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Published On: Thu, Nov 2nd, 2017

UN faulty reporting of the Boko Haram crisis

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By Yusuf Msheliz

I know the United Nations (UN) as a serious-minded body and assemblage of nations of the world in the pursuit of the common good of humanity across the globe. It has been visible, especially in times of armed conflict of global dimension affecting member-states. And anywhere the UN berths, it is accorded respect and its standpoint held as sacrosanct.
But I was bewildered when a report credited to an arm of the UN with the caption, “UN counters Nigerian govt, says three Borno LGAs cut off by Boko Haram,” published mainly by online media, failed to meet the basic minimum of an official reportage or assessment of such a body. While infuriating and conspicuously lacking in substance, it summed up the security situation in the North-East, with a damning verdict on the Nigerian government and the efforts of the military on the counter-insurgency operations in the country.
The publications were lifted from the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aids’s (UNOCHA) monthly report for September 2017, titled, “North-East Nigeria: Humanitarian Situation Update.”
A report purportedly issued by UNOCHA claimed Boko Haram insurgents still retain a threatening presence and are in control of three local government areas (LGAs) in Nigeria and by inference, the North-East. Strikingly, the claims by UNOCHA came shortly after the military command in Nigeria’s North-East proclaimed that no part of Borno State was under the captivity or control of the extremist Boko Haram sect. The UNOCHA set out to counter this claim, but postured badly on this.
There is no need to run hasty conclusions on the falsehood or veracity of the patently offensive report attributed to UNOCHA. A dissection of this report would reveal its snags and otherwise, thus testing the grounds of the claims by this world body.
Nigerians and the world at large are fully aware of the near untamable rage and tempo of Boko Haram terrorism (BHT), particularly in the North-East before May 2015, when Nigerians opted for a change of leadership by massively voting in President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB).
A report by Sunday Trust newspaper of January 4, 2015, published 41 days to the commencement of the first batch of the 2015 general election, comes in handy. It divulged that despite the campaign-induced efforts to recapture swathes of territories annexed by insurgents, Boko Haram terrorists (BHTs) were still in control of at least 13 LGAs in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states in Nigeria’s North-East. The insurgents had also declared these LGAs their sovereign “Islamic Caliphate.”
The report also indicated that nine out of the estimated 13 LGAs under the jurisdiction of terrorists were in Borno State alone. It equally intimated that the extent of the insurgents’ Islamisation of the captured territories reached a crescendo when Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, audaciously declared Gwoza, a town in southern Borno as headquarters of this “Islamic Caliphate.”
The report identified the LGAs in Borno State annexed by the insurgents as “Gwoza, Bama, Mafa, Dikwa, Kala-Balge, Ngala, Marte, Abadam and Mobbar.” While “The other four are Michika and Madagali in Adamawa State, as well as Gujba and Gulani in Yobe State.”
Furthermore, the report specified that the insurgents had partial control of other LGAs in Borno, such as “Mungono, Kukawa, Guzamala, Gubio, Magumeri, Damboa, konduga, Chibok, Askira Uba and Jere.” No doubt, with the attention of government focused on the general elections at that time, the insurgents gained more stronghold on these local governments, intensified their atrocities and freely spread pain and sorrow among the victims.
This was the extent of the precarious insecurity situation President Buhari met on assumption of officee , in response to which hproceeded to reshuffle the top military hierarchy. He appointed the very gallant Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusufu Buratai, as chief of army staff (COAS) and leader of the counter-insurgency campaign, with a specific instruction to defeat terrorism in Nigeria within the shortest time. And since the North-East proved indisputably as the hub of Boko Haram terrorism, Gen. Buratai mobilised and marched his troops to the battlefield.
A few months later, Boko Haram insurgents suffered decimation and captured territories were reclaimed by troops. By December 2016, the terrorists had been defeated with the capture and demystification of the dreaded Sambisa forest. The military, thereafter, hosted a drilling exercise to show its strength in the terrorists’ last territory.
I do not consider the narratives of the reports as mere tales, because they have significance on the overall assessment of the success of the counter-insurgency operations in Nigeria today, as revisited by UNOCHA. We do know that the fall of Sambisa shattered the cohesion of and scattered terrorists to an irrecoverable degree of destabilisation.
Many insurgents, including Boko Haram’s top commanders, voluntarily threw in the gauntlet in surrender to the Nigerian Army. But it is also an established fact that remnants of terrorists took refuge in remote villages and communities, as well as neighbouring countries, where they recuperated, regrouped and re-energised to launch occasional attacks on soft and obscure targets across some communities in the North-East.
The relocation of the headships of the military and other arms of the security forces to the North-East has been for the final cleansing and extinction of Boko Haram terrorism from the shores of Nigeria. And I can attest that tremendous impacts have been recorded as the tempo of these occasional suicide bomb attacks has dwindled immensely.
Therefore, the UNOCHA report insinuating the severance of three LGAs from Borno State and inferring the “overwhelming” presence of Boko Haram terrorists in the location assaulted my sense of fair and credibile reporting endlessly. Moreso, its likely to be a tendency or plot to dampen the morale of Nigerian troops at the battlefront, which has necessitated my present response.
Over and again, I picked loopholes in and frowned at the unpardonable absence of a professional touch to the facts of the report, mainly from the source of the news. In the first instance, the report declined identification of the LGAs which are purportedly inaccessible by UNOCHA. This, if properly put in perspective, could help the military to revisit such areas in its mop-up operations, in order to sanitise the communities there.
In addition, I consider it vile propaganda to merely hold unto the straw of the inaccessibility of the local areas to aid workers seeking to assist victims, as triggered by the presence of insurgents. UNOCHA’s report says: “Most roads to the south, south-west and east remain unusable due to security concerns and most humanitarian personnel movement is done through air assets.”
It may please UNOCHA to understand that Nigeria is a developing nation and most of her rural communities are inaccessible by roads. The terrain and topography of the North-East even make matters worse, when compared to other parts of the country. Only footpaths exist, which is why the Nigerian Army adopted the motorbike usage by soldiers as a way of rapid response to signals of the presence of terrorists.
What I deciphered from the report is that UNOCHA’s aid workers have been stung by the bug of phobia, which is natural, hence they are not soldiers trained to withstand adverse conditions. This can be gleaned from a portion of the report, which reads:
“Insecurity, presence of mines, improvised explosive devices, and unexploded ordinances had continued to slow down the response of humanitarian agencies in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states.”
The fear of the possible encounter of explosive devices by aid workers is what they have attributed to insecurity, and yet they admitted at some point that “Cargo, however, is being transported via road with armed escorts as a last resort.”
This is just expressive of fear of the unknown. But does anybody expect to navigate any terrain in the North-East now without armed escorts? This is certainly impossible! But UNOCHA did not disclose any attack of its team by terrorists. It does not mean that when teams, including military convoys, rummage the area into the hinterland with escorts, they are immune from attacks by terrorists.
So, this outing robs off negatively on the image of UN, a world respected body. I strongly suspect they are either hoodwinked or opted for a conspiracy with local authorities in Borno, especially politicians. I have known since last year, that some politicians in the area offer secret prayers fervently, that the Boko Harm terrorism should never end.
These politicians have probably embezzled funds or mismanaged the resources of the local governments pointed to, and declaring that the insurgency as ended would expose them to probe. So, they have contrived all manners of games in the desperation to veil the truth about the terrorism to shield themselves from probity. And perhaps the UN officials were tricked into this game.
It is rather unfortunate that the UNOCHA has pandered to the gimmick of local authorities in the North-East. But it is advisable for the agency to stick to its humanitarian roles and restrain from dabbling into the local politics of the North-East. It should rather concentrate only on its approved humanitarian roles that are acknowledged world-wide.
If the UN has run short of funds to keep buying foodstuffs in aid of victims of Boko Haram terrorism in Nigeria’s North-East, this should not be enough reason for it to connive with local authorities to publish lies on the festering of terrorism to cause unnecessary panic in the minds of the people and to halt efforts geared towards rebuilding these reclaimed communities. It has exposed itself to ridicule with a report too overtly steeped more in fiction, than reality.

Yusuf Msheliza, an anti-terrorism crusader, wrote from Maiduguri.

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