By Shaka Momodu
Two reports released recently have set me thinking as to whether Nigeria is really winning the war against Boko Haram or the other way round. From the evidence before us, it appears while Nigeria is gradually but steadily winning the battle, Boko Haram may actually be winning the war as some strong voices on the international scene are increasingly showing more and more sympathy for the group’s devious and murderous activities.
Prominent among Boko Haram sympathisers is Amnesty International (AI), which has become the “official defender” of the human rights of Boko Haram members while ignoring the rights of the victims of the sect’s atrocious activities. It appears AI would rather see the sect continue to carry out its mass slaughter of innocent people than the military succeed in eliminating them, and restoring order to the North-east. Its latest report with the mocking title: “Stars on Their Shoulders. Blood on Their Hands: War Crimes Committed by the Nigerian military”, chronicles the “atrocities” of the Nigerian military and conspicuously ignored the deadly killings, abductions, mass kidnappings, mass rapes, bloody massacre of entire communities, inhuman treatment and brutal executions of men, women and children in the thousands by the sect.
The second report was actually an assessment by officials of the United States Counter Terrorism – who emphatically declared that Boko Haram was “winning the war” because according to them, ‘’it still retains the ability and capacity to mount deadly lethal attacks and retreat afterwards.’’
This latest AI report draws breath from its 2014 report, only that this time, it is more damning. It speaks to the fact that the inhuman sect may have either successfully infiltrated AI or the rights watchdog is plainly naïve about the evils of this sect, and is therefore being manipulated or both – just as it has infiltrated the Nigerian security apparatus – the military establishment, intelligence agencies and various governmental bodies – a fact which even former president, Goodluck Jonathan publicly acknowledged.
AI, it appears, has been conscripted by the faceless – well, not so faceless establishment forces who many believe are behind this deadly terror sect – that is more than ever before determined to humiliate Nigeria, especially all those who fought against its desire to overrun the country. Al is chest-thumping charges of war crimes against our military in furtherance of a vast and deadly conspiracy against this country in order to finally throw it to the dogs.
Unknown to many people, our country is contending with a battle between one side of the country and others – in the sense of geography and history. The Ralph Bunche Centre Director at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, was quoted to having said: “It looks like a long fight. Boko Haram seems intent on recreating the pre-colonial Islamic Emirate of Borno – pieces of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroun were all parts of that pre-colonial emirate.”
Therefore, it is necessary to ask, who really is winning the war on terror? Many people erroneously think we are all united in our desire to see the back of this evil sect, but unfortunately that is not the case.
There are people in the executive, legislature, judiciary and every stratum of society, including the media – who believe in the ideology of Boko Haram – that this nation must be overrun someday. It is disheartening to say the least that while the war is going on here, there is a formidable and organised group out there embarking on a campaign to present Nigeria as though there is genocide against a part of the country. The strategy and intention are to buy sympathy for the sect members by playing the human rights card and to discredit the military before the international community, thereby precipitating certain decisions that may damage this country irreversibly.
We have seen how America and some of its allies refused to sell arms to Nigeria in the heat of the war under the guise of human rights abuses by our military – a fallout of AI’s persistent accusations.
It is pertinent to point out here that Israel which has faced accusations of human rights abuses in its war of attrition with Hamas regularly gets restocked with massive military supplies of weapons by the same hypocritical United States, because it believes Israel is fighting an existential war with Hamas, which has sworn to the destruction of the Jewish state. But America plays the human rights card when it comes to Nigeria – a country facing an ominous prospect of being overrun.
What we are contending with begins from the realm of definition: what are we really confronting? Is it insurgency or terrorism? The two might look the same but they are not. Let me start from insurgency: insurgency involves a situation where a group or some individuals rightly or wrongly, feel that their rights have been denied and have attempted to call attention to it, to no avail. The situation persists or even degenerates further until, they eventually resort to arm struggle to get attention and redress the situation. When such is happening, there is room for negotiation.
Terrorism, on the other hand, is implacable and does not expect reconciliation as an option – it wants a total overturn of the system. And it desires to achieve this through brutality, intimidation, harassment or any method that can achieve the highest fatality that will compel total submissiveness by the people borne out of fear.
Terrorism also aims to achieve a situation where the state institutions are destroyed or discredited to the extent that the people begin to look favourably towards the terrorists and their message. Furthermore, it tries to turn the citizens against the government of the day, and the state, so that people will begin to lose faith in the ability of the system to protect them.
I think we are already at that stage where many Nigerians, especially in the North-east have lost faith in the ability of the state to guarantee their security. The first institution we threw away was the police because they couldn’t handle the situation. So we drafted in the military. As it fumbled initially, it drove Nigerians to send the Goodluck Jonathan administration packing because he was seen as lacking the will and muscle to tackle the terrorists who had overran substantial part of the North-east and even declared it, its Caliphate – leaving the military as their next target. And there appears to have been a concerted effort to achieve their evil objective – which is clearly yielding results lately – as we have been inundated with reports of highly placed individuals trying to rubbish the military, including people who have had the privilege of a military career to fulfillment level and now – the AI bombshell.
While the battle against the terrorists was going on, there have been reported cases of highly placed persons in our society and some retired senior army officers providing material support to the sect. And some elements within the fold of the northern elite had repeatedly vowed to drag the military to the International Criminal Court (ICC), when the military had scored major victories over the terror group in Baga in 2013. With the terror sect on the back foot, those threats have even grown louder from a particular part of the country, threats which have now been validated by the AI report – thereby laying the groundwork for what may happen in the future.
It is a shame that AI has committed itself to the defence of terrorists and their supporters, and at the same time, failed so spectacularly to take pictures and video of the horrific atrocities committed by the terror group as evidence of the sect’s inhumanity and war crimes. It has failed to document the mindless killings of so many innocent people whose only offence was that they were going about their normal lives – poor ordinary people savagely murdered for no cogent reason at all. It is granted that the Amnesty International will not make an impact if it accuses the terrorists of war crimes, but it will grab headlines around the world if it accuses the military of it. But must this be done at the expense of protecting the territorial integrity of Nigeria?
The truth here is that the shadowy group and its collaborators cleverly realised early that, “if you want sympathy for your cause, then you don’t call it terrorism – as that will turn off the West”. So cleverly, they labelled it “insurgency” to make the group seem as if it has a legitimate cause it is fighting for.
If you carry out checks, you will find out most of the establishment people, and even opinion moulders from a particular part of this country, avoid that word “terrorism”, instead they refer to it as “insurgency”. For the simple reason, I suspect is to carry the US and the West along and they have achieved that – to the extent that the US is now in the forefront of accusations of human rights violations against our military. Ironically, America has a poor record on human rights when dealing with terrorists who pose a major threat to its national interests. To achieve its goal of “degrading and destroying” the terrorists, America deploys Special Forces and all sorts of weapons: hi-tech weapons, massive ordinances, including hellfire missiles from drones to target and kill terrorists around the world – also killing and maiming many innocent people in the process with a great deal of property destroyed. We have seen the massive forces the United States and its Western allies deploy in the pursuit of terror groups and their affiliates; we have seen the US detain terror suspects in Guantanamo Bay for nearly 14 years without formal charges or trial, with “industrial-scale” torture of suspects in the prison. Although AI has drawn the world’s attention to the atrocities committed by America, we have never heard AI call for its military top brass responsible for those abuses/violations to be referred for trial.
In case AI is unaware of it, the US Senate Report on Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Detention and Interrogation Programme details actions by CIA officials, including torturing prisoners, providing misleading or false information about classified CIA programmes to the media, impeding government oversight and internal criticisms, and mismanagement of the programmes. It also revealed the existence of previously unknown detainees – and that more detainees were subjected to harsher treatment than was previously disclosed, and that more forms of torture were used than previously disclosed. It traced blame to the very top of the US government
However, AI is obviously impotent to confront America about these abuses. Or these are not war crimes because it is America that is involved? Although, America is not a signatory to the ICC (neither is Sudan), AI can build a groundswell of opinion and institute actions to redress human rights abuses/violations of terrorist-detainees in the US court, if it becomes difficult to prosecute them at the ICC. In contrast, Nigeria has become Amnesty’s play toy – it issues ultimatums, commands and instructions with the threat of ICC. And who will blame Al anyway? And who will say Boko Haram is not winning the war, when it has a powerful voice like AI championing and fighting for their rights?
For real, the sect is winning. As stated earlier, the police institution in Nigeria has been discredited, Jonathan lost the elections, and the Nigerian military is being rubbished. What other institutions of the state do we have left? That is the objective of terrorists and they are sadly winning. All they need now is consolidation. I won’t be surprised if the Amnesty report is their final tool to get back at those who have dared to confront them – the very soldiers who fought for us to still have our country. It must be acknowledged here that there is no way you fight a war without some abuses that are appalling, but the fact remains that AI is on a campaign to discredit our military.
If we are going to define the word “insurgency”, it is the Niger Delta situation that nearly approximates it, and clearly not the terrorists we have in the North-east. We didn’t see senseless killings or hear of whole villages burnt down – people were kidnapped quite alright and oil infrastructure was vandalised, but certainly not the kind of terror we have on our hands today. The Niger Delta militants were agitating for a larger share of the resources taken from their land, even though it also involved some elements of criminality. But the moment there was an understanding, the restiveness simmered.
Unfortunately, many do not see it this way and we are about to enter the final lap of victory for Boko Haram. If eventually, the Muhammadu Buhari presidency endorses this indictment of the military or individuals who fought the sect, will it not jeopardise the war against terror? Will it not demoralise our forces? Would our soldiers who fought and died to liberate Nigeria from the terrorists not have died in vain? Beyond that, will it not divide an already divided military?
And more than anything else, is it not a contradiction of monumental proportion for the northern establishment, especially its intelligentsia to be rooting for the prosecution of military personnel on charges of human rights abuses that they are accused of committing against Boko Haram members, while at the same time calling for amnesty for members of the very sect – that has waged war on the country, its people and committed the worst forms of atrocities ever seen in our history? Need we remind ourselves of the unquantifiable plunder and destruction of infrastructure, socio-economic crimes, mass murder of thousands, beheadings, mass kidnappings, mass rape of women, destruction of entire communities and gleefully making a show of it? Unfortunately, these are the people whose rights are now more important than the rights of the thousands they have maimed and killed.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Shaka Momodu/Thisday