The last National Civil Military Dialogue came at the right time especially at assessing current national security challenges with a view of providing appropriate solutions to them. While politicians and some section of the media may continue to focus on casualty figures rather than humanitarian needs of victims of disasters, we need to examine the situation whether we should be talking of figures or the protection of lives and properties of the people.
The people of Baga, a border town in the restive Borno State, had unfortunately paid for the sins of militants, when their town was razed after an alleged reprisal attacks by soldiers of the Joint Task Force (JTF) whose colleagues were merciless killed by Boko Haram terrorists during a military patrol in April 2013.
There were different figures being bandied as the casualty from the clash between the military and Boko Haram insurgents. While some reports claimed that over 100 people were killed and over 2000 houses destroyed in the fracas, the Military and National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) claimed the figures were exaggerated.
Though Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Admiral Ola Sa’ad Ibrahim while submitting a report to President Jonathan after an assessment of the area the following week after the incident described as misleading the exaggerated figures. He was emphatic in condemning the political elite of generating the misleading report purposely to discredit the military with an intention of getting a Presidential Order withdrawing soldiers from the streets. Brig. Gen. Austin Edokpayi of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF), said 37 people died, who were mostly Boko Haram members.
In view of the discrepancies over the figure, the Senate set up a Committee to investigate the alleged massacre. By the time the Committee came forward with its report, which took two months rather than two weeks given to it, it reported that only 115 houses were destroyed. Senator Thompson Sekibo, a committee member said the death toll was exaggerated, but there may be more than 37 deaths, as there was no documentary evidence from either the natives or the military to ascertain figures quoted, but said the Committee saw “only 9 graves” and counted 115 burnt houses.
The recent report of National Human Right Commission is more concerned with whether the nature of force used was proportionate or disproportionate, taking account of the circumstances of the case, rather than casualty figure. The National Human Rights Commission admitted that it did not visit Baga but rely on others’ reports and account, it nevertheless stated that it was yet to announce its impression of the numbers killed in the attack, and those responsible. It said the incident illustrates “serious concerns” about “proportionality of the use of force as well as humanitarian and human rights compliance in internal security operations.”
The Senate and the NHRC called on the Federal Government and the Army to recruit more soldiers because the military was overstretched and to take full responsibility for JTF funding, including compensation of military personnel. The NHRC pointed out that the Special Operations Forces inserted with the emergency deployment appear to have enhanced the professionalism of JTF personnel in many sectors and advised that there should be rotation of troops in order to allow for rest and recuperation.
But the military should be commended on their efforts in stamping out this societal menace, Boko Haram, which has succeeded in paralyzing economic activities and endangering the lives of Nigerians by maiming and killings at will. Since the declaration of the SoE, with involvement of community leaders and youth volunteers, the military have recorded successes which are evident in the reduction in the spate of attacks in the affected states, and the fleeing of sect members into neighboring countries, including the sect leader, Abubakar Shekau.
The JTF and MJTF have had assistance in the war against terror in the way of the Volunteer Vigilance Youths Group (VVYG). They are the youths in troubled areas who have resolved to rid their homeland of Boko Haram. They have been instrumental in the arrests of several Boko Haram members, pursuing them to their hiding holes and training grounds. The VVYG leader, Abubakar Mallun disclosed that their goal was to destroy anything that stands between their community and normalcy. They carry out their work with sticks and cutlasses and once arrests are made, they hand them over to the JTF.
It is gratifying to note that Special Forces and the volunteers have intensified their cordon-off and search operation leading to the arrest of more than 20 top leaders of Boko Haram as they continue to comb prone areas to fish out other insurgents. The rise of volunteers, who branded themselves as “Civilian JTF,” is cheering development as they assist troops to locate Boko Haram members terrorizing those cities. The military authorities should put in place mechanism to regulate the activities of the Civilian JTF members.
The security forces should reciprocate the gallantry of these youths by providing them with logistics to facilitate their work. The Federal Government and State Governments can also agree on incorporating the volunteer groups into the security architecture in those areas, they can be employed and given training on counter-terrorism so that by the time soldiers are withdrawn, they can help prevent the dingoes of terrorism from returning to scavenge. This will reduce unemployment and prevent the rise of another militant group.
Our security personnel, especially the military are human like us and also have human feeling. They live and operate in very difficult and dangerous terrain and having sleepless night just to protect the rest of us. The Chief of Army Staff Lt-General Azubuike Ihejirika revealed recently that he has had sleepless nights because of activities of the Boko Haram sect. He said even though Nigerian troop too record a number of casualty on their side, the military has done a great job in battling against the violent crimes of Boko Haram.
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