Dapchi and the War not yet won

by Jude Obuseh
bring back our girls

The recent abduction of 110 students of Government Girls Technical School, Dapchi, Yobe State, by suspected Boko Haram elements, was a disaster waiting to happen; one that has obviously rubbished the much trumpeted gains the Buhari-led administration had made in its war on terror. Just as Nigerians were expecting closure on the Chibok matter, a fresh sore has been opened by this recent setback.

It is noteworthy that prior to the Dapchi debacle, the country’s security forces had reportedly made serious gains in its war on insurgency in the North-East, winning back swats of territory formerly under the control of the insurgents, and consequently curtailing the group’s ability to launch large scale offensives on hard and soft targets. Government and security eggheads had gone ahead to serially claim that BH had been “Technically Defeated”, and that within a couple of months the group would cease to exist. The purported release by BH of some of the Chibok girls abducted in 14 April, 2014, and assurances by government that the release of the rest would be secured in due course, seemed to calm frayed nerves and inspire more optimism from the public in government’s anti-terror war. That is why the ease with which the Dapchi abduction was executed is not only shocking, but highly embarrassing, to say the least.

More worrisome for close security watchers and other concerned stakeholders was the fact that the country’s security operatives failed to spot the early warning signs that preceded the Dapchi catastrophe and, thus, were unable to take preventive measures to ward it off. One would have expected that having been engaged in a long drawn war with BH, coupled with the various reforms they have supposedly undergone, the security agencies would have by now evolved a proactive, preventive emergency response mechanism that would act as a bulwark against the antics of violent groups such as BH. For a ragtag army like BH to have stormed a school several kilometers from Sambisa Forest, kidnapped 110 girls and sped off in half a dozen trucks without any form of resistance from any quarter, speaks volumes of the overhyped efficiency and reliability of the country’s security apparatus.

Consequent to the upsurge in the violent activities of BH of late, the raucously quixotic claims by the arrowheads of the country’s security apparatus of having summarily “defeated BH” has been exposed for what it truly is: a propagandistic gimmick that is meant to con the public and divert its attention from the bitter fact that BH is far from being defeated, and that the group remains a formidable foe that will continue to up the ante in its war of attrition with Nigerian security forces and their regional and western allies. Contrary to what the authorities would have Nigerians believe, the country’s military, despite its supposed “rebranding” since the coming of the Buhari administration, still lacks the capability and ability to protect the lives and property of Nigerians from internal and external threats.

Accepted that more progress has been made in government’s anti-terror efforts since the onset of the Buhari years, compared to the unmitigated blunders of the Jonathan years, there is still much ground to cover. BH remains a formidable threat to the security of the Nigerian State, whether the authorities want to accept it or not. Over the years, the group has been able to reinvent itself whenever it seemed like it was at the brink of defeat, constantly upping the scales in its bloody exchanges with Nigerian security forces and their regional allies. Like a virus, it keeps mutating from one form to another, outfoxing, outthinking and outmaneuvering its foes. Having lost the bulk of the territory it once controlled, the group has fallen back to its once favoured, more devastating, clandestine strategies, which includes: bombings, Kidnappings, and other sneak attacks on hard and soft targets.

Now, from a strategic standpoint, the question elicited by the latest tragedy in the North-East is: why did BH abduct the Dapchi girls, when it had presumably offered an olive branch by its recent release of some of the earlier abducted Chibok girls? Why is this happening at a time the group’s ability to launch such sneak attacks had been purportedly whittled down by the country’s security forces?

First and foremost, the Dapchi abduction has the colouration of a gambit by BH to win back some lost ground by forcing the Nigerian government back to the negotiation table, if it is true, according to feelers gathered from sources (who crave anonymity), that the much hyped release of some of the kidnapped Chibok girls was a swap deal involving the reciprocal release of some of the insurgents in custody, in tandem with large cash payments, said to be in the region of 3 million British pounds sterling on the whole (Punch, December 24, 2017), made by the Nigerian government to the group, the Dapchi girls would most likely be used as bargaining chips to effect the release of more of the group’s foot soldiers in custody. As the saying goes, “if you serve cookies to a mouse, it would ask for a glass of milk”. This saying obviously strikes a parallel with the Oliver Twist dispositions of BH.

Again, factoring in the humiliating defeats BH has suffered on the battle field in its recent confrontations with Nigerian security forces, the Dapchi abduction is possibly meant to slow down the increasing onslaught on its forces by the security forces, while it re-strategizes on the way forward – a counter strategy that has been constantly deployed to productive effects by the group whenever it seems like the tide is turning against it. It is also a public relations strategy that is meant to remake its badly battered image by impressing it on the military and public that the group still has the capability and capacity of striking at targets deep inside Nigeria.

What is the way forward? The use of force in rescuing the girls should be completely eschewed for safety reasons as the insurgents might be forced to use them as human shields in the event of a rescue attempt by the military, though clandestine intelligence work by the intelligence units of the various security organizations should continue. From the Chibok experience, it would be safe to presume that the insurgents would attempt to use the girls as bargaining chips, as earlier noted. But, unlike the Chibok matter, which was left to fester before any concrete steps could be taken to resolve it, things should move faster this time. To this end, seasoned negotiators, possibly the ones involved in the Chibok matter, should be brought in to help work out a feasible solution to the Dapchi embarrassment. Having proven to be quite effective in helping effect the release of some of the Chibok girls, they could also be handy in helping work out something for the Dapchi girls.

Again, no stones should be left unturned in efforts aimed at flushing out the rotten eggs in the country’s security establishment whose actions or inactions contributed to the Dapchi fiasco. Serious punitive actions, deemed fit by those concerned, should be expedited against erring political and security heads whose negligence was either partly or largely responsible for the disaster. It should no longer be business as usual for the rotten apples manning the country’s security setup. A precedent to prevent future reoccurrences of such disasters should be set. This would not only serve as a deterrent to other would-be offenders, but also a damage control strategy that would help win back some goodwill from the public, close security watchers and the international community who have been left aghast by the seeming laxity in Nigeria’s security establishment which has left the citizenry at the mercy of violent elements.

Finally, the heads of the country’s security agencies should refine and reform their moribund operational strategies in the war on insurgency and other acts of violence. To this end, the predominant use of propaganda techniques should be jettisoned for a more action-focused, result-oriented approach. Accepted that there is need to boost sagging public confidence in their efforts, the penchant for making spurious claims of having completely annihilated BH should be avoided henceforth. There is need for more collaborative efforts among the different arms of the country’s security superstructure, in tandem with cooperation with external allies, both on and off the field. The ongoing buck-passing among the various arms of the country’s security architecture must stop. A combination of perspectives is the best way forward. Let actions, rather than words, speak! God save Nigeria!

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