For posterity it is important that we are honest in recording accounts of the day. When we are partial and political, we only do injustice to ourselves now and permanently to future generations. The history of Boko Haram is sad and painful and one we wish to soon forget, however it is important we keep accurate records to learn from it for tomorrow.
Boko Haram, real name, Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, “Group of the People of Sunnah for Preaching and Jihad,” was established under the Presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo who was encouraged by his NSA Spy Aliyu Gusau to look the other way as the “Nigerian Taliban” as it was then called took root. Late, no-nonsense President Musa Umaru Yar’Adua crushed that initial Boko Haram and extrajudicially killed its charismatic leader Mohammed Yusuf.
Boko Haram rekindled as its beta version, or Boko Haram II under Goodluck Jonathan. Like Obasanjo, Jonathan tolerated and enabled the establishment of Boko Haram in the wilderness of the northeast. He did not care and saw it as an opportunity for political slander against his perceived enemies in the north and also as a cash cow for embezzling massive defense allocations. “Let them kill themselves,” he was reported to have once said when given breaking news of terror incidents.
Obstructed By Northern Elite
But Jonathan was not to blame alone. The northern elite also portrayed vested interests in the proliferation of Boko Haram. They saw it as an equivalent of the south’s MEND, believing it would operate in tandem with their interests and only attack Christians and other minorities like the Shia Muslims, which it did, at least initially, bombing Churches every Sunday. Without clear condemnation of the group from media-popular northern leaders and the mostly sunnite sect dominant ulama, it was extremely difficult for a weak Jonathan to wage the requisite war against the terrorists even if he so wished.
Jonathan in his political desperation handed over his party to the north. It is on record that his PDP party chairman, Bamanga Tukur, a typical northern elite who President Muhammadu Buhari recently praised on his birthday, said as recorded in the Punch that, “Boko Haram is fighting for justice; Boko Haram is another name for justice.” This was a strong sentiment in the north from when Boko Haram II started in 2011 till late 2013 when Sheikh Gumi and Muslims Against Terror broke ranks and voiced loud condemnations of the group.
In June of 2013, theNation bore the headline, “Buhari faults clampdown on Boko Haram members.” Quoting the article,
“He (Buhari) accused the government of killing and destroying their houses while the Niger Delta militants were given special treatment by the government. Buhari who spoke on Sunday on a Liberty Radio programme, Guest of the Week monitored in Kaduna also admitted that the road to the registration of the All Progressive Congress (APC) was rough.”
The north did not care about Boko Haram at this point and saw it simply as a tool to prove Jonathan’s ineptness. Any move he made was opposed by the north. At a point when Boko Haram had conquered 23 of 27 local governments in Borno and a ThinkTank I was a part of with a ground-shaking article published May 8th 2013, successfully pushed Jonathan to cut short his South Africa trip and immediately deploy excess battalions to the northeast and declare a State of emergency, the northern elite kicked against it. The Governors’ forum headed by Rotimi Amaechi a founder of the APC, advised him to not listen to us, with the words below as quoted from PremiumTimes of May 13th, 2013:
“We urge the Federal Government to continue to support affected states in the bid to check violence… We also call on the Federal Government to ignore the ongoing agitation for a state of emergency in some parts of the country. These requests are being made by people who do not wish our country well and who are bent on plunging the country into a deeper crisis.”
The weak Jonathan declared a half-baked State of emergency leaving the governors in situ. This was his undoing as Borno Governor Shettima will later violate WAEC order and keep a Chibok school open for exams which paved the way for Boko Haram to abduct over 270 girls in what will be Jonathan’s greatest international embarrassment and partly cost him the presidency.
The same governor admitted to PremiumTimes last August that he did not even raise alarm over the kidnap of the girls under his domain to the president for a full three weeks.
This paints a picture of an opposition that would not allow Jonathan to act even if he had the brains and guts to, and where possible, will mislead and misguide him. This is what Jonathan faced up until elections season when our (activists’) clamor turned the Boko Haram menace which was a non issue for most in the north and nation at large, and only a headache for the Kanuri-majority northeast, into the central focus and perhaps the most important determinant of the elections.
Jonathan’s War Against Boko Haram
The United States blocked Nigeria from purchasing weapons to fight Boko Haram. One of former President Jonathan’s blunders which only he can be blamed for, is not telling Nigerians of this serious hinderance in time. We do not know why the United States wanted Boko Haram to flourish and in Buhari’s words as he said on visit to the USA, “aided and abetted Boko Haram” by not allowing Nigeria acquire any weapons.
Not only did the US not sell any weapons to Jonathan, but Obama also blocked Nigeria from buying them from various countries. This while several autocratic countries with major human right violations were supplied steady ammo by the Obama admin. We recall that Hillary Clinton resisted labelling Boko Haram a terrorist organisation in spite of it being the most deadly in the world.
This is the uphill battle Goodluck Jonathan faced; waged by internal and external enemies. When Jonathan finally realized that he had set himself up and his re-election depended on defeating Boko Haram, he scrambled in a last minute “6-month war” effort to decisively crush the terrorists. Here I believe is where the controversial aspect of the history begins.
I open with a challenge for anyone to give the list of towns in the northeast liberated under Buhari as against the list of towns liberated in Jonathan’s 6-month campaign. I also would like a list of the number of terrorists the Buhari government killed or captured to compare to Jonathan’s record of thousands.
Goodluck Jonathan first bought the weapons Nigeria had not bought since the 80s. Neither Babangida, nor Abacha, nor Abdulsalami, nor Obasanjo, nor Yar’Adua had bought any decent weapons and war machines for Nigeria over a span of 30 odd years. Against obstruction from the US, Jonathan succeeded in bringing in some serious equipment. Nigerians all watched as powerful T72 M1s from Ukraine were driven up north. Beeagle blog, a foremost military conversation website publicized these deadly acquisitions while Nigerians did not care and focused only on politics.
As history was being turned on its head, Dasuki later defended himself and attempted to correct our narrative by making public, images of the sophisticated arms the Jonathan government bought. See: Dasuki releases images of sophisticated weapons acquired under Jonathan [PHOTOS] – DailyPost, August 2015.
In the six months including when Jonathan postponed the elections till March to buy an extra month and half, Jonathan brought in these APCs, MRAPs, tanks, drones and other equipment to capacitate the Nigerian military at the war front.
It must be mentioned that Boko Haram was one of the most motivated, financed and battle hardened armies in Africa at the time. With promises of heaven, laced with hard drugs that made the heaven practically visible, Boko Haram was not only battle-hardened but potentially larger than the Nigerian military. With recruitable mercenary forces across west Africa and to the Congo, the Boko Haram army stood at a high point of as many as 40,000 soldiers.
Goodluck Jonathan hired mercenaries from South Africa to wage the bloody war, the 72 Mobile Force. These hardened mercenaries did not come to Nigeria to drink tea in Maiduguri. They knew how to operate the REVA MRAPs and other sophisticated machinery and the modified F7 supersonic jets, and that is what they came and did.
Of course, I accept a lot of the blame in the narrative being as inaccurate as it is today. Instead of also acknowledging the triumphs these mercenaries were achieving in record time, we all focused on condemning Jonathan for allowing matters deteriorate to the point where he was paying foreigners as much as $350 a day to fight our war for us.
Even if we deny what our own military did during Jonathan’s six-month war, can we deny what the “janjaweed” Chadian army did in the northeast? I do not think the inhabitants of the northeast can ever deny and discount the many times they celebrated and gave food and water to Chadian troops as they massacred and pursued Boko Haram from town to town, liberating successive towns and villages in the northeast. There is ample local Chad TV video of these conquests.
Jonathan signed an MoU with Chad’s Idriss Deby and his troops, some of the most battle hardened in Africa, came into Nigeria and competed with a revived Nigerian army liberating cities from various extents of the state. Reuters has one of the typical videos up on Youtube showing the liberation of Damask in March of 2015. It reports that 200 terrorists were killed in that battle. Vice News has “Chad’s war against Boko Haram.” AlJazeera also has its video from March 2015 in which it reports on the Chadian army liberation of many cities including Dikwa where the journalist’s chopper landed.
Cities Jonathan Liberated
Nigeria’s 7 Infantry Division with the assistance of South African 72 Mobile force troops retook Bama as reported in PremiumTimes on March 16th 2015. On 27th March foreign media reported Nigeria’s capture of Gwoza, Boko Haram’s urban headquarters.
Chief Media Consultant to the Forum of Spokespersons of Security and Response, Agencies, FOSSRA, Yushau Shuaib resigned in protest in March of 2016 after the Buhari government’s Jon Ode-led panel denied the equipment acquisitions and war accomplishments of the Jonathan administration.
In a scathing reaction to the new administration, Shuaib listed major cities liberated by Jonathan’s pre-election push, he said,
“some of the towns recovered before the coming of President Buhari were Abadam, Askira, Baga, Bama, Bita, Buni Yadi, Damboa, Gamboru Ngala, Goniri, Gujba, Gulani, Gwoza, Hong, Konduga, Kukawa, Marte, Madagali, Michika, Monguno, as well as Mubi and many others.
“A clear testimony to some of the accomplishments was the official DHQ release dated March 16, 2015 with reference No: DHQ/ABJ/901/32/DDI and entitled: “Troops finally rout terrorists from Bama and last stronghold in Yobe.”
The onus is on those who deny the achievements of the Jonathan government in its last minute six-month war to provide a list of major cities liberated by the Buhari government. Can Army Chief Tukur Yusuf Buratai deny these accomplishments of the army under the command of former President Goodluck Jonathan? It will do Nigeria good and history a great favor to have a comprehensive response from CoAS Buratai.
Boko Haram was largely pushed out of Nigeria’s major towns back into Sambisa forest and remote villages and settlements. The Buhari government’s major achievement has been the liberation of a good amount of Sambisa forest, though the terrorists are still based in some parts of it. Unfortunately the terrorists have retaken the famous “Ground Zero,” according to ENDS sources.
We note that Dikwa fell again to Boko Haram with Buhari recapturing it in July, barely two months after taking over on the same momentum Jonathan had built and with the same army chiefs in charge. Also recaptured that July by Buhari was Damasak.We also find that Buhari liberated Gamboru-Ngala border town as reported in September of 2015.
While we have videos showing serious damage being done to Boko Haram by the army under Jonathan in combination with our brave Civilian-JTF and by the Chadian troops, there has been little to no equivalent from the Buhari government. We had reports with imagery of hundreds to thousands of terrorists being mowed down during the Jonathan six-month war while today under Buhari we can count perhaps in the dozens the numbers of terrorists killed based on military reports.
In praise to Buhari was the discovery of a massive Boko Haram supply barge and 4000 petroleum drums, dealing the terrorists a most severe logistics blow. Again this was in July of 2015, and could be argued to have been under the momentum built by Jonathan.
So where is the evidence of Buhari’s decimation of Boko Haram, other than mopping up and opening up towns liberated by the army under the previous administration? Jonathan could not repopulate the towns due to mine fears. The Buhari government is slowly de-mining them before attempting to restore the surviving inhabitants.
The only time we heard the Buhari government announce the killing of over 200, was when they accidentally bombed an IDP camp in Rann, killing 236.
Perhaps the largest kill announced was in October of last year when we heard the military say it killed 100 terrorists and lost 7 soldiers. Sadly, perhaps the biggest loss followed that November when the media revealed that the army lost 104 of its soldiers.
Perhaps due to secrecy, we just can’t find the big battles to claim Buhari decimated Boko Haram. When we look at Syria, and ISIS, a less deadly terrorist group, we see the years of coalition bombings and how ISIS/Daesh remains strong. There is no miracle to defeating such terrorists. When it happens you hear of the war without question as we heard of it when the army under Jonathan and the Chadians ravaged Boko Haram.
It is recollected that Jonathan secured the northeast to the extent that peaceful elections could hold. This is irrefutable evidence of the success of his campaign against the terrorist organisation before handing over.
It was based on the momentum built by Jonathan that Buhari could promise to defeat the terrorists by December of his first year in office, and announce that he had pretty much completed that with only mop up operations left. The evidence points out that it was Jonathan who had completed 80% of the strategic defeat and the Buhari government finished the rest 20% by December of 2015 and since then embarked in mop up and negotiations with the terrorists to reintegrate into civilian populations. 40,000 soldiers just don’t disappear.
A lot of what Jonathan did and Buhari has continued is under the counter negotiations with terrorists dropping their arms and silently attempting to lead normal lives. The governor of Taraba state just complained that there are too many of these ex-Boko Haram terrorists in his state now battling an uptick in violent crime.
Government is a Continuum
Buhari’s recent negotiations with Boko Haram to free 104 of 219 girls abducted by the group was a continuation of a channel of negotiations initiated by Goodluck Jonathan in May of 2014. Jonathan could not complete it in the year he had left after the abduction and it took Buhari an entire year and a half to free half the abducted girls.
It is necessary to mention that while secrecy is the key word of the Buhari administration which makes it impossible to categorically confirm, best evidence suggests that thousands of Nigerians still live under Boko Haram till today. Just last month as many as 455 hostages were rescued as announced just this March. The Taraba governor also said that the terrorists are relocating from Sambisa to Suntai Daaji forest in Taraba state.
The Gwoza Signboard
Do you remember the Gwoza signpost incident? When Nigerian troops took a picture with “Police Mobile Force Training College; Gwoza Camp” signpost and announced the recapture of Gwoza? Well we all jumped and laughed because we saw boots of soldiers behind the poles propping the signpost up. As we amped our momentum for a victory for “Change,” we discredited the claim with a swipe of hand.
We swallowed the famous Salkida’s tweeted suggestion that somehow got on LindaIkeji and hence went viral, where he said “This board could have been uprooted, thrown away by BH & soldiers picked it up where it was hurled. ‘Dubious stunt?,” and ran with it, baselessly discrediting our selfless, apolitical fighting and dying combat troops by holing up our better judgment.
The truth is that on that very day from all evidence, Nigeria had actually liberated Gwoza. Jonathan did not send someone to buy a real signpost – as that obviously was – from Gwoza and hoist it at a field in Abuja. The signpost had fallen like everything else around there, and without thinking of political consequence, soldiers diligently doing their job decided to stand behind the post to hold it up for the picture.
Of course, if Jonathan won the election, we believe he would have again slowed the war – as he did the first time he pushed Boko back into Sambisa in 2013 – and allowed Boko Haram decimate the north east, but this fact should not make us deny what he achieved under desperation to be re-elected and give his credits to another.
Myself inclusive, it will help our progress if Nigerian authors and activists are more thorough and dispassionate. We owe ourselves the truth.
Dr. Perry Brimah; @EveryNigerian