I have had over three decades experiences as a conflict manager and preventive researcher. In the course of my job, I have traversed most parts of the world. But my experiences are more grounded in my former country, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
And until its disintegration, Yugoslavian six republics were enmeshed in virulent economic crises and political unrests since the 1980s. And it eventually transmuted into a break-up of this previously unified amalgam of disparate ethnic, religious and historical entities under a single federation. With the upheavals over, I am a citizen of the Republic of Kosovo. But I have seen and experienced a lot about crises or its management far and near.
The path to Kosovo’s independence was long and strewn with thorns, expressed in hate, animosities and violent conflicts. But let me not bore you with details. However, let me quickly say, in the life of every nation in the world, there comes a time minor disagreement are ballooned to major conflicts with its toll on lives, peace and progress of nations. Equally, there comes a time that nature also enthrones the right leadership to right the wrongs, and uproot the deep-seated incendiaries from national psyche.
Nigeria, the most populous nation amongst the black race on earth has found itself in this quagmire ignited by the vicious and brutal campaigns of Boko Haram insurgents. And I have confirmed the incursion of extremists terrorism from the Middle East into Nigeria and other countries in the West African sub-region.
These religious extremists or terrorists, to be precise, under the identity of Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) accentuated their bloody campaigns on the state of Nigeria at the turn of partisan campaigns for the 2019 general elections.
From observable manifest aggressions, I have sensed the eagerness and hastiness of ISWAP terrorists to quickly subdue and re-conquer Nigeria. But ISWAP elements have encountered a hard nut to crack in Nigerian military forces, particularly Nigerian soldiers in the frontlines.
The increasing sophistication of ISWAP’s weaponry and the lackluster attitude of the local population whose preference seems to tilt in the direction of shielding terrorists are problematic. And hoarding critical information from the military have been great assets to the vicious terrorism campaigners.
But I must admit that the vigilance, hard work, commitment and the undisguised patriotism of the Nigerian Chief of Army Staff, General TY Buratai have consistently frustrated the agenda of the ISWAP terrorists. Of course, flashes of terror attacks on communities, ambushes of troops in the battlefields and casualties on both sides would continue to occur because of the drowsy and aberrant character of managing terrorism combats and conflicts to its conclusive end.
However, I am impressed with the courage, bravery and tenacity of the Nigerian Army. Troops in the frontlines have displayed determination, rather than fatigue. And the counter-insurgency leaders have displayed ideal and focused leadership; it has not flinched from support to troops, which are the greatest psychological weapon a soldier needs in war.
At least, it was my experience and pulse during my recent visit to parts of the Northeast Nigeria after the country’s current leader, President Muhammadu Buhari was elected a second time in 2019. The first time I came to Nigeria for firsthand information on the rampaging and raging Boko Haram insurgency was in February 2015. Three terrorism incidents fascinated my enthusiasm. I really felt visiting the country, scenes of attacks, interacting with troops in the warfront and government’s counter measures would enrich my knowledge on conflict management and understanding towards helping the world prevent crisis and overcome existing ones.
The night of April 14-15 2014 Boko Haram’s abduction of about 276 teenage Chibok schoolgirls, in Borno state. Earlier on same April 14, 2014, terrorists exploded multiple bombs at a busy bus station in Abuja, Nigeria’s national capital, gruesomely murdering an estimated 200 persons and causing destructions.
And the insurgency three days serial raids and unmolested siege on Baga, a town in the Northeast Northern Borno province between January 3-7, 2015. Reports monitored on local and foreign media outlets revealed that at least 2,000 people were feared dead and insurgents captured the town, neighboring villages and a multinational military Base.
I was again in Nigeria, early January 2020, after the Sallah, Christmas and New Year festivities. I understood from my contacts that these are the most auspicious times Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorists prefer to brandish their self-acclaimed might in braggadocio. They would outlandishly unleash heinous atrocities on civilian and military targets to spur international attention.I flew into Nigeria, landed in the capital city, Abuja and rested for two days to plan my itinerary, enliven conversations with my contacts and get security cover. In war situations, no one undermines personal safety and security. I monitored local TV channels, I watched again reports of troops confrontations with ISWAP terrorists.
I proceeded to Maiduguri from Abuja on road in company of two security details and Mallam Aliyu , my driver who is also from the Northeast. At Maiduguri, we went straight to the headquarters of the Command Theatre, Operation Lafiya Dole, and met with some top commanders of the Army. I introduced myself and mission. He was receptive and hospitable. I interacted with some Nigerian soldiers in Maiduguri and spent the night in the ancient city.
The next day. my contact got me a list containing locations of Army Battalions, Military Forward Bases and Special Strike Teams as guide. We were able to get a few soldiers who provided additional security to me and everywhere I decided to visit.
I spent four days visiting military formations in the Northeast. I was at Baga, Pulka, Bama, the once dreaded Sambisa forest, Monguno, Gwoza and hordes of other locations. The places were liberated and natives returned to forlorn enclaves. I was quite excited that Gwoza, which was once captured and occupied by Boko Haram as their Islamic Caliphate administrative headquarters was also liberated. I couldn’t hide my joy and had to share pictures each day with Francois and Young who all wanted to embark on the trip with me.
In Biu, I also visited the Nigerian Army University, Biu (NAUB). The edifice was a masterpiece to behold. At each destination, I interacted with the natives and troops at the frontlines and got their heartbeat. I left Borno for a return journey to Abuja, but diverted into Postiskum in Yobe state, where I also encountered some troops. While I engaged them in mutual talks, some of them whispered to me about the presence of General Buratai whom the troops fondly refer to as ” the Chief.” I learnt he was paying one of his usually silent, but routine personal trips to the Nigerian troops.
He was at another end of the camp, also exchanging views with some troops over recent developments in the theatre of war. I walked up to him; exchanged pleasantries and introduced myself. I was meeting Gen. Buratai personally for the first time.
Pleasantly, my first impression of him was that of a warm personality, amiable soldier and determined leader, who is optimistic in succeeding on his assignment. A good Army General constantly disguises to be in touch and brief his troops to bolster their ego of performance. It’s a rare leadership ingenuity in Gen. Buratai.
Meanwhile, soldiers I met in Borno earlier told me the Chief visits constantly. But I never believed, thinking it’s just a smart answer to shield their boss, until I ran into him personally on the field. Soldiers in the battlefield are always busy people. So, I had a few minutes with Gen. Buratai, who was very detailed on the actions and plans of President Buhari to terminate the reign of terror in Nigeria.
It is not in my position to divulge what we discussed. It was not a planned interview and might be giving out too much to the terrorists. But as I conversed with him TV images i watched on a local station, where the Minister of Defence, Gen. Bashi Magashi and Gen. Buratai who led a delegation of the European Commission to Mr. President, where both parties had talks on the counter-insurgency operations flashed my mind. I blended its veracity from what I heard from the Army Chief.
Back to Abuja in my hotel room, I reflected over my experiences on the trip. I could not help but nod in satisfaction that Nigeria has recoded unique milestones in combating Boko Haram/ISWAP terrorism. There is a lot of difference in the success of counter-insurgency operations in the country now.
Those far from the theatre of war may not understand. But it’s not easy reclaiming territories under the control of terrorists anywhere, and sustaining the victory like Nigerian soldiers have accomplished in retaking the 18 LGAS in the Northeast. Terrorists pride is usually bruised and they fight back ferociously. One should expect to see desperation by terrorists to retake reclaimed lands to lead to intermittent strikes, which is normal in terrorism combat wars.
Until I came and saw the reality before I believed the press particularly fed the world outside and Nigerians with inaccurate information about the war against terrorism in Nigeria. Each time I read the alarming and sensational news on terrorism war in Nigeria, one is tempted to believe the whole country is on inferno. And it was grave risk to visit the Northeast even with security escorts. But the reality is excitedly different.
But let me caution that most Nigerians are selling out their country to terrorists and their foreign sponsors through sensational and discreditable news on social media platforms or even traditional media. There should be patriotism and moderation for the sake of national interest. Combating terrorism is beyond politics. It is pointless churning lies that may compromise the security of your whole country.
Unfortunately, it seems all categories of Nigerians have indulged in this disservice and resentful conduct, including some highly placed leaders. They must be mindful or else, these actions can easily shatter the coherence and unity of the country. But even one day in an IDPs camp, in a foreign land is like hell on earth.
Granit is the President, Preventive Diplomacy, United Kingdom.