Q&A: Is Nigeria able to end Boko Haram insurgency?

2015-08-20 13:19

Cape Town – Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari last week ordered the country's newly sworn-in military chiefs to end Boko Haram's bloody six-year insurgency within the next three months.

Buhari came into power on May 29 and moved swiftly to replace the heads of the army, air force and the chief of defence in an apparent move to reshape the fight against Boko Haram, according to reports.

"You need to brace up and continue to team up with other stakeholders to come up with a well co-ordinated joint effort which will bring a desired end to these insurgencies within three months," he was quoted as telling the chiefs in the capital Abuja.

Boko Haram has continued to unleash violence, particularly in the northeast part of the country where thousands have been killed.

In April last year Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 girls from Chibok boarding school. More than a year later, most of these girls are still missing.

But just how ready is Nigeria to end the insurgency? News24 spoke to a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), Martin Ewi.

News24: How practical are President Muhammadu's efforts to fight Boko Haram, considering it's been years since the Nigerian army started fighting against the Islamist group? Is the army prepared?

Ewi:  I do not think by any means that the Buhari administration can end [the] Boko Haram crisis in the next three months by military means alone. We had many of such promises under the previous administration [of President Goodluck Jonathan] but Boko Haram remains Nigeria's headache.

With the exception of the shuffle in personnel, many of the challenges that the army faced have not been completely addressed. The issue of arms, training and morale still confronts the military. So it is not feasible to say that the military is prepared to eradicate Boko Haram.

Nigeria leader Muhammadu Buhari and former president Goodluck Jonathan. (File: AFP)

News24: We know also that the US recently refused to sell arms to Nigeria, citing human rights abuses. So where do you think Nigeria could be getting the necessary arms?

Ewi: Yes, the Leahy Process [a vetting process through which the US government vets assistance to foreign security forces] has prevented the US from supplying arms to the Nigerian government. Many of Nigeria’s arms have come from France and Russia. Though a small quantity of their military ware has come from Israel and Great Britain, but this is far inadequate [of the number] the country needs to fight Boko Haram. This is why Buhari has opted for Nigeria to produce its own weapons to meet the country’s need.

News24: What do you think would be the best way to tackle the issue, especially now that the group has openly pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State group [ISIS]?

Ewi: Buhari seems to be following his predecessor’s reliance on a military solution to the Boko Haram crisis, which has repeatedly proven ineffectual. If Buhari wants to make a difference, he would need an aggressive criminal justice strategy that combines proactive intelligence, prompt military response and robust prosecutions of suspects. This requires the establishment of special criminal tribunals or courts to investigate and prosecute all those suspected of aiding, abetting, or being in accomplice or supporting Boko Haram directly or indirectly.

News24: At least 8 700 troops from five regional nations will soon be deployed to boost efforts to get rid of Boko Haram. Will this help, considering the group seems to be very sophisticated in the way it handles its attacks?

Ewi: I do think the Multinational Joint Task Force will help advance the fight against Boko Haram. But the nature and operational philosophy of this force is not clear. But from what we know so far about it, its area of operation is limited to the borders. This means that the bulk of the fighting will still be carried out by the current national forces. So I think the contribution and expectations for the multinational force should be put in perspective.

News24: It's been more than a year since over 200 Chibok girls were abducted. Will they ever be found? 

Nigeria

Abducted Chibok girls. (File: AFP)

Ewi: Yes, I do think some of the girls will be located and rescued but whether all the girls will be found alive is becoming an unrealistic dream.

Generally speaking, Buhari’s success will depend on his attitude and how he is able to navigate the difficult political terrain in Nigeria. One thing to bear in mind is that the contours of Boko Haram go far beyond Nigeria since the group became a part of the Islamic State in March this year. This means that many of the group’s decisions are made outside Nigeria, which makes it difficult for Buhari and his administration to control or influence some of the sect’s activities.

News24: Recent reports have indicated that Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram's leader, is dead and has been replaced by Mahamat Daoud? Could this be true?

Ewi: I do not think Shekau is dead. His nonappearance in recent Boko Haram videos is due to the new status of the group within the Islamic State group. It is to emphasise that [Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi, the ISIS leader, is now Boko Haram’s supreme commander.

Abubaka Shekau

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau. (File: AFP)

It will be misleading and dangerous for the fight against Boko Haram to assume that Shekau is dead as this would weaken the group so much it can be easily defeated. Certainly the increasing reliance on suicide bombings, especially young female bombers, indicates some stress or constraints on Boko Haram but whether that amounts to weakness is not evident as the group has been able to sustain attacks.

Read more on:    isis  |  boko haram  |  muhammadu buhari  |  abubakar shekau  |  goodluck jonathan  |  nigeria  |  west africa

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