By Richards Murphy
The open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari supposedly came from Borno residents but in reality the authors of the poisoned chalice are closet supporters of Boko Haram terrorists and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) who, being fed up with the losses being suffered by their proxies, have decided to come out of hiding. The innocuous sounding “Borno residents” – the pseudonym under which they wrote – is sufficiently nebulous to not arouse suspicion and valid enough to confer legitimacy and locus for them to make their unwarranted claims.
The essence of the letter, signed by one Hassan Boguma, a traditional leader, was to appraise the President. Unfortunately, all it succeeded in doing was to make a weak attempt at lying and they did it poorly for that matter. They tried to create the impression that the Nigerian Army is not on top of the situation whereas in the same breadth they admitted that troops were doing a great job. They claimed that the army is losing the fight yet admitted that only a particular axis remained under attack from the terrorists.
The very position occupied by the author of the letter, a traditional ruler, is one that raises questions. Past analyses by independent security experts had blamed certain categories of leaders in Borno state for the persistence of terrorism in the region in spite of the sterling efforts being made by the military. These are politicians, religious leaders and business opportunists. The politicians support the terrorists as a matter of desperation to gain power, the religious leaders either fail to condemn the perversion of doctrine to radicalize youths and entrench extreme views in them, the traditional rulers – having vast local networks – conceal their subjects that have embraced terrorism while the business opportunists simply hang in the wings to benefit from the horror show created by the horror show supported by the aforementioned three categories.
Nigerians must be wary and know that the open letter to President Buhari is merely one front, one phalanx, in the series of attacks that will be directed at discrediting the military, particularly the army in a renewed push by those that do not want to see terrorism brought to an end in Borno even after other neighbouring states have attained comparative peace. The political arm of Boko Haram support will in a short while follow in the steps of the traditional leadership support while the religious component continues to use their sermon to recruit, indoctrinate and radicalize the youth to ensure that the terrorists do not run short of human fodder.
Further interrogation of the open letter reinforces this belief. It is easy to accuse the army of all the manner of shortcomings reported in the publication. But common sense demands that we begin to question the loopholes that exist in the document. For instance, the Borno resident made no mention of offering the military any strategic support like providing timely and actionable information. They did not speak of any social intervention to halt Boko Haram and ISWAP’s ability to recruit new fighters. Reporting such support would have strengthened whatever case they have against the army, assuming they genuinely have one.
The letter did not mention how some people in the state demoralize soldiers by introducing ethnic dimensions into the anti-terrorism war that the army is conducting in the region. They are the ones that frame any successful operation by the army as being targeted at exterminating members of a particular ethnic group that has most of the terrorist commanders. They use negative sentiments like this to compromise the ability of soldiers to get support from communities where they operate with the consequence that these communities rather back terrorists – supply them with intelligence, food and logistics – rather than support the troops that are laying their lives down for the nation.
They also did not mention if they had at any point in time raised the concerns they have with the military authorities without getting the desired response. To the extent that they did not bring their concerns to the attention of the people on ground doing the actual job, the letter to the President could only have been intended to blackmail, cause mischief and provoke an outcome in the anti-terrorism war different from what Nigerians want.
One must however blame the army for the failure that arose on its own part. This failure has to do with focusing on exterminating terrorists without doing much to go after terrorist supporters. The military has largely refrained from going after these ones that engage in activities that encourage the terrorists, a practice that is not unconnected with making political considerations like keeping mute when this malicious letter was written to the President. The military also appears to shy away from arresting non-combatant component of the terrorist infrastructure, for that is what the traditional institution, political leadership and the clergy that support Boko haram are.
The fight against terrorism has gotten to that stage where the combatant components of Boko Haram and ISWAP should receive a well deserved attention. The military must stop taking reputational damage from terrorists disguised as politicians, traditional rulers or clergy. The society will not criticize the military for actions taken in pursuit of neutralizing the threats posed by these set of people.
It is befitting to at this point appeal to the Nigerian Army, and the military at large, not to take this kind of letter to heart. Had the complaints come from upright citizens of Borno state that genuinely concerned about defeating terrorism then it would have been worth agonizing over. But in this instance it should be treated as a mere irritant that should be allowed to derail the focus needed to continue supressing the terrorists operating in the axis. The war efforts cannot and must not be truncated simply because some people are angry that their Boko Haram fighters are taking heavy damage.
Murphy is a security expert based in Calabar.