Boko Haram in sights of Nige­ria pres­i­dent

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY PHIL HA­ZLE­WOOD

Nige­ria’s new Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari has made an early pledge in the fight against Boko Haram, an­nounc­ing a sur­prise re­struc­tur­ing in the com­mand struc­ture of the coun­try’s counter-in­sur­gency op­er­a­tions.

In his in­au­gu­ral speech on Fri­day, the 72-year-old for­mer mil­i­tary ruler said the coun­terin­sur­gency in the restive north­east would no longer be di­rected from the cap­i­tal.

“Progress has been made in re­cent weeks by our se­cu­rity forces but victory can­not be achieved by bas­ing the com­mand and con­trol cen­tre in Abuja,” he said af­ter swear­ing the oath of of­fice.

“The com­mand cen­tre will be re­lo­cated to Maiduguri and re­main un­til Boko Haram is com­pletely sub­dued.”

Maiduguri, the cap­i­tal of Borno state, is where the Is­lamist group was founded in 2002 and has been re­peat­edly tar­geted af­ter the move­ment turned vi­o­lent from 2009.

The mil­i­tary on Satur­day re­pelled a fresh attack on the city.

Yan St-Pierre, head of the Mod­ern Se­cu­rity Con­sult­ing Group, said Buhari’s re­lo­ca­tion plan was “very sound,” al­low­ing more stream­lined com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­tween de­ci­sion-mak­ers, strate­gists and troops on the ground.

“In short, this de­notes a more hands-on ap­proach to the fight against Boko Haram,” the coun­tert­er­ror­ism con­sul­tant told AFP in an email ex­change.

Over­sight, Co­or­di­na­tion

Un­der for­mer Pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan Nige­ria’s mil­i­tary was seen as largely in­ef­fec­tive against Boko Haram un­til a fight­back be­gan this year with neigh­bors Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

De­spite mas­sive an­nual de­fense spend­ing, Nige­rian troops claimed they lacked ad­e­quate weapons to take on the bet­ter-armed mil­i­tants, as well as not hav­ing enough food or be­ing paid on time.

Buhari, a for­mer army gen­eral, has vowed to over­haul the mil­i­tary, stamp­ing out cor­rup­tion and re­viv­ing a rep­u­ta­tion that was rub­bished dur­ing Jonathan’s regime.

New weapons and hard­ware have been pro­cured since late last year, and with the help of pri­vate se­cu­rity con­trac­tors, many of them from South Africa, the mil­i­tary has gained the up­per hand.

Ryan Cum­mings, chief

Africa an­a­lyst at the Red24 con­sul­tancy group, how­ever, saw the switch from Abuja to Maiduguri as “more of a sym­bolic ges­ture.”

“I think Buhari is try­ing to de­bunk a com­mon-held per­cep­tion that Nige­ria’s north­east is con­sid­ered to be of lit­tle con­se­quence to the Nige­rian state and, as such, the se­cu­rity of the re­gion is not a pri­or­ity to an Abuja-hosted regime,” he said.

“Buhari may also be con­sciously ad­dress­ing the root causes, and not only the symptoms of the in­sur­gency, by ex­tend­ing gov­er­nance to spa­ces where it has been limited and/or ab­sent.”

Di­rect­ing op­er­a­tions closer to the field could help im­prove co­or­di­na­tion in the coali­tion, which although to­gether on pa­per, has ef­fec­tively op­er­ated in­de­pen­dently, said St-Pierre.

“It also sends a very strong mes­sage to ev­ery­one in­volved. Buhari is tak­ing the fight against BH very se­ri­ously and will take the nec­es­sary mea­sures to en­sure suc­cess.”

Buhari made no spe­cific men­tion of Chad, Niger and Cameroon in his speech, other than to thank them “for com­mit­ting their armed forces to fight Boko Haram in Nige­ria.”

Whether he will con­tinue the part­ner­ship is un­clear, although N’Djamena re­cently ex­tended its troops’ man­date to op­er­ate in the counter-in­sur­gency.

The new head of state did not men­tion the African Union multi­na­tional force or wider in­ter­na­tional ini­tia­tives taken in light of Boko Haram’s al­le­giance to the Is­lamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

An­a­lysts see re­gional co­op­er­a­tion as key to de­feat­ing the mil­i­tants, who have been pushed out from cap­tured ter­ri­tory and towns and are thought to be tak­ing refuge in bor­der ar­eas.

Hu­man Rights

Nige­ria’s mil­i­tary has long been ac­cused of ex­cesses in its pur­suit of Boko Haram, in­clud­ing ar­bi­trary detention, tor­ture and ex­tra­ju­di­cial ex­e­cu­tions of civil­ians.

At least 15,000 peo­ple have been killed dur­ing the in­sur­gency and more than 1.5 mil­lion made home­less, spark­ing what the Red Cross says is “one of the most se­ri­ous hu­man­i­tar­ian crises in Africa.”

Buhari pledged to “over­haul the rules of en­gage­ment to avoid hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions” dur­ing mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions and bring of­fend­ers to book.

“The prom­ises of im­prov­ing op­er­a­tional and legal mech­a­nisms and tak­ing dis­ci­plinary mea­sures are all to be wel­comed,” said Amnesty In­ter­na­tional’s Net­sanet Be­lay.

“But the new gov­ern­ment needs to go be­yond this and en­sure proper ac­count­abil­ity for crimes com­mit­ted in the con­text of the con­flict.

“The new ad­min­is­tra­tion is in­deed pre­sented with a unique op­por­tu­nity to break the cy­cle of im­punity in Nige­ria,” he added.

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