In the Begining
The Boko Haram Group (BHG) is a fundamentalist religious sect established in the 1990s in northeastern Nigeria. It is a Sunni sect that espouses and preaches a perverted brand of Islam that believes in the use of extreme physical and psychological violence in the realization of its objectives. Since 2002, the BHG has waged a protracted conflict with Nigeria that has fundamentally threatened the corporal identity of the state.
The authority, legitimacy and territorial integrity of Nigeria has never been so challenged since Nigeria gained independence from Britain in 1960. Although, Nigeria had faced some serious security challenges from both state (Chad and Cameroon) and non-state actors before (Niger Delta militant and Maitatsine religious sect), none has been able to, among other things, seize territory, plant their flag and put the Nigerian army in the defensive, internationalize a conflict that is wholly local and threaten the very structures the country put in place to guarantee its internal and external security.
The BHG, though a religious sect, has political and social strategic objectives. The political objective, of course, is the creation of an Islamic caliphate starting from Nigeria then extending to West Africa and the sub-region. The social objective is the creation of an Islamic administrative system that will rival, in its simplicity and theodicy, every other forms of secular and religious system of governance, or so they might think.
If Boko Haram has covert support from state actors, they might have a diametrically opposite objective in mind and may be using the Jihadi group as merely tool, proxy against the state, Which ever the case might be it poses an existential threat to the Nigerian Federation.
The conflict between Nigeria and the BHG has gone through different phases. The fluidity and adaptability of the BHG in the different phases have made it difficult for Nigeria to evolve a coherent strategy to contain its activities. At inception in early 2000, the conflict started as a religious-cum-social disagreement. It then graduated to become a terrorism campaign and an insurgency between 2010 and 2015 when the Nigerian military was failing and suffering embarrassing defeats.
The conflict has gone back to the terrorism phase by the first quarter of 2016 after a shakeup of the Nigerian military by the new President Muhammadu Buhari after the firing of the previous service chiefs and ordering his new Service Chiefs to relocate the operational headquarters of the war from Abuja to Maiduguri, the epicentre of the insurgency.
In order to contain and curb the activities of the BHG, Nigeria, since 2002, has deployed different strategies. But then, the conflict, which is very fluid, can easily revert back to the insurgency phase. Thus, to defeat and contain the BHG, Nigeria must devise countermeasures that will effectively tackle the different phases. To put it, succinctly, Nigeria must put strategic measures in place to tackle the terrorism phase of the conflict and at the same time the measures must be proactive enough to check the conflict from becoming an insurgency and if it became one, counter it effectively.
Nigeria’s Strategy Against the BHG
Nigeria has been using what can be described as ‘kinetic strategy’ in its conflict with the BHG. This strategy focuses on the employment of hard military power through kinetic operations against the BHG. The tactics and strategies in kinetic operations are comparable to how conventional engagement is conducted between state actors in conflict. This involves the use of manoeuvres, massed movement of infantry and the observance of rules of engagement in war. A STRATEGIC BLUNDER
This adherence to conventional military doctrines, strategies and tactics cost Nigeria dearly in blood and material throughout the duration of the major phases of the conflict between 2010 and 2015. It almost led to a complete break down of law and order in the army with numerous reported cases of soldiers abandoning their positions and fleeing at the sight of Boko Haram fighters. In one incident aggrieved soldiers mourning the loss of their comrades opened fire on their commamder who was forced to flee for his dear life.
The was the lowest point of the Nigerian Army. Nigerians witnessed these unfolding developments with incredulity and confusion. Nigeria is supposed to have the most feared fightjng force in the region, how could this be happening?
The country was only able to make headway against the BHG towards the tail end of 2015 and early 2016 when President Buhari was sworn in as President. Nigeria’s war hero, President Buhari led the operation to kick out Chadian rebels from Nigerian territory when they invaded an occupied several Nigerian administered islands in the Lake Chad basin. Unlike Goodluck Jonathan, President Buhari knew th rudiments of ground warfare. To this end he decided to blend both conventional and unconventional countermeasures against the BHG.
It should be noteworthy that in the tactical scheme of things Nigeria’s war against Boko Haram started in 2014/15. Before then what the Nigerian government was carrying out police actions. They made use of MOPOL (Mobile Police Force) to check the activity of the group.
The Group’s activities were seen as that of civil, social and religious rascality to established norms within Nigeria. The Nigeria Police Force (NPF) made extensive use of roadblocks and mass arrest at the sites of attacks by the Group to curb and contain its activities. The inability of the Nigerian Police Force to check the Group forced Nigeria to form the Joint Task Force (JTF)m which is basically a hybrid tactical force of a combination of military and police personnel specifically tasked with checking and containing the burgeoning Boko Haram menace.
With the ascension of Abubakar Shekau, the conflict then entered a more virulent and dangerous phase. The BHG started the adoption of tactics and methods, such as suicide-bombings and counter-value attacks, more akin to global terrorism than guerrilla warfare.
This forced Nigeria to establish the Special Military Joint Task Force (SMJTF) The new Task Force was made-up of personnel from the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), Department of State Security (DSS), Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) and the Defence Intelligence Agencies (DIA) all fused into a central operational command.
It soon dawned on the government that it has underestimated the caoability of Boko Haram as the conflict morphed into a whole new dimension, with the governor of Borno state making a sensational claim that Boko Haram was better armed than the Nigerian army.
The new phase that Shekau took the conflict forced two important changes on Nigeria. The first was that it pushed Nigeria to fully mobilize her armed forces to confront the security challenges created by the Boko Haram. Secondly, Nigeria was forced to evolve counterterrorism (CT) and counter-insurgency (COIN) strategies.
In May 2013, Nigeria declared a state of emergency in the three north-eastern states of Yobe, Adamawa and Borno to tackle the Boko Haram insurgency. The three states have not only become the main Contested Zones (CZs) of the war but also Boko Haram’s stronghold in Nigeria.
In August 2013 the Nigerian army created a new military formation, the 7 Infantry Division in Maiduguri with the strategic to crush the Jihadi Group.
The President’s new strategy appeared to have worked. By late 2015, Nigeria had retaken most of the territories previously occupied by the Boko Haram. Prior to this period, BHG had occupied Nigerian territory the size of Belguim and established administrative and political centres in territories in both Borno and Yobe States.
However, with the advances and gains in the early part of 2016, it has now become impossible for the Boko Haram to launch conventional attacks against federal troops. The Group has fallen back into its stronghold of Sambisa forest in Maiduguri, a mountainous border region in the heartland of the insurgency.
In Early 2015, Nigeria employed white South African mercenaries known as STTEP (Specialized Tasks, Training, Equipment and Protection ) to help the country in its war against the Boko Haram. The mercenaries, veterans of bush warfare in South Africa, trained elite counterterrorism troops in Nigeria and conducted sortie against the Boko Haram. Using a policy of ‘relentless pursuit’, an unconventional military mobile warfare tactic created by STTEP to equal Boko Haram’s attack mode of hit-and-run, the State was able to evolve an effective counteroffensive against the Boko Haram.
By late 2015, the STTEP had succeeded in putting Boko Haram on the back foot. It was not until South African mercenaries were introduced to the war in late 2015 that Nigeria’s counteroffensive against the BHG yielded positive results.
END OF PART ONE