Nigerian Military And The Ghost Of Dapchi By Amadin Uyi
The kidnap of over two hundred girls from the government secondary school Chibok on April the fourteenth 2014, sent a chilling message across the world. It became evident that Boko Haram had come of age and was notoriously worthy to be mentioned among known terrorists worldwide. The group which had made its intention clear from its name “Boko Haram”, which when translated into English literally means “western education is evil” had relentless attacked any that came across its path. Boko Haram had waged a campaign against a Nigerian state which up until the Chibok Kidnap saga was ill prepared and ill equipped to confront an enemy that had built its expertise in asymmetric warfare and infamously known for its cruel and bloodthirsty campaign aimed at spreading its own version of sharia across the country.
Chibok was not one of the firsts of Boko haram’s many atrocities, infact barely two months earlier on the twenty-eighth of February 2014, the group had attacked the Federal Government College Buni Yadi in Yobe state killing fifty-eight students between the ages of Sixteen (16) to twenty (20), an act the former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan described as “callous and senseless murder … by deranged terrorists and fanatics who have clearly lost all human morality and descended to bestiality”, however with Chibok the strategy changed, unlike in Buni Yadi where the girls were released and warned never to return to school, here the girls were abducted.
Government’s indecision then also complicated efforts aimed at rescuing the girls as there was no clear cut policy and strategy on how to engage the terrorists, whether sheer negotiations or outright use of force by deploying boots to the theatre of warfare, former Boko Haram negotiator now a Senator of the Federal Republic Senator Shehu Sani made it very clear, the Government was indecisive to apply negotiation tactics to free the abducted school girls, a decision they would live to regret
Senator Sani lamented then when he said “As long as the girls remain in the captivity of the terrorists, they have the upper hand… Government must realize that the girls represent the future of Nigeria, they should not be left with Boko Haram” true to his words, their kidnap heralded the loss of public confidence which would later cost the government a re-election bid.
Fast forward to two thousand and eighteen, the scenario is different, unlike four years earlier, the terrorists campaign was on the ascent, months after the Chibok kidnap, territories as large as the size of Belgium were captured and a new government put in place where citizens were mandated to pay taxes to the group, Gwoza, Bama, Baga, Madagali, Minchika, Uba, Mubi and many others were among the communities that fell to the terrorists.
But through a relentless campaign, the Nigerian military reclaimed almost all communities, an ecstatic Chief of Army staff said in one of his routine visits to the North East, the epicenter of the Boko Haram campaign “The terrorists have been reduced to petty criminals and mere thieves capable of attacking only soft targets”, while many Nigerians had discarded the statements as propaganda, of a truth the Army Chief was right, Boko Haram was finding it increasingly difficult to stage coordinated attacks and they were rarely happening.
The news of the Dapchi Kidnap had come as a surprise to many, this was because the political class had gloated over the near defeat of the terrorists, the new song in the air which had come from political leaders led by the Minister of information Lai Mohammed was that “Boko Haram has been technically defeated”, others also added their voice to the rhythm saying “The group has been degraded”. For many skeptics, there was a need for caution especially considering the fact that terrorists groups are not easily wiped out and following examples from Al Qaeda, the Taliban and others, government needed to continue its relentless efforts in annihilating the last remnants of the terrorists group.
However Boko Haram needed a big publicity break and in Dapchi kidnap it got one. It was a big blow on the psyche of the government especially considering the fact that its recent military operation codenamed “Operation Deep Punch II” targeted at the insurgents around the Lake Chad basin led by factional leader Al Barnawi was yielding results. Those who had been holed up around the Sambisa area and led by infamous leader Abubakar Shekau had been the focus in the last four years but now their counterparts at the lake Chad basin were in disarray and on the run as island after island received the heat from the Nigerian army ground forces, the Nigerian Navy special forces and the Nigerian Airforce superior firepower.
Dapchi kidnap threatened to erase these gains in the minds of Nigerians as the successful abduction of about a hundred and ten (110) school girls exposed hidden flaws of the ongoing military campaign. Renowned security expert and Chief executive of Beacon Security Kabir Adamu said clearly “Dapchi was a failure of Nigeria’s Intelligence apparatus, this is the time to ask questions”. The execution of the abduction sent shivers down the spines of many Nigerians considering the facts that information available revealed that the terrorists operated for close to two hours without any resistance from a police post a stone throw from the school and a military expected to be able to deploy patrols to troubled spots.
It became clear that hundreds of schools in the North East were sitting ducks waiting to be taken advantage of. Clearly the Nigeria police and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps saddled with the protection of the civilian populace and critical national assets were incapable of living up to their responsibilities, if the military the face of the counter-insurgency campaign was incapable of preventing the Dapchi kidnap, then it was evident the Nigerian Governemnt needed to go back to the drawing board.
President Muhammadu Buhari had promised that those found wanting would be brought to book and this was further reaffirmed by the Chief of Army staff as he warned senior officers at the Nigerian Army first quarter conference of 2018 of sanctions in very strong words “Commanders will be held liable for any lapses arising from their actions and inactions”. The army Chief went further to admit that the Army had identified lapses in some of its operations.
The subsequent negotiation and eventual release of the Kidnapped Dapchi girls save one of them received commendation from many Nigerians, however the incidence takes the Military back to square one in terms of public confidence on its ability to finish the last remnants of the insurgents. Infact, it is clear that the Nigerian military will have to exorcise its own ghosts; the demons of Dapchi to change public perception of its successes. It will also be fair to conclude that while Dachi kidnap should never have happened, it should not be used as a yardstick to measure the efforts and successes of the Nigerian military and its counter-terrorism efforts
Amadin Uyi is a Journalist based in Abuja, he can be reached via [email protected]