The news coming from the heartland of the five-year- old Boko Haram insurgency is good. Last week, the military, which had appeared to be at its wits end, assisted by local hunters and militias, retook three towns in the North-east out of the over 20 so far overrun by the insurgents. They are Mubi and Maiha in Adamawa state and Chibok in Borno state. Boko Haram attacked Chibok in April, this year and kidnapped several schoolgirls, over 200 of them still missing.
The recapture of Maiha happened on November 12. It involved hunters, only armed with bows, machetes, clubs and homemade rifles. According to their leader, they got help from other hunters in neighbouring communities and together they killed 80 insurgents. In the case of Chibok, after the April abductions, the sect’s fighters returned last Thursday to occupy the town. However, the army, assisted by local hunters, managed to retake it on Sunday, three days after.
Unlike in the cases of Maiha and Mubi which the sect named ‘Madinatul Islam’, which means the city of Islam, after seizing it onOctober 29, where the army didn’t acknowledge any role in their recapture, it did say it was involved in retaking Chibok. Army spokesman General Olajide Olaleye confirmed to newsmen that the army retook the town from Boko Haram militants late Saturday. “Mopping up ops ongoing. (The) town is now secured,” he told AFP. Elder Pogu Bitrus said that Chibok was recaptured in a joint operation with local vigilantes known as the Civilian Joint Task Force, who back up the military in several parts of the northeast where Boko Haram is active. He said the vigilantes fought inside Chibok while army soldiers “stayed outside the town to mop up the insurgents trying to escape”.
It is significant that these reversals suffered by Boko Haram came just days after President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday announced his bid for re-election, vowing to defeat the sect whose killing spree has been a huge embarrassment to his government. We wait to see whether this ‘progress’ in the anti-insurgency campaign can be sustained over a long period of time.
One thing is important though. The participation of locals in the campaign is what has turned the tide against the sect. This is something we have severally advised. The war on terror is as much a thing of the mind as it is something to do on the battle field. The locals who bear the brunt of the fighting must be active participants in the campaign, not just onlookers. They know the ground better and can tell who is a Boko Haram fighter. It is good that our military commanders have stopped seeing these people as Boko Haram suspects to be hunted down, tortured and sometimes killed. We pray this new thinking will be sustained.