“We must keep the promise to our nation! We must make a difference!” – COAS Lt. Gen. TY Buratai – 14 July 2015
Since the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt Gen Tukur Buratai, first made this assertion over one year ago, the Nigerian Army, which he leads, has gone on to demonstrate a capacity to keep promises. Part of the promise was to free the nation from the terror being unleashed by Boko Haram terrorists.
In a matter of months after that promise was made, President Muhammadu Buhari confirmed that Boko Haram has been technically defeated. The group has been degraded to a point where its fighters were no longer able to invade towns and villages with impunity. Their suicide bombings have been staved off and rarely occurs outside of the north-east. The ranting by its leaders, which were once directed at the state, institutions and officials are finding new targets among the group’s own ranks as it fights to contain in-house wranglings among its factions that were previously not in existence.
Just a few hours ago, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported that night markets are resurfacing in Maiduguri, the Borno state capital some three years after they shut down at the peak of Boko Haram’s terror activities. Those who will however not want to see peace return were quick to surface stories to scare the populace back into hiding. Headlines like “83 Soldiers Missing” were soon trending online to drown any positive reactions to the Maiduguri story. There have been others like “Soldiers have not been paid some of their allowances” and “Boko Haram launches flags in some villages”, which all turned out to be lies.
This is fast becoming a wack a mole game. Once there are reports showing the military has made progress, a few platforms come up with stories that suggest the opposite even when all they could come up with will be conjectures.
It must not be forgotten that when Boko Haram terrorists were running amok in the northern parts of the country, Nigerians, through social media tended to hear of the bomb blasts before any journalists gets to the scene. The reports that came from legacy media organizations were usually in the form of follow up reports. This should prompt people to now ask how come the stuff of social media make it to the sacred spaces of traditional media without the benefit of follow up that would have shed the much needed light on the reported incidents.
The cyberspace has been similarly inundated with stories that tend to portray Boko Haram terrorists as having resurged to the pre-2016 level. The strategy of those behind this mischief is to run such stories and then use shadowy accounts to follow with anti-government comments that give the incentive to the terrorists. The comments are possibly being primed to be in turn used as justification for spinning out more anti-military stories that will allude to troops losing the trust of Nigerians. The possibility of such strategy succeeding is dependent on how much leash citizens give to it.
Here is where Nigerians must ask themselves critical questions. Who are the beneficiaries of the peace brought upon the land by the military operations that routed Boko Haram terrorists? Who wants Boko Haram to regain a foothold in the country? Who are the people behind the clang about the terrorists being back in control? What do the pro-Boko Haram commentators stand to gain? Why is that in spite of the attempt to resurrect Boko Haram through media hype the stories have simply refused to fly with conscientious Nigerians?
Nigerians, all of us without exception are the beneficiaries of the degrading of Boko Haram. Had the terror group sustained its once certain and steady march towards the Atlantic Ocean, many of those castigating the military today would have possibly become displaced persons. The terror group would have possibly bombed the still prosperous cities in other parts of the country back into the stone age. There possibly would be no internet connectivity for some of the online warriors to read this piece or be able to react to it.
The knowledge of this on one hand is responsible for why Nigerians have refused to accept the fictions being put together about Boko Haram being back at full strength. This does not mean that the desert and scrubland of the north-east Nigeria are totally devoid of drugged up armed thugs that want to continue an insurrection that has already ended. The psychopaths among the remnants of the terrorists are not just going to go down without attempting some spectacular stunts. It will run contrary to their violent nature to accept the reality of their defeat in hands of a professional army. But their wild shot that hit soft target should by no means be celebrated.
When General Buratai gave his now famous charge in 2015 it seemed he was speaking to the officers and men of the Nigerian Army. The realities have now taught us differently. It is a charge that has proven relevant to other services in the military. It extends to all of us as citizens of Nigeria. We must keep the promise to our nation. We must make a difference. And these we can do by not discussing or conjuring a defeated terror group back into existence.
The attempt to revive the group by creating stories of invincibility around its fighters might be failing but there is the additional action required from Nigerians. It is not enough to dismiss the exaggerated stories with the beffiting silence they deserve. There is now the added task of telling off those promoting such stories. They need to know that they cannot cow the populace with intellectual terrorism where their bombs have failed and their guns fell silent without denting the Nigerian spirit in them.
The Nigerian Army must on its part advance the fight against the terrorists to the next phase. It has defeated Boko Haram on the war front; it defeated the group’s intellectual wing in the cyberspace; and it has dismantled the terrorists’ outsourced propaganda machine. General Buratai should now move to the phase of cleansing the psyche of Nigerians of Boko Haram’s corrupting influence as the comments on some of these false exploit by the terrorists clearly indicate that there are a few people that now romanticize about the evil they have perpetrated.
— Agbese contributed this piece from the United Kingdom.