Millions of people in the North East have been displaced within and outside the country. Today, at least 100,000 people in the zone are facing severe malnutrition and even starvation and in Borno State, at least half of the homes have been destroyed.
It was for these reasons that the Nigerian State had to destroy the Boko Haram movement and it's pleasing to end the year on the note that it's actually happening. Its clear Boko Haram is being defeated and it has had to change its tactics to essentially sending innocent girls as unwitting vehicles delivering bombs that are killing other innocent civilians. Their leader Abubakar Shekau remains an enigma by releasing videos every time he is declared dead or defeated. It appears that this time, if he is not dead, he is in hiding and his capacity for military action is clearly degraded. The emerging victory must be consolidated and extended to other spheres of conflict in the country.
The common wisdom in Nigeria is that Boko Haram should never have developed the military capacity to carry out the mayhem and atrocities it has carried out against the Nigerian people. It should have been destroyed and mopped up when it was still a rag tag group of insurgents. Through the non-challant attitude of the previous administration and massive corruption that made it difficult for the armed forces to carry out its tasks at the time, Boko Haram developed strong military capabilities, mainly from our army, occupied and kept significant Nigerian territory leading to its declaration of a Caliphate. We are today turning the page to that sad and frightening episode of our history.
Sambisa has fallen but the majority of the Chibok Girls have still not be founded and liberated. For a long time, the expectation was that they had been kept captive in the forest and the liberation of the forest would lead to their freedom. Today, 991 after their capture and bondage by Boko Haram on 14th April 2014, 196 girls remain in captivity. No one had imagined that the girls would be in captivity for so long. The Chibok Girls have remained one of the top concerns for the entire world as a statement of what should not happen. Girls must not be captured and enslaved simply because they went to do to school to acquire knowledge. It had been assumed that slavery was abolished two centuries ago so it was a real shock to see a movement openly proclaiming that it had enslaved human beings. It was for that reason that the whole world had been been demanding from the Nigerian Government to #BringBackOurGirls. The attitude of the Jonathan Administration was that they did not care about these particular citizens. For that reason, the Chibok Girls became a huge statement about the Nigerian State because it revealed to the world a clear narrative about the Nigerian State not caring about the fate of its citizens.
The Buhari Administration came into office with a singular determination to crush the Boko Haram insurgency. Success took them much longer than they had anticipated. Their first challenge was to recreate a fighting force from an army that was already used to two forms of action only - corruption and running away from the war front. We must commend the President, the Armed Forces High Command and our troops for building back the capacity of our forces to the level where it could begin to fight again. I recall that at the beginning of the struggle for the liberation of the Chibok Girls, we had gone to the Defence Headquarters to demand why no action was being taken to rescue the girls. The response we got from the military high command was that the Nigerian armed forces had not received new military assets since the Shagari regime of 1079-1983 and were not in a position to fight the insurgents. Following the probe of the $2.1 billion, we now know that a lot of money was released to the armed forces by the Jonathan Administration for arms procurement but that most of the money was simply stolen. Our prayers today are that the struggle against the insurgents should continue until all those captured by the insurgency are found and liberated. Chibok for me has always been a signifier for all those placed into bondage by the insurgency. The girls became important as the global symbol for the defence of the dignity and sanctity of human life; of the girl child, of women, of the right to education and for defending all those that are oppressed. It is for this reason that all those placed into bondage by the insurgents must be liberated by the Nigerian State.
The Nigerian State is today facing many other security challenges. These include herdsmen/farmers killings, cattle rustling and rural banditry, kidnapping and the return of militancy in the Niger Delta. The security agencies are stretched but this is not the time to relax their efforts. We must all strive to make 2017 the year in which significant progress can be made in liberating Nigeria and its people from the forces of evil and destruction. It is important to note however that the insurgency in the North East is an expression of the underdevelopment in the zone, which would require urgent action. The North East is however only marginally more underdeveloped than the rest of the country. The response of promoting development must therefore be broad based and national. The various crises affecting different parts of the country have created a vast humanitarian crisis affecting millions of internally displaced Nigerians and hundreds of thousands of refugees spread across the three neighbouring countries that must be addressed. The challenge before the Nation is the reconstruction of the Nigerian State and the placement of the safety and welfare of Nigerians at the centre of the governance agenda. Let 2017 be the year in which the reconstruction of the Nigerian State makes significant progress. Wishing a great new year to all my readers.
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