by Henry Collison
Concepts & Thoughts
Abuja—Two years ago the world reeled in shock at the revelation that a little known terrorist organization had walked into a school in northern Nigeria, grabbed 276 girls, and then walked out unchallenged.
Boko Haram had exploded onto the international radar. Twenty-four months on, we are very much more aware of the threat that Boko Haram poses and still no closer to finding the girls – and no indication that the current administration is doing anything to locate them and bring them back home safely.
The Nigerian president, Muhammadu Buhari, has boldly come out to victory over the terrorist scourge responsible for so much blood. An admirable achievement one would think. The world breathed a collective sigh of relief when he stated that “since our coming to power, Boko Haram has been systematically decimated and is in no position to cause serious threat to our development programmes.”
We might not have been blamed for believing him – with strong military credentials and a previous stint as a harsh and disciplinarian military dictator in the 1980s—Buhari seemed the guy to manage a security threat when he regained power a year ago, this time via the ballot box.
But Buhari’s words of victory are little more than a dangerous spin, designed to distract the public opinion and enable him to pursue a war on the political opposition as part of a quest for absolute control.
Since my last dispatch, reports in the respected UK media have also emerged that Buhari is using foreign aid to launch his attack on democracy as part of his mission for control while ignoring Boko Haram. This is likely to anger foreign governments who have a lot at stake in the global battle on terrorism.
While President Buhari wages his political war, the violent militant group remains a serious and growing threat to innocent lives in Nigeria and the West African region. Failing to focus on this will have catastrophic impacts in Nigeria and beyond. Yet Buhari appears distracted and intent on dwelling on petty revenge on political opponents.
What a disappointment to voters a year after he triumphed to electoral success under the slogan “CHANGE”.
But pressure is mounting on Nigeria’s president, with the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) taking him to task. In a briefing at the Pentagon last week, AFRICOM highlighted Boko Haram as one of the major security threats in Africa alongside Al Shabab and ISIS. Army Gen. David M. Rodriguez, commander of U.S. Africa Command said that they are working “to help improve their capacity to defeat Boko Haram [by] some significant intelligence sharing and working with a multinational joint task force leading that effort”. Africom should know – a secretive US Military organization, they have one of the most strategic intelligence presences on the continent.
A recent Human Rights Watch report outlined the horrifying abduction of primary school children from Damasak. This time over 300 children were taken away. The radio silence from the Nigerian government on the abduction for a year and its failure to acknowledge this abduction raises a serious question over the legitimacy of the victory claim by President Buhari. Two years on from Chibok, the scale of abductions has only grown.
Boko Haram has begun to bring children into their war on humanity. The terrorist group’s use of young children and women as suicide bombers is a terrifying development that can further destabilize the region and kill more innocent people.
The international community has invested heavily in the fight against Boko Haram. William Hague, former British Foreign Minister, announced two years ago that the British budget for Nigeria would be increased to help the country fight Boko Haram.
And UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon more recently stated that the UK would be scaling up its military support mission in Nigeria to 300 people, more than double the existing force. Similarly, the US has scaled up its presence in the country, with the Pentagon announcing that it would be sending dozens of Special Forces operatives to the front line in Nigeria.
Buhari’s claims of victory simply make a mockery of the support being provided by the UK and the US. What is more important is that his failure to focus on addressing the problem shows a reckless disregard for human life.
For now, the families and thousands of lives destroyed by Boko Haram have had their voice taken away from them by the military-style leader. President Buhari’s quest for absolute power supersedes that of the well-being of the people of Nigeria and neighbouring countries.
The real concern is the pledge of allegiance to ISIS. Boko Haram has been named the deadliest terrorist group in the world the tie up with ISIS, which may see it shift its focus increasingly to international targets.
Buhari’s plan to create smokescreens to distract will be devastating for Nigeria. The imploding economy and Buhari’s childish finger pointing at the opposition will do little to help the situation or perceptions that he has the best interest of Nigerians at heart.
Boko Haram is already benefitting from the ISIS PR machine with slick recruitment video production capabilities, a far cry from the low-quality productions of the past. The growth of ISIS across the MENA region has shocked the world. This tie up, which Buhari turns a blind eye to, could be the most catastrophic development in the global ISIS story.
The little known tale of the tie-up between the world’s darkest and most brutal terrorist organisation and ISIS is causing great alarm in the international community. Buhari may be looking to grab as much power as he can, but he is unlikely to be able to deal with the presence of a more effective Boko Haram as it establishes itself as a potent force.
The prospects of finding the Chibok girls are rapidly dwindling. Buhari’s lack of focus on Boko Haram will make sure of this. The Nigerian government has left itself in a position where it may have to bargain with Boko Haram for the girls – in exchange for millions of dollars, an alarming prospect indeed.
While Buhari leaves foreign governments to try and deal with his own security mess, there is growing concern that the kidnapped girls could be drugged and used to carry out horrific suicide bombings. These are chilling thoughts as Buhari nears the first anniversary of being in power later this month.
Henry Collison is a Western investigative journalist currently based in Nigeria.