In six years, Boko Haram has killed no fewer than 20,000 persons and left in its trail, about 2.6 million Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs.
In a quest to strategise on measures to resettle displaced citizens and restore normalcy to the North-East which suffered great bombardment from insurgents, the federal government, last weekend, held a security summit on ending the threat from Boko Haram. The authority thinks the summit was necessary because Nigerian troops have successfully driven the insurgents underground clearing the way for mop up operations. Besides, government believes that the present increasing signs of closer military cooperation between regional powers and international support need to be maximised.
French President, Francois Hollande, US Deputy Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and Britain’s top diplomatm Philip Hammondm were among the senior foreign dignitaries that graced the occasion in Abuja.
Also, leaders of Nigeria’s neighbours, Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger equally attended alongside delegations from the European Union, EU, and the West African and Central African blocs.
The government had said prior to the summit that “the successful conclusion of ongoing military operations” and “the speedy resolution of the humanitarian crises” would dominate talks.
Indeed, it did dominate talks as the leaders spoke on topical issues of global terrorism with particular reference to Boko Haram, what ought to have been done prior to and soon after it came on the scene, as well as crucial steps that must be taken to rout the traces of the cruelty it visited on people.
Friday Magazine recalls that Boko Haram was named in the latest Global Terrorism Index as “the most deadly terrorist group in the world” in 2014. An estimated 20,000 people have been killed since 2009.
Persistent military onslaught, especially from December 2014 and subsequent concentration of efforts from President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration has left the terror group in disarray.
In spite of the seemingly success, many wonder what the future of the areas hard hit by the cruel activities of the insurgents would be, more so with a good number living in overstretched IDP camps and affected by chronic food shortage.
It was this that necessitated the summit.
Borno State, the centre of terror attacks, last month, lamented the growing ‘food crisis’, a development that forced the state government to declare that it needs $5.9 billion (N1.16 trillion) to rebuild shattered homes and infrastructure.
Boko Haram was first on the list of priorities at an international security summit held in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, last Saturday.
The second Regional Security Summit, attended by French president and British Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, among others, came two years after the first conference was convened in Paris.
Since then, Nigeria and its neighbours have made progress in tackling the threat posed by Boko Haram. A Multi-National Joint Task Force, MNJTF, consisting of troops from Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin, has been battling the group for more than a year and has reduced the territory it controls, despite the fact that Boko Haram continues to carry out suicide bombings on a sporadic basis.
Here are four key takeaways from the conference:
Libya is the key to severing Boko Haram-ISIS connection
Since March 2015, Boko Haram has rebranded itself as the Islamic State West Africa Province, ISWAP, following a pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State militant group, ISIS. But despite this aesthetic change, it is difficult to gauge how much of an impact this affiliation has had on Boko Haram’s modus operandi, particularly with ISIS’s main hub being thousands of miles away in Syria and Iraq.
This could change if ISIS is able to increase its influence and reach in Libya. ISIS is believed to have thousands of fighters in the lawless North African state and controls the coastal city of Sirte. “If we see Daesh establish a stronger presence in Libya, that feels much more to people here [in Nigeria] like a direct communications route, that is likely to step up the practical collaboration between the two groups,” Hammond said at the conference.
Europe still sees Boko Haram as a threat
Since its inception, Boko Haram’s key objective—the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in northern Nigeria—has been largely domestic. In 2015, the group extended its attacks to other countries in the region, particularly those participating in MNJTF. The fallout from the security summit makes clear, however, that European leaders remain worried about the group.
Hollande stated that despite the ‘impressive’ gains made against Boko Haram under the administration of President Buhari, the group ‘remains a threat’. European Union High Representative, Federica Mogherini, also confirmed that 50 million euros ($56.6 million) had been set aside to assist MNJTF in its mission.
Boko Haram is not Nigeria’s only problem
Buhari’s administration’s success at tackling Boko Haram—the group has now been confined to the remote Sambisa Forest in Borno State after its territorial gains were rolled back—means that some other security threats it faces have come into sharper focus.
One particular issue rearing its head at present is the revival in militancy among groups in the Niger-Delta. Nigeria’s oil output has been severely hit by attacks on pipelines and a newly-formed group calling itself the Niger Delta Avengers recentlyshut down a facility run by U.S company, Chevron, cutting off 35,000 barrels per day. Shell has also evacuated staff from Bonga oil field in the region as the threat of attack grows.
Hammond described events in the Niger-Delta as ‘a major concern’, saying simply relocating Nigerian military forces to the region wouldn’t deal with the root problems. “Buhari has got to show that as a president from the north, he is not ignoring the Delta that he is engaging with challenges in the region,” the British foreign secretary noted.
The Chibok Girls continue to haunt Nigeria
Upon his presidential inauguration in May 2015, Buhari said Nigeria would not have defeated Boko Haram until all abductees including the Chibok girls were rescued from the group. It has been more than two years since Boko Haram militants abducted 276 girls from their school in Chibok, Borno State, and 219 remain missing.
Despite recent glimmers of hope such as a proof-of-life video released in April in which several of the girls were identified, it is not clear that Nigeria is any closer to rescuing the girls.
Buhari stressed in his speech to the summit that Nigeria has a “firm commitment to safely rescue and reunite the abducted Chibok girls and indeed all other abductees with their families.” But in December 2015, he admitted that he had ‘no firm intelligence’ on their whereabouts.
Additional report from AFP