By Richard Murphy*
Anyone that still doubts that Boko Haram has been defeated would have to watch the latest video released by Abubakar Shekau, the sociopath leader of the terror group – or read up the English transcription of the rant. For Shekau to have declared in the ten-minute video that “I am tired of this calamity; it is better I die and go to rest in paradise” says a lot about the morale of whatever is left of the nest of killers that once straddled the north-east of Nigeria.
He may still be making threats, and citing recent events that appropriately dated the video, but his near lack of coherence attests to the pressure under which the defeat of Boko Haram has placed him, hence the desire and preference for death. While he may be making taunts about Sambisa Forest, creating the impression that he and his minions still control the location, the reality is that Shekau is eager to throw the military of the scent of his actual location. A national newspaper had reported that Shekau and other insurgents had relocated to in Konduga Local Government Area of Borno State.
However, this capitulation by the terrorist does not call for jubilation as it only spells the need to take the counter-insurgency war into a new phase. Far from waxing celebratory in the face of Shekau’s admission of calamity for his group the new focus should be the post-insurgency war, which is a blend of many things to not only seal the defeat of Boko Haram’s terrorism but to also ensure that the kind of ideology that bred the reign of terror previously unleashed on Nigeria is never again to thrive in the country again. This requires that decision makers are resolute and innovative in the choices they make going forward.
First is the issue of funding. Financing to place the Nigeria Military at an optimum level to counter threats must not be cut down simply because we see that Boko Haram has been defeated. If anything, spending on hardware and troop welfare must be improved to a level where there are resources to expand the capabilities of the Armed Forces, like locally building drones and small warheads that can be used to patrol areas where remnant of the terrorists may again attempt to regroup.
Secondly, the deradicalization programme must be expanded to go beyond surrendered or captured Boko Haram members. Some of those that had joined forces with the terror group might not need too much persuasion to give up the madness since they would have found out that living as an outcast in the desert is not as romantic as Boko Haram recruitment propaganda make it seem. The new target is to identify at-risk persons with a view to reaching out to them before they join the group. Persons that have links with preachers known to be sympathetic to the cause of Boko Haram are good candidates for such programme.
Also, much as Shekau has renewed his death wish in the new video, the military must decide whether granting his request is the better thing to do, bearing the long term in mind. Should he be killed in battle, there is every tendency for his followers to elevate him to the level of a prophet, a martyr whose grave or place of death could become a shrine to the depraved. Should he be arrested, a wave of abductions by whatever is left of his followers could follow as they would attempt to force the government into negotiating his release. The best way of sending Shekau into inconsequence without a backlash must therefore be prioritize in the post insurgency war.
Furthermore, the modus operandi of Boko Haram must have necessarily transformed from what it was even as recently as twelve months ago. Particular note must be made of the call by Shekau for terrorist sympathizers that “Wherever you are, even if you are in Saudi Arabia, and you have your gun, please stand up and fight, kill whoever you see that is not on our side.” This call must be reviewed against the spate of killings by gunmen across the country, which has been explained so far as “armed herdsmen”. The interrogation of the spate of killings should be informed by the fact that some of the gunmen have no cattle and may as well be Boko Haram members executing a new mandate from their sick leaders.
Shekau’s charge of “Kidnap and bring them to us” should also be investigated to be sure that the orgy of kidnaps in certain parts of the country are not related to Boko Haram members on revenue drive.
The military must equally take a critical look at their offer of surrender to defeated insurgents. The offer cannot remain on the table forever. A timeframe must be given following which troops should step in to liquidate any terrorist that is persists on treading the path of evil; once deadline is past surrendering for reintegration should be off the table.
On the part of the Federal Government, rebuilding efforts in the north-east should be accelerated so that the region can again go back to being a vibrant economic hub. The rebuilding efforts itself should have poverty reduction embedded in it so that what has been identified as one of the factors that aided the spread of Boko Haram can be addressed at a foundational level.
These are initiatives the Nigerian Army must seize as elections are around the corners again and the terrorists and their financiers will look to exploiting that to their advantage to attempt regrouping. The Army must make Nigerians take ownership of the post-insurgency war because it theirs to win; citizens are in vantage position to turn in fleeing terrorists and the opinion leaders among them can help amplify the message to them to surrender.
*Murphy is a security expert based in Calabar.