By Ignatius Arinze
A few weeks ago, in the town of Dapchi in Yobe State, no fewer than 110 Nigerian girls, who are students of the Government Girls’ Science and Technical College who were in School to acquire knowledge were abducted by gunmen believed to be the dreaded Boko Haram. According to the account of some of the girls who were lucky to escape by sheer instinct, the terrorists came dressed in Army uniform and the confusion this dressing created in the minds of the impressionable young girls, made it difficult for many of them to escape.
Thus for the second time in four years, Nigeria and its people and more especially, parents of young people who went in search of education had fallen victim to the cheap but deadly tactics of the Boko Haram, namely kidnapping.
The first time that the country had a taste of that evil called mass kidnapping, was on the 14th of April, 2014 when the same Boko Haram easily entered the Government Secondary School in Chibok and in movie style, took away from the School, about 250 young girls. While a number of them have been rescued courtesy of negotiations and ransom payment by the caring Buhari administration, Nigerians and the parents of the remaining girls have waited with bated breath for the return of the rest. Therefore, the abduction at Dapchi is one too many as it strikes at the heart of the nation.
As the title of this essay says, bad and condemnable as the recent abduction in Dapchi, Yobe State sounds, in view of the giant strides made by the administration of PMB in degrading and routing the Boko Haram, it will be unfair, very unfair indeed to blame this inhuman incident on President Muhammadu Buhari, as some detractors of the president are already doing, for political gain.
To be fair to President Buhari, he has provided leadership and gingered the professionalism of the armed forces of Nigeria since he came to office in May 2015 with the result that the Nigerian Army which was a sorry sight in the fight against the Boko Haram regained its form in a short while and rolled back the advances of the terrorists. If we cast our minds back to the dramatic way the Islamic State, now facing defeat in Syria and routed in Iraq, initially mesmerized and overwhelmed the Iraqi Army before the Iraqi political leadership with the help of foreign allies of Iraq rallied back to push them out of Iraq, is the story of the Boko Haram and the Nigeria Army, before the coming of PMB.
The problem with fighting terrorism is that it takes a while to actually defeat and totally eradicate the terrorists, if at all. Even when degraded or technically defeated as in the Nigeria case, absolute vigilance and acute intelligence is required to prevent remnants of the terrorists from re- grouping or re- launching attacks on soft targets like Schools, markets and places of worship, which might not be adequately protected by the nation’s security forces.
When one looks at the geography and land mass of the North east region of the country, notably the Boko Haram- troubled States of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, one sees an open and large expanse of land that is slightly close in size to the continent of Europe. For a country with limited resources and security personnel, the policing of such wide open country becomes a herculean task. Even when in his wisdom and military sagacity, President Buhari has formed a coalition against terrorism comprising Nigeria’s neighbours to the North and a number of foreign countries, the counter- insurgency fight is not and has not been a tea party.
Analysts agree that were it not for the single- minded determination of PMB, a soldier, any other leader without a quick grasp of war and strategy would be unable to lead the Nigeria Army and her allies to the victories they have claimed against the Boko Haram and which thwarted their initial caliphate ambition.
This writer and many other Nigerians who were observers when the Chibok girl’s abduction took place are displeased that the sad and embarrassing incident has been allowed to repeat itself. With Chibok, it was expected that the country’s leadership would commit itself to prescriptions and requirements of the Safe School project whereby, the authorities at all levels, local government, State and Federal Government would work to secure, safeguard and protect the nation’s Schools most especially in the most troubled areas.
For instance, the question has been asked, what will it cost the Federal, State and local government areas in the North east to have all the schools in the region, primary and Secondary, fenced round with exit gates, manned by armed vigilante or civil defence personnel. One remembers the civilian JTF that played a great complementary role to the effort of our armed forces to downgrade the Boko Haram. Rather than expose such hastily trained youths to combat duties, if any, such youth volunteers against Boko Haram could have been well utilized to provide police and security duties for Schools and other public places in the North east region. One thinks that the cost of fencing these Schools, of recruiting and paying the civilian JTF and even local intelligence gatherers would be small compared to the amount the government may have to expend in paying ransom for the Dapchi girls, if eventually they are found. Such an arrangement would have forestalled the abduction and saved the young abducted girls and their families the trauma and harrowing experience of captivity.
Nigeria has suffered much on account of Boko Haram. The group aims to make education unattractive to young people in the Northern part of the country and thereby deny the nation, the contributions of these youths to the development of the nation. The way things are going unfortunately, it seems the Boko Haram are on the way to achieving their ambition of making education unattractive for most youths in the North east region. Everything has to be done to prevent a Boko Haram victory.
The abductions in Chibok and Dapchi of young impressionable School girls, calls to question the quality of intelligence available to the Nigerian Armed Forces as well as to their deployment. Second, the ease with which the terrorists move around the troubled areas ambushing and killing our troops as well as abducting the innocent and helpless creates concern on the effectiveness of Nigeria’s much- touted investment in satellite technology.
It should be noted that Nigeria’s communication satellite, NigcomSatIR presently in orbit, is believed to possess capabilities that should make it a valuable asset for security and the fight against terrorism. This has not happened. It seems rather that Nigerian security forces are falling shy of totally routing the terrorists or give them such a bloody nose that they will fritter away into neighboring countries or surrender altogether!
Dapchi should be the last humiliation that Nigeria should tolerate from this Boko Haram. We had been struggling with the trauma of Chibok and the morbid experience of the mass murder of Secondary School boys’ that took place at Bunu Yadi, also in Yobe State. The tears are too much!
We say enough is Enough.
To avoid ugly incidences of these abductions in future pending the near total elimination of the Boko Haram and significant levels of peace and security returns to the North east, the boarding school method should be suspended for now.
Ignatius Arinze is a Public Affairs Analyst based in Abuja.