Containing Boko Haram the Cameroonian way – Punch
Repeated successes recorded by Cameroonian forces in their confrontations with the fiendish Boko Haram group remain an abiding testimony to the view that the Islamist terrorists are by no means invincible if only Nigerian soldiers can be made more efficient and combat-ready. It also shows a clear understanding on the part of the Cameroonians of the danger posed by the insurgents.
Reports have it that after a recent incursion into Cameroonian territory, the Boko Haram jihadists were forced to beat a hasty retreat, with the gendarmes hot on their trail. The clash, which reportedly took place on Boxing Day, saw the Cameroonian soldiers chasing Boko Haram fighters into Bama, right inside Nigerian territory. Employing their aerial power for the first time against the group, the gendarmes inflicted a heavy defeat on Boko Haram, which lost about 150 of its members in the encounter, according to reports.
Ironically, the same Bama, together with Gwoza and other fringe villages, has been under the control of Boko Haram since September last year. Additional villages and towns have since come under the control of the group after more recent conquests. In fact, the capture of Gwoza was well celebrated by the insurgent group, which went ahead to declare areas under its control as a caliphate, with the town, which plays host to an important police training academy, as the capital. Since then, it has been difficult for the Nigerian forces to dislodge them.
A similar response also came from Cameroon when the wife of the country's deputy Prime Minister, Amodou Ali, was kidnapped after an invasion of his country home in Kolofata by the Islamists barely two months after the infamous kidnap of the 276 schoolgirls in Chibok. But while the Nigerian authorities pusillanimously restrained themselves from acting, the Cameroonians boldly took the plunge to rescue the kidnapped lady.
The lesson was clear then as it is now: when dealing with Boko Haram, as with any other terror group, it is always wise to strike while the iron is hot. Little wonder that the Chibok girls are still languishing in captivity 271 days after they were carted away as war booty - simply because Nigeria failed to act fast and timely enough.
The Cameroonian approach has ensured that, no matter how hard they have tried, the Boko Haram terrorists have not been able to establish a foothold in Nigeria's eastern neighbour's territory, despite the shared porous border. It also underlines the need to be on the offensive when dealing with the terrorists. By taking the fight right into Nigerian territory, the Cameroonians can virtually rest assured that their territory is completely free of the Boko Haram elements.
This is doubtlessly a big lesson for Nigeria in counterterrorism. If the Nigerian forces had taken the battle to Boko Haram when it was still holed up in Sambisa Forest, perhaps, the group would not have had all the time in the world to mobilise and transform into the fighting force that it is today, threatening to take over the three states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe. But rather than act swiftly, then, the Nigerian government committed the fatal error of thinking that Boko Haram, a band of terrorists in the mould of al-Qaeda, Taliban and al-Shabbab, was a mere group of disgruntled elements made up of jobless and uneducated urchins.
This theory received wide currency, prompting the government to contemplate a vague 'carrot and stick' approach to dealing with the problem. The government even went to the extent of constituting a negotiating team, with a view to granting the group amnesty, in the mould of the deal struck with the Niger Delta militants. This culminated in last year's grand deception in which the government was conned into announcing a dubious truce with Boko Haram, directing the military to suspend hostilities at a time the group was busy annexing Nigerian territories.
Some so-called foreign experts also bought into the false narrative of poverty and illiteracy as the prime cause of the insurgency, ignoring the fact that a commissioner, Buji Foi, actually resigned from the government of Borno State to take up leadership role in the group. The fact that children of very prominent and rich Nigerians have been caught in terrorist acts has also given a lie to this claim.
From available facts, it is now evident, as we have always said, that Boko Haram is part of a global resurgent Islamist movement that is violence-inclined and whose fury can neither be assuaged by dialogue nor kid gloves treatment. The leader of the group, Abubakar Shekau, while scoffing at the various government peace overtures, has always maintained, 'We will kill until we are tired,' or killed.
From the experience of the ongoing war against the Islamic State in the Middle East, it is clear that Boko Haram can best be dealt with through global collaborative efforts, as terrorists in any country are a threat to the rest of the world. It was this same approach that saw off the terrorist threat to Mali two years ago. Nigeria has to strengthen her military - described by Alice Friend, Pentagon's Principal Director for African Affairs, as 'a military force that's, quite frankly, becoming afraid to engage' - to work more closely with her immediate neighbours, especially in ensuring that there is no safe haven for them to hide while fleeing from Nigerian soldiers.