By Sagir Musa
The palpable insecurity in the Lake Chad Region occasioned by armed banditry, arms trafficking and border intrusion along Nigeria’s border with Chad, Cameroon and Niger necessitated the establishment of a Multi National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) in 1998 with Baga town in Kukawa Local Government Area of Borno State as the Headquarters.
The initial mandate of the Task Force was to conduct military operations in the Lake Chad Region, checkmate banditry activities and to facilitate free movement of the member states of the Lake Chad Basin Commission across their common border. The activities of Boko Haram Terrorists(BHTs) in Baga as the epicenter of strategic activities in terms of arms procurement, planning for attacks and reception centre for foreign insurgents or mercenaries (due to its proximity to porous borders) obligated and justified the expansion of the Task Force’s mandate in April, 2012 to include the fight against terrorism.
The Task Force is composed of elements of the Chadian, Nigerien and Nigerian Armed Forces with a Nigerian Brigadier General as the commander. Unlike the JTF Operation RESTORE ORDER that is in charge of the entire Borno State, the MNJTF in Baga is in charge of Lake Chad region and is administratively and operationally independent of JTF Operation RESTORE ORDER in Maiduguri. Their compositions, command structure, mandate and Area of Operational Responsibility are also different. However, there is synergy and collaboration between the two JTFs. Since its inception in 1998, the MNJTF has been operating in Baga without major friction or complain from the locals.
The Task Force and its host community (Baga) have been peacefully coexisting without any infraction on the part of the MNJTF despite several attacks on its isolated locations by the terrorists. The unfortunate incident of 16 April, 2013 was primarily caused by the insurgents’ unprovoked attack and further compounded by incendiary materials, types, caliber of weapons and tactics used by the terrorists.
The reactive measures carried out by the Task Force further lured it in to the evil plot of the insurgents as it is a known character of terrorists to purposely engage in selective scorched earth tactics by setting houses and other valuables on fire to smudge security agencies, instill fear and pains to the people. It was obvious from intelligence, that the style of the ambush, barrage of fire and explosion that rocked areas where the confrontation took place was planned to wreak destruction of cataclysmic proportion.
The strategic use of worship centers and houses to stockpile arms, ammunition, IEDs and served as launching pads for attacks on the MNJTF troops further assisted in the element of surprise achieved by the terrorists and the level of destruction that followed. The insurgents planted IEDs on JTF routes and shot through loopholes. They appeared to display mastery of IED bombings, used Rocket Propelled Grenades, General Purpose Machine Guns and threw Hand Held Grenades against the troops.
They clearly knew troops’ movement and so they buried and remotely detonated IEDs on their route of advance which caused the death of one personnel, many sustained various degrees of injuries and damage to two operational vehicles. In line with professional formation, troops must necessarily return fire even for self survival. Here lie the endemic problems of urban warfare or fighting in built-up areas. Fighting in built up areas is tasking, hazardous, cumbersome and arduous. There is limited view of space and fire, visibility and maneuverability is limited. Ambush attrition losses are high and collateral damages cannot practically, completely be avoided.
Non combatants may not fully appreciate the complex nature of fighting insurgency and the unmitigated misery and sorrow inflicted to local communities and security agents by the terrorists. Similarly, the regular hazards, tribulations, deprivations and death suffered by security agents is mostly under reported and seemingly show little concern by the press, some elites and leaders in Nigeria.
For instance, within one week – from Thursday 25 April to Thursday 2 May, 2013, a total of about 40 Nigerian Policemen lost their lives through various terrorists’ attacks in Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno and Kano States. From 2011 to date, in Borno State alone, hundreds of JTF personnel have paid the supreme sacrifice during fighting with Boko Haram’s insurgents. All these have not received commensurate condemnation or attention from the putative conscience of the nation. Terrorism is multifaceted; it thrives on publicity and propaganda.
Thus, to carry out a particular operation without getting any publicity out of it would be wasteful to a terrorist’s cause. Hence, targets are selected for maximum propaganda and publicity value, for example, the attempted attack on Monguno barracks, the ambush of MNJTF troops on patrol and the subsequent destruction that followed. Similarly, terrorists, their collaborators and financiers use whatever means to justify their horrible acts, distort facts, whip up sentiments and smear the image of their traducers. They maximize the use of propaganda to court sympathy, attract attention and sway public opinion towards their cause.
The military in Nigeria is shy or deficit in propaganda, forceful information campaign or is relegated to the background. Hence it is glaringly behind the terrorists in the effective use of the media for propaganda. This shortcoming the military is heavily paying for with terrible consequences on its image, reputation and operations. The phenomenon of Boko Haram’s insurgency is complex, intriguing and not understood by many. And within the interstices of Boko Haram activities lay the criminal and political dimension of its character, activities and operations.
World over, terrorists do society no good, but rather, are harbinger of pains, sorrow, destruction and death. Destruction, arson and kidnappings are increasingly becoming permanent features of terrorists in Nigeria. The inferno in Baga was clearly caused by terrorist actions through the deliberate use of highly inflammable, acidic IEDs and other incendiary materials. Furthermore, gasoline explosion from grinding machines from a few private residences (whether intended or not) further fuelled the destruction in Baga town.
The Baga disaster was also obviously exacerbated by delayed or floppy information management by the military, deliberate terroristic convolution of facts and the ignoble roles played by local champions for provincial benefits. In view of the cacophony of divergent figures of the dead and the plethora of criticisms, the military has lately made it sufficiently clear that Baga is open to local and international assessment. The MNJTF has shown readiness to provide security cover for individuals and groups willing to visit the area.
The phenomenon of Boko Haram’s insurgency is a tragic failure of leadership, – a reflection of the manipulative, parasitic, unproductive, selfish elites/leaders at various levels of our societies. Nigerian military is not for occupation and destruction. It will never celebrate the death of any innocent Nigerian anywhere. But individuals or communities that harbor criminals to attack security agents must be ready to face the consequences of their actions! Leaders must be sincere and patriotic; they don’t play to the gallery.
They must eradicate or reduce poverty, insecurity, unemployment, inequality and illiteracy in their domains. Leaders – civil or military, must be conscious of the consequences of their actions or inactions, especially in dangerous situations.
*Sagir Musa, an army colonel, is the spokesperson for the Joint Task Force containing the Boko Haram Insurgency in northern Borno