Boko Haram still murdering Nigerians


THE release of hundreds of suspected Boko Haram supporters by Nigerian judges has coincided with a new bloody attack by the terrorists in the northeast of the country. Three suicide bombers murdered 18 people in the town of Konduga. The two events coming together have caused unease. However the decision by the Nigerian court to free 475 detainees is an act of common sense in crisis noted for its lack of reality.

Some of the suspects had been picked up by the army as long ago as 2010. Most were arrested in the frantic and confused response to the start of the Boko Haram reign of terror in 2009. Because of the corruption that had long gripped its politics, the Nigeria’s army was woefully unprepared to deal with eruption of murder, rape and robbery. Badly-officered, poorly-trained and woefully equipped, soldiers did not know how to cope. They simply fled prepared defenses when they heard that Boko Haram thugs were approaching. On more than one occasion, they thus left the local civilian population to the mercy of the terror gang.

Outside intervention, most obviously from France who sent special forces, but from Britain, the former colonial power and the United States, checked but did not defeat the terrorists. There was widespread discontent among Nigerians at the crass failures and rampant payola of the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. In March 2015, Muhammadu Buhari became first opposition challenger to win a presidential poll. A former general with a reputation for no-nonsense action against wrongdoing, it was widely expected that Buhari would finish the job of defeating Boko Haram.

He certainly started well, firing useless generals who owed their commands to patronage rather than competence. He also began retraining and rearming the army and to a lesser extent the police. But then the new president was stricken with an undisclosed illness which his office has consistently played down.

Eighteen months ago, a revitalized armed forces captured a Boko Haram forest stronghold and took back large swathes of territory where the terrorists’ writ had run for years. But then Buhari made a mistake. He declared that the insurgency, which had cost over 20,000 lives and displaced two million people, was over and that Boko Haram was “technically defeated”. The reality it had merely suffered a serious reverse. This aberration from a retired military man who once said he only dealt in fact has had consequences. Not only has it damaged Buhari’s reputation but it also appears to have caused the military to take their foot off the counterterrorism gas.

Terrorists are not beaten until they are dead or jailed and the social ills from which they drew their support are at least partly fixed. Buhari’s government cannot afford to relax. One way these blasphemous killers can be seriously undermined is through a consistent “hearts and minds” program by the authorities. Frightened soldiers led by badly-briefed junior officers have committed serious human rights abuses. The roundup of hundreds of suspects clearly netted innocent people. Nigeria’s judges, giving the justice that Boko Haram denies its victims, have freed those against whom there was no evidence. Buhari should laud this, admit the security forces have been wrong in the past and promise unwavering action against a vicious enemy that is not yet defeated.