Monday, July 12, 2021 10:58 am
By Olusegun Akinfenwa
Since the emergence of the Boko Haram sect in the early 2000s, the Lake Chad region, consisting of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, has witnessed several attacks by the extremists. In the past few years, the group and its allies have grown brazen in their activities, especially against the military. On April 26, the Islamic State-aligned fighters of Boko Haram, Islamic State of West Africa (ISWAP), reportedly killed more than 30 soldiers in an attack at a military location in Mainok, Borno State, Nigeria. Such onslaught has, unfortunately, become commonplace. Similarly, the group’s attacks against civilian, including killings of over 36,000 persons, kidnapping of schoolchildren for ransom, millions of forced migrations, hoisting of flags in captured communities, and forceful conversion of their captives, are also regular occurrences.
While these humanitarian crises are worrisome, the sect’s increasing arms stockpile is another concern with both immediate and long-term devastating effects. Each time they overpower a military base, the terrorists make off with a different cache of weapons. Of course, the forceful acquisition of military weapons is a common pattern insurgents use globally. In 2016, Kenyan troops with the African Union Force in Somalia (AMISOM) reportedly lost over 150 assault rifles, 26 machine guns, five mortals and 140,000 rounds of ammunition when their camp at southwestern Somalia was attacked by al-Shabaab in 2016. The Burundian troops also suffered a similar fate in 2015 against al-Qaeda-aligned fighters in Somalia. However, the frequency with which the militants in the Lake Chad region, especially Nigeria, do this and the successes they enjoy is a perturbing mystery.
Since 2015, Boko Haram has overrun fixed sites of companies and battalions in all four countries in the region,according to the Council on Foreign Relations. The Nigerian government, which suffers the greatest burden, has persistently downplayed the recurring carnages wrecked by the jihadists, and the media attention has mostly been on fatalities and other humanitarian crises from these attacks. As a result, it is difficult to ascertain the true scale of military weapons in the terrorists’ hands. It is also true that Boko Haram could have been inflating its successes, as propaganda is one of the group’s strongest weapons.
However, from all indications, the insurgents have amassed a cache of weapons large enough to make leaders in the region shudder. Thousands of assault rifles and assorted firearms, millions of rounds of ammunition, and hundreds of military vehicles, including self-propelled artillery and armoured tanks, are now in their possession. They have also carted away sizeable amounts of non-lethal materiels, such as communication gears, petrol, and uniforms.
In late April, ISWAP fighters displayed different types of operational Hilux vehicles and armoured tanks captured from the military in the Mainok attack. In November 2018, the group also boasted of making away with four tanks and other vehicles and ammunition in its attack on an army base in Metele, Borno state. These are just a few of such instances, which indicate more devastating future events than one can possibly imagine.
More than ever before, the military needs a coordinated intelligence-gathering effort to unravel the hidden motive behind the group’s recent insatiable quest for this massive weapon acquisition beyond its surface outlook. Already, the recent insecurity surge across northern Nigeria cannot be disconnected from the proliferation and illegal acquisition of arms in the region. Many communities that used to be peaceful have recently become hotbeds for violence.
In the early days of Boko Haram, its activities were mainly within northeastern Nigeria. But today, the relatively peaceful northwest now grapples with various kinds of armed conflicts by the group. And recently, Governor Abubakar Bello of Niger State, north-central Nigeria, lamented the active presence of Boko Haram in his state. Different violent groups have also sprouted in various parts of the country. Though they operate under various names, such as bandits and hoodlums, their activities are similar to Boko Haram’s modus operandi. This begs the question: is there a connection between Boko Haram and these extremist groups, such as Fulani herdsmen militia who have killed over 7,000 persons in the past six years, the bandits terrorizing, killing and kidnapping people for ransom, and other related groups?
An ongoing study by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) finds that the link between Boko Haram and the so-called bandits dates back years. In a 2014 video tagged ‘Message to Fulanis’, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau is seen expressing gratitude to fighters in Katsina State and other unspecified places. In June 2020, Boko Haram also sent greetings to their fellow fighters in Niger and Zamfara states. Three weeks later, the group released another video of fighters in Niger returning “greetings” to Shekau and their “brothers” in Zamfara. In September 2019, Shekau sent greetings to fighters on Lake Chad. The sequence of events shows that the group has been spreading its tentacles for a long time, and the recent surge of attacks have long been premeditated and orchestrated.
ISS finds that the reasons behind Boko Haram’s fraternization with northwest and north-central fighters include its desire to create an Islamic state extending beyond the northeast, financial gains from ransom and possibly illegal gold mining. It is then not surprising seeing the current situation in those two northern Nigerian regions. Apart from the lingering wanton killings and millions of displacements, these violent-torn communities in the Lake Chad region also suffer life-threatening hunger.Diffa, southwestern Niger, is home to more than 280,000 refugees, most of whom fled from terrorist attacks.
Unfortunately, even the refugee and internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in the region are not all safe. In 2020, there was a deadly terrorist attackat a western Niger refugee camp. In Nigeria, the extremists have also struck different IDP camps, killing and abducting many. Children in the region suffer some of the greatest burdens of these crises, as they have become highly d isadvantaged in many areas. Millions of them experience a huge learning gap compared with their peers in other regions. They also suffer severe malnutrition, making them more vulnerable to other crucial childhood diseases. In Nigeria alone, Boko Haram violence has also displaced about 1.4 million children.
The recurring attacks also place a serious financial burden on governments. Nigeria has significantly increased its military spending in the last decade.In 2019, the country spent $1.86 billion and raised it to $2.5 billion in 2020. Unfortunately, there isn’t much to show for the increase as a good portion of weapons procured with the funds ended up in the insurgents’ camps.
The recent events show that Boko Haram and its allies do not plan to slow down on their onslaughts against the military and civilian populations in t he Lake Chad region. And with the rapid spread and successes it currently enjoys, the jihadist sect could be nursing the ambition of spreading to other parts of sub-Saharan Africa. This spells a bigger doom to the region and Africa in general, given the continent is already enmeshed in various armed conflicts, which has kept it far behind in development and tranquillity. Boko Haram constitutes a monster that must be stopped with immediate effect. This requires blocking its sources of growing arms stockpile.
Olusegun Akinfenwa is a correspondent for Immigration News, a news organization affiliated with Immigration Advice Service (IAS). IAS is a leading U.K. immigration law firm that helps people migrate, settle, and acquire British citizenship