Sambisa forest search mission: The facts and misconceptions

Sambisa forest search mission: The facts and misconceptions

Wednesday, January 25, 2017 12:53 pm

l-R; Aisha Yusuf, Alhaji Lai Mohammed and Dr. Oby Ezekweshili at the airport on the way to Sambisa


A News Analysis by Rotimi Ijikanmi, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

South Korean-born American actor Steven Yeun once said “People think that Detroit is this barren wasteland’’.

Detroit is described as the largest city in the Mid-Western State of Michigan, “while there are parts that are not as nice as others, the misconception is not true; there is a lot of heart and love in this city,’’ he said.

Yeun’s observation and position on Detroit are akin to the Federal Government’s organised guided tour of the north-eastern part of Nigeria and search sorties to Sambisa forest, the strong hold of the Boko Haram insurgents on Jan. 16.

Ministers of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed led the tour comprising and the Minister of Defence, retired Brig.-Gen. Mansur Dan-Alli, a delegation of Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) advocacy group and selected journalists from local and international media.

Prior to the tour, criticisms had peaked by many individuals and groups who were distraught on the fate of abducted schoolgirls from Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State by the Boko Haram terrorists since April 14, 2014.

There were expressions of dimmed hope on the rescue of the girls and others in captivity as well as allegation of ineptitude by the government and the military.

The tour thus became imperative for the selected team to be taken to the theatre of war to witness and better understand the efforts being made by the military to secure the freedom of the girls and other victims of Boko Haram terrorists.

On Jan. 8, which marked the 1,000 days of the abduction of the girls, the BBOG campaigners had criticised the government on the handling of the release of the girls and others in Boko Haram captivity.

In a statement issued to mark the day, the BBOG alleged that the President Muhammadu Buhari’s government had relaxed in activities pertaining to the return of the girls.

The group in the statement compared the alleged tepid response of the Buhari’s administration to that of its predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan’s government.

“As with the Jonathan administration, the Buhari administration’s response to issues about the Chibok girls is representative of its handling other issues — insecurity, welfare of internally displaced persons, military welfare, corruption and poor governance’’.

A member of the BBOG, Dr Emman Shehu, even disparaged military efforts at rescuing the girls and others in Boko Haram captivity.

“We are talking of 219 girls and only 24 girls have been found, but none was rescued.

“Three found their way out to freedom and 21 were negotiated for. It shows that up till now there is not an intelligence-based operation to go in and rescue the girls,’’ he observed.

Shehu also expressed doubts about the capture of the Sambisa Forest and challenged the military to take the media on a tour of the entire forest.

“Sadam Hussein was found in a spider hole and the world media was taking to the place; besides, we must also remember that Sambisa is almost the size of Abia.

“So, do we have the capability to surround the whole place and ensure that Boko Haram is not operating there?

“Another point is that this is an insurgency. Insurgents do not have a command and control centre. They have a shura and once they decide what they are going to do, that decision is now spread through the cells.

“It smacks off a lack of understanding to talk about a Boko Haram command and control centre,’’ he said.

Also at the Abuja rally, the coordinator of the BBOG, Mrs Obiageli Ezekwsili, stated that the government’s inability to ensure the rescue the remaining 195 girls of the 219 girls abducted was a “failure’’ and “unimaginable”

She said: “We have had two governments and yet we have 195 girls who have yet to be released from terrorists, 1000 days after they were abducted.

“We had said 500 days after they were abducted that 500 days was too long for citizens to wait for their daughters to be rescued. Today is 500 days times two.

“You can imagine how much of a monumental failure it is that 195 of our Chibok girls are still in terrorists’ captivity’’.

In one of its efforts at putting right some erroneous beliefs among the critics, the Federal Government in its responsiveness organised a tour of Sambisa forest.

Following the invitation extended to the BBOG by government to participate in the search mission, the group had given certain conditions which the government considered impracticable.

The government stood its ground on proceeding on the trip as scheduled which made the BBOG to review the conditions and indicated acceptance to participate in the exercise.

So, on Jan. 16, the BBOG joined the FG team at the Nigeria Air Force terminal of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport,Abuja for the search mission.

The BBOG delegation was led by Ezekwesili accompanied by Mrs Aisha Yesufu, Mr Ibrahim Usman and Dr Manasseh Allen, the representative of Chibok Community and uncle to some of the abducted girls.

They were received by the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshall Sadiq Abubakar and other naval commanding officers in Yola.

The guided tour in Yola included briefings and presentations on counter insurgency as well as day and night search in Sambisa general area with the team.

For the day search, the team, who were carried in two Beechcraft 350 surveillance aircraft, departed the Yola Air Force Base at about 2.30 p.m.

The aircraft flying at about15, 000 feet altitude entered the Sambisa general area, 35 minutes after departure.

The search sorties in the forest, which lasted for three hour, took the team to Camp Zairo, hitherto the stronghold of the Boko Haram, captured by the home troop in December 2016

Sambisa forest is said to cover 60,000 square kilometres which is about 18 times the size of Lagos and 85 per cent of Borno land surface.

ith the aid of sophisticated inbuilt surveillance camera in the aircraft, the team was shown the video images of burnt vehicles and camps of the Boko Haram insurgents particularly Camp Zairo.

The images of the tracks of the insurgents as well as the locations of the ground troops of the military who have occupied the forest were also shown to the team.

The night sortie began at 2.41 a.m.  on Jan. 17 with a similar flight search of the Sambisa general area.

Though the terrorists were said to be very active at night before the capture of the forest, the camera only captured a movement of an animal searching for food.

The media briefing and questions and answers session on Jan. 17 when the team returned from the night search sortie concluded the mission.

Ezekwesili who responded to question on the feelings and position of the group after the exercise agreed that the military were better equipped for the exercise contrary to opinion hitherto held by many.

“A significant issue is the knowledge of how much of a difference it means for our military to be equipped.

“This position validates our demand that no military disempowered can win a war.

“For example, to imagine that the vast land of Sambisa general area, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) once upon a time has only two fighter jets reeling out against the enemies, but today it is different.

“It is reassuring that equipping of our military has significant impact beyond the ordinary,’’ she said.

Ezekwesili reechoed the demand of BBOG for stiff penalties for those stole the budgetary resources for prosecution of terrorism war in the previous administrations.

“Imagine what will have happened if all the resources misappropriated were truly utilised for acquiring the kind of equipment and technology that we saw on board this mission.

“So also are the facilities we have seen here analysing results and giving very informed outcomes for decision making,’’ she said.

She, nonetheless, underscored the need for government to continue with the negotiations for the release of the remaining 195 Chibok girls in captivity.

The minister expressed satisfaction with the exercise, stressing that it had served its intended purpose and commended the NAF for the initiative.

He said that negotiations for the release of other Chibok girls in captivity were ongoing and the success recorded by the military in the theatre of war was helping because of the carrot and stick approach of government to ending insurgency.

Concerned citizens note that there is no doubt the fact that the tour has served its purpose and participants are convinced of the relentless efforts of the military in prosecuting war against terror in the North East.

According to them, it is therefore not a surprise that the post-tour report by BBOG jointly signed by the four people who participated in the operations was a far departure from the earlier views of the group.

“We can confirm that the air component of the counter insurgency war is being prosecuted by a highly professional, capable, motivated and committed team of the Nigeria Air Force.

“Furthermore, the presentation by the Chief of Air Staff on the training and human capital development strategy of the NAF enabled us to appreciate its plans for the future.

“We saw that Data, Knowledge and Information Analysis play a major role in the strategy of the Nigerian Air Force prosecuting the air component of the war.

, The report further stated: “Our exposure to the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) platform and the technical room of NAF indicated the level of adoption of technology in the prosecution of the war.

“We were presented data on the growing fleet of ISRs, fighter jets, helicopter gunships and other tools and equipment available to prosecute the air component of the war by NAF.

“We observed the coordination between the NAF and the Nigerian Army which prosecutes the ground component of the war was demonstrably strong as we saw evidence of the manner in which they share information toward achieving results.

“We were provided data and imagery evidence to show that the search for our Chibok Girls and other abducted citizens is a daily activity by NAF, ’’ the statement issued on Jan. 21, stated.

Observers, therefore, note that government’s approach of making constructive use of its criticism  by correcting the misconception of inept using the search sorties was commendable and recommended in addressing other contentious issues.(NANFeatures)

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