Since 2009, Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad known also as Boko Haram and its splinter faction Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP) have engaged in bloody violence campaigns against civilians and security forces in Northeast Nigeria and Lake Chad Basin.
The violence has led to over 30,000 deaths and displacement of more than 2.3 million people in Nigeria’s Northeast region.
In July 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari announced a new Super Camp strategy to curb growing attrition caused by raids on ‘forward operating bases’ (FOBs) along the fringes of Lake Chad and northern Borno.
Soldiers are concentrated in super bases and strong response areas located in garrison and satellite towns, from where troops are deployed for patrol and raids, and to provide security along major roads.
HumAngle understands that the policy has, to an extent, protected troops in the super camps.
While it works, the policy has, however, enabled insurgents to pose a greater threat to the countryside, roads and vulnerable mobile units with insufficient mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles.
Humanitarian operations in some areas were significantly affected by the pullback due to the high risks on roads and in hinterland communities.
On Saturday, Boko Haram killed an estimated 78 farmers cultivating farmlands in Zabarmari, a town located less than 20 kilometres from Maiduguri, Borno State capital.
The incident followed a pattern of large and small scale attacks on communities, travellers, farmers and loggers across the state by the terror groups.
Some of the most gruesome and large killings in 2020, happened in Auno in February, Foduma Kolomaiya village and Goni Usmanti in Gubio local government in June.
HumAngle has reported the setting up of checkpoints along roads connecting garrison towns by the terrorists, killing and abduction of travellers outside garrison towns.
Those abducted, suffered different fates with a few getting released while others killed or condemned to a life of slavery.
On Tuesday, Kashim Shettima, the former Borno State Governor and a serving senator stated on the floor of the Senate that the state has recorded 2,801 attacks and incidents, between January and November 19, 2020.
Shettima highlighted the disturbing trend of attacks in Borno and ramifications for the country.
A day earlier, the Babagana Zulum, incumbent Governor of Borno State made recommendations on dealing with the Boko Haram crisis to a Federal Government delegation that visited the state to commiserate with the people of Borno over Saturday’s killing.
The recommendations cut across the recruitment of Borno youths into the military and paramilitary services, provision of mine-resistant vehicles to troops, engage the services of mercenaries and Nigeria’s immediate neighbours, especially the government of Chad, Cameroon and Niger Republic.
In January, 1,200 Chadian troops withdrew from Nigeria after the end of their months-long mission fighting Boko Haram alongside the Nigerian military in northern Borno.
Soldiers from Niger, Cameroon and Chad under the MNJTF have frequently undertaken joint deployment and operations with Nigerian troops in Borno concurrently with national and MNJTF campaigns in the respective countries.
The renewed calls for revamping and retooling of the war effort could alter the current battlefield crisis, break what appears to be a stalemate and expand state presences beyond the trenches of garrison towns.
Almeen Yaqub, a security expert, advises President Buhari to work closely with President Idris Derby of Chad in securing the northern flank.
“Personally, I will advise Buhari to provide Derby with resources to help secure our northern flank, specifically the Tumbun Islands under a one-year agreement while we go back to the same STTEP arrangement we had in 2015,” Yaqub said.
“We need the British to assist us with strategies and non-kinetic operational support.”
Specialised Tasks, Training, Equipment and Protection International (STTEP) is a private military contracted by the Nigerian government in 2015 for a three months contract to build the capacity of the 72 mobile strike force, a subunit of Nigerian Army 72 Special Forces Battalion.
‘“We certainly don’t need mercenaries as foot soldiers, just technical advisors embedded within our boots on the ground,” he argued.
Yaqub also says the Government needs a broader strategy similar to Operation Deep Punch, a subsidiary operation widely believed to have reduced the capacity of Boko Haram.
He believes the Army could have used the Super Camp strategy as a stop-gap measure to radically restrategize and reorganize its rank and file to change the dynamics of the war.
“Even the current “Operation Fireball” will not achieve much because similar to its predecessors, with the exception of Operation Deep Punch I&II, it’s extremely limited in scope and objective,” he said.
For the way forward, the security expert says the expansion of Nigerian military drone program could shift the dynamics of the war and other conflicts.
“Nigerian military has made arguably its most important and potent purchase that could easily shift the dynamics of this war in their favour, both in the Northeast and other parts of the country.”
“The drones, with their higher, loiter time will give Nigerian Air Force (NAF) the potency they’ve always lacked, with full day and night attack capabilities.”
Chidi Nwaonu, a security expert with a U.K.-based security firm Peccavi Consulting, doesn’t feel the situation in Northeast should be described as a stalemate. He says that would imply neither side can get an advantage over the other.
“The enemy has consistently held the initiative since 2017 (maybe even 2016) and has fought the war on their terms since then,” NwaonuChidi said.
He adds that the Army’s attempt to seize the initiative with Operation Last Hold in 2018 was defeated by ISWAP and the Army tacitly acknowledged this by the Super Camp concept, which effectively abandoned ground to the enemy.
As ISWAP imposes its will on the battlefield with ambushes on highways and raids, Boko Haram, is broadly a criminal gang, predating on the local population. Friendly Forces most potent responses are airstrikes.
“When you factor all of this in, I would suggest it is not a stalemate, the enemy is still fighting their preferred battle,” Nwaonu told HumAngle.
“There is no need for them to continue trying to overrun super camps as they can simply fix them with ambushes and raids. By being in Super Camps the military gives ISWAP and BokoHaram freedom of movement.”
“The military is overstretched with more and more resources being deployed to the North West.”
The general notion is that revamping and retooling the military is essential for troops to protect civilians and themselves, as well as the secure region for humanitarian and developmental interventions.