Problem beyond the polls By Femi Macualay

buhariTwo days after the country’s presidential poll, the  immortal lines from Shakespeare’s Macbeth are relevant : “When the hurlyburly’s done – When the battle’s lost and won.”  Against the background of the continuing anti-terror battle, the hurly-burly is certainly not done.

News of the latest garland for Boko Haram, the Islamist guerilla force that has terrorised the country since 2009, deserves attention.  The group’s insurgency was the fourth deadliest conflict in the world in 2014 and was responsible for 11, 529 deaths, according to a release by an international think tank, the Project for the Study of the 21st Century. It is noteworthy that the think tank said the figure of fatalities could be underestimated.

However, the estimation of the human suffering resulting from the destructive imagination and vision of the insurgents is more accurate. “We are seeing tremendous suffering,” UN Assistant Secretary General Robert Piper was quoted as saying. He continued: “We estimate that only about 20 percent of agricultural land in Borno State (the hardest-hit area) was harvested last season.” Piper, the coordinator of the UN’s humanitarian work in Africa’s Sahel region, pointed out that the situation “leaves a massive deficit.”

Also, Piper noted that there were “dramatic rates of acute malnutrition” among the displaced children in Nigeria. In statistical terms, he highlighted a recent survey of displaced children around Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, which showed that over 35 percent of them were malnourished. “That is very, very high,” he was quoted as saying.

This picture of disturbing death and dying demonstrates that the hurly-burly is not done and the battle has not been lost and won.  Shockingly, what many internally displaced persons have gone through, especially those uprooted by Boko Haram, came to light via a statement by the Director of Information, The Catholic Church Diocese of Maiduguri, Rev. Fr. Gideon Obasogie. He said: “A good number of those trapped around the Cameroonian borders are gradually finding their way into Maiduguri. Counting their ordeals, some will tell you how they fed on grass and insects. A group from Pulka community alone buried over 80 children, who took ill in the bush and died.”  Over 90, 000 Catholics have been uprooted by the developing tragedy, Obasogie noted, adding that the church has spent over N3 million on internal refugees at different locations in Maiduguri, Borno State.

Relevant to this appalling picture is the information by the Director-General, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Mr. Sani Sidi, at last year’s opening of its annual consultative meeting with the heads of States Emergency Management Agencies. Sidi said about 734,062 persons were internally displaced by conflicts and disasters in various parts of the country; 676, 975 of them were displaced by conflicts and 66,087 by natural disasters. It is significant that he pointed out: “Disaster occurrences and the number of affected people have risen significantly in recent years.”

It is not clear how NEMA arrived at these figures, and it is worth mentioning that they are a far cry from the statistics publicised by the 2014 Report of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and the Norwegian Refugee Council, which indicate that out of 33 million internal refugees across the world, about 3.3 million Nigerians are internally displaced because of the Boko Haram insurgency in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states.  The yawning gap between the positions of the two bodies concerning the number of dislodged victims of the six-year-old violent campaign by Islamist terrorists in the affected areas is a cause for concern because it suggests that the scale of the problem may not have been captured and is likely to be beyond the range of the available figures.

How devastating and disruptive Boko Haram has become is clear from its influence on the controversial rescheduling of the general elections.  To properly grasp the group’s role, it is useful to quote the February 7 statement by the Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Attahiru Jega, on why the elections were postponed a week to the first vote. According to Jega, “Last Wednesday, which was a day before the Council of State meeting, the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) wrote a letter to the Commission, drawing attention to recent developments in four Northeast states of Borno, Yobe, Adamawa and Gombe currently experiencing the challenge of insurgency. The letter stated that security could not be guaranteed during the proposed period in February for the general elections.”

Jega continued: “This advisory was reinforced at the Council of State meeting on Thursday where the NSA and all the Armed Services and Intelligence Chiefs unanimously reiterated that the safety and security of our operations cannot be guaranteed, and that the Security Services needed at least six weeks within which to conclude a major military operation against the insurgency in the Northeast; and that during this operation, the military will be concentrating its attention in the theatre of operations such that they may not be able to provide the traditional support they render to the Police and other agencies during elections.”

It is not surprising that the magical and illogical six-week time frame set for the conquest of insurgents who have carried out terroristic activities since 2009 has passed with Boko Haram still threatening and frightening. Optimism won’t win the terror war, no matter how well-dressed.  The naked pessimism of the people is unmistakable.

The reports of recaptured territories by the country’s troops in a regional collaboration with four neighbouring nations, Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, have been captivating largely because the people never knew exactly what had been captured. Reports said the contributions to the multi-national force total 8, 700 individuals and its objective is to “foster a safe and secure environment in the impacted regions.”

With the eventual adoption of a frontal attack, it is comical that National Security Adviser Col Sambo Dasuki (retd) last year introduced a simplistic angle to the anti-terror campaign.  Dasuki’s amazing “Roll out of Nigeria’s Soft Approach to Counter Terrorism”, whatever its theoretical merits, represented an ill-defined all-inclusive method. According to him, “The soft approach provides us with a frame-work that identifies the roles and responsibilities of every segment of our society: the governors, local council chairmen, national and state assembly members, political parties, trade unions, the private sector, traditional institutions, ministers and other government officials, academics, in fact, a ‘whole-of-society’ approach that involves everyone vertically and horizontally to confront violent extremism.”  It was a mystifying approach and an exaggerated perspective that glossed over the fundamental point, which is, confronting and crushing terrorism with the logic of superior sovereignty.

NATION